Authors: Audrey Niffenegger
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Time Travel, #Fantasy fiction, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Romance, #Domestic fiction, #Reading Group Guide, #American Science Fiction And Fantasy, #Fantasy - General, #Fiction - Fantasy, #Married people, #American First Novelists, #Librarians, #Women art students, #Romance - Time Travel, #Fiction - Romance
I shrug, and change the subject. "I'm more
real than Paul McCartney."
Clare looks worried. She starts to put all the
pieces back in their box, carefully dividing white and black. "Lots of
people know about Paul McCartney—I'm the only one who knows about you."
"But you've actually met me, and you've
never met him."
"My mom went to a Beatles concert."
She closes the lid of the chess set and stretches out on the ground, staring up
at the canopy of new leaves. "It was at Comiskey Park, in Chicago, August
8,1965." I poke her in the stomach and she curls up like a hedgehog, giggling.
After an interval of tickling and thrashing around, we lie on the ground with
our hands clasped across our middles and Clare asks, "Is your wife a time
"Nope. Thank God."
"Why 'thank God'? I think that would be
fun. You could go places together." "One time traveler per family is
more than enough. It's dangerous, Clare." "Does she worry about
"Yes," I say softly. "She
does." I wonder what Clare is doing now, in 1999. Maybe she's still
asleep. Maybe she won't know I'm gone.
"Do you love her?"
"Very much," I whisper. We He
silently side by side, watching the swaying trees, the birds, the sky. I hear a
muffled sniffling noise and glancing at Clare I am astonished to see that tears
are streaming across her face toward her ears. I sit up and lean over her.
"What's wrong, Clare?" She just shakes her head back and forth and
presses her lips together. I smooth her hair, and pull her into a sitting
position, wrap my arms around her. She's a child, and then again she isn't. "What's
It comes out so quietly that I have to ask her
to repeat it: "It's just that I thought maybe you were married to
Wednesday, June 27, 1984 (Clare is 13) Clare: I
am standing in the Meadow. It's late June, late afternoon; in a few minutes it
will be time to wash up for supper. The temperature is dropping. Ten minutes
ago the sky was coppery blue and there was a heavy heat over the Meadow,
everything felt curved, like being under a vast glass dome, all near noises
swallowed up in the heat while an overwhelming chorus of insects droned. I have
been sitting on the tiny footbridge watching waterbugs skating on the still
small pool, thinking about Henry. Today isn't a Henry day; the next one is
twenty-two days away. It is now much cooler. Henry is puzzling to me. All my
life I have pretty much just accepted Henry as no big deal; that is, although
Henry is a secret and therefore automatically fascinating, Henry is also some
kind of miracle and just recently it's started to dawn on me that most girls
don't have a Henry or if they do they've all been pretty quiet about it.
There's a wind coming; the tall grass is rippling and I close my eyes so it
sounds like the sea (which I have never seen except on TV). When I open them
the sky is yellow and then green. Henry says he comes from the future. When I
was little I didn't see any problem with that; I didn't have any idea what it
might mean. Now I wonder if it means that the future is a place, or like a
place, that I could go to; that is go to in some way other than just getting
older. I wonder if Henry could take me to the future. The woods are black and
the trees bend over and whip to the side and bow down. The insect hum is gone
and the wind is smoothing everything, the grass is flat and the trees are
creaking and groaning. I am afraid of the future; it seems to be a big box
waiting for me. Henry says he knows me in the future. Huge black clouds are
moving up from behind the trees, they come up so suddenly that I laugh, they
are like puppets, and everything is swirling toward me and there is a long low
peal of thunder. I am suddenly aware of myself standing thin and upright in a
Meadow where everything has flattened itself down and so I lie down hoping to
be unnoticed by the storm which rolls up and I am flat on my back looking up
when water begins to pour down from the sky. My clothes are soaked in an
instant and I suddenly feel that Henry is there, an incredible need for Henry
to be there and to put his hands on me even while it seems to me that Henry is
the rain and I am alone and wanting him.
