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Nucleus

Laurence Klavan

In the morning, Amos knew that it was all true and had actually happened. He could tell from the way Sheila and Yolanda behaved. They were chatty, yet maintained a distance from each other, sitting at separate sides of the table. Sheila seemed sheepish and kept directing what he thought were solicitous peeks at him. Plus, she had made her special whole-wheat pancakes, which she rarely did. Or was it only because they had a guest?

She passed him his plate piled high, and Sheila’s expression seemed to say, I’m sorry, you know why I did it with her, it wasn’t infidelity, not really, I love you so much. Amos realized this was a lot to read into a person’s features, yet that’s what he saw. His engorged head now felt the way he imagined mixed martial artists’ do when their opponents gouge their eyes with fingers and hold onto their faces, at least in films. He suspected it might not have only been his hangover.

Yet the two women appeared to have no ill effects from the wine, perhaps had rubbed or kissed or sucked it out of each other the night before, Amos thought, surprising himself with the imagery and the anger with which he’d conjured it.

Yolanda’s hair was down now, no more ponytail; she had become a grown woman, was no longer a girl. She began talking, disarmingly—chirpily, what was the word?—with the same amount of positive energy she had applied to negative things before. Overall, she appeared refreshed by events. Amos lost her words in the deafening clang and boom of syrup being poured and butter being spread—in his state, that’s how they sounded to him—but he got the gist. She was grateful for their compassion and impressed and touched by the generosity and openness of their marriage, at least the one, Amos thought, that Sheila must have told her they had last night.

“There’s been such progress in the world,” Yolanda said, with wonderment, “not just in science, but in humanity, too.”

Sheila looked at Amos after this and seemed to beseech him to stay silent, which for once at a crucial time in their marriage was not his inclination. Then she said Yolanda should stay until Randa came home, which seemed to be a very, very, long time from then.

*  *  *
That day after work, there was a drinks thing at a local bar. It was the kind which Amos always avoided, being an executive and so not liking to hobnob too much with those he supervised, believing it distorted working dynamics, encouraged false familiarity and impeded productivity, or something. But tonight he agreed to go, to the surprise of his staff, and didn’t call Sheila to say he’d be late, which he had never failed to do before.

He sat crushed between others at a long table in the back room of a deafening sports bar where screens in all corners showed ultra-violent electronic games. Amos felt like a guest at a baronial banquet after a primal battle or hunt, with backs being slapped, flagons of beer banged upon wood, and everyone swaying side to side in bawdy song. Still, for all their joviality, he sensed his crew felt restrained by his presence, was holding back from the true depths of their usual foul-mouthed fun, and had preferred it when he hadn’t come.

After nursing just one beer—the idea of getting drunk again inconceivable (then why not do it every night? Why never not do it?)—Amos wandered down to a lower floor. It looked like the long, dank hall shrouded in shadows that might have been in the castle that hosted the banquet. Were there mounted swords and family—what was the word—crests on the walls? That’s what he thought. Soon he emerged from the men’s room, where he had peed into what appeared a trough in a stable-like expanse. He saw Shem Cutler, the big guy who'd well, made his interest known. He stood against a wall, hissing good-naturedly into a cell phone. He looked up, smiled at Amos. Like a superhero, Shem seemed to have burst from the suit usually suffocating him and now wore only a t-shirt and jeans (no tights or shorts, but the effect was the same).

As Shem said a friendly “I love you,” snapping the phone shut, Amos approached him without a word. He thought of how colors mix to make new colors—blue and yellow made green—and how all those genes now mixed to make new parts of people, and how his anger at Sheila and his love for Randa and his desire not to die and his feeling of being utterly alone were mixing and making him feel something else, and then the two men were in each other’s arms, like the spirits of the castle disappearing into the wood of the wall. Shem was as gentle as Amos thought—hoped—he might be, and they finished right before someone else, a co-worker, came down the stairs.

*  *  *

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