There are no dark and stormy nights in Pasadena, or so it seems. My window looks out on a cultured rose garden and a grassy knoll encircled by a brick walkway on which the sun is always shining, especially during high tea, which is quite the thing here, unexpectedly. Somehow I had in my mind that all Southern California was beaches and palm trees and boulevards crowded with long-haired musicians, not this parade of women dressed to the nines for afternoon outings. Then again, this is not the type of hotel in which I usually stay, but Polly insisted that I deserved the royal treatment. Having a daughter as one’s oldest child is proving to be a remarkable lesson in female solidarity, as Mother told me often in her later years. Of course, Father was more attentive than most husbands, perhaps because he never took Mother for granted after their long separation, when he was imprisoned behind The Black Thing. That is something Calvin and I have never experienced, an extended time apart. He has always just been there for most of my teenage and adult life.
I mean, it is difficult not to fall in love with a boy when you have traveled with him across the galaxies, when he has braved your adolescent worst, when he has probed the headspace of every member of your immediate family and made up his mind that he belongs with you and them. I never really questioned whether he and I would end up together, and what would have happened if I had? Whenever I have any feelings of doubt or negativity or apprehension, Calvin does that thing that Charles Wallace does by instinct and that they are both now helping the researchers to study. Mirror-touch synesthesia, they call it. Except that Calvin and Charles Wallace mostly use their skills not in reference to bodily pain but to the chinks of armor in people’s minds. Sometimes I wonder how Calvin and I would be if we tried to put words to our feelings and talked things out instead of just kything.
It was actually Charles Wallace who got the ball rolling about my doctorate. He mentioned the idea to his namesake Charles, who shrewdly brought it up to his older sister Polly, who began calling me every weekend. Mother, you must do it before you get too old, she would say. You’re not doing anything now, and Rosy is nearly in college. And you promised Grand.
I did promise Mother. We were sitting in the solarium by the indoor pool on one of our rare visits back home when she said, My dear, there is something to be said for a higher degree. It is just a formality, but it would be so easy for you and something of your own.
After all, I’m not out to win the Nobel Prize, I said somewhat tartly, and Mother sighed. She was still beautiful with her snowy white hair and high cheekbones but seemed even smaller than the last time I had seen her. I felt badly and reached out and took her hand, and we sat there for a long while before she roused herself and said, Just promise me. And though I was in my forties and already a mother of eight, I said, Yes, Mother.
After Polly got it in her head that I was going back to school, she started making even more calls around to various universities. I had a feeling she was liberal about name-dropping her father and her uncles, which is probably why I got a letter from Harvey Mudd inviting me to meet with the dean of the mathematics department. Across the letterhead was a scribbled note saying, Mrs. O’Keefe, we would love to host you for a visit. I showed the letter to Calvin, and he raised his eyebrows and we looked at each other for a few minutes. Finally, he said, April would be a good time to go.
So Polly booked the flight and the hotel and even thought to hire a car, which had not even crossed my mind, and in fact I kept thinking it might have been easier just to stay on campus. But I had a lovely and encouraging phone conversation with the Canon Tallis just before I left. When Cal walked me to the gate, I looked at him and tried to signal my concern about Rosy staying out late at parties and getting her college applications done on time. I think he got the drift.
Dean Matthews looks younger than I expected. He has photographs of his two children on his desk. He told me he was somewhat of a child prodigy, though nowhere near the degree that he’d heard Charles Wallace had been, and he was well into his second doctorate by his late thirties, when he had a late revelation about being behind about the adult things that truly matter in life. He ended up marrying a childhood friend who also happened to be a professor nearby, though things ultimately didn’t work out, but they were friendly and his children were still in the area, and they had dinner together every week.
That was about two hours into our meeting, when I had already explained to him my thoughts on Riemannian manifolds as a possible thesis, and he apologized and said he had not meant to delve into such personal matters. Mrs. O’Keefe, I have sincerely enjoyed every minute speaking with you, he said, and we shook hands. Please call me Meg, I said, and he laughed and admitted that he had read in an interview with Father somewhere how he had called me Meglet when I was young and to be honest he had been calling me that inside his head the whole time we were talking. I was already halfway down the hall when he came jogging up and said, Meg, this is highly unusual, but I wondered if you might want to talk a bit more over dinner, as it would be a chance to break away a bit from this stifling academic setting.
I thought it over. I said, I think I might like that, and he smiled and said he would take care of all the plans and to please just meet him in the hotel lobby.
I walked away with a sort of thrill in my stomach until I got back to my room and then felt suddenly faint with guilt. I paced around for a good half-hour, then I went down to the bar and ordered a glass of cabernet sauvignon and thought about what I would be doing if I was on Benne Seed Island on the normal schedule. There would be Rosy, getting ready for a night out after hastily finishing her homework, and another quiet dinner with Calvin during which we would not say much — as we have not needed to for a long while now — but instead he would be sensing my thoughts, and I would be sensing his, this boy who kissed me goodbye when I was ready to face IT, who held me when the Echthroi first appeared by the stargazing rock, whose mother I have traveled across time with and back. The man to whom I have dedicated myself, not simply with my heart’s devotion, but with all the cells of my mind, which he has always acknowledged while simultaneously pursuing his own ambitions, as well as being so loving and generous and intelligent and kind, as everyone always says.
Around the corner of the bar, I could see Dean Matthews approaching while straightening his jacket and tie. I got up and said, Hello, Dean Matthews. He said, Please, Meg, call me Joshua. I think we are going to be good friends, that is, if you choose to stay and accept a place here. He kept my hands in his and bent his heads slightly towards mine. I couldn’t quite look in him in the face, but I inclined my head and told him I had already made up my mind.
SMJ Lee is a Los Angeles native and attorney. Her work has appeared in The Common, The Atticus Review, and FORTH Magazine.