Chapter 2. Inhibition

The lights were on inside her apartment. It must mean that –

“Robert is I mean you’re home early,” Clare greeted Robert as he exited the kitchen, toweling his hands. They smooched hello.

“I decided it was time I fixed you dinner.”

“Decisiveness. I like that in a man.” Clutching Jessie, she inspected the pot on the stove. Jessie leaped away as though in mortal danger. Vegetable stew. In a bowl nearby was the sauce, so spicy that Clare’s eyes stung after sniffing at it. “Dangerous. Is it the cashew hot sauce you invented last spring?”

“It may be similar.” Robert was a theoretical physicist. On campus, he was the most precise human being. In the kitchen, he could never duplicate a creation because it didn’t occur to him to note ingredients. In both arenas, he came up with astounding things never before imagined. “What?” he demanded as she stared at him.

“You,” she replied, smiling and shaking her head at the Brooks Brother collar under the CAUTION! CHEF AT WORK! apron. Both were swap meet finds.

He tugged his wire rims, a gesture he used when pleased or nervous. “Clare …”

“I need to make some phone calls.” Clare backed into the living room. Robert came to the doorway to listen, as she tried to deal with the afternoon’s events.

First she called the campus police. By the time she explained different pieces of why she was phoning to umpteen answerers in a quest to reach those directly in charge, Robert had heard about her attacker and his similarity to the man who had destroyed the third-floor animal research labs; the presence on the fire escape; the shattered second-floor hallway lights; and the man who may have been watching her while she talked with Mrs. Bates.

Then she called the city police and Robert learned about Dr. Haffner’s murder and Colton’s possibly being the last to see him alive, but not wanting to waste time conferring with the authorities.

The campus police were glad she had called. The Pasadena police were not: Lieutenant Beaudine, the man in charge of the Haffner investigation, was out and no one there understood why she was calling.

When she got off the phone she walked toward Robert in the kitchen doorway. “And how was your day, dear?” she tried to joke.

Instead of speaking, he held her. She clung to him, so tightly. His slow steady heartbeat resonated inside her. “You weren’t hurt?” She shook her head and, to her disgust, started to cry. Unlike most men she had met, Robert was not rattled by this. “Were the lab animals – injured?” he inquired next. She shrugged. “Not anymore than usual,” he translated for her. “I’m sure there’s some motive for this man’s actions and they’ll catch him soon. In the meantime, you’ll just have to be careful. Although it doesn’t sound like he’s out for you personally.”

Robert’s particular brand of reasonableness could ease any crisis. Clare remembered the time Robert had talked a very hostile fellow out of taking their wallets. She smiled. Robert sighed. He still had his arms around her but was no longer holding her. “Why didn’t you tell me all this when you first came in, instead of making small talk and phone calls to strangers?”

Clare stepped away, walked into the kitchen, Robert following at an awkward distance, every move so self-conscious, they could be onstage in an amateur domestic drama. “I wanted to pretend life was normal for a minute, I guess,” she told him, unsure whether this was the truth. When he said nothing, she turned to face him. Confrontation ahead. All she really wanted was for him to hold her again. Instead he stirred the stew. She thought back. Had they fought this morning? She couldn’t recall.

I know I’ve been immersed in my work lately,” Robert said with his back to her. “Out of commission, as you’ve so aptly put it.” Initially, part of their attraction had been of the So I’m Not a Freak After All variety. Both were devoted to, obsessed with, their research, but unwilling to let that consume their lives. However, Clare proved better able to juggle than Robert was. Or less able to maintain her drive. Friction intermittently ensued, beginning as skirmishes, lately turning holocaustal. If only he could see that none of this mattered right now. “I can’t promise it won’t happen again. But look, I’m busting myself now. That’s an improvement, isn’t it? I’m trying to change, I swear I’m trying.”

“I know you are.” What else should she say? Oh have you been ignoring me again? I didn’t notice; I’m too preoccupied with this married unemployed rock musician ten years my junior. Anyway, the work vs. love ethic wasn’t their only source of problems. Not that Clare could name the other sources. Nor explain how things could be as good as they ever were, one moment, and then… Was this phenomenon attributable to death throes? Growing pains? Temporary technical difficulties?

