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HOURS, IF NOT DAYS - The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger


Friday, December 24, 2006 (Henry is 43, Clare is 35)

HENRY: I wake up early, so early that the bedroom is blue in the almost-dawn light. I lie in bed, listening to Clare’s deep breathing, listening to the sporadic noise of traffic on Lincoln Avenue, crows calling to each other, the furnace shutting off. My legs ache. I prop myself up on my pillows and find the bottle of Vicodin on my bedside table. I take two, wash them down with flat Coke.

I slide back into the blankets and turn onto my side. Clare is sleeping face down, with her arms wrapped protectively around her head. Her hair is hidden under the covers. Clare seems smaller without her ambiance of hair. She reminds me of herself as a child, sleeping with the simplicity she had when she was little. I try to remember if I have ever seen Clare as a child, sleeping. I realize that I never have. It’s Alba that I am thinking of. The light is changing. Clare stirs, turns toward me, onto her side. I study her face. There are a few faint lines, at the corners of her eyes and mouth, that are the merest suggestion of the beginnings of Clare’s face in middle age. I will never see that face of hers, and I regret it bitterly, the face with which Clare will go on without me, which will never be kissed by me, which will belong to a world that I won’t know, except as a memory of Clare’s, relegated finally to a definite past.

Today is the thirty-seventh anniversary of my mother’s death. I have thought of her, longed for her, every day of those thirty-seven years, and my father has, I think, thought of her almost without stopping. If fervent memory could raise the dead, she would be our Eurydice, she would rise like Lady Lazarus from her stubborn death to solace us. But all of our laments could not add a single second to her life, not one additional beat of the heart, nor a breath. The only thing my need could do was bring me to her. What will Clare have when I am gone? How can I leave her?

I hear Alba talking in her bed. “Hey,” says Alba. “Hey, Teddy! Shh, go to sleep now.” Silence. “Daddy?” I watch Clare, to see if she will wake up. She is still, asleep. “Daddy!” I gingerly turn, carefully extricate myself from the blankets, maneuver myself to the floor. I crawl out of our bedroom, down the hall and into Alba’s room. She giggles when she sees me. I make a growling noise, and Alba pats my head as though I am a dog. She is sitting up in bed, in the midst of every stuffed animal she has. “Move over, Red Riding Hood.” Alba scoots aside and I lift myself onto the bed. She fussily arranges some of the toys around me. I put my arm around her and lean back and she holds out Blue Teddy to me. “He wants to eat marshmallows.”

“It’s a little early for marshmallows, Blue Teddy. How about some poached eggs and toast?”


The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

Alba makes a face. She does it by squinching together her mouth and eyebrows and nose. “Teddy doesn’t like eggs,” she announces.

“Shhhh. Mama’s sleeping.”

“Okay” Alba whispers, loudly. “Teddy wants blue Jell-O.” I hear Clare groan and start to get up in the other room.

“Cream of Wheat?” I cajole. Alba considers. “With brown sugar?” Okay. “You want to make it?” I slide off the bed.

“Yeah. Can I have a ride?”

I hesitate. My legs really hurt, and Alba has gotten a little too big to do this painlessly, but I can deny her nothing now. “Sure. Hop on.” I am on my hands and knees. Alba climbs onto my back, and we make our way into the kitchen. Clare is standing sleepily by the sink, watching coffee drip into the pot. I clamber up to her and butt my head against her knees and she grabs Alba’s arms and hoists her up, Alba giggling madly all the while. I crawl into my chair. Clare smiles and says, “What’s for breakfast, cooks?”

“Jell-O!” Alba shrieks.

“Mmm. What kind of Jell-O? Cornflake Jell-O?” “Nooooo!”

“Bacon Jell-O?”

“Ick!” Alba wraps herself around Clare, pulls on her hair. “Ouch. Don’t, sweetie. Well, it must be oatmeal Jell-O, then.” “Cream of Wheat!”

“Cream of Wheat Jell-O, yum.” Clare gets out the brown sugar and the milk and the Cream of Wheat package. She sets them on the counter and looks at me inquiringly. “How ‘bout you? Omelet Jell-O?”

“If you’re making it, yeah.” I marvel at Clare’s efficiency, moving around the kitchen as though she’s Betty Crocker, as though she’s been doing this for years. She’ll be okay without me, I think as I watch her, but I know that she will not. I watch Alba mix the water and the wheat together, and I think of Alba at ten, at fifteen, at twenty. It is not nearly enough, yet. I am not done, yet. I want to be here. I want to see them, I want to gather them in my arms, I want to live—

“Daddy’s crying” Alba whispers to Clare.

