Separation and Protection
Allie had slept on Max’s sofa six nights before she finally felt able to talk, to ask Martin to take her home, She hadn’t slept well, but at least she’d been able to keep her eyes closed, quiet her thoughts long enough to fall. That was more than she’d been able to do at home.
Max drove slowly past the university, navigating through the obstacle course of police barriers.
“You’re sure?” he asked. “You know you can stay with me as long as you like. As long as you need.”
“No, this is better,” Allie said, fighting a rise in her throat like sea sickness. “I have to go home sometime.”
“It’s only been a few days,” Max said quietly.
The bomb had blasted away half of the Forbes building, taking the English Department, part of the library, and the teachers’ lounge. Allie noted that Max had driven a longer route, one that wouldn’t take her past the destroyed facades, the blown out rooms that looked frozen in perpetual screams.
The weather had saved her. The surprise of a 65º day had made her take her students to the reflecting pool on the other side of campus. They’d been discussing Butler’s “Speech Sounds,” some students stretched out and half dreaming in the sunlight, one girl tickling the arm of another with a blade of grass. Allie had just asked, “What did you first think when you read the title? What did you think after you’d read the story?”
So simple, so what every day, any day should be.
“The chancellor announced that well be reopening next week,” Max said, pulling over to the curb in front of her building. “Will you be ready to go back?”
“I’ll go back,” Allie said. It wasn’t an answer to his question, but it was, too.
Forty-seven dead. Another thirty-eight wounded. All of her students spared by the weather. Even Max had bandages on his neck, his hand.
She’d called him that night, late.
“I heard you were hurt.”
“I’m fine,” he’d said slowly, his voice sounding dazed, out of focus.
“I woke you.”
“It’s 3 a.m.”
“I can’t close my eyes. I’m just lying here, staring.” When he was silent, she asked, “Can I come over?” She hadn’t heard the hesitation she’d expected in his voice. Terror and tragedy did that.
She wondered if he’d expected her to want more than his couch, to want to pick up where they’s been six months earlier. She hated to have him think she was using him.
“You’ll go back?”
He looked at her, surprised. “Of course.”
She nodded. What other option was there?
Inside, she walked through her rooms, laying her hands on every piece of furniture, every wall. She stood a long time in the kitchen. The windows in every room had been blown out by the blast. There was no longer any sign of that. All shards cleared away, new panes in place, the illusion of separation, protection. Max had seen to that
She went to the bedroom, pulled pillows and the comforter from the bed. She made up a nest in the tub and curled up tightly inside. It would be okay for the moment, would be better than listening to Max’s heavy breathing on the other side of a thin wall. Better than resisting the pull to go to him.
As her eyes closed, she thought of her students. Wasn’t it appropriate that they’d been working on Octavia Butler? If they weren’t living in a dystopian universe, no one was. How else to explain the bomb, the laughing video claiming bold and proud responsibility?
When she’d gotten to Max’s house, he hadn’t asked for any explanation, had simply put her up on the couch.
“You know where everything is,” he said.
She’d known where he was, that was for sure. “I don’t stay long,” she’d said.
“You’ll stay as long as you need.”
She knew that should have been longer than six days, but how much longer? What had she stayed for after the first night of fear? What would Max say when she called him the next day and asked to come back? What would he say if she packed a bag tonight and never came back?