Parting Is Such Sorrow


ames_icon.gif elliot_icon.gif marthe_icon.gif wright_icon.gif

Scene Title Parting Is Such Sorrow
Synopsis On going away forever.
Date June 4, 2021

Ames hears the sound of footsteps in the stairwell outside their apartment, and turns again to look at Wright. She searches for a clue in her mother’s expression as to whether or not this person is Elliot. Wright smiles and shakes her head almost imperceptibly as the sound of footsteps fades.

“Found it!” Ames says with excitement as she slaps a puzzle piece into place on the coffee table. “Yesssss.” Another victory on this unexpected day off from school, which is a victory of its own.

Marthe and Wright’s Apartment
Phoenix Heights

June 4th, 2021
12:15 PM

“I love your enthusiasm Ames but that…” Marthe starts, then leans over to look more closely at the piece that doesn’t quite fit where it’s been placed. “That’s the missing piece from the last puzzle!”

Wright leans close to grab Ames’s arms, eyes wide with delirious confusion. “Strange child, how do you do this? How did you get into my home? Who are your parents? Why are you like this? This is chaos. Madness.” Gently trying to shake answers from the girl.

Ames giggles maniacally, leaning backward and forcing Wright to either support her weight from across the coffee table or let her fall over. Wright seems tempted to let her fall, but there’s a sudden knock on the door. Ames sits suddenly upright. “You distracted me!”

“I did,” Wright says, grinning deviously. Ames squirms and writhes her way out of Wright’s grip and barrel-rolls several feet from the table before getting up to—failing once, twice, then succeeding—open the door to their apartment.

“Bamboozled again,” Elliot says when the door swings open hard enough to bounce off the coat rack mounted beside it.

“Sneak-thief!” Ames accuses, slapping Elliot on the arm. “I was listening the whole time!”

“Too sneaky,” Elliot laments with a shrug. It is what it is. He pushes a rolling suitcase past Ames, positioning it beside Wright’s.

“Ames, let him inside,” Marthe says admonishingly, lovingly. She greets Elliot with a smile that he uses to gauge where they’re at right now. On the brighter end of the spectrum, as muddled as it is. He returns the smile warmly, hopefully, but with the tired weight of these last two years still cluttering the corners.

Ames wraps his legs in a hug, squeezing with surprising strength and growling before backing away to let him in. He slides his backpack off one shoulder and hands it to Ames as he closes the door. She accepts the bag with regal dignity only to immediately drop it to the floor with a satisfying thump. “Nailed it,” Elliot says, “Thank you.” Ames cackles in return, having won yet another round of Here Let Me Take That For You.

Wright gasps theatrically. “I hope you didn’t break your present when you dropped it, Boog,” she says, shaking her head. What were you thinking?

Ames’s eyes go wide, her face ricochets from confusion to surprise to joy to intense worry. “Ah, shit,” she says, scrambling to open the bag’s main compartment.

“Ames!” Marthe says, though it’s carried on a laugh.

“Ah, beans,” Ames tries again, momentarily pausing to think up a more appropriate response. But then, realizing something, her face changes to a don’t you know, “We’re not around other kids.” A solid argument, Marthe has nothing for it but a raised eyebrow. Wright laughs voicelessly, just a whistle in her throat covered with a hand to her mouth, then a snort.

Elliot has kicked off his sneakers in the meanwhile, a lime green pair he wears when he’s trying to not feel anxious about something. About going away and never coming back. Wright keeps a sudden ball of sadness from working its way toward the light. Focuses on Ames’s frantic exploration. She’s surprised by a comforting hand on her arm, by Marthe’s chin leaning on her shoulder. The warmth of her wife’s breath tickling her neck. She relaxes into it gratefully.

Ames finally comes to a halt at the bottom of the bag before withdrawing, with a look of utter perplexity, a drywall hammer. She looks from the hammer to Elliot to her mothers without registering anything other than abject confusion.

