All the time in the world
A crystal vase is slowly descending toward the hard, glossy white, tile floor. Large oscillating globules of water are orbiting the gladioli which are bent against the flared neck of the vessel as they are whipped about by centripetal force.
My wife is taking a step across the striated aluminum threshold joining the slate gray linoleum of the hallway from the tile of the hospital room. I can see that she has already angled her shoulders toward the chair at the foot of the cot where I lay. She is walking delicately, balancing her weight carefully on the balls of her feet so as not to disturb me.
I couldn’t hear what the doctor told her a moment ago, speaking in hushed tones out in the hall, but I recognize the look on my wife’s face in the moment before she puts on a brave smile: she looks the same way I felt when I watched my grandfather die a few years ago. The nurse bumped the edge of the bedside table with her ample posterior as she turned to greet my wife; the table where the flowers were resting is now gently receding and all four swivel casters are turning parallel with its course.
I turn back to my wife, her eyes are gradually widening in alarm, she is beautiful, she doesn’t look any different than when I asked her to marry me in an airport waiting area 2 years ago.
After graduating, I had accepted a position with CERN working on the Large Hadron Collider. Along with the ring, I gave her a plane ticket and asked her to join me in Geneva after graduation; she is a year younger than I am and was a third year graduate student. I could see she didn’t want to give me an answer, if she said ‘no’ she knew I would try to talk her out of it. I told her we were an entangled pair and despite any distance separating us we would… always share opposing spin states (I finished lamely). She gave me the same look as she did when I tried to explain the double-slit experiment (she had made a snide remark about ‘experimenting in college’), but, somehow, I was right, opposites attract, and 11 months later I met her on the Cointrin Airport runway.
Travel suited her well and we had a wonderful, if brief, honeymoon trekking across Europe before I retreated to my desk in Geneva stacked high with books and papers. She became accustom to finding me asleep on the couch with a book lying across my chest, the broken spines stamped in gold leaf: Dirac, Feynman, DeWitt, von Neumann. Between my studies and long hours at work I shouldn’t have been surprised when she left me six months later. I tracked her down to a flat across town where she was staying with a tall, broad chested, German sociologist with long hair and designer glasses.
The vase is sinking past the hospital bed’s safety rail and the tall flowers are slowly rising up as their tiny petals catch the air like kites.
I let work utterly consume me after she left and I was careless from long hours and lack of sleep. My coworkers were drinking steaming cups of espresso when I carefully descended into the LHC tunnel complex. We had work to do near the beam pipes and, although I was surprised to hear the systems warming up, I was far from the detectors where the collisions would take place and was unconcerned. Annoyed that my coworkers hadn’t followed me, I took my time and finished the calibrations myself before climbing the steel rung ladder a few hours later. My coworkers had not moved and steam rose slowly from their cups of espresso.
I had all the time I had always wanted after the accident. Within a week I had caught up on all my reading and won my wife back. I made sure to give her all the time I could but it wasn’t easy. Hours felt like days and activities we used to enjoy together, movies in particular, were excruciatingly long. I needed to take 15 minute naps every hour in order to get my nightly rest and, even worse, when my wife slept, it felt like she was gone for a week. I began carrying huge collections of books with me wherever I went. I found I could finish a chapter during a lapse of conversation, a book while waiting in line at the library, an author’s complete works in an afternoon.
Somehow we existed like this for a year until it became clear that my health was suffering. Where she had aged only a single year, I had aged 30. She took me home to be close to my family during what was sure to be my final years.
The vase is slowly crumbling against the floor, fragments of glass are spinning away from the point of impact, and a pool of water is slowly creeping outward. Sometime after, the flowers will land.