Abyss & Apex : Third Quarter 2006

NEW SPECTACLES Illustration

New Spectacles

by Will McIntosh

“I can’t believe it’s really over.”

Shocked, Tristan glanced at his grandfather, taking his eye off the road for a second. It was the most genuine thing his grandfather had ever said. Tristan didn’t know how to respond. His grandfather stared straight ahead, his big head bobbing a palsied rhythm as it had for the last twenty years. His fat, crooked Irish nose was unaltered by the weight loss, but skin dangled loosely from his neck. Sixty pounds in five months. Christ, it had been an ordeal. But it was almost over now.

“You’ve had a good life. Eighty-five years,” Tristan said.

His grandfather grunted, looked out the side window at telephone poles whisking by in the rain.

This was probably Tristan’s last chance to say whatever he wanted to say to the old guy while he was still lucid. But what would that be? I love you? That seemed an awkward, unimaginable leap, and not one his grandfather would particularly appreciate.

Tristan programmed a fragrance from the vehicle’s menu. An old time comfort smell. The car filled with the aroma of old wood furniture, a hint of corned beef and cabbage cooking in a distant kitchen. Cut grass. And something else Tristan couldn’t quite place. His grandfather leaned his head on the headrest, closed his eyes.

The hospital came into view, blurry then clear as the wipers swept the windshield. He pulled up to the front doors.

“Pop, we’re here. Wait here while I get a wheelchair.”

Hand trembling, his grandfather struggled with the seatbelt. “I don’t need no damned wheelchair,” he said in his brusque Irish brogue. “I can walk.” Tristan knew better than to argue.

Taking old-man steps and gasping for air, grandpa bulled his way through the stark fluorescent halls to his room. As soon as he was settled, Tristan left, saying he had to get to work, that mom would come soon. His grandfather nodded, heaved a sigh.

That’s the last time he’ll ever walk, Tristan thought.

 

teardrop

 

The Poly-Layer Voice Analysis glasses sat on the edge of Tristan’s mahogany desk in their cushioned black box, looking like any other pair of specs. Tristan took off his regular pair, laid them on the blotter, put on the PLVA’s. Grabbing his notes, he headed to his first interogation of the day.

“Hi Tris,” Mike Miller said, passing in the hall. He put his hand to his throat and pointed dramatically. “Aaugh! You’ve got the glasses on! And I spoke! You’ve seen into my soul, you–you know I’m in love with you. I’m still speaking! You’re seeing even deeper. I have to shut up!”

“You’d better, the PLVA’s just told me you’ve got six dead bodies stuffed under your bed,” Tristan shot back. Mike screamed again, holding his hands over his ears as he raced around the corner and out of sight.

Actually, the PLVA’s readouts indicated that Mike was tired, amused, at ease. The readouts that lit up in Tristan’s peripheral vision would be meaningless to an untrained eye, but Tristan picked up the patterns with the practiced ease of a chess master appraising a game-board.

“Hi Becky,” Tristan said as he passed the department’s secretary and headed into the interview room.

“Hi Dr. Sanders, your first interview is waiting.”

“Got it, thanks,” he said, closing the door behind him. Becky didn’t like him much; it registered consistently on the PLVA. Tristan had no idea why.

A tall, stocky man with short brown hair and a goatee stood as Tristan entered. “Dr. Sanders? Roy Regan.” Regan moved in the smooth, hyper-confident way that was common among the CEO’s and CFO’s Tristan dealt with as an investigator in the white collar crime division.

They shook hands and sat down facing each other. Regan sat forward, elbows propped on knees.

Tristan gave him the standard spiel–he wanted to ask some questions about potential irregularities, blah, blah, blah.

“Shoot,” Regan said confidently. He leaned back, crossed one leg, and jiggled his foot.

