Home > The Time Traveler's Wife(8)

The Time Traveler's Wife(8)
Audrey Niffenegger

Nothing. Good boy, wary and silent. I try again. "It's okay, Henry. I'm your guide, I'm here to show you around. It's a special tour. Don't be afraid, Henry."

I hear a slight, oh-so-faint noise. "I brought you a T-shirt, Henry. So you won't get cold while we look at the exhibits." I can make him out now, standing at the edge of the darkness. "Here. Catch." I throw it to him, and the shirt disappears, and then he steps into the light. The T-shirt comes down to his knees. Me at five, dark spiky hair, moon pale with brown almost Slavic eyes, wiry, coltish. At five I am happy, cushioned in normality and the arms of my parents. Everything changed, starting now. I walk forward slowly, bend toward him, and speak softly. "Hello. I'm glad to see you, Henry. Thank you for coming tonight."

"Where am I? Who are you?" His voice is small and high, and echoes a little off the cold stone.

"You're in the Field Museum. I have been sent here to show you some things you can't see during the day. My name is also Henry. Isn't that funny?"

He nods.

"Would you like some cookies? I always like to eat cookies while I look around museums. It makes it more multi-sensory." I offer him the package of Oreos. He hesitates, unsure if it's all right, hungry but unsure how many he can take without being rude. "Take as many as you want. I've already eaten ten, so you have some catching up to do." He takes three. "Is there anything you'd like to see first?" He shakes his head. "Tell you what. Let's go up to the third floor; that's where they keep all the stuff that isn't on display. Okay?"

"Okay."

We walk through darkness, up the stairs. He isn't moving very fast, so I climb slowly with him. "Where's Mom?"

"She's at home, sleeping. This is a special tour, only for you, because it's your birthday. Besides, grown-ups don't do this sort of thing."

"Aren't you a grown-up?"

"I'm an extremely unusual grown-up. My job is to have adventures. So naturally when I heard that you wanted to come back to the Field Museum right away, I jumped at the chance to show you around."

"But how did I get here?" He stops at the top of the stairs and looks at me with total confusion.

"Well, that's a secret. If I tell you, you have to swear not to say anything to anyone."

"Why?"

"Because they wouldn't believe you. You can tell Mom, or Kimy if you want, but that's it. Okay?"

"Okay "

I kneel in front of him, my innocent self, look him in the eyes. "Cross your heart and hope to die?"

"Uh-huh          "

"Okay. Here's how it is: you time traveled. You were in your bedroom, and all of a sudden, poof! you are here, and it's a little earlier in the evening, so we have plenty of time to look at everything before you have to go home." He is silent and quizzical. "Does that make sense?"

"But...why?"

"Well, I haven't figured that out yet. I'll let you know when I do. In the meantime, we should be moving along. Cookie?"

He takes one and we walk slowly down the corridor. I decide to experiment. "Let's try this one." I slide the bookmark along a door marked 306 and open it. When I flick on the lights there are pumpkin-sized rocks all over the floor, whole and halved, craggy on the outside and streaked with veins of metal inside. "Ooh, look, Henry. Meteorites."

"What's meteorites?"

"Rocks that fall from outer space." He looks at me as though I'm from outer space. "Shall we try another door?" He nods. I close the meteorite room and try the door across the corridor. This room is full of birds. Birds in simulated flight, birds perched eternally on branches, bird heads, bird skins. I open one of the hundreds of drawers; it contains a dozen glass tubes, each holding a tiny gold and black bird with its name wrapped around a foot. Henry's eyes are the size of saucers. "Do you want to touch one?"

"Uh-huh."

I remove the cotton wadding from the mouth of a tube and shake a goldfinch onto my palm. It remains tube-shaped. Henry strokes its small head, lovingly. "It's sleeping?"

"More or less." He looks at me sharply, distrusting my equivocation. I insert the finch gently back into the tube, replace the cotton, replace the tube, shut the drawer. I am so tired. Even the word sleep is a lure, a seduction. I lead the way out into the hall, and suddenly I recollect what it was I loved about this night when I was little.

"Hey, Henry. Let's go to the library." He shrugs. I walk, quickly now, and he runs to keep up. The library is on the third floor, at the east end of the building. When we get there, I stand for a minute, contemplating the locks. Henry looks at me, as though to say, Well, that's that. I feel in my pockets, and find the letter opener. I wiggle the wooden handle off, and lo, there's a nice long thin metal prong in there. I stick one half of it into the lock and feel around. I can hear the tumblers springing, and when I'm all the way back I stick in the other half, use my bookmark on the other lock and presto, Open Sesame! At last, my companion is suitably impressed. "How'd you do that?"

"It's not that hard. I'll teach you another time. Entrez!" I hold open the door and he walks in. I flip on the lights and the Reading Room springs into being; heavy wooden tables and chairs, maroon carpet, forbidding enormous Reference Desk. The Field Museum's Library is not designed to appeal to five-year-olds. It's a closed-stacks library, used by scientists and scholars. There are bookcases lining the room, but they hold mostly leather-bound Victorian science periodicals. The book I'm after is in a huge glass and oak case by itself in the center of the room. I spring the lock with my bobby pin and open the glass door. Really, the Field ought to get more serious about security. I don't feel too terrible about doing this; after all, I'm a bona fide librarian, I do Show and Tells at the Newberry all the time. I walk behind the Reference Desk and find a piece of felt and some support pads, and lay them out on the nearest table. Then I close and carefully lift the book out of its case and onto the felt. I pull out a chair. "Here, stand on this so you can see better." He climbs up, and I open the book. It's Audubon's Birds of America, the deluxe, wonderful double-elephant folio that's almost as tall as my young self. This copy is the finest in existence, and I have spent many rainy afternoons admiring it. I open it to the first plate, and Henry smiles, and looks at me. " 'Common Loon"' he reads. "It looks like a duck."

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