Chapter 6: The Timbre of the Night

=== Key West ===

Marybeth sat in Claude's car, two microwave meals „Chicken Teriyaki“ on her lap, and wondered where the rollercoaster of her life would race next.She remembered the words of her colleague. Come on, I promise I won't probe your mind… he had said, and then: nothing will happen. Of course, she knew how he had meant it. And of course, they were two grown-ups; rational people. Still, a part of her felt even more frustrated. One man dumps me before anything COULD happen, and the other assures me upfront, that nothing WILL happen. Great. I must be the most uninteresting woman on earth!  The car passed an insurance advertising.  God, what shall I do? What the heck shall I do?! How should I pay for everything?!

…”Here we are.” Claude parked with two swift moves and got out. “I'll take my bags, would you mind carrying food and drink?”

Marybeth grabbed the plastic bag and opened the door. “I just thought about Roxanne again. I should be out on the boat and look for her. What if she is in any danger?”

“But you did not notice anything strange while you WERE on the boat, right? And you did not get any calls from the coast guard or the diving schools either that suggest something might have happened.” He walked to her side. “We always wanted to rehabilitate her – maybe she decided it was time for her to go.”

Claude had opened the entrance door. “I live on the third floor, right under the roof. There is the best view over the trees to the sea. Of course, a few more steps to walk. Everything has its downside.”

Yes, like Roxanne being reunited with her folks, and I'm without a friend and a research subject!


=== Claude's Apartment ===

While Claude was in the bathroom, Marybeth took a first look into his apartment. It had more or less the air of a second office, with bookshelves up to the ceiling, a computer, boxes with printouts, and memo stickers on a blackboard. There was no plant, no picture on the walls, no decorative item – wait, what was that? She went to the computer and eyed the paperweight standing next to the screen: a brightly colored plastic globe with two dolphins on top of it and pink starfish of the same size on the bottom…

“Oh, you discovered ‘it',” Claude laughed, coming into the room. “I know, it is awful bad taste. But I got it from my grandmother when I was in first grade, and it stayed with me ever since.”

“It is ugly!” Marybeth laughed as well and for a tiny moment, she had forgotten her misery.

“Well… I get those plates into the microwave, or we will never have anything to eat!” On his way out, he took two open folders from the little couch. “Please, make yourself comfortable!”

She sat there for a moment, listening to the sounds from the kitchen. When she started to think again about the rent, her daughters, Terry and Roxanne, she stood up and went to the bookshelf to get her mind off those things! Nothing better to achieve that than to browse through some books! Claude had quite a few interesting scientific works. She'd love to lend and really read them! She grabbed a collection of articles from a conference. Turning back to the couch, her eyes caught another interesting item. A thick book, now being buried under the folders her colleague had just placed there. It had an Italian title, and the design reminded her of that new children's tale everyone made a fuzz about recently. Harry Potter… or something like that… Curiously, she retrieved the book. “La Divina Commedia” by Dante Alighieri. No Harry something! Marybeth vaguely remembered having heard about this Renaissance writer, probably in connection to one of Judith's school stuff. 

“I did not know you can read Italian,” she admitted when Claude came back. “And that you like such fantasy things. Is it not about a voyage to the underworld?”

“Yes, the poet travels through hell, the purgatory, and finally through the heavens where he sees Christ and the Saints. And underway, he settles his scores with political enemies, lazy churchmen, and everyone he has a grudge against! But what is the most intriguing thing!? The source of this enormous piece of literature that still occupies researches all over the world – the source is an unfulfilled love.”

I seem to circle back to that problem whatever I do.  “What happened?”

“She was married to another man and died very young.”

“How sad…”

“Well, it depends.” Claude's hand moved over the illustration on the page she had accidentally opened. It showed Dante watching Beatrice in heaven. “She became his muse, his inspiration. As he could not have her, all his energy, all his heart, went into his art, and it became a timeless masterpiece!” 

“You think it is worth sacrificing life and love for work?”

“I … don't know. It just seems to be the destiny of some people. When you don't have a choice, it is better to divert your energies to more fruitful endeavors. That doesn't mean I don't… I mean…” The microwave beeped. “So! Dinner is ready. We have to put Mr. Dante at rest!”


Claude's kitchen was as straightforward as the rest of his apartment's interior. Marybeth spotted a few cooking guides and an assortment of spices on a small shelf. Everything else was stored behind the light brown doors of the furniture. He had put two – different – placemats on the table under the window. “I normally eat here,” he explained while filling their meal on porcelain plates. “The table in the living room is always occupied by some work stuff, and I seldom have guests.”

“It's okay. – Thank you, Claude, for taking care of me like this. This is really nice of you.”

“Well, it is not the fancy restaurant I have promised, but…”

“Oh, it smells delicious! I am hungry, you have been right.” 

“I hope you don't think I only do this to get you to work with me or apply for that grant.”

“No, I don't,” she answered. “It is also not that I HAD something to offer right now, with Roxanne gone.”  And Zeus. And Terry.