Three questions in, Tristan could tell Regan was lying. He pulled off the glasses, wiped them on his shirt sleeve. “Mr. Regan, have you ever heard of Poly-Layer Voice Analysis? PLVA?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“PLVA analyzes 8000 algorithms to measure 129 aspects of a persons speech, and can deduce everything from anxiety to boredom to sexual excitement…to truthfulness. And it does so reliably. If PLVA technology ever gets cheap enough to market commercially, nothing will ever be the same.”

“So?” he said. His anxiety level was sky high. You’d never know it from his outwardly calm, reasonable tone, but the PLVA was not fooled.

“Here,” Tristan said, handing the glasses to Regan, “put these on.” Regan took them like he had been handed a dead Chihuahua. Tristan nodded encouragement. Reluctantly Regan put them on.

“My name is Tristan Sanders, I have a wife,” Tristan said. “Both of those things are true, and mundane. Notice the readouts in the periphery?” Regan nodded uncertainly.

“Good, now I’ll say something true, but not mundane. My grandfather is in the hospital, dying…notice the difference? I know you can’t interpret the readout, but can you see the difference in pattern?”

Regan nodded. Droplets of sweat had formed on his forehead. Tristan had never seen anyone begin to sweat so abruptly.

“Now, I’ll tell a lie. My grandfather and I have always been close. Notice the difference?

Regan didn’t nod. He pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket, dabbed his forehead. He was a good looking man, actually. Studious and square-jawed–kind of a puffy Clark Kent. Tristan held out his hand, and Regan returned the glasses. He followed the path of the glasses intently as Tristan cradled them back onto the bridge of his nose.

“Now,” Tristan continued, “explain exactly what aspects of your business are fraudulent.”

 

teardrop

 

Tristan dropped his notes on the desk, grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. He was not looking forward to returning to the hospital. He’d probably taken some of his dread out on Mr. Regan. He’d been pretty rough on the guy.

As he walked through the metal detectors, out of the building and across the mostly-empty parking lot to his Volvo, Tristan was vaguely aware he had forgotten to take off the PLVA glasses. If security had noticed the glasses and stopped him, Tristan would have chided himself for his absentmindedness and trotted back to his office to swap them for his regular glasses, which were still sitting on his desk. He may have even believed the forgetfulness excuse himself. But security mostly focused on who was going in, not who was coming out, and Tristan had been working there for years.

By the time he stepped into the hospital room, his heart was pounding and he was fully aware he was still wearing them. His mom was sitting by the hospital bed. Grandpa was sleeping. He wasn’t wearing his dentures, and his face looked mummified. His chest rose and fell in violent fits as he labored to take liquid breaths. The room was filled with the scent of a spring meadow, but the stink of hospital–urine, antiseptic, infection–lay just underneath. Light music drifted from hidden speakers.

“How’s he doing?” Tristan whispered.

“New glasses,” mom said, smiling. “They’re nice–simple and basic.”

Tristan just smiled.

“He’s okay,” his mom said. “He keeps asking for water, but the doctors say he can only have eight ounces an hour because of the medication they’re giving him.”

Emotional distress registered high on the PLVA, but otherwise there was nothing out of the ordinary. Tristan grasped the frame of the glasses, nearly pulled them off, then left them on.

“What sort of medication?”

Mom shook her head. “Something to fight the cancer. I’m not sure what it is.”

“But isn’t he dying?”

“I know, I don’t understand it either,” mom said, in a low, conspiratorial tone.

Grandpa’s breath hitched. He coughed weakly, opened his eyes, looked at mom, then at Tristan with bewildered eyes.

“How are you doing?” Tristan said.

Grandpa nodded. “Okay,” he said.

“Are you in pain?”

“No pain,” Grandpa said, shaking his head. He was telling the truth.

His grandfather had never felt pain. Once Tristan had seen him snare his thumb with a fishhook and tear the hook right back out, unflinching, cursing at the annoyance and seemingly more worried about the hook than the ragged, bloody mess he’d made of his thumb.

His grandfather smacked puckered lips. “Get me a drink of water, will you? I’m so thirsty.”

