A Few Things Ill Considered

The Bottleneck Years

by H.E. Taylor

Chapter 25 Table of Contents Chapter 27

Chapter 26

A Quiet Sunday, November 28, 2055

Sunday is a day of rest — theoretically. I had intended to have a quiet day, do some yard work and maybe touch up my Amazon report for Doc Y. I was awakened early by a crying baby. I didn’t want to get up, but I was not going to fall asleep again, so I washed up and dragged ass upstairs to the kitchen.

Edie was heating milk in a saucepan and Anna was crying her lungs out. Edie looked like she had not slept all night. She gave me a strained look as I entered the kitchen and said only, “Luc.”

“Good morning.”

Anna was in full chorus, lying in a breadbasket-sized cradle on the kitchen table. I went over, scooped her up, and started bouncing her on my shoulder while crooning sweet nothings. She closed her eyes and fell quiet immediately.

“Thank you,” said Edie. “I was bouncing back and forth between the stove and her, not taking care of either very well.”

“How much sleep did you get last night?”

“About two hours. She is getting colicky, I think.”

“Why don’t you go and get some sleep now? I’ll watch over her.” Anna was still asleep. “I don’t mind, and I can see you need a break. Go.”

Edie turned the stove off, set the milk on a cool element and went straight to her room.

Trying not to jostle Anna, I made ersatz coffee in the maker. With Anna on one arm and a fresh cup of coffee in the other hand, I headed for the library to read. It didn’t take long for my arm to get tired and I started to think about baby packs. Olivia had given one to Edie, but I had never seen her use it and I didn’t know where it was.

I started poking through closets still holding Anna. I drifted towards the basement rec room. The Baby Bag was there. Then I made my first mistake. I put Anna down on the couch so I could adjust the straps. Anna woke up immediately and started bawling. I rushed through fitting the straps, but wasn’t fast enough.

“Luc, is everything okay?” called Edie from the top of the stairs.

“Yes, I just had to put her down for a moment.” I picked Anna up and she quieted.

“Okay.”

“Go back to bed.”

“Okay.”

I tried to fit Anna into the unzipped sac. She was kicking and fussing. Then I smelled it. She needed to be changed. I took her up to the change table in the first floor bathroom and proceeded to clean, wash and powder her. It seemed she was used to this treatment. I think she liked the water. I bundled her up in a clean diaper and cloth and she started to cry again. Picking her up made no difference this time, so I thought maybe she was hungry.

I went to the kitchen with Anna on my arm and started warming the milk Edie had left on the stove, all the while cooing and gurning at Anna. She was fitful and not about to be pacified by funny faces, but gurgled happily when I gave her the bottle. A tiny victory.

Fifteen minutes later she had emptied the bottle and my arm was tired again. I tried once more to slip her into the bag I was still wearing. I had her almost in place when a strangled cough warned me just before she puked mostly milk on my t-shirt. Strangely enough, that seemed to make her happy, because she closed her eyes and went back to sleep.

I was not about to put her down again. I went to the kitchen sink and washed the baby puke off my shirt as best I could. I poured myself another cup of coffee — I had lost track of the first — and headed back into the library to see if I could get any work done. Anna slept for maybe an hour, then she started kicking. The rest of my Sunday morning went along in the same vein — feed, burp, bounce, clean and read when possible.

Edie was up about one o’clock and padded into the kitchen.

“I haven’t slept that long for a week,” she exclaimed. “You forget what it feels like to feel half-human.”

She took charge of Anna and I went outside to do the yard work I had planned. The sharecrop gardners had cleaned up the garden, except for the rhubarb and fruit trees, so there was nothing to do there. The problem was a red willow rhizome threatening to take over one corner of the yard. I had told Mark Andrews, our long time share gardner, that I would take care of it. Because it was a rhizome, the plant seemed to be growing everywhere, but with a little judicious trimming, I was able to see which were runners sprouting from drooping branches and which were primary roots. It took me a couple of hours to trim it back.