“That’s because he has to eat my cooking” Clare tells her, and winks at me, and I have to laugh.


The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger


Sunday, December 31, 2006 (Clare is 35, Henry is 43) (7:25p.m.)

CLARE: We’re having a party! Henry was kind of reluctant at first but he seems perfectly content now. He’s sitting at the kitchen table showing Alba how to cut flowers out of carrots and radishes. I admit that I didn’t exactly play fair: I brought it up in front of Alba and she got all excited and then he couldn’t bear to disappoint her.

“It’ll be great, Henry. We’ll ask everyone we know.” “Everyone?” he queried, smiling.

“Everyone we like ,” I amended. And so for days I’ve been cleaning, and Henry and Alba have been baking cookies (although half the dough goes into Alba’s mouth if we don’t watch her). Yesterday Charisse and I went to the grocery store and bought dips, chips, spreads, every possible kind of vegetable, and beer, and wine, and champagne, little colored hors d’ouvres toothpicks, and napkins with Happy New Year printed in gold, and matching paper plates and Lord knows what else. Now the whole house smells like meatballs and the rapidly dying Christmas tree in the living room.

Alicia is here washing our wineglasses.

Henry looks up at me and says, “Hey, Clare, it’s almost showtime. Go take your shower.” I glance at my watch and realize that yes, it’s time.

Into the shower and wash hair and dry hair and into underwear and bra, stockings and black silk party dress, heels and a tiny dab of perfume and lipstick and one last look in the mirror (I look startled) and back into the kitchen where Alba, oddly enough, is still pristine in her blue velvet dress and Henry is still wearing his holey red flannel shirt and ripped-up blue jeans.

“Aren’t you going to change?”

“Oh—yeah. Sure. Help me, huh?” I wheel him into our bedroom.

“What do you want to wear?” I’m hunting through his drawers for underwear and socks. “Whatever. You choose.” Henry reaches over and shuts the bedroom door. “Come here.”

I stop riffing through the closet and look at Henry. He puts the brake on the wheelchair and maneuvers his body onto the bed.

“There’s no time” I say.

“Right, exactly. So let’s not waste time talking.” His voice is quiet and compelling. I flip


The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

the lock on the door.

“You know, I just got dressed—”

“Shhh.” He holds out his arms to me, and I relent, and sit beside him, and the phrase one last time pops into my mind unbidden.


HENRY: The doorbell rings just as I am knotting my tie. Clare says nervously, “Do I look all right?” She does, she is pink and lovely, and I tell her so. We emerge from the bedroom as Alba runs to answer the door and starts yelling “Grandpa! Grandpa! Kimy!” My father stomps his snowy boots and leans to hug her. Clare kisses him on both cheeks. Dad rewards her with his coat. Alba commandeers Kimy and takes her to see the Christmas tree before she even gets her coat off.

“Hello, Henry,” says Dad, smiling, leaning over me and suddenly it hits me: tonight my life will flash before my eyes. We’ve invited everyone who matters to us: Dad, Kimy, Alicia, Gomez, Charisse, Philip, Mark and Sharon and their kids, Gram, Ben, Helen, Ruth, Kendrick and Nancy and their‘ kids, Roberto, Catherine, Isabelle, Matt, Amelia, artist friends of Clare’s, library school friends of mine, parents of Alba’s friends, Clare’s dealer, even Celia Attley, at Clare’s insistence...The only people missing have been unavoidably detained: my mother, Lucille, Ingrid...Oh, God. Help me.

(8:20 p.m.)

CLARE: Gomez and Charisse come breezing in like kamikaze jet fighters. “Hey Library Boy, you lazy coot, don’t you ever shovel your sidewalks?”

Henry smacks his forehead. “I knew I forgot something.” Gomez dumps a shopping bag full of CDs in Henry’s lap and goes out to clean the walks. Charisse laughs and follows me into the kitchen. She takes out a huge bottle of Russian vodka and sticks it in the freezer. We can hear Gomez singing “Let It Snow” as he makes his way down the side of the house with the shovel.

“Where are the kids?” I ask Charisse.