Sunday, September 23, 1984 (Henry is 35, Clare
Henry: I am in the clearing, in the Meadow.
It's very early in the morning, just before dawn. It's late summer, all the
flowers and grasses are up to my chest. It's chilly. I am alone. I wade through
the plants and locate the clothes box, open it up, and find blue jeans and a
white oxford shirt and flip-flops. I've never seen these clothes before, so I
have no idea where I am in time. Clare has also left me a snack: there's a
peanut butter and jelly sandwich carefully wrapped in aluminum foil, with an
apple and a bag of lay's potato chips. Maybe this is one of Clare's school
lunches. My expectations veer in the direction of the late seventies or early
eighties. I sit down on the rock and eat the food, and then I feel much better.
The sun is rising. The whole Meadow is blue, and then orange, and pink, the
shadows are elongated, and then it is day. There's no sign of Clare. I crawl a
few feet into the vegetation, curl up on the ground even though it is wet with
dew, and sleep. When I wake up the sun is higher and Clare is sitting next to
me reading a book. She smiles at me and says, "Daylight in the swamp. The
birds are singing and the frogs are croaking and it's time to get up!"
I groan and rub my eyes. "Hi, Clare.
What's the date?"
"Sunday, September 23, 1984."
Clare is thirteen. A strange and difficult age,
but not as difficult as what we are going through in my present. I sit up, and
yawn. "Clare, if I asked very nicely, would you go into your house and
smuggle out a cup of coffee for me?"
"Coffee?" Clare says this as though
she has never heard of the substance. As an adult she is as much of an addict
as I am. She considers the logistics.
"Okay, I'll try." She stands up,
slowly. This is the year Clare got tall, quickly. In the past year she has
grown five inches, and she has not yet become accustomed to her new body.
Breasts and legs and hips, all newly minted. I try not to think about it as I
watch her walk up the path to the house. I glance at the book she was reading.
It's a Dorothy Sayers, one I haven't read. I'm on page thirty-three by the time
she gets back. She has brought a Thermos, cups, a blanket, and some doughnuts.
A summer's worth of sun has freckled Clare's nose, and I have to resist the
urge to run my hands through her bleached hair, which falls over her arms as
she spreads out the blanket.
"Bless you." I receive the Thermos as
though it contains a sacrament. We settle ourselves on the blanket. I kick off
the flip-flops, pour out a cup of coffee, and take a sip. It's incredibly
strong and bitter. "Yowza! This is rocket fuel, Clare."
"Too strong?" She looks a little
depressed, and I hasten to compliment her.
"Well, there's probably no such thing as
too strong, but it's pretty strong. I like it, though. Did you make it?"
"Uh-huh. I never made coffee before, and
Mark came in and was kind of bugging me, so maybe I did it wrong."
"No, it's fine." I blow on the
coffee, and gulp it down. I feel better immediately. I pour another cup. Clare
takes the Thermos from me. She pours herself half an inch of coffee and takes a
cautious sip. "Ugh," she says. "This is disgusting. Is it
supposed to taste like this?"
"Well, it's usually a little less
ferocious. You like yours with lots of cream and sugar."
Clare pours the rest of her coffee into the
Meadow and takes a doughnut. Then she says, "You're making me into a
I don't have a ready reply for this, since the
idea has never occurred to me. "Uh, no I'm not." "You are
"Am not." I pause. "What do you
mean, I'm making you into a freak? I'm not making you into anything."
"You know, like telling me that I like
coffee with cream and sugar before I hardly even taste it. I mean, how am I
going to figure out if that's what I like or if I just like it because you tell
me I like it?"
"But Clare, it's just personal taste. You
should be able to figure out how you like coffee whether I say anything or not.
Besides, you're the one who's always bugging me to tell you about the
"Knowing the future is different from
being told what I like," Clare says.
"Why? It's all got to do with free
Clare takes off her shoes and socks. She pushes
the socks into the shoes and places them neatly at the edge of the blanket.