Tristan grabbed the plastic bottle from the table and put the straw between his grandfather’s lips. It was a shock to see the man so helpless. Grandpa did not radiate the resentment at having to be helped that Tristan expected from the sour old man. He pulled furiously on the straw, his sunken eyes filled with gratitude.

“That’s enough, Pop…don’t give him too much,” mom said. Reluctantly Tristan took the cup away. Grandpa let out a satisfied gasp, just like he used to do after taking a swig of beer.

Lana appeared in the doorway, with grandma hanging onto her arm. She knocked on the doorframe. Even after a year of marriage, Tristan still lit up at the sight of Lana. Her long, dramatic red hair and light-blue eyes gave her an unearthly beauty, like some faerie or pixie made real.

“Hello? You’ve got a visitor.” Lana led Grandma to a cushioned sofa chair next to the bed; grandma’s ruined hip forced her to take hobbled, uneven steps, as if she was perpetually walking up stairs. Lana gave Tristan a quick kiss on the cheek, took a half step out of the circle of family.

“Hello Frankie,” Grandma said, her lilting Irish accent still thick seventy year removed from Ireland. The PLVA indicated embarrassment, fairly high SOS (how badly you don’t want to say something), and sadness.

Grandpa turned to look at her; Tristan was astonished by how much his face looked like a skull under the low fluorescent light.

“Hello Mam,” he said. “I’m going fast.” The PLVA monitors went wild. Tristan could hardly believe the cacophony of indicators that were red-lining. Anger, SOS, emotional stress, even some deception. Tristan was stunned. He waited for his grandfather to speak to his grandmother again, unwilling to believe the reading.

“How are you feeling?” Grandma asked. “You look good, you look much better.”

“Well, I don’t feel very good,” Grandpa said evenly.

The readout went nuts again. Suddenly Tristan wished he wasn’t wearing the glasses. He’d always interpreted his grandfather’s short, impatient way with grandma as a gruff facade masking an old-style, pragmatic love. According to the readout, his grandfather hated his grandmother, truly hated her.

“Are you warm enough?” Grandma said. Grandpa ignored the question, looked at Tristan. “Tristan, boy, I’m counting on you to take care of old Ginger. Your grandmam’s too old to do it, and Ginger’s always liked you.” The PLVA registered sadness, emotional distress, but none of the vitriol of a moment before.

“Sure, I’d be happy to.” He looked at his grandmother. “I’ll bring her over for visits so she won’t miss you too much.” Grandma smiled sadly, said nothing.

 

teardrop

 

“How are you holding up?” Lana asked Tristan, wrapping her arm around his waist as they headed out the hospital’s big electric doors, into fresh air. Actually, the air stank of city–black exhaust, wafts of rotting trash–but after the death-smell of the hospital it was like fresh-cut flowers to Tristan. He did not like hospitals.

“I’m good,” he said. “Where you want to eat?” They had an hour for dinner, then they were back on point while the next shift ate.

“How ‘bout Mackelwees?” The suggestion was nearly drowned out by a honking yellow cab.

Tristan smiled. An Irish pub, a fitting tribute to the old man. “Maybe I’ll have a little taste while we’re there–me first one today,” he said in a bad Irish accent. Lana had only been around for a year, but she’d already picked up on the family in-jokes.

She laughed and punched him playfully in the side. “He’s dying. You’re supposed to be nice to people who are dying.” Unwittingly she hit the pocket of his jacket where he’d stashed the PLVA specs on his way out of the room. He flinched, but didn’t think she’d done any harm. Everyone had liked his new glasses.

“I actually like the old guy okay. He’s cold, kind of mean, a bigot. He called me a sissy once when I was little–”

Lana gasped. “Oh, that’s awful! When you were little? Why? Did he catch you playing dress-up?”

“No,” Tristan said, laughing, “I wasn’t playing dress-up. It was back when I was afraid to fall asleep. I told you about that, remember?”