“We parked them at my mom’s. It’s New Year’s; we figured they’d have more fun with Grandma. Plus we decided to have our hangovers in privacy, you know?” I’ve never given it much thought, actually; I haven’t been drunk since before Alba was conceived. Alba comes


The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

running into the kitchen and Charisse gives her an enthusiastic hug. “Hey, Baby Girl! We brought you a Christmas present!”

Alba looks at me. “Go ahead and open it.” It’s a tiny manicure set, complete with nail polish. Alba is open-mouthed with awe. I nudge her, and she remembers.

^ Thank you, Aunt Charisse.” “You’re welcome, Alba.”

“Go show Daddy,” I tell her, and she runs off in the direction of the living room. I stick my head into the hall and I can see Alba gesturing excitedly at Henry, who holds out his fmgers for her as though contemplating a fingernailectomy. “Big hit,” I tell Charisse.

She smiles. “That was my trip when I was little. I wanted to be a beautician when I grew up.”

I laugh. “But you couldn’t hack it, so you became an artist.”

“I met Gomez and realized that nobody ever overthrew the bourgeois capitalist misogynist corporate operating system by perming its hair.”

“Of course, we haven’t exactly been beating it to its knees by selling it art, either.” “Speak for yourself, babe. You’re just addicted to beauty, that’s all.”

“Guilty, guilty, guilty.” We wander into the dining room and Charisse begins to load up her plate. “So what are you working on?” I ask her.

“Computer viruses as art.”

“Oooh.” Oh, no. “Isn’t that kind of illegal?”

“Well; no. I just design them, then I paint the html onto canvas, then I have a show. I don’t actually put them into circulation.”

“But someone could.”

“Sure.” Charisse smiles wickedly. “I hope they do. Gomez scoffs, but some of these little paintings could seriously inconvenience the World Bank and Bill Gates and those bastards who make ATM machines.”

“Well, good luck. When’s the show?” “May. I’ll send you a card.”

“Yeah, when I get it I’ll convert our assets into gold and lay in bottled water”

Charisse laughs. Catherine and Amelia arrive, and we cease to speak of World Anarchy Through Art and move on to admiring each other’s party dresses.


The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

(8:50 p.m.)

HENRY: The house is packed with our nearest and dearest, some of whom I haven’t seen since before the surgery. Leah Jacobs, Clare’s dealer, is tactful and kind, but I find it difficult to withstand the pity in her gaze. Celia surprises me by walking right up to me and offering her hand. I take it, and she says, “I’m sorry to see you like this.”

“Well, you look great,” I say, and she does. Her hair is done up really high and she’s dressed all in shimmery blue.

“Uh-huh,” says Celia in her fabulous toffee voice. “I liked it better when you were bad and I could just hate your skinny white self.”

I laugh. “Ah, the good old days.”

She delves into her purse. “I found this a long time ago in Ingrid’s stuff. I thought Clare might want it.” Celia hands me a photograph. It’s a photo of me, probably from around 1990. My hair is long and I’m laughing, standing on Oak Street Beach, no shirt. It’s a great photograph. I don’t remember Ingrid taking it, but then again, so much of my time with Ing is kind of a blank now.

“Yeah, I bet she would like it. ^ Memento mori.” I hand the picture back to her. Celia glances at me sharply. “You’re not dead, Henry DeTamble.”

“I’m not far from it, Celia.”

Celia laughs. “Well, if you get to Hell before I do, save me a place next to Ingrid.” She turns abruptly and walks off in search of Clare.

(9:45 p.m.)

CLARE: The children have run around and eaten too much party food and now they are sleepy but cranky. I pass Colin Kendrick in the hall and ask if he wants to take a nap; he tells me very solemnly that he’d like to stay up with the grown-ups. I am touched by his politeness and his fourteen-year-old’s beauty, his shyness with me even though he’s known me all his life. Alba and Nadia Kendrick are not so restrained. “Mamaaa,” Alba bleats, “you said we could stay up!”

“Sure you don’t want to sleep for a while? I’ll wake you up right before midnight.”

Nooooo.” Kendrick is listening to this exchange and I shrug my shoulders and he laughs.


The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

“The Indomitable Duo. Okay, girls, why don’t you go play quietly in Alba’s room for a while.” They shuffle off, grumbling. We know that within minutes they’ll be playing happily.

“It’s good to see you, Clare,” Kendrick says as Alicia ambles over.

“Hey, Clare. Get a load of Daddy.” I follow Alicia’s gaze and realize that our father is flirting with Isabelle. “Who is that?”

