Home > The Time Traveler's Wife(6)

The Time Traveler's Wife(6)
Audrey Niffenegger

"You look cold" he says. "Come back to bed, Clare."

"I made coffee," I offer.

"Mmm, I can smell it. But first come and say good morning."

I climb into bed still wearing his bathrobe. As he slides his hand under it he stops for just a moment, and I see that he has made the connection, and is mentally reviewing his bathroom vis-a-vis me.

"Does it bother you?" he asks. I hesitate.

"Yes, it does. It does bother you. Of course." Henry sits up, and I do, too. He turns his head toward me, looks at me. "It was almost over, anyway."

"Almost?"

"I was about to break up with her. It's just bad timing. Or good timing, I don't know." He's trying to read my face, for what? Forgiveness? It's not his fault. How could he know? "We've sort of been torturing each other for a long time—" He's talking faster and faster and then he stops. "Do you want to know?" No.

"Thank you." Henry passes his hands over his face. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were coming or I'd have cleaned up a little more. My life, I mean, not just the apartment." There's a lipstick smear under Henry's ear, and I reach up and rub it out. He takes my hand, and holds it. "Am I very different? Than you expected?" he asks apprehensively.

"Yes...you're more..." selfish, I think, but I say, "...younger."

He considers it. "Is that good or bad?"

"Different." I run both hands over Henry's shoulders and across his back, massaging muscles, exploring indentations. "Have you seen yourself, in your forties?"

"Yes. I look like I've been spindled and mutilated."

"Yeah. But you're less—I mean you are sort of—more. I mean, you know me, so           "

"So right now you're telling me that I'm somewhat gauche."

I shake my head, although that is exactly what I mean. "It's just that I've had all these experiences, and you...I'm not used to being with you when you don't remember anything that happened."

Henry is somber. "I'm sorry. But the person you know doesn't exist yet. Stick with me, and sooner or later, he's bound to appear. That's the best I can do, though."

"That's fair," I say. "But in the meantime..."

He turns to meet my gaze. "In the meantime?"

"I want... "

"You want?"

I'm blushing. Henry smiles, and pushes me backward gently onto the pillows. "You know." "I don't know much, but I can guess a thing or two."

Later, we're dozing warm covered with midmorning October pale sun, skin to skin and Henry says something into the back of my neck that I don't catch.

"What?"

"I was thinking; it's very peaceful, here with you. It's nice to just lie here and know that the future is sort of taken care of."

"Henry?" "Hmm?"

"How come you never told yourself about me?" "Oh. I don't do that." "Do what?"

"I don't usually tell myself stuff ahead of time unless it's huge, life-threatening, you know? I'm trying to live like a normal person. I don't even like having myself around, so I try not to drop in on myself unless there's no choice."

I ponder this for a while. "I would tell myself everything."

"No, you wouldn't. It makes a lot of trouble."

"I was always trying to get you to tell me things." I roll over onto my back and Henry props his head on his hand and looks down at me. Our faces are about six inches apart. It's so strange to be talking, almost like we always did, but the physical proximity makes it hard for me to concentrate.

"Did I tell you things?" he asks.

"Sometimes. When you felt like it, or had to."

"Like what?"

"See? You do want to know. But I'm not telling."

Henry laughs. "Serves me right. Hey, I'm hungry. Let's go get breakfast."

Outside it's chilly. Cars and cyclists cruise along Dearborn while couples stroll down the sidewalks and there we are with them, in the morning sunlight, hand in hand, finally together for anyone to see. I feel a tiny pang of regret, as though I've lost a secret, and then a rush of exaltation: now everything begins.

A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING

Sunday, June 16, 1968

Henry: The first time was magical. How could I have known what it meant? It was my fifth birthday, and we went to the Field Museum of Natural History. I don't think I had ever been to the Field Museum before. My parents had been telling me all week about the wonders to be seen there, the stuffed elephants in the great hall, the dinosaur skeletons, the caveman dioramas. Mom had just gotten back from Sydney, and she had brought me an immense, surpassingly blue butterfly, Papilio ulysses, mounted in a frame filled with cotton. I would hold it close to my face, so close I couldn't see anything but that blue. It would fill me with a feeling, a feeling I later tried to duplicate with alcohol and finally found again with Clare, a feeling of unity, oblivion, mindlessness in the best sense of the word. My parents described the cases and cases of butterflies, hummingbirds, beetles. I was so excited that I woke up before dawn. I put on my gym shoes and took my Papilio ulysses and went into the backyard and down the steps to the river in my pajamas. I sat on the landing and hatched the light come up. A family of ducks came swimming by, and a raccoon appeared on the landing across the river and looked at me curiously before washing its breakfast and eating it. I may have fallen asleep. I heard Mom calling and I ran back up the stairs, which were slippery with dew, careful not to drop the butterfly. She was annoyed with me for going down to the landing by myself, but she didn't make a big deal about it, it being my birthday and all. Neither of them were working that night, so they took their time getting dressed and out the door. I was ready long before either of them. I sat on their bed and pretended to read a score. This was around the time my musician parents recognized that their one and only offspring was not musically gifted. It wasn't that I wasn't trying; I just could not hear whatever it was they heard in a piece of music. I enjoyed music, but I could hardly carry a tune. And though I could read a newspaper when I was four, scores were only pretty black squiggles. But my parents were still hoping I might have some hidden musical aptitude, so when I picked up the score Mom sat down next to me and tried to help me with it. Pretty soon Mom was singing and I was chiming in with horrible yowling noises and snapping my fingers and we were giggling and she was tickling me. Dad came out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist and joined in and for a few glorious minutes they were singing together and Dad picked me up and they were dancing around the bedroom with me pressed between them. Then the phone rang, and the scene dissolved. Mom went to answer it, and Dad set me on the bed and got dressed. Finally, they were ready. My mom wore a red sleeveless dress and sandals; she had painted her toenails and fingernails so they matched her dress. Dad was resplendent in dark blue pants and a white short-sleeved shirt, providing a quiet background for Mom's flamboyance. We all piled into the car. As always, I had the whole backseat to myself, so I lay down and watched the tall buildings along Lake Shore Drive flicking past the window.

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