Drunk on Time
by J. H. Malone
Saul is a 20-something computer expert. He’s somewhat undisciplined and drinks too much, but he is charming and has a soft spot for older people and for his love interest, who is a brilliant but enigmatic researcher. They unlock the secrets of parallel universes with unexpected results for themselves.
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4. 5, 6
I was sent over to Liesl’s office for the first time soon after her arrival, to help her with credentialing problems on her machine. As I came down the hall, I saw her standing in her office doorway with a cup of coffee in her hand. Her gaze had me by the eyes fifty feet away. She put out her free hand as I walked up.
“Dr. Blau,” I said, taking it. “I’m your IT guy.”
She had a grip.
“I know who you are,” she said, sounding like Werner Herzog’s daughter. “The problem is already solved.”
Several gawking students slowed to listen. Dr. Blau let go of my hand and motioned them away with a quick gesture. She saw the look on my face.
“They are students,” she said, as if that explained everything.
“Then I guess—”
She smiled and turned back into her office, closing the door behind her.
I stood there for a moment in case she opened it again. She didn’t.
Magisterial. When I scanned her standing in the doorway waiting for me, I always stopped before the smile. I couldn’t handle the smile.
At the end of that first day, I sat in my Jeep at an exit in the Stata Garage, waiting to pull out onto Vassar Avenue. Rain was pelting down from a whale-gray sky. A woman in a bright blue raincoat crossed in front of me. She tilted her umbrella into the wind, and I recognized Dr. Blau.
Easing the Jeep out onto Vassar, I rolled up beside her as she strode along. I lowered the passenger-side window. “Doctor, can I give you a ride?” I called.
She stopped and faced the car. “I am too wet.”
“It’s an old car. Wet doesn’t matter.”
She climbed in, furling her umbrella. I put the Jeep in gear.
“In Pottsdam, I walk home,” Dr. Blau said.
“It’s going to get colder,” I said.
“MIT gives me a car and driver, but I walk. In Pottsdam I walk home in the cold.”
“Where is Pottsdam, exactly?”
“Close to Berlin.”
She gave me an address on Washington Street. I took a left on Main and a right on Portland, and drove over to Washington. I kept my speed down with scientific royalty in the car.
“You are the IT fellow,” she said.
“Saul,” I said.
“Thank you for this ride. The wind pulls my umbrella.”
“My pleasure,” I said. “How are you liking MIT so far, and your time in America?”
“It is not so different from the Planck Institute. I knew already many of the faculty here.”
“Everyone is excited to have you on campus.”
Scientists, at MIT anyway, are not a modest lot.
I pulled up at the address she had given me, a restored triple-decker crowded between two wooden apartment buildings full of students. The tri-decker was one of those old homes in Cambridge built before World War I.
Rain drummed on the Jeep’s roof. I turned to look at my passenger. She was staring at me. Her eyes seemed a little wide.
“What is it?” I said.
“You will come upstairs with me? I offer you a drink.”
“A drink?” I am not a guy often asked up for a drink. This was Dr. Liesl Blau speaking to me, a new star in the cosmological firmament. A young star.
However, saying no was not an option. I wasn’t qualified to carry her slide rule, but science did not seem to be on her mind. I seemed to be on her mind.
Still, I hesitated. I knew how to have a good time, but I wasn’t sure I should try to have one with Einstein’s daughter.
“My request is reasonable, yes?” she said. “I am a professor but also a woman. You are a man.”
“Holy cow, Dr. Blau... How old are you?”
“I’m twenty-five. You seem younger. And older.”
“In Germany, I live at home with my parents. I go too fast?”
She said this with a kind of familiar affection, the opposite of her nervous eyes, and put a hand on my arm.
“You’re famous,” I said, “an honored guest of the University, one of the smartest of the smart. I don’t think MIT wants me taking up any of your cycles. In fact, I’m probably not allowed to.”
“You are not a student,” she said. “You are a worker.”
“But you don’t know me,” I said, truly sounding like a student, the one with the dog and no homework.
Her hand moved on my arm. “Professor Weingold has told me of you. You did not work hard in school. You had too many good times. Now I also want to have good times.”
She pointed at the building. “Park in back,” she said. “There is an assigned space for me there.”
Liesl came up to my shoulder but there was no question who was in charge. I parked in back. She opened the door on the passenger’s side and got out. I followed her to the back door of her building and up the stairs inside to the third floor, brushing raindrops out of my hair. She pulled out a key and stuck it in the lock.
“The school gives me this apartment for the semester.” she said, opening the door. “It is too big.”
The apartment was a flat that occupied the complete third floor. A hallway ran its length. Liesl took off her shoes and I followed suit. She pulled on slippers and handed me a pair. We padded down the hall. There were framed photos on the walls but, in the gloom of day’s end, the figures in them were swaddled in shadow.
We passed a bedroom, a guest room, a room with a server rack and electronic equipment in it, a kitchen and dining room. The dining room table was set for two, with unlit candles and an empty vase.
Past a front stairwell, we entered a living room that spanned the width of the building. It was populated with two minimalist plank couches, a rattan coffee table, glass end tables with lamps in the shape of carved rabbits, a nickel swing-arm floor lamp, an empty birdcage, and an overhead light in a paper globe. Ancient Persian rugs covered most of the finished oak floor.
