Scribbles von Beatrice Otter

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“Hello!” I called as I walked through the door. Madison usually came running, followed quickly by Jeannie, but not today. I dropped my bag on the floor and turned into the living room, seeing Madison sitting quietly. “Madison?” I said. She didn’t answer. “Honey?” I turned to follow her stare.

Jeannie was sitting on the floor, arms covered in paint, finger-painting mathematical symbols onto a piece of paper from one of Madison’s art sets. The room was covered in paper, with full sheets hanging from every available surface. Jeannie’s face held a look I hadn’t seen in years. I stood slowly, taking it in. Change the finger paint for pencil and the child’s art paper for notebook paper, and it could have been any one of a hundred times I’d watched her work back in school. “Hi,” I said to get her attention, knowing she hadn’t heard me come in or speak to Madison. It’s a good thing Madison’s a generally well-behaved child; I doubt if Jeannie would have noticed much in the way of trouble today.

Jeannie paused and looked up at me, surprised. “Oh. Hey,” she said, shaking her head to get rid of the fog of concentration.

“So.” I swallowed. “How was your day?” I glanced around at her work, the red and blue leaping out. I’d wondered how long it would take for something like this to happen. I’d been kind of hoping it never would.

Jeannie followed my gaze, eyes wide as if surprised to see what she’d done. She put down the sheet she’d been working on. “I’m sorry, I lost track of time,” she said with a guilty flush. She looked down at her arms. “Looks like I need to go get cleaned up. You mind making dinner tonight?”

“No, of course not,” I said. We traded off most chores such as cooking, and it was her night, but she did need to go get cleaned up, and anyway, I liked cooking more than she did. I paused. “You might want to put those up somewhere Madison can’t get at them. Once they’re finished drying.”

Jeannie shrugged. “They’re nothing much. Just scribbles, something that caught my mind.”

“Still,” I said. “It would be a shame for something to happen to them after you spent that much time writing it all out.”

“Right,” she said, climbing to her feet. “I’ll go take a shower, now.”

She was unusually quiet that night as we got ready for bed. “Are you going to do anything with it?” I asked at last.

“I wasn’t planning on it.”

“Send it to Graeme Peel,” I said, as I climbed into bed.

Jeannie set her book down on her nightstand. “Graeme Peel has more important things to do that look over my nonsensical scribblings,” she said emphatically as she pushed back the covers and sat down.

“Well, they didn't look nonsensical to me,” I said.

She paused and looked at me, amused.

“Okay, fine, they did,” I said, which got a chuckle out of her. “I'm an English major. What the hell do I know?! Send it. What have you got to lose?”

Jeannie leaned over and kissed me. “Goodnight,” she said. Discussion over.

I reached over and turned off the light. “Goodnight,” I said, turning away so I could pretend I didn’t know she was staring up at the ceiling as she’d done too often when we were first married. She wouldn’t take any comfort or support from me, not on this subject.

I knew she loved me and Madison, I knew how important being there for her family was to her. I knew she liked taking care of Madison, enjoyed taking her to the park and to ballet lessons, didn’t mind the housework and the daily grind.

I knew how much she’d given up to live this life.

The next Saturday I made sure I was up before she woke. It wasn’t that unusual; Madison was an early riser, and Jeannie liked to sleep in when she could. I liked spending time with Madison, just the two of us; by the time I got home from work and helped with dinner and the dishes, I was usually beat and it was around her bedtime anyway.

“How would you like to go to the park with me today?” I asked Madison as we ate our cereal. “We can have a tea party with your dolls.”

“Okay,” Madison agreed. “But not Miss Dana. She was being mean to the other dolls yesterday so she doesn’t get to go.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Go where?” Jeannie stood in the doorway in her pajamas, yawning. She eyed the table, where I’d set out notebook paper and number two pencils, just the way she’d always kept her desk organized. The folded sheets of art paper were sitting on the counter, though I doubted she’d need them.

“Daddy and I are going to take my dolls to the park for tea!” Madison said happily.

“Why don’t you get them ready to go?” I suggested, taking her empty bowl from her.

“Okay!” she said as she slid off her chair.

