They used to walk together over to Harvard Yard every morning. Of the many things she loved about working within a mile from home and at the same school, their shared commute was the thing she loved most. They always stopped at Jerri's--a black coffee for him, a tea with lemon for her, iced or hot, depending on the season--and continued on to Harvard Square, chatting about their research and classes, issues in their respective departments, their children, or plans for that evening. When they were first married, they even held hands. She savored the relaxed intimacy of these morning walks with him, before the daily demands of their jobs and ambitions rendered them each stressed and exhausted.
But for some time now, they'd been walking over to Harvard separately. Alice had been living out of her suitcase all summer, attending psychology conferences in Rome, New Orleans, and Miami, and serving on an exam committee for a thesis defense at Princeton. Back in the spring, John's cell cultures had needed some sort of rinsing attention at an obscene hour each morning, but he didn't trust any of his students to consistently show up. So he did. She couldn't remember the reasons that predated spring, but she knew that each time they'd seemed reasonable and only temporary.
She returned to the paper at her desk, still distracted, now by a craving for that fight she didn't have with John about their youngest daughter, Lydia. Would it kill him to stand behind her for once? She gave the rest of the paper a cursory effort, not her typical standard of excellence, but it would have to do, given her fragmented state of mind and lack of time. Her comments and suggestions for revision finished, she packaged and sealed the envelope, guiltily aware that she might've missed an error in the study's design or interpretation, cursing John for compromising the integrity of her work.
She repacked her suitcase, not even emptied yet from her last trip. She looked forward to traveling less in the coming months. There were only a handful of invited lectures penciled in her fall semester calendar, and she scheduled most of those on Fridays, a day she didn't teach. Like tomorrow. Tomorrow she would be the guest speaker to kick off Stanford's cognitive psychology fall colloquium series. And afterward, she'd see Lydia. She'd try not to battle with her, but she wasn't making any promises.
Alice found her way easily to Stanford's Cordura Hall on the corner of Campus Drive West and Panama Drive. Its concrete, white stucco exterior, terra cotta roof, and lush landscaping looked to her East Coast eyes more like a Caribbean beach resort than an academic building. She arrived quite early but ventured inside anyway, figuring she could use the extra time to sit in the quiet auditorium and look over her talk.
Much to her surprise, she walked into an already packed room. A zealous crowd surrounded and circled a buffet table, aggressively diving in for food like seagulls at a city beach. Before she could sneak in unnoticed, she noticed Josh, a former Harvard classmate and respected egomaniac, standing in her path, his legs planted firmly and a little too wide, like he was ready to dive at her.
"All this, for me?" asked Alice, smiling playfully.
"What, we eat like this every day. It's for one of our developmental psychologists, he was tenured yesterday. So how's Harvard treating you?"
"I can't believe you're still there after all these years. You ever get too bored over there, you should consider coming here."
"I'll let you know. How are things with you?"
"Fantastic. You should come by my office after the talk, see our latest modeling data. It'll really knock your socks off."
"Sorry, I can't, I have to catch a flight to LA right after this," she said, grateful to have a ready excuse.
"Oh, too bad. Last time I saw you I think was last year at the Psychonomic Conference. I unfortunately missed your presentation."
Copyright © 2007, 2009 by Lisa Genova
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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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