Roosevelt was, apparently, taken to a train waiting for him in Portland, and from there he rode to Boston, then on to the White House, while Claire and Ben Levy accompanied Charles back to the Wilkinson home in Philadelphia for a few days rest. They arrived on Christmas Eve, just in time for dinner, and the house was decorated just as Claire remembered. A little over the top, as always, but festive and gay.
For there were children roaming the halls once again, and the stairs and hallways echoed with laughter.
Charles had two now, both boisterous boys, while Liz had three – two boys and a very little girl – while poor, barren Amanda had finally given in to her various depressions and learned to eat. When Claire first saw Amanda that evening she could hardly believe her eyes, for the glorious blond-headed dream-boat of Mainline Society had blossomed into something quite unrecognizable. Sullen didn’t begin to describe the look on poor Amanda’s face; no, her’s was a lassitude of broken dreams…too many nighttime visits by Rupert had simply cut the girl loose from mundane things – like reality. She muttered to her demons no matter where she was, no matter who was around to listen.
And as these things so often do, her latest series of outbreaks was attended by Benjamin Levy.
She was sitting at the piano in the library, staring at sheet music when he walked into the vast, high-ceilinged room. He did not see her sitting there as he walked to one of the shelves and pulled a book down, for she had neither moved nor spoken a single word.
Then he heard a child’s forlorn cry and turned to see Amanda in animated discussion with – no one. She was fully engaged in an argument, the contours of which remained a mystery to him, as he listened, though he heard references to unwanted advances and pleas to a doctor…
He watched her for some time, fascinated. He’d heard of schizophrenia, of course, but had never seen evidence of it’s existence before, and watching this woman rattle on as if fully engaged in a life or death struggle was at once as interesting as it was troubling.
He moved closer to the piano yet the woman didn’t respond to his presence, and he realized he simply didn’t exist right now, not in the world this woman inhabited. Wherever this woman was, she simply was not in the same place he was.
Then Claire walked into the room, looking first at Ben, then at her sister.
She walked over to the piano and looked at Amanda, then to Benjamin. And at the book in Benjamin’s hand.
Tolstoy’s Resurrection. Now…why had he taken that book from the shelves?
And she could almost remember when books like that one had consumed all her interest – until they didn’t – couldn’t – anymore. Until the overt primacy of the physical world became self-apparent, most fulfilling, and how, after that epiphany she had turned away from literature and music.
Then, hearing Amanda’s words, she fell inside the distant conversation and the pleas to their demons…
And so Claire moved to her sister’s side, sat beside her on the piano bench and put her arms around Amanda’s shoulders.
“Oh, my poor dear,” Claire said, startled at the change she found now, “what’s bothering you this fine Christmas Eve?”
And those words seemed to pull Amanda back into the present – for a moment. “Claire? You’re home?”
“Yes, precious, I am.”
“Play for me, would you?”
Claire shook her head as if she hadn’t quite understood the words. “Play?”
“Yes. Debussy. Remember how you used to sit and play for father?”
“When you played, he left me alone. Did you know that?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“I loved it when you played Debussy most of all. He left me alone for days.”
“I’m sorry, my love. I didn’t know.”
“Did you love me, Claire?”
“Yes, of course. I always have.”
“That’s so sweet of you to say. I wished I was younger when you came to us. That we could have played together. As it was, I was most afraid of you…”
“Why? Because you were so much larger than life. Seven years old and reading books even my mother hadn’t, playing Debussy for us all, showing us the way forward, away from all the nightmares in this house.”
“I don’t understand, Amanda.”
“Really? I was so jealous of you…”
“Jealous? But really, it was I who was jealous…of you! You were always so gorgeous, so charming and full of poise, and I knew I’d never be as beautiful as you…”
And Amanda leaned over, let her head rest on Claire’s shoulder. “And look at me now,” she whispered. “Look at me now, dear sister.”
“I am, dearest. And do you know what? I think you need to come with me, out to New Mexico, and live with me for a while.”
“Yes. Did you know I have a horse there, and mountain trails to ride? Streams to fish, pools to swim in? You’d love it, Amanda. Won’t you think about it? We could have so much fun…”
“Play something for me, Claire.”
“But…I haven’t, not in years.”
“The Clair de lune? I might remember…”
“Yes, please. That was always father’s favorite.”
Claire turned and faced the piano, and though it had been twenty years she played as if it had been only days. She played and played and Amanda wept, gently at first, then openly – as her nightmares for her in their ancient room…their knives drawn, patiently waiting for just the right moment as they circled the room.
While Claire played Ben Levy looked at these two creatures and wondered about the things they had shared. About the things that had pushed them apart once upon a time, and about the tragic, unseen bond that held them close even now. He thought about what it meant to be human, to be part of a family. About the things you can never forgive, and the moments that held these two people fast together. He thought about music, human music – and the music of the spheres. Yet all the blood in the universe couldn’t explain what he had just seen…the tears on Amanda’s face the echoes of a little girls betrayal, the solace she took from lost chords, notes played by echoes of another little girl – one blissfully unaware of all the other little betrayals that had lain waiting in this kaleidoscope of shadows.
All her hidden emotions were right there, on two faces hiding in one.
And if he’d ever wondered what it would be like to be betrayed by a father, here was all the evidence one would ever need – in this amber shadowland, lives hiding just out of sight until the fault lines became too hard to ignore. Until the other voices spilled out into the light of day, no longer content to wait.
When Claire finished walking through these conjoined memories she stood abruptly and walked out of the library, while Amanda resumed her dialogue with the dead. Benjamin opened Tolstoy to a bookmark and looked at the words on the page for a moment, then he followed Claire out into the shadows.