Ultimately she blamed herself. She kept hoping she was going through a phase. Looking at Robert, she saw a catalog of all that was good and true. But she felt nothing. She thought she remembered a time when she did feel toward him, but more and more she suspected this was a false memory.

“Dinner,” Robert decreed. “You’d better set the table. Or. We could eat in bed.”

They’d first lived together in a one-room “bachelor”. The bed adjoined the toaster oven and a ritual developed of fixing meals while undressing one another; feeding while pleasing each other. When they moved to their current one-bedroom-plus-dining-alcove, they felt separated until they started dining between the sheets again. Gradually, they acclimatized and now ate at the table, except for special or restorative occasions.

At one time, he wouldn’t have had to ask; certainly, this hesitancy in his voice was new. Had she done this to him? Not a subject she could peruse at this time.

“We’d better stick to the table, aren’t we going out afterwards? Remember, one of my patients is performing tonight. You did say you wanted to go.”

“Oh sure, the musician. Well sure. If you want. I thought we’d stay home, I can’t remember the last night we were both home without work or guests.”

Clare bristled. “Who said I don’t have work?”

“Then why are you going out?”

She opened the silverware drawer with such force, the utensils slid to the back out of view. “I thought you wanted to go too.”

“I do unless you’d rather go alone.”

She felt as transparent as a slug’s trail. “We don’t have to go at all.”

“I’d rather stay home and talk some -”

“I am talked out.” She spat the words. “We discuss endlessly but -”

“I meant that you should talk about what happened to you today.”

“I’m not ready for that now. Maybe when we get home.”

“No. Then you’ll be too tired, then you’ll have been thinking about it so much you need a breather, then it’ll be last week’s news, why am I dredging it up now.”

“You’re in a terrific mood for comfort and soul-searching.”

“We’d better eat or we’ll miss the show.” He spooned stew into her bowl. “Tell me when.”

“Stop.” she said.

During their meal, they discussed their research and they reparteed with Jessie, who was always talkative when they ate though it was never clear why.

Toward the end of the meal, the phone rang. When Clare answered, she thought she could hear breathing on the other end, but no matter how many times she said hello, there was no response.

Robert took the phone. “Who is this?” He replaced the receiver. “They hung up.”

“I could have handled it myself, thank you.”

“Oh for Christ’s sake.”

They were excessively polite as they cleaned the kitchen and dressed. This got them running late. Then the Pasadena freeway was blocked by an accident.

It was the first freeway ever built. Quaint to contemplate, dangerous to drive. The off ramps and on ramps could be as brief as fifty feet, with stop signs. One floored the accelerator to merge; one floored the brakes to exit. Apparently a recent driver or vehicle had not met the challenge. The result was a three-car collision – nothing serious, but traffic was slow before the accident and skittish after it.

For the next several miles, Caltrans had the left lane closed performing inscrutable repairs. Caltrans was always working on the highways, yet they never got much better. Perhaps the state transportation agency’s real purpose was to slow traffic. This it accomplished brilliantly. Tonight, Clare and Robert were stuck in first gear all the way to the Hollywood freeway.

At last they could pick up speed – and squabble about which exit to take. Robert was right but Clare was driving. (She always drove out; Robert didn’t drink so he could drive home.) Clare’s choice of turnoff put them through two pointless miles of stop-’n’-go. “We needed to know about another nine Thai restaurants to try some time,” Robert said.

“You want to say ‘I told you so’ so why don’t you just do it?” Robert was nearly always right in their disputes; the least he could do was win more graciously.

“What, when you’re always on me about being more tactful? Oh. Turn right.”

“Do I go under or over the road blocks?”

The stretch of Sunset Boulevard encompassing the club was blocked to all traffic. Mostly lower-class kids liked to cruise nearby Hollywood Boulevard. Primarily affluent adults would complain of congestion, crime increases, potential gang violence. The LAPD would cordon off Hollywood. The cruisers would drop south two parallel blocks to Sunset. Local adults would complain. The LAPD would cordon off Sunset. The cruisers would dwindle. The road blocks would go into storage. Within months, the locals would be complaining about cruisers on Hollywood Boulevard, once more.

