The first month was difficult. After she’d left, Brad thought he’d seen her around corners in the grocery store, at the top of the stairs in the house when he was working late at night, standing across the street when he left to go to work in the morning. He was proud that he’d done pretty well at hiding the fact that she was gone until Dale questioned him.
“You and Marion okay? You haven’t mentioned her in a couple of weeks.” The shop was closed and Dale had loitered purposefully.
“Yeah,” Brad said. He made a pencil mark on the ledger in front of him. “She’s just been on a lot of trips for the librarian’s association. Ever since she was elected president it’s been non-stop.”
“Oh,” Dale said, shuffling some papers. “When’s she due back?”
“Uh, Wednesday night late, then she’s out again Thursday morning for a conference in England.” Brad laughed. “Wish I could go on that trip. Too much to do here.”
“You know, Brad, me and the guys’ve got it here if you want to take a couple weeks and travel with her.”
Brad turned the page of the ledger. “Thanks, but she’s so busy on these trips she barely has time to call. I’d just be in the way.”
“All right,” Dale said. “You go if you wanna, though. We’ve got your back.”
“I really appreciate it, Dale. Thanks.” Brad looked wistfully at his friend and tried to smile.
He spent more time at the University Library on the weekends, trying to research Super String Theory, subscribed to magazines that he thought might help him, even wrote a letter to Isaac Asimov to ask for some clarity. Brad wanted desperately to understand where Marion might be. He wanted to do what he could to support her and he was afraid it wouldn’t be enough.
The dreams started in the second month. Horrifying landscapes of blasted trees and barren plains. Castles made of heavy rock and stone reduced to piles of smoking rubble. Bodies strewn across miles of no-man’s lands, bodies that were distinctly not human piled thousands upon thousands; dusty almost-roads made of armor and armament broken and bloodied. Terrible creatures with thousands of sharp teeth, hundreds of eyes and dozens of arms, each holding strange weapons approached, roared and charged.
In these dreams Brad fell to the ground every time he confronted one of these creatures and they passed him by as though he were as much a dream as they. He woke from these dreams sometimes on the floor shivering, always sweaty and screaming. At the end of the month, he missed work and went back to the house he was readying for her, down to the basement, the corner where they had mingled and spilled their blood. He cried himself to sleep on the spot.
He dreamt of Marion in a stone room, with windows all round and a single crude table in the center with two chairs. A breeze ruffled the sheer silk curtains. She’d cut her hair short and looked incredibly tired but pleased to see him.
“I miss you, Brad.”
“I’m desperate, Mare. When do you think you’ll be coming home?”
“I don’t know, it’s not going well.” She sighed. “Brahmen is stronger than we thought. Strangiato is missing, Cavanaugh, too.”
They walked out of the stone room down a winding stone stair and out into a bright green morning. Robins and sparrows were singing and the jays were hunting for nesting materials.
“Never mind,” Marion said. “How’s the house coming?”
“Slow. I don’t know what I’m going to do if you don’t come back.”
“Find Beatrice,” Marion said. “She’ll explain. I really have to go. I’m sorry, I love you, Brad.” She put her hand on his heart, kissed him. “I’ll come home as soon as I can. I promise.”
He woke refreshed and rested, but in his own bed. He didn’t think too hard on it, but he went back to the house anyway to check that he’d locked it up and to ensure that he wasn’t there in the basement.
The third month was better until he found Beatrice Chandler in Chancellor’s Park one fall evening. She was rocking back and forth, her eyes closed, her mouth moving in time with the rocking but no sound escaped her lips. Brad had read enough to not interrupt her, so he sat across the path on a twin bench and waited.
Passersby laughed at her, looked sideways at her, ignored her for hours as Brad watched. He felt helpless, but this was the first time he’d been able to find her so all he could do was wait. As the sun set and the evening began to chill, she stopped rocking and her words were finally audible though they were not a language that Brad recognized. Beatrice Chandler stopped talking abruptly and sat back heavily on the park bench, sighed and slowly opened her eyes. “Glad you waited,” she said.
“For the moment.” She stretched her arms and legs, rolled her wrists and ankles. “She’s gonna be all right there. It’s all but over. Some details that need cleanin’ up, but it won’t be long ‘fore she comes home.”
Brad sat forward on the bench. “Really?”
“She said to tell you soon, though none of us knows how long that really is. You got the house ready? You moved in?”
Brad stood. “Almost. There’re some details that I have to finish up.”
“You finish ‘em. She’ll need all your attention when she gets here.”
It was the middle of the fourth month, about three weeks later, that Brad and Dale and a couple of other of the guys from the garage spent a Sunday moving his old household into the new one. Brad got out the notes that he and Marion had made before she left and he placed everything exactly the way she wanted it. The last load from the old house on the truck, he walked through the place. “Time for the new life,” he said to the empty bedroom.
Having eaten some pizza with the boys before they left and showered, Brad sat in his basement office with a beer in hand. He listened to the ticking of the clockon the wall, the chimes from the heirloom grandfather clock upstairs and the crickets’ nightsongs from the window well. He ran through all the preparations he’d made for Marion’s return and when he finished the bottle, he decided to vacuum the basement since it was really the last thing he had to do.
When he came back down the carpeted stairs, she was laying in the corner where they’d sealed their commitment to one another. “Marion!”
He dropped the vacuum and rushed to her, cradled her in his arms until her eyes opened and she smiled a weak smile. Despite being thin and pale, there was a light of happiness that shone from her. “Hi,” she said. “You haven’t been eating well, have you?”
Brad took two weeks off from the garage to nurse Marion back to health. Marion got strong again fairly quickly. They ate together, slept together, laughed and loved. They took long walks in the park, around the state lake, across the university campus; they talked about lots of things, but not about where she’d been or what she’d done while she was there. She didn’t ask about anything he might have done during that time and they didn’t talk about magic or science. They talked about mundane things, the house, the city, the weather. It took a lot for Brad to mention that she didn’t seem to be sleeping well.
“You’re up in the middle of the night, nearly the same time every night,” he said.
“I didn’t mean to wake you. I’ll try to be more quiet.”
“Not the point, my love. Am I waking you up? Bothering you?”
Marion smiled. “Of course not. It’s dreams, memories.”
“Have you talked to Beatrice? Would she be able to help?”
“Yes, I have and she has. It’s just ---“ Marion wasn’t smiling any more. She stopped walking and looked at Brad sympathetically. “I don’t have the words to explain it. I want to --- it’s more than just complicated. I don’t know how to explain it.”
“We don’t have the legal document, but we’re married, right?”
“Yes,” Marion said. “Without question.”
“Then whatever I can do to help you I will do. You’re my wife and I love you beyond all reason, more than anything else. You teach me so I can support you.”
They hugged each other tight in the light of day.
“I’m serious,” he said. “I want to learn.”
Marion sighed and held him tighter. “I know you do. I wish it were that easy. Bear with me, will you?”
“With all of me,” he said, pulling back to see her, “I love you, Marion.”
“I love you, too, Brad. Let’s go home.”
Click here for the conclusion.
©2009, 2012 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States