“Oh, my god.” I’m laughing. “That’s Isabelle Berk.” I start to outline Isabelle’s draconian sexual proclivities for Alicia. We are laughing so hard we can hardly breathe. “Perfect, perfect. Oh. Stop,” Alicia says.

Richard comes over to us, drawn by our hysterics. “What’s so funny, bella donnas?”

We shake our heads, still giggling. “They’re mocking the mating rituals of their paternal authority figure,” says Kendrick. Richard nods, bemused, and asks Alicia about her spring concert schedule. They wander off in the direction of the kitchen, talking Bucharest and Bartok. Kendrick is still standing next to me, waiting to say something I don’t want to hear. I begin to excuse myself, and he puts his hand on my arm.

“Wait, Clare—” I wait. “I’m sorry,” he says.

“It’s okay, David.” We stare at each other for a moment. Kendrick shakes his head, rumbles for his cigarettes. “If you ever want to come by the lab I could show you what I’ve been doing for Alba...”I cast my eyes around the party, looking for Henry. Gomez is showing Sharon how to rumba in the living room. Everyone seems to be having a good time, but Henry is nowhere in sight. I haven’t seen him for at least forty-five minutes, and I feel a strong urge to find him, make sure he’s okay, make sure he’s here. “Excuse me,” I tell Kendrick, who looks like he wants to continue the conversation. “Another time. When it’s quieter.” He nods. Nancy Kendrick appears with Colin in tow, making the topic impossible anyway. They launch into a spirited discussion of ice hockey, and I escape.

(9:48 p.m.)

HENRY: It has become very warm in the house, and I need to cool off, so I am sitting on the enclosed front porch. I can hear people talking in the living room. The snow is falling thick and fast now, covering all the cars and bushes, softening their hard lines and deadening the sound of traffic. It’s a beautiful night. I open the door between the porch and the living room.

“Hey, Gomez.”

He comes trotting over and sticks his head through the doorway. “Yeah?” “Let’s go outside.”


The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

“It’s fucking cold out there.”

“Come on, you soft elderly alderman.”

Something in my tone does the trick. “All right, all right. Just a minute.” He disappears and comes back after a few minutes wearing his coat and carrying mine. As I’m angling into it he offers me his hip flask.

“Oh, no thanks.”

“Vodka. Puts hair on your chest.” “Clashes with opiates.”

“Oh, right. How quickly we forget.” Gomez wheels me through the living room. At the top of the stairs he lifts me out of the chair and I am riding on his back like a child, like a monkey, and we are out the front door and out of doors and the cold air is like an exoskeleton. I can smell the liquor in Gomez’s sweat. Somewhere out there behind the sodium vapor Chicago glare there are stars.



“Thanks for everything. You’ve been the best—” I can’t see his face, but I can feel Gomez stiffen beneath all the layers of clothing.

“What are you saying?”

“My own personal fat lady is singing, Gomez. Time’s up. Game over.” “When?”

“Soon.” “How soon?”

“I don’t know,” I lie. Very, very soon. “Anyway, I just wanted to tell you—I know I’ve been a pain in the ass every now and then,” (Gomez laughs) “but it’s been great” (I pause, because I am on the verge of tears) “it’s been really great” (and we stand there, inarticulate American male creatures that we are, our breath freezing in clouds before us, all the possible words left unspoken now) and finally I say, “Let’s go in,” and we do. As Gomez gently replaces me in the wheelchair he embraces me for a moment, and then walks heavily away without looking back.

(10:15 p.m.)

CLARE: Henry isn’t in the living room, which is filled with a small but determined group of


The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

people trying to dance, in a variety of unlikely ways, to the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Charisse and Matt are doing something that looks like the cha-cha, and Roberto is dancing with considerable flair with Kimy, who moves delicately but steadfastly in a kind of fox trot. Gomez has abandoned Sharon for Catherine, who whoops as he spins her and laughs when he stops dancing to light a cigarette.

Henry isn’t in the kitchen, which has been taken over by Raoul and James and Lourdes and the rest of my artist friends. They are regaling each other with stories of terrible things art dealers have done to artists, and vice versa. Lourdes is telling the one about Ed Kienholtz making a kinetic sculpture that drilled a big hole in his dealer’s expensive desk. They all laugh sadistically. I shake my finger at them. “Don’t let Leah hear you,” I tease. “Where’s Leah?” cries James. “I bet she has some great stories—” He goes off in search of my dealer, who is drinking cognac with Mark on the stairs.