Tonight, Clare and Robert became victims of this endless cycle. They bickered about which side street would have sooner yielded a parking place, then stomped the four blocks to Club Lingerie in testy silence. Clare was unnerved to realize how comfortable she felt arguing with Robert.

They were nearly ninety minutes late. If they were lucky they might catch the end of Tommy’s set. The club’s doorman ignored Robert’s inquiry about which band was up next and cocked a thumb to his right without making eye contact. The bouncer was ogling the cashier, who ran her tongue over her boudoir pink lips in reply. The cashier found Clare’s name on the guest list, and stamped the inside wrist of their left hands without glancing at them or interrupting her flirtation with the bouncer.

“I give it until lunch tomorrow,” Robert assessed the budding romance.

Clare laughed. They looked at each other for the first time in hours. What they saw made Robert tight-lipped, Clare sad. She took his arm as they climbed three steps to the club. Why couldn’t she just keep loving him; why couldn’t she stop wondering if she still did? After meeting Robert her life had felt correct for the first time. Then she’d started having doubts. Which came first, the doubts or the problems?

“What time does your watch say?” Robert shouted above the PA system, which blasted a beat that might have been reggae.

Had they crossed into an earlier time zone, coming west from Pasadena to Hollywood? They were an hour and a half late but the room was nearly empty and those present had the air of the just arrived, purchasing inaugural drinks. It was only an hour until the late show was alleged to start yet the early show had not commenced.

Clare liked the club, though. Surveying the plank and brick walls, she tried to recall when she had last ventured someplace new around L.A., excluding restaurants.

A flurry of activity from the back of the long narrow room: five pairs of arms were waving, five faces regarding Clare and Robert. But Clare didn’t recognize any – oh, there was Bianca, wearing a man’s pinstriped jacket, tight belt, and stiletto heels.

Clare and Robert wound their way around the knots of patrons to the back stairs, which led to a mezzanine. On the stairs stood Tommy’s wife, another woman, and three men. The woman and one of the men were idly massaging each other’s muscle tone. All but Bianca casually surveyed the room for worthy prospects. It took Clare a moment to determine what was odd about this group: they were all stunning. The men were tanned, lean but muscular, chiseled. The woman almost made Bianca look plain.

“I kept trying to get your attention but I couldn’t so they helped me,” Bianca greeted Clare. “Glad you could make it, they should be starting in another half hour or so. These are people I work with, I could introduce you except nobody remembers names at these things. But who’s this,” she demanded, appraising Robert.

Clare made the introductions. As Bianca had indicated, there was something incredibly attractive about Robert. The unassuming way he slouched, which accented his lankiness; the careless part in his hair, which was salt and pepper since age twenty-three and always a bit too long and thick; the air of timelessness which perhaps was due to stylish but outmoded sports jackets he loved finding at thrift stores.

Bianca shook Robert’s hand thoroughly. “Now I’m not so worried about what kind of experimenting my husband does with the doc here.” She smiled a smile that said she hadn’t worried in the least. “If you ever want to commiserate, give me a call.”

Robert was the original open book. In a matter of seconds his face registered surprise, embarrassment, flattery, confusion. He finally settled into amusement, as he concluded that Bianca was quite a character. Clare realized that it would never occur to Robert, even fleetingly at three A.M., that she and Tommy or anyone else might … It would never occur to him not to trust her. “I could use a drink,” Clare announced.

The waitress’s attention was difficult to get: Clare and Robert were so out of their element as to be invisible. Bianca flexed an eyebrow and a waitress in a red bodysuit was taking their orders. “Bring ‘em around back,” Bianca instructed her, then told Clare and Robert: “C’mon and say hello to Tommy. Since his operation he gets real nervous before he goes on. He could use a distraction. Don’t wait up,” she advised her gym friends, then led Clare and Robert across the room, down three steps, left under a neon clock, back through a narrow hallway.

