For a whole week, Eva didn’t speak to her husband. She knew she had to apologize, but she couldn’t admit, not even to herself, that he was right. If he was right, then what would happen to her children? Every night she crawled into bed making excuses for herself why she shouldn’t wake him up. But she knew. What she’d said to him was wrong and ugly and he didn’t deserve it. She had broken the first law of marriage, taught to her at the Center for Genetic Pairing’s marriage preparation course. Maintained the dignity of your spouse because their lives, and yours, depend on it.
After a whole week in which she averaged four hours of sleep per night, Eva woke up at five. She left Adam a note on her pillow, and left for the lab. In the note she wrote, “I’m sorry. Please meet me tonight in the living room, so I can apologize to you properly. Half past ten?”
She managed to get home at ten-forty. Adam was already seated on the sofa because that was who he was. An honorable man. When she sat down beside him, fifteen minutes later, extending her shower just a couple of minutes more than she had to, planning her speech in her head, she took his hand in hers.
“Adam, honey, I’m really sorry for what I said. I was disgusting to you. You don’t deserve that kind of treatment. Those words. And there wasn’t one word of truth in it.” Apologizing, Eva felt like a great tragic heroine doing the right thing at a great personal cost.
“I know you didn’t mean it,” Adam said seriously, even nodding his head for emphasis. “Although it was really awful.”
Eva lopped off the bud of anger that peeked under the warm coat of her apology.
“I know I hurt you many times,” she added, looking into his kind eyes. “You’re such a good man, and I’m not nearly as good as you. I mean, I don’t think I’m all bad, but you deserve better.”
“I’m happy with what I got,” Adam said plainly, and then added, “I never regretted our pairing.”
“I remember you didn’t want me at first,” Adam said. “You didn’t talk to me for months. Even at our wedding ceremony, you were as silent as a potato on the spectrum.”
“I was stupid,” Eva said, looking into his big brown eyes.
“When I saw you for the first time, at the Center,” Adam said seriously, “I saw that you didn’t want me. But I could also tell it wasn’t personal. I saw you were unhappy. The thought crossed my mind that maybe you didn’t even want to live.”
Shocked, Eva looked at her husband of a dozen years. “It did?” she asked. He’d never told her that before. “So why not back out? You were entitled to refuse three pairings. They would have given you someone else.”
“Despite the sour face,” Adam said and a hint of a smile rose to his full lips, “I liked you. So I decided that rather than say no, I’d put the smile back on your face.”
Eva’s eyes filled with tears. She pulled a tissue from the box that Abigail made, with pretty blue cornflowers dancing around the opening from which the tissues were pulled. Her man was stubborn, she thought, but in a benevolent kind of way. He insisted on seeing the good in people, and he did good even when there was no reason to.
“It was a time when I was still in shock, you know,” Eva said, and not for the first time. “It was just a few weeks after I graduated from high school, and I was convinced The Centre for Productivity would choose me for the profession of scientist and send me to college. I was a thousand percent sure that when I’d get the envelope, the letter would say, ‘Eva Blum, scientist.”
“As a scientist, you know there’s no such thing as a thousand percent, right?” Adam asked.
Eva smiled. She gently placed her hands on Adam’s chest. His body felt so nice, hard and smooth and hairy in just the right masculine amount, and he always smelled so good, even after kicking a thousand balls.
“So when I got that envelope I was disappointed with life in general.”
“I was disappointed too,” Adam said quietly.
“Really?” Eva asked, surprised for the second time that night. “But you’re the captain of the national soccer team and you have millions of fans, and when you retire you have a business waiting for you.”
“I wanted to teach, Eva,” Adam said quietly. “I wanted to be a teacher, not a soccer player. But then I got my envelope, and shortly afterwards, I decided that instead of wallowing in resentment, and upsetting m future spouse, I’d just as well accept it and move on.”
“That’s an incredibly brave decision,” Eva said quietly. “I wasn’t that brave. I was afraid of a life of boredom and anger.”
“But you were right to fight your decision,” Adam said. “You did get the Center to give you a job. Hardly no one succeeded in doing that.”
Eva thought about it. “You chose to be a good husband by accepting the professional decision made for you,” she said. “I felt sorry for myself so I injected ten years’ worth of anger and fighting into our home.”
“Come here,” Adam said and pulled her until she sat on his lap. He looked into her eyes. ” You made the decision that was right for you. You had to fight and you fought, and then you succeeded. And here you are, a success. You’re in a lab, making a difference, fighting. You’re a fighter. Not a resigner.”
“There’s no such word,” Eva said and kissed the tip of Adam’s nose.
“I’m the captain and I say there is. And you’ve managed to produce two amazing children.”
“I love those amazing children very much,” Eva said quietly. A quiet understanding bloomed in her heart. The path she walked was exactly the one she was supposed to walk.
“And now you need to go to bed,” Adam said, “you’re exhausted.”
“What if I fail?” Eva asked, and black anxiety thumped viscously in her belly like a cauldron filled with hot tar.
“I will love you anyway,” Adam said.
Eva looked at her husband’s eyes and saw the love in his heart. A quiet seed of acceptance finally took in her belly and started multiplying, from two cells to four, then to eight, and to sixteen. She pressed her chest against his, rested her head on his shoulder, closed her eyes and fell asleep.