Lana nodded. “Your parents thought you were afraid of the dark because you were watching too many monster movies. You didn’t have the vocabulary to explain it was existential angst. Sleep freaked you out because it felt like temporary death.”

“Damn. You listen to me way more carefully than I listen to you.”

Lana laughed. “Very funny.”

They turned in under the green awning, entered Mackelwees. Making their way through crowds of happy-hour revelers, they found a booth toward the back. Tristan could just barely hear “Danny Boy” over the rumble and laughter of the crowd.

“So,” Lana prodded when they got settled.

“Okay, so it’s Christmas Eve. My parents want to go to a party, and I’m freaking out that they’re leaving me alone to struggle with my existential falling-asleep angst. My grandparents are visiting, and mom explains the whole thing to grandpa, who agrees to stay up with me as late as I want. As soon as the folks are out the door, grandpa gets up, turns off the TV, and says ‘I’m going to bed.’ I start crying, saying he promised to stay up with me. He wheels around and says ‘You’re nothing but a sissy,’ and launches into a tirade about how my parents are too soft on me, and how I’ll never be a man.”

“Oh!” Lana said. She reached over and rubbed the top of Tristan’s hand. “That’s rotten! How old were you?”

“About seven. But you know, I think in his own ignorant way he thought he was doing me a favor.”

Lana nodded, considering. “That’s a nice way to look at it.”

The waitress came to take their order. Lana ordered a Guiness in a damned good fake Irish accent, surprising Tristan. Tristan could barely keep a straight face when it was his turn to order.

When the waitress left, they sat in silence for a moment. Tristan bobbed his head in time to a drinking song he didn’t recognize.

“He’s colorful,” Tristan said. “One of those larger-than-life characters. It’s hard to hate him.” He flinched, reminded of what he’d learned from the PLVA.

“It’s sad,” he said. “I don’t think there’s much love between my grandmother and grandfather. He doesn’t even seem to like her much.”

Lana nodded thoughtfully. “They’re so repressed. Who knows what’s going on inside them?”

The beers arrived. Tristan hefted his pint, the cardboard coaster sticking to the bottom of the damp glass, and took a swig.

“One thing’s for sure,” Lana said, “the old man isn’t going to tell your grandma or anyone else how he feels, so he’ll take the truth to his grave.”

 

teardrop

 

“Kara will be in college soon,” Tristan’s mom was saying when they returned. She was talking loudly to his dad and sister Sarah. Sarah had just flown in from Seattle. Tristan gave her an awkward one-armed sideways hug and disengaged. They were a pretty reserved family. Tristan looked at his grandfather, staring at the ceiling, and his grandmother, sitting stiffly at his bedside staring out the window, and wondered how far back through the generations the dead spot rippled. He had inherited it a bit more than Sarah, but it was in her, too–he’d felt her stiffen slightly at his touch. But he knew it was nothing personal.

“The Mets won today,” dad said, venturing into the desperate search for safe conversation.

“Did you hear that, dad?” mom said. “The Mets won. I wonder if they’ll make it to the World Series?”

“I’m not going to see the World Series,” he muttered. “I don’t care. Jesus, this is miserable. Can I have a drink of water? I’m so thirsty.”

“He’s not supposed to have any more water for an hour, the nurse said he shouldn’t,” mom said to no one in particular. Sarah and Lana were standing by the window, talking in whispers. Grandma sat in her chair.

“Somebody give me a drink of water,” Grandpa repeated.

Tristan retrieved the water cup, let his grandfather drink his fill. He caught Sarah’s eye; she nodded tacit approval. When Grandpa finally stopped drinking, he let out a satisfied gasp, closed his eyes.

“I want to go to heaven. This is miserable,” he said.

“Daddy, do you remember when we used to take the girls to Coney Island?” Grandma asked.

A grunt from Grandpa.

“They’d have their little pails and shovels, and we’d buy ice cream from the man on the boardwalk.” Tristan didn’t really need the PLVA’s to tell him grandma’s casual tone masked agitation, but he had them on, and they confirmed it. The talk of death and heaven made her uncomfortable. She found talk of skin rashes too revealing.

