"Don't think anything. Just leave me alone."
He strode back through the lab and out into the hall. How could Robin expect him to talk to her? What did she want from him? To beg her to let him work on her dismal black hole of a project? To break down sobbing on her shoulder so she could comfort him? He still heard the humorous disdain in Glass's voice. He saw the hard disappointment in Mendelssohn's eyes. They had not ordered him to leave; they'd even allowed that he might stay, but they had made him suffer. They had held up the evidence of his disobedience and failure, then tossed whatever scrap of a scientist he'd been upon the garbage heap and all but called out "Next!" There was Prithwish coming after him down the corridor. Cliff was not going to suffer his condolences. He escaped into the stairwell and bolted down the stairs.
Outside the institute, the snow had stopped. The December sun was setting, and the world was strangely still. He'd run down four flights of stairs, and stood for a moment, breathing hard. Then he caught his breath and his anger flared again. He kicked his way through the snow, mouthing retorts. Who do you think you are? Who do you think I am?
He walked without noticing distance or direction. Startled, he saw a red neon sign, LIBBY'S LIQUORS, and realized he was in Central Square. A bus swept past, but there were scarcely any cars on the road. Stores were closed, and clean snow blew over the empty taxi stands. All alone, Cliff walked on.
He walked over a mile, as far as MIT, and then turned around and started back again past shuttered Victorian factories converted into warehouses, redbrick ramparts lowering in the shadows of taller office buildings. He thought about calling his parents, but what could they say to him? They owned a stationery store in West Los Angeles. They'd always encouraged Cliff. He'd attended University High School, gone to science camp in summers, practiced triangulation on sunbaked tennis courts, built his own weather station, cooked homemade versions of Silly Putty, toothpaste, and glue. His parents had paid for chemistry sets, and student microscopes, and even Stanford. They were well educated; both had gone to college, but Cliff was the first person in his family to earn a PhD. His parents knew nothing about bench work or lab politics. He thought of his thesis advisor, now dead. What would Professor Oppenheimer have said? He'd have laughed, of course, showing off his yellow teeth. He'd say, "What do you expect? You don't listen to the lab director, you get busted. You screw around with someone in the lab; of course you're gonna end up fighting later. You get what you deserve. How many times do I have to tell you? Don't shit where you eat."
His hands were cold, even in his pockets. He walked and walked up Mass Ave, and then along the Charles River, and his heart began to calm. The cold air began to smooth and smother his angry pride; numb despair overtook indignation.
He imagined he would keep walking forever in ever-widening circles, but as the river curved, he came upon the Weeks Footbridge, and there on the bridge he stopped. The Charles stretched out in the dark; pure, white, frosted with snow, like an ancient road now forgotten.
Cliff was overcome with a profound idea. He would walk across the river. Invisibly he would walk across the invisible river and leave his own footprints in the white snow on the frozen water. In the middle of the city, he would wander alone as if in the country, the slight crunch of the ice under his feet. He would walk to the other side.
Excerpted from Intuition by Allegra Goodman Copyright © 2006 by Allegra Goodman. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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