Then she takes my cast-off flip-flops and aligns them with her shoes, as though
the blanket is a tatami mat. "I thought free will had to do with
I think about this. "No, " I say,
"why should free will be limited to right and wrong? I mean, you just
decided, of your own free will, to take off your shoes. It doesn't matter,
nobody cares if you wear shoes or not, and it's not sinful, or virtuous, and it
doesn't affect the future, but you've exercised your free will"
Clare shrugs. "But sometimes you tell me
something and I feel like the future is already there, you know? Like my future
has happened in the past and I can't do anything about it."
"That's called determinism," I tell
her. "It haunts my dreams."
Clare is intrigued. "Why?"
"Well, if you are feeling boxed in by the
idea that your future is unalterable, imagine how I feel. I'm constantly
running up against the fact that I can't change anything, even though I am
right there, watching it."
"But Henry, you do change things! I mean,
you wrote down that stuff that I'm supposed to give you in 1991 about the baby
with Down Syndrome, And the List, if I didn't have the List I would never know
when to come meet you. You change things all the time."
I smile. "I can only do things that work
toward what has already happened. I can't, for example, undo the fact that you
just took off your shoes."
Clare laughs. "Why would you care if I
take them off or not?"
"I don't. But even if I did, it's now an
unalterable part of the history of the universe and I can't do a thing about
it." I help myself to a doughnut. It's a Bismarck, my favorite. The
frosting is melting in the sun a little, and it sticks to my fingers. Clare
finishes her doughnut, rolls up the cuffs of her jeans and sits cross-legged.
She scratches her neck and looks at me with annoyance. "Now you're making
me self-conscious. I feel like every time I blow my nose it's a historic
"Well, it is."
She rolls her eyes. "What's the opposite
of determinism?" "Chaos."
"Oh. I don't think I like that. Do you
I take a big bite out of the Bismarck and
consider chaos. "Well, I do and I don't. Chaos is more freedom; in fact,
total freedom. But no meaning. I want to be free to act, and I also want my
actions to mean something."
"But, Henry, you're forgetting about
God—why can't there be a God who makes it mean something?" Clare frowns
earnestly, and looks away across the Meadow as she speaks. I pop the last of
the Bismarck into my mouth and chew slowly to gain time. Whenever Clare
mentions God my palms start to sweat and I have an urge to hide or run or
"I don't know, Clare. I mean, to me things
seem too random and meaningless for there to be a God."
Clare clasps her arms around her knees.
"But you just said before that everything seems like it's all planned out
"Hpmf," I say. I grab Clare's ankles,
pull her feet onto my lap, and hold on. Clare laughs, and leans back on her
elbows. Clare's feet are cold in my hands; they are very pink and very clean.
"Okay," I say, "let's see. The choices we're working with here
are a block universe, where past, present and future all coexist simultaneously
and everything has already happened; chaos, where anything can happen and
nothing can be predicted because we can't know all the variables; and a Christian
universe in which God made everything and it's all here for a purpose but we
have free will anyway. Right?"
Clare wiggles her toes at me. "I
"And what do you vote for?"
Clare is silent. Her pragmatism and her
romantic feelings about Jesus and Mary are, at thirteen, almost equally
balanced. A year ago she would have said God without hesitation. In ten years
she will vote for determinism, and ten years after that Clare will believe that
the universe is arbitrary, that if God exists he does not hear our prayers,
that cause and effect are inescapable and brutal, but meaningless. And after
that? I don't know. But right now Clare sits on the threshold of adolescence
with her faith in one hand and her growing skepticism in the other, and all she
can do is try to juggle them, or squeeze them together until they fuse. She
shakes her head. "I don't know. I want God. Is that okay?"
I feel like an asshole. "Of course it's
okay. That's what you believe."
"But I don't want to just believe it, I
want it to be true."
I run my thumbs across Clare's arches, and she
closes her eyes. "You and St. Thomas Aquinas both," I say.