He walked to a vast parlor, what was being called a living room these days, and he stared at the Christmas tree set up before a huge expanse of windows. The house, he saw, was some sort of approximation of a Tudor mansion, with reddish brick augmented by blackish-brown timbers and sharply arced doors separating one room from another, all set-off by a huge stone fireplace in the far wall. The Christmas tree was a good ten feet tall, and he saw an infinite number of amber reflections set amongst the green needles, reflections of other light long gone, reflections of memories patiently waiting.
There were even stockings set on the mantle, he saw, and he remembered a time when such things had meant something to him. A life he’d never known, of course, yet attractive in the way borrowed memories often are.
Presents under the tree, countless expectations wrapped in endless anticipation. So much happiness, so many memories waiting to be made, wanting to be made.
What if it all disappeared tomorrow, he asked himself? What if I make another mistake? I very nearly cost Roosevelt his life, and Claire’s. What if McCrea hadn’t turned on the radar? What if Scharnhorst had crept up on them unawares? What if the Iowa had perished in those cold, storm-tossed seas? And Claire, too? If she had been lost, then what?
He had to admit now he was starting to feel something for her. Nothing like attraction, not yet, but something more like admiration, even a grudging respect. Hers was a towering intellect, beyond anything these people had ever encountered, yet she seemed, if not unaware then perhaps simply careless about the implications. So few minds reached her state of development, anywhere, yet when such power arose the universe took note. There were a handful of such minds on earth now, and that might soon become a problem. If they succeeded in detonating their device the universe would take note, and then he’d have to decide what to do.
If they came he’d have to go back once again, go back to that night of drifting icebergs and frantic pleading. Outcomes would have to be altered once again, destinies sent in new directions. He’d have to kill her this time, before she started changing outcomes again, before he fell in love with her – again. And most of all, before their daughter rose from the ashes and destroyed them all.
He sat across from Claire – and Amanda – his eyes trained on the gently passing landscape on the far side of the glass. They were on the Southwest Chief, now about halfway between Chicago and Lamy, New Mexico, and Claire was reading a report from Boeing engineers detailing reinforcements made to the outboard engine nacelles on three B-29s that had just come off the line; simulated blasts had rendered catastrophic damage to all three test aircraft and she was vexed now – because they had ignored her suggestion that they use either a heavier gauge steel, or consider an even stronger, though experimental, laminated metal…
Amanda was staring at her reflection in the window, talking to a man who looked suspiciously like her father – and who was holding a knife to her belly, apparently getting ready to slice her open and remove the unborn child from her womb…
Levy saw Amanda tense as she spoke and shook his head, then he turned away in embarrassed despair in search of silence, wondering not only how, but why Claire thought she would be able to take care of this wounded creature. Or why she should? There were hospitals, after all, and Claire would never be able to dedicate the necessary time for the level of care Amanda would require. And…she wasn’t even biologically related! Why wouldn’t Charles or Elizabeth step forward and take over…?
‘Does she expect me to care for this poor creature?” Ben sighed inwardly. “If so, she will be very disappointed…” No, he would begin work at 3M after the war. ‘His’ family would move to Minneapolis, Claire would commence teaching and stop all work on the Shift. She had to. He had explained that to her more than once now, and she’d said she understood the implications of continuing, the repercussions such a course of action guaranteed.
He turned and looked at Claire again, still lost in that latest engineering report.
“Anything new?” he asked.
“They used aluminum again. Three aircraft lost.”
“Titanium would be better.”
“Titanium? How so?”
“Have the their metallurgists and engineers look at this formula,” he said, scribbling on the back of an envelope:
2Mg(l) + TiCl4(g) → 2MgCl2(l) + Ti(s) [T = 800–850 °C]
“What is it?”
“Just pass it along, Claire.”
“I had no idea you were a misogynist, Mr. Levy,” Claire sighed.
“What makes you say that?”
“Because,” Amanda interjected, “you’re speaking to her like a misogynist asshole, asshole.”
Claire’s left eyebrow arced sharply, then she tried to stifle the laugh she knew was coming.
“That was a little paternalistic of me, wasn’t it?” Ben sighed.
“A little?” Amanda asked.
“I’m sorry,” he added, taking the envelope again and writing on the back at an incomprehensible speed. “So, essentially, if one takes refined rutile from raw titanium ore, you reduce it further with a petroleum-derived coke in a fluidized bed reactor at 1000 degrees centigrade. Next, the resulting mixture should be treated with chlorine gas, giving you titanium tetrachloride, as well as a few other nasty chlorides,” Levy said, grinning manically. “Next, these should be separated by further continuous fractional distillation, then, in a separate reactor, the titanium tetrachloride should be further reduced by liquid magnesium, at, say, 800–850 degrees centigrade, and this will ensure complete reduction. The resulting alloy will meet your requirements.”
“Oh? How strong is it?”
“Several orders of magnitude, I should think, than what they’re currently using, and not nearly so heavy.”
She took the envelope and studied it – while Amanda looked at Levy.
“Who are you,” she said at long last.
“Me? Just your average industrial chemist.”
“You’re an asshole,” Amanda said, looking him in the eye, daring him to challenge her.
“Yes. And I’m not at all sure I trust you.”
“And why would you? You hardly know me?”
“Claire hardly knows you. Why does she trust you?”
“Because she knows me better than you think, or think possible.”
“You speak in circles a lot, don’t you?”
“Occupational hazard, I suppose.”
“Never a straight answer,” Amanda sighed, then she returned to staring at the myriad reflections in the window…waiting…
(C) 2017 | Adrian Leverkühn | abw | fiction, all of it…