“If you really think she has communicated with that dog—“

“Oh yes! She has!”

“Then, she had probably used other sounds than usually. Like when a human speaks a foreign language.”

“Yes… you're right.” Marybeth looked up from her dish.

“We could find out which sounds if we compare all the recordings. I had an elder female last year that we supposed was talking to one of my assistants. We joked about it. But there was something, definitely. Sadly, she died before I could record as much as I wanted to. However, now, together with Roxanne's files, we might have enough to squeeze the funding out of the Smithsonian!”

“I don't know.” Marybeth let her fork sink and suddenly felt very exhausted again. “I just don't know what to do right now.”

“I'm sorry, you should have some rest. No talk about work right now! We can do that tomorrow if you want. When you have relaxed a bit and cleared your head. Tomorrow is another day!”

“Like in “Gone with the Wind”.”

“Yes. – So, I've heard you traveled a lot? I have to admit, I only went in my mind, with books.”

She smiled a little. “Into purgatory and hell!”

“That as well!” 

He laughed, and the light from the ceiling reflected in little sparkles in his eyes, reminding her of the fool's gold on the bottom of the sea when the sun shone in the right angle. She thought again of Roxanne and the dolphins. “I got around quite a bit, that's true. From the Red Sea to Whale watching at the Cape.”

=== Meanwhile / A Hotel in Miami ===

Zeus whined in a long, heartbreaking tune and let his head drop on his front paws again. His huge brown eyes were fixed onto something beyond this dull hotel room. Jordan sighed. Poor Zeus was in no mood to play, and in no mood to eat, not even his favorite food! The boy was worried, but his Dad did not seem to notice it. He was busy completing the score for that insurance commercial.

Jordan got up and took position right in front of him, so he could not be overlooked. Finally, Terry took his headphones off. “What's up?”

“We need to go back. To Marybeth. Zeus is very sad. He's getting sick.”

“He will soon be back to his former self! We won't drive back. Not this year. Maybe next. Yes, maybe next summer, okay? And you should be in bed by now!”

Jordan shuffled away. Why did grown-ups have to be so difficult?! He dropped down next to his dog and scratched through his thick yellow-brown fur. I have to help you, the boy thought. I have to do something. I'm going to phone Judith tomorrow. Next to his dog, the boy fell asleep.


=== Key West / Claude's Apartment ===

Marybeth lay in her colleague's bed. It was comfy and had a faint scent of lavender. It was calm outside and dark, if not for the pale shine of the half-moon over the ocean. However, she could not sleep. Her mind did not find any rest; she was too stressed out. She turned around again. She was angry, sad, and desperate. She did not know where to vent exactly that frustration. She could not yell at Terry because he was gone. She could not cry into Claude's sheets like a little homesick child away from home for the first time! She also could not wander through his apartment at night. So she sighed and rotated back onto the other side, now staring out of the window. She had always been strong and independent. She needed to find her way through this, out of this! Only now, everything seemed blocked.

Claude had also not been able to sleep, because of the unfamiliar couch and other things. Or to say the truth, one particular thing! He had gone to the balcony for a bit of fresh air, and there in the chair, he had eventually dozed off. He dreamed of diving with Marybeth through a strangely turquoise sea, with surreal giant corals. The sunlight weaved a net of reflexes over their naked skin. As it was within the logic of a dream, they could breathe and talk underwater while they swam in pirouettes like dolphins. At one moment, she turned around, grabbed his hands –

A noise from the street made Claude snap awake again. He blinked, realized where he was. The dream was rapidly fading into the haze of nonexistence. The longing remained. 

I have to tell her how I feel about her, he thought. But now was certainly not a good time! If anything, she would think he would take advantage of her situation and manipulate her. He stood up and went back to the living room, where he tried to find a halfway comfortable position on the couch. He heard something from the bedroom. Probably Marybeth could not find any sleep as well - after that day. In his imagination, he went over to comfort her, hold her, assure her, that he would always be there if she needed him. But he was afraid to look silly or make the wrong move.


=== Key West / House of Judith's friend ===

Up in the attic of the prestigious old villa the family of her friend lived in, Judith and Nora also were wide awake. First, they had watched the concert, of course. Then they had chatted with her friend and the others who had come to that viewing party. Now they lay in their sleeping bags under the window and talked about their Mom.

“She was really upset, I can tell,” Nora said, trying to get rid of the cookie crumbs in her sleeping bag. “I can't understand how Terry could do this! They like each other!”

“Men are complicated,” Judith said with all the experience of two ex-boyfriends. “Luckily, Mom has us! We need to take care of that problem and bring him back, with his dog, so she can complete her research thing!”

“And with Jordan.”

“Yes, won't be possible to avoid that, of course.” She opened a new roll of Oreos. “We have to find a way to get them together, so they can talk about everything. I'm pretty sure he'll come to realize what a great catch Mom is, and that he'd better hurry to come back. Before someone else snatches her!”

“Claude Carver.”

“Bah, stop it. And stop throwing all those crumbs at me! Keep them to yourself!”