Clare looked at the clock, marveling that she was the only one marveling at how late the show was. Looking down from the clock, she glimpsed a man staring at her. As he turned away, light silhouetted his nose and chin. It was the driver of Car X. No it wasn’t. Now she wished she’d stayed home. She hadn’t felt this suspicious, this sure of evil portents everywhere, since her breakdown.

Bianca and Robert had disappeared. But a black curtain to Clare’s left swayed slightly. Clare peeked behind it, saw Robert’s jacket. She parted the black cloth, which was sticky, and stepped inside. The dressing room had the dimensions of a cigar box and the ambiance of an ashtray. It was even more dimly lit than the club proper. The chair best for reading was farthest from the sole track light. The sofas best for conversation had their backs to one another.

Sprawling around, nursing beers and/or cigarettes, were three guys in the last stages of terminal boredom. Tommy lay on a shag throw rug, propped on his elbows, dismantling a small, bright-colored apparatus. “Oi Tommy,” Bianca began.

Without turning around Tommy said, “Look what I found in the trash in the alley.”

Clare said, “What we don’t want to know is why you were rooting in the trash.”

At the sound of her voice, Tommy rolled onto his back and beamed a grin that made Clare take a step back. “Hey you made it.”

“Hey we did,” Clare replied.

Getting to his feet, Tommy regarded Robert. “You must be Clare’s uh you and Clare live together, right?”

“For over four years,” Robert spoke with the same sense of wonder he’d first had.

“Shit, we’ve been married longer than that,” Bianca noted.

“In other words you were still minors when you got married.” Clare was only partly joking.

“Naw but it is true we couldn’t drink legally at our reception.”

Clare winced.

“Our marriage was really depressing,” Tommy said, “it was like a week or something after Lennon got assassinated.”

“And Tommy felt real guilty because he’d written Lennon off as a cow,” Bianca explained.

“You’d think I would’ve learned. I did the same thing with Elvis. I just really bought into 1976. And I mean, punk was right, mostly. But not about everything. Or everyone,” Tommy concluded morosely.

“I’m sure they’d both understand. You were so young then; everybody misjudges old folks at that age,” Robert told him sincerely.

“Thanks.” Tommy nodded and extended his hand. “Tommy Dabrowski.”

“Robert di Marchese,” Robert took Tommy’s hand.

“Alright. For once they told us the truth in school. America is a melting pot,” Tommy proclaimed. “No, I get it, your name used to be Smith but you changed it to be more colorful, right?”

Poor Robert. He was so sensitive about his name. Roberto Giovanni di Marchese had considered a change to Bob Martin because flamboyant was the last sort of name he wanted. Favorite social status: fly on wall. Observing all, observed by none.

“Your hair’s got a lot of gray in it,” Tommy added. Robert blinked. “See, since my operation,” Tommy explained, “I wash out when I meet somebody. I can learn your name and I can learn your face but I can’t put them together. Maybe Clare will explain it to you, she won’t tell me why.”

“Tommy, if anybody figures out why that occurs, you’ll be the first one I call.”

“Must have been pretty frightening before you realized what was happening,” Robert sympathized.

Bianca yawned and left the room.

“Yeah it was,” Tommy acknowledged. “I thought I was pretty jaded. What next, you know. But that one got me. Clare really calmed me down though. She showed me statistics to prove it happened to most of Us. And she told me this trick for getting around it. I can still connect features with names. So I’ll be able to recognize Robert di Marchese – mind if I call you Roberto? Really a cool name – anyway, I’ll recognize you when I see your hair. Hey Trish.” The new visitor was the gorgeous female gym instructor who had been standing with Bianca out front. The woman gave a vague nod and flopped on the sofa tight against one of Tommy’s bandmates.

The waitress delivered Clare’s Bohemia and Robert’s Poland Water. Tommy insisted on putting the drinks on the band’s tab, although it was clear from the expression on his band’s face that these drinks were cutting into the total discount allotment for the night. Tommy caught Clare catching the band’s disgruntlement. “By the second set they’re usually too wiped to play right, anyway,” he shrugged. “It’ll be nice to have them conscious both sets for a change.”