Grandma carried on with her story. When grandpa interrupted to repeat that he wanted to go to heaven, grandma kept talking, turning to look at Tristan’s dad, as if she had been telling the story to him alone all along.

Tristan wanted to get the hell out of there. He tried to think of some excuse for why he and Lana might need to get home, but knew that wasn’t fair. Everyone in the room wanted to go home.

It occurred to him for the second time that this was his last chance to tie up any loose ends with the old man. Problem was, there wasn’t any particular glaring event that needed to be resolved between them. Sure, he’d like his grandfather to apologize for calling him a sissy when he was little, but his grandfather probably didn’t even remember that particular incident among a lifetime of calling people nasty names.

Tristan pulled up a metal chair, sat next to the old man.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” The words sounded forced to his ears. He wondered what he would see if the PLVA registered the wearer’s voice, and not just the voices of others.

“Hold me hand,” his grandfather said, sounding scared.

Hold his hand? Tristan was stunned, and a little repulsed. He took his grandfather’s huge, calloused hand, weathered by thirty years of unloading trucks for the A&P Supermarket on the night shift. As far as he could remember it was the first time he had ever touched the old man’s hand. Maybe when he was very young his grandfather had taken his hand when they crossed busy streets, Tristan wasn’t sure.

For a moment the scene before him flickered, took on a surreal hyper-focus. “You’re really dying, I can’t believe it,” Tristan heard himself say. The light seemed to dim, then rise again, then everything was back to normal. Except he was still holding his grandfather’s hand. He caught Lana’s eye. She smiled encouragement.

“I’m dying,” grandpa repeated. His breathing was more labored now; a howling squeal accompanied each inhale. The PLVA indicated that he was eager to talk about dying.

Sarah sat on the opposite side of the bed, took grandpa’s other hand in hers.

“I love you, grandpa,” Sarah said. It was mostly a lie, and she was dragging it out of herself with great effort, but Tristan was proud of her for saying it.

“I know you do,” grandpa said. SOS through the roof. Even now, it was too much for him. “All of you, too,” he muttered, and closed his eyes, locking out the intimacy as if it were blinding sunlight.

Light classical music continued to play in the background. Tristan guessed some researcher had found it to be the most soothing sound for terminal patients. Of course, that research might fall into the magic twenty-two percent. Tristan felt a surge of irrational anger. Letting go of his grandfather’s hand, he went and reprogrammed the room’s environmental unit. ‘Irish Rover’ replaced a reed flute version of the Brandenburg Concerto. The scent of wisteria in early bloom was replaced by spilled beer, cigarette smoke, and pub grub. Everyone in the room smiled except his grandmother, who nattered on, scowling slightly, pretending not to notice. Tristan returned to his grandfather’s side, took his hand again. Grandpa appeared to be asleep.

He felt a tap on his shoulder, turned. His mom pointed emphatically toward the foot of the bed. His grandfather’s big toe was bobbing in time with the music.

“Harry was a cutup,” Grandpa mumbled.

“What’s that?” Tristan prodded.

“Harry O’Donohue. Eddie Mahoney. Used to sing this one.”

“Yup, yup. Those were good times, at the beach,” Grandma said loudly. Her words registered embarrassment, agitation. Grandpa was talking about bars, about drinking. Grandma had always been horribly embarrassed by his drinking, by how boisterous and outgoing he got when he drank. Tristan had only seen his grandfather drunk a few times–grandma had kept him on a tight rein in his later years–but he’d thought it was a marked improvement. It was the only time the old man looked happy, had any light in his eyes.

Maybe that was why his grandfather hated her. Grandma had stifled him, took away his greatest joy–partying with his friends. Slapping backs and singing, downing shots of Jack Daniels. Now that he was dying, maybe he was regretting all the time he’d spent sitting in that antiseptic living room on the plastic-wrapped couch, saving money, having to sneak down to the pub for a couple of quick drinks before scampering back.