Ben is making himself tea. He has a Ziplock baggie with all sorts of foul herbs in it, which he measures carefully into a tea strainer and dunks into a mug of steaming water. “Have you seen Henry?” I ask him.

“Yeah, I was just talking to him. He’s on the front porch.” Ben peers at me. “I’m kind of worried about him. He seems very sad. He seemed—” Ben stops, makes a gesture with his hand that means ^ I might be wrong about this “he reminded me of some patients I have, when they don’t expect to be around much longer....” My stomach tightens.

“He’s been very depressed since his feet...”

“I know. But he was talking like he was getting on a train that was leaving momentarily, you know, he told me—” Ben lowers his voice, which is always very quiet, so that I can barely hear him: “he told me he loved me, and thanked me.. .I mean, people, guys don’t say that kind of thing if they expect to be around, you know?” Ben’s eyes are swimming behind his glasses, and I put my arms around him, and we stand like that for a minute, my arms encasing Ben’s wasted frame. Around us people are chattering, ignoring us. “I don’t want to outlive anybody” Ben says. “Jesus. After drinking this awful stuff and just generally being a bloody martyr for fifteen years I think I’ve earned the right to have everybody I know file past my casket and say, ‘He died with his boots on.’ Or something like that. I’m counting on Henry to be there quoting Donne, ‘ Death, be not proud, you stupid motherfucker.’ It’ll be beautiful.”

I laugh. “Well, if Henry can’t make it, I’ll come. I do a mean imitation of Henry.” I raise one eyebrow, lift my chin, lower my voice: “ ‘One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And Death shall be sitting in the kitchen in his underwear at three in the morning, doing last week’s crossword puzzle—’” Ben cracks up. I kiss his pale smooth cheek and move on.

Henry is sitting by himself on the front porch, in the dark, watching it snow. I’ve hardly glanced out the window all day, and now I realize that it’s been snowing steadily for hours. Snowplows are rattling down Lincoln Avenue, and our neighbors are out shoveling their


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walks. Although the porch is enclosed it’s still cold out here.

“Come inside,” I say. I am standing beside him, watching a dog bounding in the snow across the street. Henry puts his arm around my waist and leans his head on my hip.

“I wish we could just stop time now,” he says. I’m running my fingers through his hair. It’s stiffer and thicker than it used to be, before it went gray.

“Clare,” he says. “Henry.”

“It’s time...” He stops. “What?” “It’s...I’m....”

“My God.” I sit down on the divan, facing Henry. “But—don’t. Just— stay.” I squeeze his hands tightly.

“It has already happened. Here, let me sit next to you.” He swings himself out of his chair and onto the divan. We lie back on the cold cloth. I am shivering in my thin dress. In the house people are laughing and dancing. Henry puts his arm around me, warming me.

“Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you let me invite all these people?” I don’t want to be angry, but I am.

“I don’t want you to be alone...after. And I wanted to say goodbye to everyone. It’s been good, it was a good last hurrah...” We lie there silently for a while. The snow falls, silently.

“What time is it?”

I check my watch. “A little after eleven.” Oh, God. Henry grabs a blanket from the other chair, and we wrap it around each other. I can’t believe this. I knew that it was coming, soon, had to come sooner or later, but here it is, and we are just lying here, waiting—

“Oh, why can’t we do something!” I whisper into Henry’s neck. “Clare—” Henry’s arms are wrapped around me. I close my eyes, “Stop it. Refuse to let it happen. Change it,”

“Oh, Clare.” Henry’s voice is soft and I look up at him, and his eyes shine with tears in the light reflected by the snow. I lay my cheek against Henry’s shoulder. He strokes my hair. We stay like this for a long time. Henry is sweating. I put my hand on his face and he’s burning up with fever.

“What time is it?” “Almost midnight.”

“I’m scared.” I twine my arms through his, wrap my legs around his. It’s impossible to


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believe that Henry, so solid, my lover, this real body, which I am holding pressed to mine with all my strength, could ever disappear:

“Kiss me!”

I am kissing Henry, and then I am alone, under the blanket, on the divan, on the cold porch. It is still snowing. Inside, the record stops, and I hear Gomez say, “Ten! nine! eight!” and everyone says, all together, “seven! six! five! four! three! two! one! Happy New Year!” and a champagne cork pops, and everyone starts talking all at once, and someone says, “Where are Henry and Clare?” Outside in the street someone sets off firecrackers. I put my head in my hands and I wait.


The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

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