Four weeks after the talk on the sofa, children around the world have taken to subsisting on marshmallows and Ritalin. Classrooms were emptied, schools silenced. More than a few parents chose to force-feed their children, but those kids seemed to simply go to sleep and not wake up. After a few dozen cases like that, hospitals around the world refused to administer the feeding.
Eva suspected they were weeks, maybe a couple of months, away from massive deaths. She kept those black thoughts to herself, and kept working. She hardly saw her home, and stress, as thick as pea soup, rolled over the huge laboratory building on the National Research Institute of Plant Genetics campus. Eva’s mood bounced from peaks of wild hope to valleys of crushing despair, in a giant amplitude. Every day she rushed from the lab to the situation room to report to the crisis cabinet and to the international steering committee. From time to time, she closed her eyes for a few moments on the sofa in the executive suite. She imagined Adam’s hands caressing her aching body gently so she would fall asleep. She missed him, his silly jokes, his smile, but most of all, she missed the feeling of security he poured into her soul when she listened to him breathe. She couldn’t think about her children for more than seconds at a time without feeling her anxiety level threaten to crush her. So she made an effort not to. ‘Just live,’ she told them in her heart, ‘just live and then I’ll be the best mother in the word.’
Between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, at three and a half, Eva felt the imminent collapse. She escaped from the laboratory to the office chased by shadows as thin as skeletons, images of her dead children. In the dark, she could not break the fall to the floor and she hurt her elbow going down. She bit her lips, then crawled to the desk, pulled the phone down, and with shaking hands, she called Adam.
“I can’t go on,” she muttered, doubled on the tiles.
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” Adam said, fully awake.
True to his word, twenty minutes later the phone in Eva’s lap rang.
Eva heard the guard downstairs tell her that Dr. Blum-Ben-Gigi’s husband is in the building. The title of Doctor was awarded to Eva hastily, only a month earlier, so she could head the laboratory, which, by now, numbered one-hundred-and-twenty researchers.
“I’m here, honey,” Adam said right after he sat down beside her and pulled her into his hug. “My poor sweetie. It’s too much, this responsibility you took upon yourself.”
“Did you see the photo Abigail put on Instagram?” Eva whimpered, exhausted as never before. ” I can’t find a way to feed my own children.” And with that, Eva burst into bitter, hot tears that tore her diaphragm and burned her throat like H2SO4.
“Is there anything you can do that you haven’t tried yet?”
Eva shook her head. She was out of ideas. Her little girl hasn’t come been of bed in weeks. Her son never left her side, feeding her tiny bits of marshmallow dipped in a bowl of water. He worked next to her, slept in her room, and the black circles around his eyes kept growing.
“I’m so scared,” Eva mumbled. “What if we’re still far from a solution? Billions of years of evolution, and that’s how it’s going to end? I can’t forgive myself for wasting a full year on corn-based production. Do you realize how stupid that is? Corn? I’m so stupid. So stupid. I can’t do anything right.” Eva’s cries grew louder, more painful. She knew the valves in her heart were about to rip and her atria and ventricles would simply stop pumping.
“You must not lose hope,” Adam said, hugging her tightly to him.
Eva tried to sit up. “I have to go back to the lab,” she said, wiping her nose on her sleeve. But she simply couldn’t lift herself up.
“Rest a few minutes more,” Adam said, caressing her back slowly, her arm, her hair, her cheeks. His slow, steady breathing guiding her to slow her own wild beat.
“Thank you for coming,” she said. “You give me strength to go on for just a little while longer.” How wrong she was all these years, she thought, thinking her husband was a simple, if affable, male. Her soccer player. Eva kissed him on the mouth, knowing with the certainty of the moment, that he was the most impressive man she had ever met.
“You’re welcome,” he said simply.
“I don’t know where I’d be without you.”
“Here, of course,” Adam said, lifting her chin with his finger and looking at her with those big, beautiful brown eyes of his.
“Yes, but I’d be alone,” Eva said, aware she’d never believed in luck. “I’m very lucky you didn’t give up on me.”
“That’s true,” Adam said. “As you know, on Adam’s team there are no losses, only more attempts to score the victory goal.” He smiled slightly and kissed her. Then he put his open palm to her palm. “We’re a team that always wins, you’ll remember that, right?” asked.
Eva looked at their hands.
“Remember I told you about my ninth-grade school project in organic chemistry?” Eva asked. “The one that got me first prize?”
“Of course,” Adam said. “You only told that story a couple hundred times.”
“Only one hundred,” she said and smiled too.
“Two sugar molecules that are mirror images of each other, like two hands,” Adam recited, “one has a sweet taste, and the other doesn’t taste like anything.” He opened his hand and touched his thumb to hers, making a big, lopsided butterfly.
“Exactly,” Eva said. And right at that very moment, four months after she picked up the potato peeler, her hand froze again. An obscure electrical circuit suddenly closed in her mind. Two hands. Mirror Image. Enantiomeric glucose. Sweet and not sweet. Eva jumped up, adrenaline already rushing through her veins as if she was suddenly attached to a hydraulic pump. Staring at her husband, she felt such excitement she thought she would lift clear off the floor.
“Adam, you’re a genius,” she called, already running to the elevator.