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
"Where did you come from? Why do you know
The whole truth and nothing but the truth.
"I came from the future. I am a time traveler. In the future we are
friends." "People only time travel in movies." "That's what
we want you to believe."
"If everybody time traveled it would get
too crowded. Like when you went to see your Grandma Abshire last Christmas and
you had to go through O'Hare Airport and it was very, very crowded? We time
travelers don't want to mess things up for ourselves, so we keep it
Clare chews on this for a minute. "Come
"Loan me your beach towel." She picks
it up and all the pens and pencils and papers go flying. She throws it at me,
overhand, and I grab it and turn my back as I stand and wrap it around my
waist. It is bright pink and orange with a loud geometric pattern. Exactly the
sort of thing you'd want to be wearing when you meet your future wife for the
first time. I turn around and walk into the clearing; I sit on the rock with as
much dignity as possible. Clare stands as far away from me as she can get and
remain in the clearing. She is still clutching her shoes.
"Well, yeah. You threw a shoe at me."
Silence. I am trying to look harmless, and
nice. Nice looms large in Clare's childhood, because so many people aren't.
"You're making fun of me."
"I would never make fun of you. Why do you
think I'm making fun of you?" Clare is nothing if not stubborn.
"Nobody time travels. You're lying." "Santa time travels."
"Sure. How do you think he gets all those
presents delivered in one night? He just keeps turning back the clock a few
hours until he gets down every one of those chimneys."
"Santa is magic. You're not Santa."
"Meaning I'm not magic? Geez, Louise,
you're a tough customer." "I'm not Louise,"
"I know. You're Clare. Clare Anne Abshire,
born May 24, 1971. Your parents are Philip and Lucille Abshire, and you live
with them and your grandma and your brother, Mark, and your sister, Alicia, in
that big house up there."
"Just because you know things doesn't mean
you're from the future."
"If you hang around a while you can watch
me disappear" I feel I can count on this because Clare once told me it was
the thing she found most impressive about our first meeting. Silence. Clare
shifts her weight from foot to foot and waves away a mosquito. "Do you
"Personally? Um, no." I have stopped
bleeding, but I must look awful. "Hey, Clare, do you happen to have a
Band-Aid? Or some food? Time traveling makes me pretty hungry."
She thinks about this. She digs into her jumper
pocket and produces a Hershey bar with one bite out of it. She throws it at me.
"Thank you. I love these." I eat it
neatly but very quickly. My blood sugar is low. I put the wrapper in her
shopping bag. Clare is delighted.
"You eat like a dog."
"I do not!" I am deeply offended.
"I have opposable thumbs, thank you very much." "What are
"Do this." I make the
"okay" sign. Clare makes the "okay" sign. "Opposable
thumbs means you can do that. It means you can open jars and tie your shoes and
other things animals can't do."
Clare is not happy with this. "Sister
Carmelita says animals don't have souls."
"Of course animals have souls. Where did
she get that idea?"
"She said the Pope says."
"The Pope's an old meanie. Animals have
much nicer souls than we do. They never tell lies or blow anybody up."
"They eat each other."
"Well, they have to eat each other; they
can't go to Dairy Queen and get a large vanilla cone with sprinkles, can
they?" This is Clare's favorite thing to eat in the whole wide world (as a
child. As an adult Clare's favorite food is sushi, particularly sushi from
Katsu on Peterson Avenue).
"They could eat grass."
"So could we, but we don't. We eat
Clare sits down at the edge of the clearing.
"Etta says I shouldn't talk to strangers."
"That's good advice."
"When are you going to disappear?"
"When I'm good and ready to. Are you bored
with me?" Clare rolls her eyes. "What are you working on?"
"May I see?"
Clare gets up carefully and collects a few
pieces of stationery while fixing me with her baleful stare. I lean forward
slowly and extend my hand as though she is a Rottweiler, and she quickly shoves
the papers at me and retreats. I look at them intently, as though she has just
handed me a bunch of Bruce Rogers' original drawings for Centaur or the Book of
Kells or something. She has printed, over and over, large and larger,
"Clare Anne Abshire." All the ascenders and descenders have swirling
curlicues and all the counters have smiley faces in them. It's quite beautiful.
"This is lovely."
Clare is pleased, as always when she receives
homage for her work. "I could make one for you."
"I would like that. But I'm not allowed to
take anything with me when I time travel, so maybe you could keep it for me and
I could just enjoy it while I'm here."
"Why can't you take anything?"
"Well, think about it. If we time
travelers started to move things around in time, pretty soon the world would be
a big mess. Let's say I brought some money with me into the past. I could look
up all the winning lottery numbers and football teams and make a ton of money.
That doesn't seem very fair, does it? Or if I was really dishonest, I could
steal things and bring them to the future where nobody could find me."
"You could be a pirate!" Clare seems
so pleased with the idea of me as a pirate that she forgets that I am Stranger
Danger. "You could bury the money and make a treasure map and dig it up in
the future." This is in fact more or less how Clare and I fund our
rock-and-roll lifestyle. As an adult Clare finds this mildly immoral, although
it does give us an edge in the stock market.
"That's a great idea. But what I really
need isn't money, it's clothing."
Clare looks at me doubtfully.
"Does your dad have any clothes he doesn't
need? Even a pair of pants would be great. I mean, I like this towel, don't get
me wrong, it's just that where I come from, I usually like to wear pants."
Philip Abshire is a tad shorter than me and about thirty pounds heavier. His
pants are comical but comfortable on me.
"I don't know
"That's okay, you don't need to get them
right now. But if you bring some next time I come, it would be very nice."