“I wanna go to heaven,” his grandfather said loudly, opening his eyes widely.

“We know,” mom soothed.

Grandpa closed his eyes, sank immediately into sleep. They all watched, saying nothing. His breathing became more labored, competing with the boisterous music. Tristan felt Lana’s hand on his shoulder, covered it with his own.

Grandpa’s chest rose so high with each gasp that it looked as if he was levitating above the bed. His hand was limp in Tristan’s. Tristan stared at the rippled patterns formed by the white sheets, and for some reason thought about how he used to run Matchbox cars between the ripples of his sheets when he was little, pretending they were hills and roads.

Grandpa stopped breathing. No one moved. Tristan stared into the darkness of his grandfather’s open mouth. Suddenly, long after it seemed possible, grandpa took another heaving breath. It turned out to be his last.

Grandma cried. “Goodbye, Frankie. I love you,” she said. She was mostly telling the truth. Why hadn’t she said it an hour ago? He heard sniffling, glanced toward his mom, who had her face buried in dad’s shoulder.

“He was a good father,” she said. Her voice sounded sad, but the PLVA registered relief.

“He had a good life,” Sarah said. Relief. Tristan realized he was also relieved, and not particularly sad.

Mom went to find a nurse. Dad sat and held grandma’s hand, patting her shoulder as she cried. Tristan went and stood with Sarah and Lana.

“Isn’t it sad that we aren’t sadder?” he whispered.

 

teardrop

 

At the funeral people cried again. Tristan brought the glasses, but left them in his pocket. He already knew that the sadness, the platitudes, were as hollow as the rationalizations of the medical research cheats. As hollow as his own sadness as he stood at his grandfather’s grave and listened to the minister read from a book.

His Aunt June caught his eye, and gave him a sympathetic look. She probably thought he looked so sad because his grandpa was dead, but that wasn’t why he looked sad. He was sad because his grandfather had lived a pallid, empty life, with a woman he couldn’t stand. And because everyone was lying, and he was lying too.

He felt Lana’s hand touch his; he laced his fingers in hers, felt her squeeze. He squeezed back.

When he pulled the glasses from his suit pocket on the way back to the car, he knew he was doing it, but couldn’t have explained why. He slipped them on, watched the soothing patterns of Lana’s speech as they made idle conversation.

“New glasses?” She said, glancing at him.

“Yeah,” he said.

“They look good.” She registered as relaxed, truthful. Free of SOS. God, he loved this woman. Such a difference from his first marriage.

“I love you,” Tristan said. He didn’t say it often enough.

“I love you, too,” Lana said.

A jolt ripped through Tristan like barbed wire pulled through his spine.

“What did you say?” He asked.

“I said, I love you, too,” Lana repeated.

The tips of Tristan’s fingers began to tingle. His feet felt far away, so far away he wasn’t sure how they kept moving. They reached the car.

“You okay?” Lana asked, looking at him over the hood as they opened the doors.

“Yeah,” he said, not able to meet her eye. He took off the glasses, put them back in his pocket.

He tried to keep a conversation going as they drove, but he was far away, preoccupied with thoughts of the PLVA readout.

“Hey,” Lana finally said when they got home. “What’s the matter? It’s me, tell me what’s going on.”

“I’m just bummed about the whole grandpa thing,” he said. He sat on the couch, turned on the TV. It gave him an excuse not to look at her. Lana sat down next to him, reached up and massaged his neck. It felt good; his neck felt like a rusted hinge. He kept his eyes on the TV, scanned the channels till he found the Mets game.

“Hey!” Lana said. “What’s the matter with you? Did I do something?”

“No,” Tristan said, “I just–” He started to cry.

Lana wrapped her arms around him, rocked him. “My God, what’s the matter?”

