Alice sat at her desk in their bedroom distracted by the sounds of John racing through each of the rooms on the first floor. She needed to finish her peer review of a paper submitted to the Journal of Cognitive Psychology before her flight, and she'd just read the same sentence three times without comprehending it. It was 7:30 according to their alarm clock, which she guessed was about ten minutes fast. She knew from the approximate time and the escalating volume of his racing that he was trying to leave, but he'd forgotten something and couldn't find it. She tapped her red pen on her bottom lip as she watched the digital numbers on the clock and listened for what she knew was coming.
She tossed her pen onto the desk and sighed. Downstairs, she found him in the living room on his knees, feeling under the couch cushions.
"Keys?" she asked.
"Glasses. Please don't lecture me, I'm late."
She followed his frantic glance to the fireplace mantle where the antique Waltham clock, valued for its precision, declared 8:00. He should have known better than to trust it. The clocks in their home rarely knew the real time of day. Alice had been duped too often in the past by their seemingly honest faces and had learned long ago to rely on her watch. Sure enough, she lapsed back in time as she entered the kitchen, where the microwave insisted that it was only 6:52.
She looked across the smooth, uncluttered surface of the granite countertop, and there they were, next to the mushroom bowl heaping with unopened mail. Not under something, not behind something, not obstructed in any way from plain view. How could he, someone so smart, a scientist, not see what was right in front of him?
Of course, many of her own things had taken to hiding in mischievous, little places as well. But she didn't admit this to him, and she didn't involve him in the hunt. Just the other day, John blissfully unaware, she'd spent a crazed morning looking first all over the house and then in her office for her Blackberry charger. Stumped, she'd surrendered, gone to the store, and bought a new one, only to discover it later that night plugged in the socket next to her side of the bed, where she should have known to look. She could probably chalk it all up for both of them to excessive multitasking and being way too busy. And to getting older.
He stood in the doorway, looking at the glasses in her hand, but not at her.
"Next time, try pretending you're a woman while you look," said Alice, smiling.
"I'll wear one of your skirts. Ali, please, I'm really late."
"The microwave says you have tons of time," she said, handing them to him.
He grabbed them like a relay runner taking a baton in a race and headed for the front door.
"Will you be home when I get back on Saturday?" she asked his back as she followed him down the hallway.
"I don't know, I've got a huge day in lab on Saturday."
He collected his briefcase, phone, and keys from the hall table.
"Have a good trip, give Lydia a hug and kiss for me. And try not to battle with her," said John.
She caught their reflection in the hallway mirror -- -a distinguished-looking, tall man with white-flecked brown hair and glasses, a petite, curly-haired woman, her arms crossed over her chest, each readying to leap into that same, bottomless argument. She gritted her teeth and swallowed, choosing not to jump.
"We haven't seen each other in a while, please try to be home?" she asked.
"I know, I'll try."
He kissed her, and although desperate to leave, he lingered in that kiss for an almost imperceptible moment. If she didn't know him better, she might've romanticized his kiss. She might've stood there, hopeful, thinking it said, I love you, I'll miss you. But as she watched him hustle down the street alone, she felt pretty certain he'd just told her, I love you, but please don't be pissed when I'm not home on Saturday.
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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