“Oh, sorry, that’s my hammer bag,” Elliot says, turning to open the door back into the hallway. “Easy mistake.” He leans into the hall and returns with a colorful paper gift bag. He holds out one hand to take the hammer in exchange for the real gift, a transaction Ames is eager to complete.

Wright feels a relaxation in Marthe as Ames hands over the hammer. “Brave of you to trust Ames to hold a hammer for even five seconds,” Marthe says, “I’m kind of amazed the floor didn’t immediately collapse.”

Elliot smiles wide as Ames upends her gift bag, spilling a panoply of books, drawing implements, and trinkets across the living room carpet. He tries not to count how long it’s been since the last time Marthe spoke to him. The events are few and far between it seems, but he can’t blame her. Doesn’t hold it against her, only holds out hope. It’s been thirty-one days.

He feels a flutter of hope from Wright as well. “I figured the absolute nonsense of it would forestall any real structural damage,” he says, playing it cool. Giggles a bit when Ames has finally taken stock and screams wordlessly into the room for attention.

“Thank you!” she says, scrabbling up from the pile to go in for a real hug as Elliot stoops down.

At the moment he can’t think of anything in the world more important than this girl’s happiness, her safety. Her surviving the apocalypse. His daughter biologically, Ames is roughly one third him. Ames Abel, named after him. He rides the frantic joy of Ames’s hug instead of focusing on the fact that he may never see her again through these eyes.

“Love you, Beans,” he says, planting a kiss on the crown of her head.

“Love you, Elliot,” she says quietly, as though she’s talking to him through Wright. In secret and against the rules. He pays perfect attention, building the memory to be remembered with care later.

“I definitely can’t read these books,” Ames says with a put-upon sigh as she releases Elliot from the hug. “There’s like a thousand pages. Oh my god, frog stickers!” She’d missed them on the first pass.

“We can read them to you,” Wright says as Marthe disengages after a quick hug. She watches her wife stand, trail away as their hands slip over and apart from each other. “Family book time.”

Nice,” Ames says, sparing a moment to look up from a pad of colorful adhesive ornaments. Stickers Elliot certainly expects to soon laminate every available smooth surface in the apartment.

It will be Marthe doing most of the reading, as Wright will be stationed at the Rig full-time. She’ll be able to get out now and then, but transport from the coast of Virginia to the Safe Zone isn’t a trip that can be taken spontaneously.

Marthe enters the kitchen, not stopping as she points to Elliot. “Coffee?” she asks.

Twice in as many minutes. “No,” he responds, “But thank you. Background anxiety is fairly high today.”

“I’ll make decaf,” she says regardless. Elliot smiles and nods in thanks.

“Boog, why don’t you put all that loot up here on the table for a proper accounting,” Wright suggests. Ames looks leery of the idea of having to move a mess from one place to another. There’s so much perfectly good floor, and at any given moment almost none of it is being used. She frowns, and begins pushing everything across the carpet toward the table with long swipes of her hands.

Elliot checks the time on his phone. The ride scheduled to take them to the airfield already seems maliciously close. He steps into Ames’s way, repeatedly excusing himself for such a blunder as he prevents meaningful relocation of her goods.

He takes the chair, leaving the couch to Wright and Marthe. Resting there he feels his anxiety fall away in waves. Relaxing, again and again, past points where he didn’t think he could release any more. He allows himself to be lulled by the pretenseless enjoyment of the company of a family. Can’t think of how long it’s been since he felt this at peace in their presence.

Then a curious thing happens. He doesn’t notice at first, still taken aback by Marthe’s engagement. He’s trying not to stumble over himself to make the meaningless small-talk that these situations normally allow for. Talking, acting, pretending like things are okay. Like nothing happened in 2019. He’s too far away to hear what she whispers to Wright. Just sees her meaningful look. Wright’s meaningful look. Wright’s tentative, growing, sustained pull of Elliot’s attention. The settling in.

