Chapter 7 – An Intimate Conversation
She rolled over in bed to gaze at his back. His outline was visible by the reflected light of the moon coming in through an open window. He was in his usual position, seated on the edge of the mattress.
“Did you have another one?”
“Can no mean yes?”
“Do you want it to?”
“Can yes mean no?”
“Perhaps it means that you simply need to make up your mind.”
“Or that someone else already has.”
There in the darkness, they grew so still that they could barely hear the faintest of sounds above their breathing: the clock ticking on the wall in the living room downstairs, the rustle of leaves outside on the soft breezes of late summer, a neighbor’s dog barking a few blocks away. Within this soothingly discordant lullaby, something was coming – silent, inexorable, a promise of hope wrapped in dread. In this atmosphere, the impossible was vividly real.
“Do you hear that?” he asked.
The rhythm of the timepiece was a constant presence in their home.
“Do you remember how we sat on the couch in your apartment before we were married and listened to it? I’d be there with my arm around you, knowing I couldn’t stay, hoping for five more minutes, and living fully within those five minutes when they came.”
“Yes,” she intoned fondly, “I remember. Life can be lived so well in such small increments. That antique belonged to my grandmother. I’ve loved it since I was a child.”
They both knew all of this. It was a well-worn theme. There was a shared comfort in saying and hearing it occasionally.
“The only things we needed were each other and the sound of that clock. Why can’t life remain that simple?”
“You once told me that the universe has a way of forcing itself on our attention.”
“That I did, and that it does. What if it gets worse before it gets better?”
“What I’m hearing you say is that it will get better.”
She could tell by the way the back of his head moved that he was nodding.
“So are they back?”
He sighed deeply and waved his right hand in an oratorical sweep.
“They’re here by not being here.”
This part of the dialogue had become scripted, for he had taken to uttering it whenever this happened. Well-rehearsed, she knew her line and delivered it flawlessly.
“Present in absentia.”
“I’m sorry. I know I repeat myself. I keep living this same moment over.”
“And you want it to stop, but you don’t.”
He let out a brief chuckle.
“You obviously know where we’re going next.”
Propping herself on one elbow, she reached up and touched his shoulder.
“How did I do?”
“That might have been your best effort. Your voice inflection and timing were near perfect.”
“Near perfect? I’ve gotten pretty good at this…”
“But we must never assume we’ve arrived,” he admonished facetiously.
“Wait now, you interrupted me. I haven’t given my last lines. Here’s the next one. Have you ever considered that it isn’t up to you?”
“Then why are you trying to hold it up by yourself?”
“It’s hard to put down. You know how I am with an intriguing problem.”
She smiled at his back.
“You’ve decided haven’t you? It’s related to your project.”
“Oh, ‘admitted’ sounds more appropriate than ‘decided’ to me. They were so unpleasant that I couldn’t imagine them coming from the same source, but I see now that it was obvious from the beginning.”
“Then it should come as a relief.”
“It’s coming from somewhere else. You haven’t made it up. In spite of your reluctance, your resistance, the truth is asserting itself.”
“I know that what I began searching for is magnificent, but these are hideous.”
Though he spoke of his own impressions, she understood the last half of his sentence more deeply than he did.
“Yes, they are. Instead of trying to find what you’re looking for, why don’t you allow it to overtake you? Wouldn’t that be more consistent with its nature?”
“That would be a matter of trust.”
“Isn’t it responsible to doubt my own judgment?”
“Only up to a point. What does your training tell you?”
“That if what got me started is real, it preceded me and will remain after I’m gone. I can’t force the message into my head. It will do so on its own terms.”
“Then aren’t you thinking too strenuously, thinking incorrectly by trying to solve this now? When someone else is involved, you must know when to be passive.”
“Perhaps you’re right.”
“That’s quite a concession, Professor. Is what you’ve been doing something like one student asking another questions instead of listening to you lecture? You used to complain about that.”
“What do you think?”
After forty-two years of marriage, she had grown accustomed to this elliptical banter.
“I like this. We’ve gone completely off script. See? You can be spontaneous.”
“We did get further,” he agreed.
“Here is my last thought on the subject for tonight. I think that if this is ultimately up to somebody else, you should relax and get some sleep. Then again…”
He took the hint. It often ended this way. Later, before losing consciousness, he whispered in her ear.
“But they’re still out there – somewhere – and they need help.”