He told her. When he got to the part about wearing the glasses in the hospital room, she let go of him and leaned back, stared at him in disbelief. He plowed on. When he got to the part about wearing them while walking to the car, Lana stood up.

“You bastard,” she said.

“I know it was wrong–”

“Wrong? You shit.” She sputtered for words, shaking her head slowly. Speechless, she spun, looked around until she spotted her purse on the kitchen table, yanked the purse off the table and headed for the door.

“Lana, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please come and talk to me.”

“Let me tell you something,” she said, stabbing a finger at him. “And you don’t need those damned glasses to interpret this. You’ll be lucky if I ever talk to you again! You’re a selfish, manipulative little shit.” She wrenched the door open. “Why don’t you dig up your grandfather and try apologizing to him.” The door slammed.

Tristan stared at the carpet. The Mets’ announcer cut through the silence, shouting “Base hit!” Tristan retrieved the remote and turned off the TV. He stared at an old stain on the carpet. After a while he pulled off his shoes and lay down on the couch. He stared at the ceiling, unable to muster the energy to move. The spackled finish swam sickly.

When the door finally opened, his heart twisted, tripled in speed from one beat to the next. He sat up, searched Lana’s face as she dropped her purse on the table by the door, went into the kitchen, poured herself a glass of wine, all without looking at him.

She carried the glass into the living room, sat across from him.

“I’m so, so sorry,” Tristan said. “Please don’t hate me.”

Lana stared at the carpet for a long time, one slender hand wrapped around the wine glass.

Finally, she started to speak, aborted, sighed heavily, tried again. “I know your intentions weren’t malicious. Once I cooled off I saw that.”

Tristan nodded. “I wasn’t trying to catch you in a lie,” he said, “I think I just wanted to balance all the bad things I’d learned. I wanted to reassure myself that it wasn’t all bad.”

“That doesn’t make it right.”

“No, I know that,” Tristan said quickly.

Lana sipped her wine, looking over Tristan’s shoulder. Her eyes were bloodshot. Tristan wished she would look at him.

“Did the glasses tell you I was lying completely?” She asked.

“No,” Tristan said. “It’s not really either/or. It signaled you weren’t being completely honest.”

“No, I guess I wasn’t. I didn’t see any reason to tell you, but no, I’ve never felt that spark with you. I can’t honestly say I love you. In a way I did. I mean I do.”

Tristan’s cell phone rang. He made no move to answer it.

“Go ahead, it could be your folks, or your grandmother,” Lana said. Her voice was gentle. Tristan felt grateful for the little kindness; he so desperately needed it right now.

“Tris!” It was Mike. He sounded excited, or scared. “Jesus, you’re not gonna believe this. Somebody leaked our findings to CNN! The shit’s about to hit the fan!”

“Oh, Jeeze,” Tris whispered.

“I know. Rich wants you here by 6 a.m. You ready to be on TV?”

“I guess so,” Tristan said. “Look,” he cut Mike off before he could continue, “can I call you back in a while?” He arranged to call Mike back, then set the phone back on the end table.

“My faith in science has been shattered,” Tristan said. “Everyone is relieved that my grandfather is dead, including me. And you don’t love me. My world is collapsing around me.”

“No it isn’t,” Lana said. She shrugged. “Nothing’s changed. You’re just aware of it now.” She looked at him, finally. “Put on the glasses.”

He gaped at her.

“Go ahead.”

He put them on.

“I am happy being married to you,” Lana said deliberately. “I have no second thoughts. What I feel for you is enough for me.” She looked at Tristan levelly. “Well?”

Tristan nodded. “All true.”

“Is it enough?”

He took off the glasses, folded them up. He nodded. “It’s enough.”

He wondered what the glasses would have revealed about that one. Was it the truth? He honestly didn’t know.

__________

Will McIntosh is was a finalist for the British Science Fiction Association award for best short story of 2005, and has sales to Interzone, Black Static, Cizine, On Spec, and has been previously pubilshed in Abyss & Apex. He is a 2003 Clarion graduate. 





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