“I thought you might find it easier to work with us out of your hair,” I said to Jeannie.

“I said I wasn’t going to send them to Graeme,” she said, arms crossed.

“Look, what’s the worst that can happen?” I countered. “You’ve already got most of the work done. If it is just scribblings, he’ll let you know gently. If it’s something more than that, he’ll let you know that too and give you advice on what to do with it. If you don’t send it to him, you’ll always wonder.”

She gave me a half smile. “Yeah.”

“You might want to get dressed and have breakfast before you get started, though,” I said with a smile.

“You know me too well,” Jeannie said. “I’ll be good.”

Jeannie’s math was sent off to Peel in due course. I wasn’t surprised that someone came to follow up on it, though I hadn’t been expecting the US Air Force. What I know about math could be inscribed legibly on a very small thimble, but everyone who knew the subject always said she was brilliant. I also wasn’t surprised that she turned them down.

Jeannie’s brother Meredith showing up was an unexpected twist, given that I’d never actually met the man. Even on his best behavior, he was almost as bad as Jeannie made him sound the few times she’d mentioned him. Though I have to admit, watching him try to figure out how to deal with Madison was almost entertaining enough to be worth watching him pick at his tofu chicken with exaggerated politeness.

He never did stop by to say goodbye to Madison, but I forgot that minor annoyance when I came out into the living room that evening to find him gone and Jeannie sitting on the couch with her head in her hands.


She looked up at me, eyes glazed. “You have no idea what Meredith’s gotten himself into,” she said, shaking her head. “What he wants me to get into.”

“So, why don’t you tell me?” I asked, sitting down beside her. I rubbed her back and she sighed, leaning into my side.

“This is all incredibly classified, so I’m not supposed to be telling anyone.” She snorted. “Not that anyone would believe me besides conspiracy nuts, but … you still have to promise me you won’t say anything about this to anyone.”

“Are you sure you should be telling me this if it’s so secret?”

She shot me a look. “I don’t care how secret it is. This is a huge decision, and I can’t make it by myself since it affects this whole family. And you can’t help me unless you know everything that’s at stake.”

“Fair enough,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. If it was truly that big, I had a feeling I already knew what my answer was. What it would have to be.

Jeannie stood up and began to pace. “Apparently, the US Air Force has a device called a Stargate that creates stable wormholes that allow for travel to other planets, and sometimes even other galaxies. Meredith has spent the last two years working for some sort of multi-national coalition oversight group that has a base in the Pegasus galaxy.”

“A multi-national coalition has oversight of a project run by the US military?” I said, eyebrows raised. “That’s …” Words failed me.

“I know,” Jeannie said, waving a hand. “But, apparently they have some budgetary control, so the Air Force kind of has to listen. Anyway, in the Pegasus galaxy where Meredith is living they’ve got some kind of alien creatures that are really nasty and like to eat humans, and the creatures are trying to find a way to get to Earth. And my little mathematical scribbles might make possible a power source strong enough to stop them.”

I scratched my face. “Um, nothing against your brother, Jeannie, but are you sure he was telling the truth?” It occurred to me he might have been tripping or high or something, although he hadn’t seemed like it at dinner.

“He beamed me up to a US Air Force space ship in geosynchronous orbit over North America.”


“No kidding.” She came back over and sat down beside me again. “Anyway, there’s some things in the proof that they need me to clarify, and I can’t do that without seeing the experimental data they’ve got.” She snorted. “You won’t be surprised to hear that apparently the most ground-breaking and exciting work in the field of physics in something like the last ten years hasn’t been allowed outside their program.”

“Yeah,” I said, nodding. “Publishing data on the actual physics of wormholes would be tricky if you can’t say you have a device that creates them. How’d they come up with whatever-it-is that does it?”

“It’s called a ‘stargate,” Jeannie said. “Presumably, some genius had a breakthrough and got funding from the military to build a prototype and they came in and took it the second it looked like it might work.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes before I got up the courage to ask the more pressing question. “How long would you be gone?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know exactly. Meredith said a couple of months. Colonel Carter—she’s the one who showed up here a week ago—she said that if it looked like it was going to take much longer than that they’d let me come back and work from home.”