“Is that -” Robert gaped and stared at the object with which Tommy had been tinkering when they came in. “A Bullwinkle clock.” He dived to the floor to examine it.

“Clock radio,” Tommy bragged. “Doesn’t work, but there’s gotta be a way to …” He joined Robert on the floor.

Clare sipped her beer. If this were a fluffy French cinema piece, Tommy and Robert would become and remain friends, even after Robert learned she and Tommy were lovers. No. Robert and Tommy could but she and Tommy weren’t. Nor would they become. At that moment she made her decision. It left her disappointed but relieved. Her sin would only count with Catholics – it remained solely in her heart.

Tommy had been using a screwdriver to show Robert what he’d tried so far. Now Robert took the tool and Tommy alternated watching Robert’s progress, then Robert, in much the same way that Clare always caught herself studying Bianca.

It was convenient that both men had their backs to her. She rarely got the chance to unabashedly stare at Tommy, except in profile illumined by tachistoscope spillover. In this light, his finely hewn features, already as beautiful as they were handsome, looked ethereal. He wasn’t as spectacular as Bianca. The A bomb is less devastating than the H bomb. His legs were awfully skinny, a fact accentuated by their length and his skin-tight black pants. Plus, he had the beginnings of a spare tire around his middle.

Actually, these and other alleged flaws only made him more accessible. As did his affability. Only half the men in a room dared to openly stare at Bianca, but every woman within miles felt comfortable coming on to Tommy. Still, there was an aloofness, a guardedness. What you see is not nearly all you get, the message radiated from him.

Robert likewise had that unknowable quality. She wouldn’t ever comprehend Robert completely and that had long tantalized her, made their connections that much more profound. Ah Robert. Did she want to know more?

Maybe maintaining long-term interest was like Zeno’s arrow, a mathematical paradox called the dichotomy. Zeno had pointed out that the distance between an arrow in flight and its target can always be divided in two. The arrow can complete half the distance and still have half to go. But then that remaining distance can be halved, and again the arrow can complete half its journey and still have half to go. Although the half distance remaining may become infinitesimally short, in theory the arrow will never arrive at its target because it always has another half distance to go.

And yet arrows do arrive at their targets. There is a point where what’s left to travel becomes irrelevant, where all the distances add up to a particular length of journey which can be determined in advance. Had she and Robert reached their target? Was hitting the same target with Tommy a foregone conclusion?

“It just doesn’t work like that,” Tommy insisted heatedly. For one horrible moment, Clare thought she had spoken aloud. No. Tommy was still occupied with the clock radio, and upset by some repair effort Robert was making, yet unable to articulate what bothered him. Apparently his right brain – which was better at spatial relationships, at comprehending the forest over the trees – knew what to do, but couldn’t explain. Could only transmit its frustration to his languaged left brain.

Robert handed him the screwdriver. Tommy took it with his right hand, as his left brain was generally preferred for activities requiring agility. None of this was unexpected. But then Tommy’s left hand cupped itself over his right, to guide the screwdriver’s progress. “Tommy!” At Clare’s startled tone, both men regarded her with concern. “Ah, which hand are you using, there?”

Tommy looked. “Both of them. I always do that.”

Did he? Damn. She didn’t know. Whether he always did that. Whether she could believe his saying so. Perhaps his left hemisphere was confabulating, since acknowledging the novelty of this situation could mean something alarming, i.e., outside its ken. She’d have to check her videotapes to see if they held unnoticed incidences of this phenomenon. It wasn’t something she was testing for. (If only she could invent a way to truly do everything at once.)

As a long-standing trait, Tommy’s double-handed attack was interesting but not terribly unusual. But if it was new, it raised a wall of questions. Did this indicate a strenuous effort to cross-cue? Reorganization? A change in hemispheric dominance? Tommy was grinning at her. “More split envy, huh?”

“I guess that’s what it amounts to.” It was a standing joke between them.