I find an unused piece of stationery and a
pencil. I print in block letters: Thursday, September 29,1977 After supper. I
hand Clare the paper, and she receives it cautiously. My vision is blurring. I
can hear Etta calling Clare. "It's a secret, Clare, okay?"
"Can't tell. I have to go, now. It was
nice to meet you. Don't take any wooden nickels." I hold out my hand and
Clare takes it, bravely. As we shake hands, I disappear.
Wednesday, February 9, 2000 (Clare is 28, Henry
is 36) Clare: It's early, about six in the morning and I'm sleeping the thin
dreamy sleep of six in the morning when Henry slams me awake and I realize he's
been elsewhen. He materializes practically on top of me and I yell, and we
scare the shit out of each other and then he starts laughing and rolls over and
I roll over and look at him and realize that his mouth is bleeding profusely. I
jump up to get a washcloth and Henry is still smiling when I get back and start
daubing at his lip.
"How'd that happen?"
"You threw a shoe at me." I don't
remember ever throwing anything at Henry. "Did not."
"Did too. We just met for the very first
time, and as soon as you laid eyes on me you said, 'That's the man I'm going to
marry,' and you pasted me one. I always said you were an excellent judge of
Thursday, September 29, 1977 (Clare is 6, Henry
Clare: The calendar on Daddy's desk this
morning said the same as the paper the man wrote. Nell was making a soft egg
for Alicia and Etta was yelling at Mark cause he didn't do his homework and
played Frisbee with Steve. I said Etta can I have some clothes from the trunks?
meaning the trunks in the attic where we play dress up, and Etta said What for?
and I said I want to play dress up with Megan and Etta got mad and said It was
time to go to school and I could worry about playing when I got home. So I went
to school and we did adding and mealworms and language arts and after lunch
French and music and religion. I worried all day about pants for the man cause
he seemed like he really wanted pants. So when I got home I went to ask Etta
again but she was in town but Nell let me lick both the beaters of cake batter
which Etta won't let us because you get salmon. And Mama was writing and I was
gonna go away without asking but she said What is it, Baby? so I asked and she
said I could go look in the Goodwill bags and have anything I wanted. So I went
to the laundry room and looked in the Goodwill bags and found three pairs of
Daddy's pants but one had a big cigarette hole. So I took two and I found a
white shirt like Daddy wears to work and a tie with fishes on it and a red sweater.
And the yellow bathrobe that Daddy had when I was little and it smelled like
Daddy. I put the clothes in a bag and put the bag in the mud-room closet. When
I was coming out of the mud room Mark saw me and he said What are you doing,
asshole? And I said Nothing, asshole and he pulled my hair and I stepped on his
foot really hard and then he started to cry and went to tell. So I went up to
my room and played Television with Mr. Bear and Jane where Jane is the movie
star and Mr. Bear asks her about how it is being a movie star and she says she
really wants to be a veterinarian but she is so incredibly pretty she has to be
a movie star and Mr. Bear says maybe she could be a veterinarian when she's
old. And Etta knocked and said Why are you stepping on Mark? and I said Because
Mark pulled my hair for no reason and Etta said You two are getting on my
nerves and went away so that was okay. We ate dinner with just Etta because
Daddy and Mama went to a party. It was fried chicken with little peas and
chocolate cake and Mark got the biggest piece but I didn't say anything because
I licked the beaters. So after dinner I asked Etta if I could go outside and
she said did I have homework and I said Spelling and bring leaves for art
class, and she said Okay as long as you come in by dark. So I went and got my
blue sweater with the zebras and I got the bag and I went out and went to the
clearing. But the man wasn't there and I sat on the rock for a while and then I
thought I better get some leaves. So I went back to the garden and found some
leaves from Mama's little tree that she told me later was Ginkgo, and some
leaves from the Maple and the Oak. So then I went back to the clearing he still
wasn't there and I thought Well, I guess he just made up that he was coming and
he didn't want pants so bad after all. And I thought maybe Ruth was right cause
I told her about the man and she said I was making it up because people don't
disappear in real life only on TV. Or maybe it was a dream like when Buster
died and I dreamed he was okay and he was in his cage but I woke up and no
Buster and Mama said Dreams are different than real life but important too. And
it was getting cold and I thought maybe I should just leave the bag and if the
man came he could have his pants. So I was walking back up the path and there
was this noise and somebody said Ouch. Dang, that hurt. And then I was scared.
Henry: I kind of slam into the rock when I
appear and scrape my knees. I am in the clearing and the sun is setting
beautifully in a spectacular J. M. W. Turner blowout orange and red over the
trees. The clearing is empty except for a shopping bag full of clothes and I
rapidly deduce that Clare has left these and this is probably a day shortly
after our first meeting. Clare is nowhere in sight and I call her name softly.
No response. I dig through the bag of clothes. There's the pair of chinos and
the beautiful pair of brown wool trousers, a hideous tie with trout all over
it, the Harvard sweater, the oxford-cloth white shirt with ring around the collar
and sweat stains under the arms, and the exquisite silk bathrobe with Philip's
monogram and a big tear over the pocket. All these clothes are old friends,
except for the tie, and I'm happy to see them. I don the chinos and the sweater
and bless Clare's apparently hereditary good taste and sense. I feel great;
except for the lack of shoes I'm well equipped for my current location in
spacetime. "Thanks, Clare, you did a great job " I call softly. I am
surprised when she appears at the entrance to the clearing. It's getting dark
quickly and Clare looks tiny and scared in the half light.
"Hi, Clare. Thanks for the clothes.
They're perfect, and they'll keep me nice and warm tonight." "I have
to go in soon."