“That way you wouldn’t get to see your work put to use,” I said, carefully neutral.

Jeannie turned a disbelieving stare at me. “Kaleb, I don’t want to be gone even for a couple months, much less longer.”

“Of course you don’t,” I said. But I couldn’t help noticing she’d ignored the issue itself. “Would you be able to stick around for Madison’s ballet recital?”

“I’m pretty sure I could.” She frowned. “From the way they were talking, the aliens are more of a recurring threat than an immediate one. And if the project’s going to take a couple of months, surely a week won’t make that much difference.” She transferred her stare to the wall across the room from us.

“Do you want to go?”

I could feel her tense, ever so slightly. “I don’t know.”

I wished that were true.

I woke up in the middle of the night to find her sitting up, staring out the window at the sky. I turned over, propping my head on the head board. “You have to go,” I said.

“I know,” she said, but she didn’t come back to bed.

I watched her for a few minutes before sitting up to join her. “Want to talk about it?” I asked.

“I don’t know what to say,” she admitted with a shake of her head.

“How about the unvarnished truth?” I said. “I’m a big guy. I can take it. This has got to be one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to you. You’re one of the best moms I know. You’re not being a bad mommy if you go do this, considering what’s at stake. Madison and I can manage just fine for a couple months. We will miss you, though. But you’re not abandoning us.”

She turned to me. “It feels like I’m abandoning you.”

I reached up and ran my fingers through her hair. “We’ll be fine. Go do what you have to do. The sooner you leave, the sooner you’ll be back.”

“I guess.” She leaned into my hand, closing her eyes.

I kissed her cheek. “Let’s get some sleep, huh?”

“Yeah,” she said. We lay down together and Jeannie put her head on my chest. “Thanks for being so understanding about this whole thing. I know I said I’d never go back to the academic world.”

“I never asked you not to,” I said, petting her hair.

“I know.” She moved up and kissed me. “Thanks anyway. I love you.”

“I love you, too,” I said with a smile.

Jeannie lay back down next to me and pulled the covers up, closing her eyes to sleep. I inched a little closer and did the same.

A month later I sat on the edge of our bed and looked up at the sky through the window, just like Jeannie had. I don’t know what the hell I was looking for; I couldn’t find the North Star if my life depended on it, much less the Pegasus Galaxy. Can you see the Pegasus Galaxy from Earth? Jeannie would know.

Jeannie. She’d be in Pegasus by now, hard at work. Does Atlantis use a twenty-four hour clock, like Earth does? What’s the time difference? Is she spending all her time in the lab, or is she exploring the alien city as we speak? I doubt she’s staring up at the night sky looking for the Milky Way, wherever she is. She’ll miss us, but when she gets caught up in her work, she can be pretty oblivious to everything else. She’s changed since college—we both have, it’s part of growing up and having a family—but her work habits can’t have changed that much.

I sighed, scrubbing my face with one hand and pulling the covers back so I could crawl into bed. Madison’s in day care, and we’ve got a cleaning service coming in once a week—the US Air Force was generous with the pay for Jeannie’s time—but it’s still a hell of a lot of work being a single parent, even if only for a couple of months. I’m pretty beat, but it’s still hard to go to sleep in an empty bed. Jeannie needed to do this, and I’d never try to hold her back, but …

There are times being an enlightened man of the Twenty-First Century just sucks.

Jeannie’s back now. In public she’s thrown herself into her normal everyday life, and doesn’t seem to have any regrets about it. She missed most of the summer, but got back just in time for back-to-school shopping for Madison’s first year of school. Jeannie’s considering volunteering at a shelter or something during the afternoon’s while Madison’s in kindergarten, and we’ve talked about maybe having another kid. In private she’s bubbling with stories of alternate universes, gray aliens, brilliant scientists, tantalizing theorems, and the fact that Meredith isn’t as hopeless as she’d thought.

Jeannie’s been asleep for at least half an hour, but I’m lying here awake, staring up at the ceiling and wondering how long it will be before her next great math or physics inspiration will come now that she’s back (however tentatively) in what she used to call ‘the game.’

And how long she’ll be gone the next time.

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