Tommy had always been horrified by the differences between his brain and others’. Then he began contemplating commissurotomy. The idea of having a head that different. Even if experts claimed that nobody would notice except more experts, it’d still be capital W-E-I-R-D. What was that, nobody could guarantee results? Possible side effects may include brain damage? Thanks but no thanks guys.

Meanwhile his epilepsy began to act more like a serial killer than the mugger it had been before. What turned him around was the time Clare confessed that she was always Just This Far from having herself commissurotomized, so curious was she about the possible results. She envied him every effect, impulse, reaction – and gradually he began to look forward to reducing the seizures, whatever the risks, to testing his weirdness; finally he was teasing Clare that he had all the fun …

“Okay, you’re on, let’s go, move it.” A club official breezed in. When the band wasn’t on stage before he could exhale, he acted like it was their fault the show was so late.

“Could you keep this with you, Roberto, the room isn’t exactly secure,” Tommy handed the Bullwinkle radio to Robert.

“Honored,” Robert accepted it.

“But I’ll keep this,” Tommy laughed, taking the screwdriver. “Where’d you learn home repairs, anyway?” Robert shrugged good-humoredly. Tommy looked around to check his band’s progress. One taped a set list to a guitar, one limbered fingers prior to gripping drumsticks.

“Where’s Harry?” Tommy demanded of the room at large. He kept looking at the vacant sofa. Apparently Harry was the six-foot-plus chubby blond who’d been the target of Trish the gorgeous. She was likewise no longer in evidence. Tommy studied the closed bathroom door. He stalked across the room and threw it open, interrupting serious drug activity between Harry and Trish. Trish assumed l’attitude blasé; Harry looked pissed and worried. “You’re out of here,” Tommy said icily. “Permanently.”

The blond grimaced. “Aw Tommy, don’t get amped, we were just -”

“You’ve had too many warnings. That’s it.” Tommy slammed the door, shutting them inside the john.

The drummer rubbed his stubbled scalp. “We could use a bass player, you know, let him finish the gig at least.”

Tommy did not quite yell. “He plays like Madonna when he’s loaded.”

“I didn’t know Madonna played bass.” Sometimes Robert did not know when to become a bystander.

“She doesn’t,” Tommy snapped. “Mark. You’re playing bass. Go borrow one.” Mark handed his guitar to Tommy and went in search of the bassist in the headlining band. Tommy strapped on his own guitar, after putting Mark’s carefully away.

“Ladies and gents. Please welcome Black Diamond,” a PA voice requested. Ensuing polite applause gave way to hoots when the crowd saw no band.

“Asshole,” Tommy said to no one in particular.

He and the drummer led the exit from the dressing room. The two hustled up the length of the club and onto the stage. By their second number, Mark the bass guitar player had joined them. By that time, Clare and Robert had made their way toward the front of the sparse audience. She looked around for Driver X but saw many and none who could be him.

Not long into the set, the ousted Harry left with Trish, looking barely ambulatory yet very smug. Clare was glad Robert held the precious clock radio; something on Harry’s face made her fear for the band’s belongings back in the dressing room. Half expecting to smell smoke, Clare returned attention to the music.

Even when it was just Tommy and his drummer playing, the effect was powerful. Tommy came from the chain saw school of guitar licks. The drummer’s grandfather was probably a big Keith Moon fan. Their playing styles offset an innate innocence in the melody lines. Which in turn offset the lyrics’ possession of a sensibility that knew a lot more than it cared to. Tommy’s speaking voice was a smooth tenor, but his singing was lower, with an evocative rasp that only certain blues singers and chain smokers usually obtain. And he was so sexy and likable on stage that by comparison, he was an automaton off. His band members seemed just a bit intimidated by him – just enough.

A few years before, Tommy had been a sensation on the local scene, before his seizures housebound him. He exuded a celebrity’s aura, but Clare suspected he’d had it before he became known on the club circuit.

Tommy had been in bands for well over a decade, starting at age thirteen with a garage punk outfit. He’d once told Clare that nothing fazed him on stage, except the prospect of ceasing to play. Tonight, the arrangements floundered now and again, as Mark the guitarist fumbled with his bass responsibilities and Tommy combined rhythm with his lead playing. But the meager audience was noisy in its approval. And Tommy was clearly transported by the whole experience.