“This is American style?” the doctor said, patting one of the rabbits.
“A mixed bag.”
She took out her phone and repeated my words into it. A female voice responded in German.
“Translation?” I said.
I helped her out of her raincoat, peeled off my jacket, and hung both on a coat rack standing inside the front door. I stepped back into the living room. Two canted bay windows overlooked a Washington Street wet and shining as the street lights took hold in gray twilight. Rain rattled on the window panes.
The doctor disappeared down the hall. I switched on one of the lamps and perched on the edge of a couch. My reflection in the window stared back at me as the day failed.
The doctor returned wearing blue jeans and a sweatshirt with German script across its front. She carried a bottle and two glasses, which she arranged on the coffee table. She sat down beside me.
“Himbeergeist,” she said. “It is raspberry schnapps. This is okay?”
“Sure,” I said, although if I had ever tasted schnapps, I was too drunk at the time to remember.
This whole situation was as new to me as the schnapps.
She poured and we toasted each other.
“To a good semester,” I said.
“To our friendship,” she said.
Her cheeks glowed. I couldn’t feel their heat from where I sat, but I wanted to.
“Doctor, listen, I—”
She held up a hand. “For you, I am Liesl,” she said. “You do not mind that I spoke to Professor Weingold about you?”
I shook my head.
“The school threw me out on my ear,” I said. “Professor Weingold used to play poker with some of the IT guys. I did, too. Instead of studying, I’d go over to Fenway Park or the Garden with them. Weingold warned me more than once that I was in trouble, but it didn’t help. I almost made it through, though.”
Liesl lifted her glass again.
“Listen, Dr. Blau,” I said. “I don’t know how they do things in Germany, but I don’t want to lose my job.”
“Please say my name. Liesl. You will not lose your job.”
An old-fashioned doorbell sounded in the hall. Liesl got up and buzzed the downstairs door open. Galoshes clomped on the stairs. She opened the front door and greeted the delivery man standing there. She accepted a large paper bag and a bouquet of flowers, handed him a tip, thanked him, and closed the door.
“I do not cook,” she said to me. “The University delivers dinner for me when I am home in the evening. Many nights I lecture. Tonight they have delivered dinner for two. The chefs at the Faculty Club prepare it.”
She disappeared down the hall again, presumably to put the flowers in the empty vase and to do something with the food. When she returned and sat down beside me on the couch, her thigh pressed against mine. On its own, mine pressed back. My glass was empty.
“Now we eat dinner,” Liesl said.
The bags from the Faculty Club sat on the dining room table. The flowers stood in water in the vase. We unpacked a green-bean-and-potato soup, rolled-up beef, bacon, and onions, and potato dumplings and red cabbage. I opened a bottle of German red wine that came with the food.
“A German dinner,” Liesl said.
She lit the candles and turned the lights lower, and we sat down across from each other.
The setting had the feel of a state dinner. There was something very odd about the way the doctor professor was interacting with me, beyond the basic miracle of her inviting me up in the first place. Odder than odd.
“I will stay until Christmas and go home,” she said. This was in early September. “Where is your home?”
I told her about my youth in Los Angeles, my parents in Thousand Oaks, my brother in San Diego, my sister in Torrance.
“I did not go to school until the Institute accepted me,” Liesl said. “We moved to the city from the country. The tutors came to my home when I was young. I studied science and mathematics. I learned to play the violin.”
Her eyes seemed even wider than before, as if her words had carried her a step beyond theory. I swallowed some wine. She put her napkin to her lips.
“You will stay with me tonight?” she said. She waited for me without moving but breathing quickly.
“Is this how they do it in Germany?” I said, feeling stupid as soon as I said it. A simple yes was beyond me. “Is this a good idea?”
“I do not know how they do it in Germany. This is not an idea. It is a desire.”
My ears felt as red as the cabbage. I nodded. We got through dinner and left the dishes for the cleaning person sent over weekday mornings.
In bed, Liesl was precise and eager, then just eager, and then Mother Nature took over for both of us.
I was the teacher but she was the professor. We began with the lights off but turned them on again. There were periods of sleep, but not many. The rain fell through the night. By the time day dawned gray and still, we were groggy and laughing and horsing around like long-time lovers. We showered together and ate leftovers in bed.
We left the Jeep where I had parked it. The rain had let up, and we walked to school on foot. Pigeons skirted puddles on the wet streets. A gentle breeze rustled damp autumn leaves on the trees we passed.
“Tonight I have a seminar until seven,” Liesl said. “You will meet me in the Ayasli Conference Room after?”
I put my arm around her. She moved closer to me.
We walked down Windsor Street, out of the neighborhood and between four-story brick buildings to Mass Ave, crossing to the Flour Bakery for coffee and croissants. Stares meant for Dr. Blau grazed me. I was the curiosity sitting next to the celebrity.
“I have not had this thing in my life,” Liesl said.
“Every night can’t be like last night,” I said.
She smiled. Her smile contained no hint of doubt or distrust, but something Delphic. “We will see tonight.”
Back at school, I put off my coworkers’ questions, which did not stop coming, and spent the day waiting for night. And under the acacia tree in my Jeep, the Big Mac settled into my stomach and left me ready for the rest of the day’s work, no co-workers involved.
Copyright © 2020 by J. H. Malone