They begin to coexist, simultaneously sharing senses in a space normally prohibited by the Rules. Where Marthe leaning into Wright—arms wrapped loosely around her wife’s with her temple against Wright’s shoulder—take on a new meaning. All of their memories of these moments will be compounded, a gift, an apology (though one was never offered, nor expected; forgiveness never requested, nor deserved). Permission to experience this fully; to make an anchor, a promise to return. To someday talk about it, though likely still not truthfully. Making allowances for denial, that fragile crystal that they dare not touch to shatter.

They’re too caught up in it to be waylaid by the strong emotions that should accompany the lowering of this barrier. Before they know it Ames has commandeered the narrative, figuratively and actually. Elliot is reading to her, to them, the beginning of a book. Ames, arranged as a liquid in the chair with him, posture impossible.

"Into this wild abyss,
The womb of nature and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the almighty maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds,
Into this wild abyss the wary fiend
Stood on the brink of hell and look a while,
Pondering his voyage…"

He turns the page.

“Part one, Oxford. The Decanter of Tokay.”

It’s more interactive than he is expecting, normally he reads it to himself, his own tattered and taped copy that’s currently across the room in a watertight bag in his suitcase. He’s answering questions, mostly about the possible animal configurations of a dæmon. About dirigibles, Svalbard, about why that world is so strange. Getting way ahead of him, about auroras, other worlds. About an adventure to save all those worlds from destruction, from systemic collapse due to the actions, the hubris, of the few.

Ames wants Wright to read the girl parts and Elliot to read the boys, which results in Wright doing most of the reading. From the couch where she rests against her wife, as though from memory. Ames’s attention rockets back and forth between them excited by the little magic of it.

Elliot takes advantage of a chapter end to pause the story, setting the book down beside his cold coffee. They hear the arrival chime of the Pryr app from Wright’s phone, and they all begin to disengage from this perfect, pure afternoon.

The realization is long in dawning on Ames, that Elliot’s leaving starts today. That this was the purpose of the whole afternoon, of her day off from school. No one has said the words yet, Time to go, but she knows what’s happening. She takes a few breaths, exasperated sighs, that slowly dissolve into crying. Quietly, until Elliot hugs her, chin resting atop her head, then loudly.

“It’s gonna be okay,” Elliot tells her quietly.

From Wright’s perspective, Marthe gives her daughter space to experience the sorrow. They hold hands, then turn to each other and embrace, as the sadness spills over into them. Not through Elliot, through true empathy, from their daughter. Wright’s going away too, but not as far. She’ll be working remotely, but not, as she’s explained to her Marthe and Ames, indefinitely.

Elliot feels Ames’s little fingers curl into his shirt as she cries, desperately, forcefully, furiously, then begins to scream. “No!” she says through the scream, clutching at Elliot while rounding on her mothers to fix Marthe with a glare of hatred.

The adults are all stunned, not least among them Marthe, who appears honestly perplexed. But Ames’s attention is on her like a laser, she’s shaking with a fury that displaces huge tears with tiny trembles. “Tell him he doesn’t have to go again! Don’t make him go again!” she screams, even as it begins to subside, to break into a smaller, pitiful wail, again and again. “Please don’t make Elliot go again!”

It hits Elliot/hits Wright like a wall, a sudden stop, a wave of grief that crashes between them without a baffle to break it. It escapes them both as a quiet burst of tears, in not knowing how to say it, how to make this right. Understanding her confusion, but feeling a piece of that same resentment toward Marthe as guilt rightly their own. Marthe works her mouth to say something, looks to Wright pleadingly, to Elliot.

Ames is hyperventilating, fluctuating between sobs and mournful, angry growls. Elliot blinks, blinks, blinks and Wright follows him out of it, settles her arms comfortingly around Marthe. Elliot spins Ames in his lap, gently turning her face away from her mother to himself. “I don’t want you to go again,” she cries, impossibly large tears falling from her eyes unbroken.

“I know,” he says softly, having to force words around a stone in his throat, “I know this is hard for you. But Marthe is allowed to feel what she feels. She didn’t do anything wrong. I did.” He makes sure her eyes are meeting his, the importance of imprinting this memory.