Robert shouted in her ear. “He’s better than I expected. His use of minor -”

Clare brushed her ear as though to shoo a mosquito. Robert loved to critique concerts, movies, art exhibits, while in attendance. Clare hated the distraction.

When Tommy played certain leads, his concentration on his guitar work caused him to stop singing. The other two would fill in, creating odd fragmented harmonies. Someone in front of Clare yelled to a companion: why didn’t they move to New York if they wanted to do that avant shit. He moved forward to toss the dregs of his drink at Tommy and yell, “You suck!” Tommy thanked him and turned up his amp. Even more than usual, Clare admired his dauntlessness.

Tommy had resisted commissurotomy until he was sure he’d die if he didn’t have the surgery. Didn’t it take separate parts of his head to write lyrics, write music, put them together, employ both hands on his guitar, while singing … What would remain?

Before a split brain operation, each brain hemisphere is numbed in turn and then the patient is tested to see if language abilities are still functional. This determines which side of the subject’s brain controls language. In 90% of testees, only one hemisphere is responsible. And nearly 100% of the time, the other hemisphere orchestrates musical abilities and appreciation.

Neuroscience holds language to be the most important contributor to an individual’s normalcy and happiness. So, during the commissurotomy, when the surgeon has to choose one hemisphere to fold and spindle in order to expose the central commissure for severing, the prevailing wisdom is to leave the language hemisphere alone.

Tommy, however, had demanded that they safeguard music before language. Eventually the neurosurgery team had to agree – it was the only way he’d have the operation.

Since then, he’d explained to Clare, when he played a song learned just prior to his operation, his right hand had trouble with its pick work. But if he watched that hand, he could feel what he was doing wrong, and never stray too far from correct playing. Tonight, Clare assumed it was during these songs that he stopped singing mid-word and studied his guitar work. She hoped nobody ever told him he did this. Self-consciousness might freeze him. And with his current technique, his guitar playing was fine and his singing lapses had an endearing quality that few seemed to mind.

Belatedly, Clare noticed that directly in front of the stage, Bianca and her cohorts were demonstrating just how good dancing could be if you really Had It.

All too soon, the set was over. Clare and Robert were too old to wait for the second group, much less Tommy’s second set; so, after giving the band time to towel down, they went back to say good-bye. The headlining band was occupying the dressing room and resenting all space taken by Tommy’s people. Tommy thanked Clare and Robert for coming out, but his attention was elsewhere. Someone had piled his band’s belongings, then peed on them. Robert handed over the clock radio, then he and Clare made a quick exit.

Driving home, Robert, who preferred early Miles and all Coltrane, was complimentary toward Tommy, his clock, his music. Now that Clare had decided she could absolutely not have an affair with Tommy, she felt safer appreciating him and enthusiastically concurred. As they parked and walked upstairs to their apartment, Clare was consumed with determination to really make Robert-and-Clare work out.

Robert proclaimed it was too late to make love. She undressed in front of him, as seductively as possible. He began to lecture her on making her getting-ready-for-bed procedures more efficient. Yet by the time she was in bed and ready to sleep, Robert was switching on his bedside lamp every forty seconds, making notes on tomorrow’s work. She suggested he trust his ability to remember, or write in the dark.

“How stupid of me,” he said in his most acid voice. “I see now. Only you are allowed to disrupt our lives.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I’m sleeping in the living room.” Robert’s light went out. A few minutes later came the squeak of the Hide-A-Bed unfolding.

She lay in the dark and heard labored uneven breathing, felt thick fingers at her neck. She tried to flee but lay frozen, unable to scream. At last she dragged herself upright and convinced herself she was alone. Considered crawling into the Hide-A-Bed with Robert. Stared into the dark. Sank back to her pillow.

Jessie, who had been disturbed by Robert’s note-taking, now returned to bed and curled up purring next to Clare’s ear. This provided the tonic for Clare to forget it all and fall asleep.

Go to next chapter.

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