When I went inside again, the house was quiet. Edie and Anna were both asleep on the frontroom couch. I tiptoed into the kitchen and looked around for the makings of supper. It took a minute, but eventually I noticed the lasagna in the oven.

I switched from food preparation to setting the table and then picked up a padd to reread what I had read that morning. I barely remembered it at all. A survey report on biological approaches to geoengineering provided a good overview. I opened a small screen on the kitchen wall and began to follow up some of the references. One of the papers warning of the possible hazards of geoengineering quoted the early ecologist Garrett Hardin and his First Law of Ecology: “We can never do merely one thing.” I was sitting staring out the window thinking about that when Anna woke up and shortly afterwards I heard Edie stirring.

“I have set the table. When will the lasagna be done?” I called around the wall between us.

“We should be able to eat any time now. Just give me a few minutes.”

I could tell from the sound she was breast feeding Anna. I leaned against the counter looking out the window over the sink. This was gettting complicated. What would Matt think?

I cleaned up after supper. Edie cleaned and washed Anna again. After fifteen minutes or so, Anna fell asleep and Edie came back into the frontroom. I was going through dad’s old video library looking for something to watch. As I scrolled through the list on the large front room screen, I couldn’t help but wonder what the old copyright lawyers would think if they could see the thousands of videos on one crystal.

“What do you want to watch?” I asked Edie.

“I don’t recognize any of those names.”

“That’s because it’s dad’s twentieth century stuff. We can watch something modern if you like.”

“No, that’s fine.”

“How about this?” I highlighted “A Witness for the Prosecution” on the screen.

“Fine.”

We settled back to watch the old murder mystery and to my chagrin, I soon started to conk out. I was yawning and nodding off. I caught myself a couple of times and then, when I considered how long I had been up, decided I should accept the inevitable and just go to bed. With apologies I retreated downstairs.

Edie smiled. “Trust me. I understand.”

I was out like a light and awake with a shock.
Like Edie, I hate phone calls in the middle of the night. They are never good news. It was 4:10 as I reached for the phone.

“Mnn..rrnnnha” I mumbled.

“Hello Luc?”

I had a sheet wrapped around my foot somehow and couldn’t sit up.

“Luc?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry to bother you at such an early hour. It’s Marla Yablonski.”

I had met Doc Y’s wife Marla at the soirees he threw for students and faculty every year. I wouldn’t say that I knew her very well, but I knew her. “Yes,” I prompted.

“Donald is in the hospital and he asked me to ask you to take over his class in the morning.”

“Sure that’s no problem. What’s the matter?”

“They’re not sure. At first they thought it was his heart. He was in a lot of pain. Now, they think it might be his gall bladder.”

“Oh.” I didn’t quite know what to make of this. I wasn’t even sure where the gall bladder was or what it did.

“I apologize again for calling at this hour. And thank you for taking the class.”

“That’s fine.”

“Good night.”

She hung up and for a couple of minutes I sat on the edge of the bed watching the dim red digital clock tick over — 4:11, 4:12, 4:13. I lay back in bed and stared at the ceiling. I was almost ashamed to think it but the thought crossed my mind that I was glad I finished my doctorate before he got sick.

I would have to be up and out before 8:00. I reached over and switched the clock to alarm mode. I lay back and began to think about the last soiree Doc Y had put on. What an oddball bunch had been present. The younger students were all nervous at first, not knowing quite how to act. They watched the older students and the staff jostling for ideas, prestige — seeing the academic rat race and wondering if that was really where they wanted to be.

The visitor everyone wanted to talk to was Captain Arbuthnott who had been off Antarctica when the WAIS collapsed. I remembered being amused watching him, circled like a hunk of meat tossed into a sea of sharks, trying to deal with all the questioners, each trying to have a significant moment with the great captain.

Even though I had thought I was awake, the next thing I knew the alarm was ringing. It was 07:30.


Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor

For further information see:
A Gentle Introduction.

Last modified February 6, 2013

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