“Wright and I were inconsiderate, and thoughtless, and our actions hurt Marthe,” he says, plainly. With more acceptance than when they first had to admit it to themselves, to Marthe. He doesn’t stray too close to the truth of it, both to not burden Ames and to not disturb how Marthe has been coping with it for the last two years. He doesn’t want to lose this one afternoon of peace to another two years of not talking.

“She has a right to be angry about what happened, and we have the responsibility to make it up to her,” he explains as Ames keeps her distress in small shakes of her clenched fists, her short breaths and hiccups. “But I’m not leaving because I’m being sent away.”

He takes a deep breath, gently scrubs tears from Ames’s cheeks as though it might stem their flow. “I’m leaving because I need to do something to keep you and your mothers safe,” he explains. “I’m going far away, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to make it back here. But I promise you that I am going to do everything in my power to come back as soon as possible.” Whatever he can do in the face of the likely insurmountable barriers of temporal physics.

Wright feels Marthe collapse a little as the topic turns to the past. Embarrassed to have taken it out on Elliot for so long. For demanding that the wall stay between him and Wright. Afraid to grapple with the truth of what happened, staying open only to what she can allow herself to admit. The carelessness, the sharing, the invasions of privacy. Staying far away from the truth of their meeting.

“Are you going to be back for my birthday party?” Ames asks through her tears, focused only on the most important aspects of this parting.

“God,” Wright says, “I hope so. It would make it easier to not let my parents ruin all three.” Marthe laughs sharply through the sadness and misplaced shame. Turns her attention to a more deserving enemy of her family.

“If I can’t make it to your birthday,” Elliot admits as Ames crumples into him, “I want you to know that I will be spending every day that I’m away thinking of you.” Her response is a sad noise of acceptance.

After she’s wound down, crying less violently, she feels guilty. She turns to Marthe, tries to reposition herself to reach out, to be taken. “I’m sorry Mom,” she says, knowing that she still might not understand what happened, her mother isn’t at fault.

Marthe breaks free from Wright gently and crosses the short steps to her daughter. She kneels, leans in for a hug but doesn’t yet lift Ames away. “It’s okay,” she says softly. “It’s confusing, and I’ll try to fix it.” her teary eyes meet Elliot’s, thankful, embarrassed, conveying as much as she can. Thanks for not leaving her in the spotlight. Chagrined to have gone so far and so long out of her way to make everyone so unhappy. The eyes of someone who isn’t thinking about the existential crisis she had. The eyes Elliot can recognize, so like his own, as she lets the truth bend in her mind, fall away, again and again.

Elliot gives Ames one last squeeze before untangling his arms from her and Marthe’s. Ames is lifted away, wrapped into a carrying embrace. Ames quickly and silently holds her arms out past Marthe toward Wright, who gladly hugs them both before taking their daughter for a goodbye of her own.

Marthe takes the moment of freedom to wipe away tears from her face, then reaches for Elliot’s hand. He offers it gladly and she takes it, squeezes it firmly. Then, as though she doesn’t know why there was ever so much distance, steps in to embrace him. A fugitive tear soaks into the fabric of his shirt. “Come back,” she whispers. For all of them.

Elliot rests his arms around her gently, the comfortable hug of earlier, simpler days. If she slides back from this point, into the suspicion, the distrust, the horror, at least they have this moment as the last touch point. Something he can, even in that unhappy scenario, work them back toward.

“I will,” he promises, more determination than surety. “I’m so sorry.” Again. Always will be. She nods, accepts it, lets go.

Their journey from the apartment, down the stairs, into the waiting car is shrouded in muddled tones and sounds as though they’re underwater. Nestled in the car they fluctuate between grief, hope, relief and guilt in equal measure. No need to identify who is feeling what, experiencing it all together, fingers interlaced. Wright with her head on Elliot’s shoulder. Elliot with his fingers pinched at the bridge of his nose to keep away tears, barely successful. A control Wright doesn’t see a need for, sniffling quietly as they go away, leaving family behind.

As Elliot goes away forever.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License