In an overcoat buttoned tight against the elements, a professor walked down the street. Heavy skies broke overhead and drenched all in a sudden cloudburst. People ran for cover and sheltered under cheerful awnings as they pulled up hoods. Brollies unfurled skyward. Professor Bryn Alva carried on his way regardless. Awful grey days were not unusual this time of year in Geneva city. Cold drops of water trickled down his neck and absorbed into his wet shirt collar, causing him to shiver. Fine strands of hair plastered down to his forehead.
“Damn,” he said out loud - this was all he needed.
Glaring he moved on, usually when he walked deft use of his walking cane kept him balanced. Today he struggled. His body shook, ankles disobeyed, making him lurch and stumble. Splashing through burbling rivulets each step giving grief. Wounding pain made moving feel like he trod the pathway of the damned.
“Where are we” he called out to people under an awning. They looked away, no reply.
The odd thing was he had no recollection of what he was doing here. No recall. Confusion weighed in. Feeling nauseous, he pulled a scrunched brown bag from beneath the damp wool coat. Urgent gulps of cider gurgled down. He threw the empty into the gutter. People stared offended. On second thoughts he bent over to retrieve it. Some things are sacrosanct. As he did so a letter fell from his pocket unnoticed joining the city detritus.
This man wasn’t the archetypal eccentric professor. He had his quirks of which the coat was one. And his betters, the giants of physics whose shoulders he balanced on. In a literal sense he filled a niche at the apex of the scientific world.
Grateful for the coat, wool repels water well, he moved on. The fit was good. He’d always relished how the coat felt. Smart, soft, masculine. Sentimentality for the things of his youth had origins in poverty once braved. The coat more than any other belonging typified this. The fine red lining was intact, no good reason existed to part company. He’d never given a second thought to where it had come from, or to whom it had belonged.
No one wore Crombie’s any more but such thoughts were frivolous. Quality speaks, never mind it was Charity shop wear. Isn’t that what poor students do? People in his path might at the moment assume the man in the black coat was a bum, give him foot room. He looked unkempt, unshaven.
The homeless, drug dealers, they have that perpetual 10 O’clock stubble like he wore today. Vigorous silver grey stubble peppered his chin. Made him look older and somehow dirty. Not the type they were in the habit of sharing their pavements with. This was a nice area of the city. Customarily he was quite well turned out, his voice strong, self assured. Today was an exception.
Dehydration and excessive thirst glued his swollen tongue to the palate of his mouth. To his knowledge there was an off licence nearby. The notion that cider would heal this affliction drew him on. Discomfort and stress were taking their toll.
The scientist normally headed straight home after work, but couldn’t. He didn’t quite recognise this street. The surroundings were familiar but at the same time not. He halted, pulled an iphone out to call Peter his manager. He’d tell him he’d lost it and they’d both laugh.
Orange street lights reflected off the black glass screen until the white light of inner workings illuminated. Peter was not in the contacts list. come to that none of the names in there were familiar. At a loss, he took off on a direction that headed towards main station. Familiarity mingled with incongruities. Finding the off licence more difficult than expected. A shot of panic rose up in his throat. He had to find somewhere to eat and wash up.
The first fingers of darkness reached out over tall city buildings. Shadows drew across its streets simultaneously pushing the day on to its conclusion. Mild mannered Bryn was uncharacteristically irritated. At odds with the impending darkness. With the irrationality. Given to uncertainty when he should be with Indira his wife. Success was one thing but Indie was something else. She was the one, and he loved her to distraction.
On the face of it the sum of his entire life looked perfect. Success though hid the truth, the real sacrifices. Coming from a poor northern city of the UK there would be no future had he not won the scholarship. Hard work was the foundation of his success and life wasn’t perfect. Last year she had gotten into a bad space and packed his bags for him. He spent far too much time with Peter stumbling through doors that he ought not. A winter descended on their relationship. It’s hard to explain how it is when there’s something missing. What it does to you. A happiness they waited for hadn’t visited. They wanted a child. But more than anything he needed recognition. Boundless ambition to be counted up there among the greats bent him. That’s was the stuff of his dreams.
The marriage was a good one. Without doubt a devoted couple, inseparable and hardcore trustworthy. They’d reached that point of unbreakable love. Found comfort and financial security, lived the dream before they considered children. But it wasn’t to be.
Years of IVF followed beset with yearning and disappointments. They no longer allowed themselves joy or elation. They dared not hope. Too often they found those dashed and with each loss profound emptiness. The indelible footprints of misery ran across their lives. How could they go through it all again? Their in the longing hung a silence. The missing noise of children girdled existence. ‘Never say never’ they’d said in the beginning but in time that changed to ‘this is the last cycle - no more.’ They changed. In turn work became the glue that stuck them together. Their careers were now the constant. Escapist behaviours were just a symptom of the problem.
Bryn was pacing out a new sort of misery here. His agitation grew on the unfamiliar street. Thinking of her comforted him. Pulling earplugs from his pocket he stuck them in. Music drowned out the sounds of the sidewalk. Lost in thought, self absorbed he cut a straight line into a mall that intersected into a night cafe. Sat staring into the depths of a vending coffee his cane hung on the stool beside him. Frothy brown deposits dissolved on white plastic. He dragged around a teaspoon contemplating the stringy mess. There was a problem he didn’t know how to solve. He didn’t know where he was. Indie had gone for a scan. She should have called. He’d heard nothing.
Last year things had come to a head at home. He returned from work to find his suitcases packed in the front hallway. Indie told him to leave. He cried hard at the time, feelings were running high.
“I can’t live like this anymore” she threw at him.
“What’s it about. You got somebody else?”
“Hell no. I haven’t. I haven’t even got you. Your devotees have that.”
“What then? For heavens sake what!”
“You spend more time with Pete and Rick go live with them.”
“That’s plain silly.”
“What am I - silly? No, stupid to let myself be your punching bag,” she sounded broken. “You scold me for nothing, absolutely nothing all the time. Don’t you know you do that? And you harp on about work endlessly - like it was the only worthwhile thing you’ve got. Iv’e had enough.”
“I am hopelessly in love with you,” he yelled, “don’t do this, can’t you see what happening.”
Taking her by the shoulders, he turned her around. “No Indie, no.” He muffled into the fold of her neck. “We’re not done. We can sort this.”
“But I can’t do this anymore, something has got to change.”
Wrapped in his arms they stood there, him holding her until the grief subsided.
“I want to spend my life with you, children or no, I promise you,” he whispered. His lips gently sought hers, pressed soft into their fullness. His patient mouth kissed the hurt, the unbearable ache until it drained from her. Until all she remembered was his touch.
“Can we adopt? We always thought we might if this didn’t work out. Maybe this is the right time?”
Going forward, life however added a different twist. Nature had other plans in store. Indie conceived naturally. To their surprise she fell pregnant without treatment. So much of their life had been in the public domain. They didn’t want this privacy invaded. Keeping news of this child close until the danger time passed proved hard. But at 19 weeks they breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed. Delighted in the moments they dreamed of. Yesterday evening when she was prepping food he pushed close behind, flipping her shirt up, he ran his hands over her baby bump.
“Umm, that’s good, she took pleasure in his touch. Warm breathy kisses played down her neck stopping at her earlobes, he whispered.
“That’s our baby in there, we made it happen.” His hands turned her around to face him.
“The food,” she protested weakly.
He kissed her brushing her hair back, nuzzling into it, smelling her fragrance. Pushing his tongue between the bond of her lips.
“Your’e one sexy mama. I’ll help you set the table after.”
There was everything to look forward to. They’d settled into an expectation. That’s what made the scan results alarming. Unfortunately she’d gone early and alone for her 22 week scan. Bryn had to work there was no getting out of it. Anyway he’d been to the last. Watched the heart pump and limbs flutter, seen baby’s face in 3d. Indie and he held hands, smiled with content. Today though, the ultrasound technician frowned. She applied more gel explaining there was a poor connection.
“I’ll just ask my colleague.”
“The Consultant requested we do further tests.” She said on return.
“We’re just being careful. Your blood pressure was a bit on the high side. Baby is okay. There was a little protein in your urine sample so we’d like to keep an eye on that. We’d like you to rest here a while, okay?”
She wasn’t prepared for admission - a creeping sense of deja vu edged in. Fear and unreality alloyed. No one had said the words she dreaded. But to her mind they were in the air. And once they were said reality would be changed forever. They mustn’t say them, can’t say them Indie panicked. I can’t breathe.
“I’m going out for a little air and I’ll let my husband know. He’ll collect my things from home.” Outside Indie messaged knowing he’d hurry from work as soon as he heard.
In the cafe Bryn still clasped the empty cup. The memory of a blast inched back to him- there had been an explosion. An explosion? I’m not thinking straight. Attention rested on his phone where Google earth located him to exactly where he should be. All fine and good. History. Previous searches. He’d made a bunch of searches for CERN though he didn’t recall. Okay, do it again. The search came back - we have given you the results for Lucern.’ Frustrated he sat pensive his mind fizzing in confusion and visions of the yellow door.
Okay, he told himself, “Quora, access Lucern staff profiles.” Let’s see what’s what.” Pictures from the website furrowed his eyebrow. For some moments he thought he wasn’t there. Not him nor Peter. It was a joke. He looked around half amused but no one was about. Obvious, it’s a human error. ”Quora access profile picture Bryn Alva.”
A profile picture rendered, there I am and, huh, there’s the typo - Brian. Peter’s there under P you dumb cluck. His own picture looked just as expected, mouse brown hair peppered in silver, symmetrical features. Peter on the other-hand characterful, one would say worldly worn.
He had a thing going with Peter. They did lotteries together while neither needed the money. And together they enjoyed the backdoor nocturnal pleasures a city like this offered. Peter, no way would he fall into that trap himself. Naming any child something that could be misconstrued. Christian names need consideration. Like James or Jack are pretty safe bets, or Lily.
That’s what he’d been thinking about when the pain hit him. Baby names.
This city he lived in, cosmopolitan and welcoming gave a great quality of life. Provided luxury few could afford. His stamping grounds only because he’d earned the privilege. He joined the influential in this spectacular playground, at one hour ahead of GMT. There it had stood unwavering.
Something was skewed. Impossible. Yet it was there in his memory and he knew this city wasn’t his city.
Then what sort of rabbit hole is it?
Reminiscent of his grass smoking days neurons fired on a disassociated free fall.