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Jennifer’s Lover

by Robert Silverberg

Finch had married very young—he had been only twenty-three, and Jennifer even younger—and even so he hoped they would live happily ever after. Marriage had been back in fashion for a few years, then, but all the same it was unusual to do it so early, and friends and relatives warned them of the risks. Get out and live in the adult world for a while, they said. There’s plenty of time later for settling down.

But marrying was more than a matter of fashion for Finch. He had since adolescence felt himself to be a basically married person. Like one of the primordial creatures of Plato’s Symposium is how he saw himself—a twofold being that somehow had been divided and could not be happy until it had been reunited with its missing half. He searched diligently until he found Jennifer, who seemed to be that separated segment of himself; and then he quickly took care to join her securely to him once again. They settled in a sleek and snug Connecticut suburb. He sold portable computer terminals for a dynamic little hi-tech outfit in Bridgeport, and she worked for a publishing company in Greenwich, and before long they had a daughter named Samantha and a son named Jason, after which Jennifer quit her job and began doing some volunteer work at the local museum. Their parents, who had been pretty wild items in their own day, doing dope and marching for peace and trashing campuses, were amazed at the way everything had come around full circle in just one generation.

Finch was on the road a lot, making sales calls in a territory that stretched from Rhode Island to Delaware, and occasionally he wondered if Jennifer might someday amuse herself with a lover. But the idea was really too alien to make sense to him. Even when he was away from home three or four nights in a row, sleeping in drab motels in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, he saw no need to go outside his warm and secure marriage, and he imagined Jennifer felt the same way. He wondered if that was naive and decided it wasn’t. As a couple they were complete, a single entity, a unity. Naturally the early raptures were only warm memories now, but the expectable cooling of passion had been followed by deep friendship. They were together even when they were apart; a lover would be a superfluity; Finch told himself that if he learned Jennifer had been unfaithful to him, he would not so much be jealous as merely mystified.

And of course there were the children to bind them always: Samantha was already beautiful at seven, a slim golden creature who was as apt to speak French as English. She awed them both, and they were immensely proud of her precocious elegance. Jason, not quite six, was of a different substance, a stolid and literal person whose toys were made of microprocessors and LEDs. He had his father’s love of technology, and Finch saw in him a chance to create what he himself had not managed to be—a genuinely original scientific intellect rather than a peddler of other people’s inventions. Whenever he returned from a long trip he brought gifts for everyone, a book or a record for Jennifer, something pretty for Samantha, and invariably a computer game or mechanical puzzle for Jason. They were splendid children, and he and Jennifer often congratulated one another on having produced them.

At a computer showroom in Philadelphia one rainy autumn afternoon, Finch bought a wonderful toy for Jason, a little synthesizer that played lively tunes when you tapped out signals in a binary code. Not only would it develop Jason’s musical skills—and that side of the brain needed to be trained too, Finch thought—but it would sharpen his ability to count in binary. It was so expensive that he felt guilty and eased his conscience by getting the new supercassette of Die Meistersinger for Jennifer and a sweater of some glittering furry fabric for Samantha; but on the long drive home he thought only of Jason creating buoyant melodies out of skeins of binary digits.

Jason accepted it politely but seemed not very interested. He watched as Finch demonstrated it, and when it was his turn he generated a few fragmentary atonal squawks. Then a call from Jennifer’s parents interrupted things, and afterward, Finch noticed, the child wandered off to his room without taking the synthesizer with him. That was disappointing, but Finch reminded himself that six-year-olds had a way of being preoccupied with one thing at a time, and possibly Jason’s preoccupation of the moment was so compelling that even a wondrous new device could not gain much of a grip on his attention.

After dinner, feeling a little miffed, Finch took the synthesizer to Jason’s room and found him hunched over an odd glowing thing the size of a large marble. When he saw Finch enter, the boy disingenuously pushed it into the clutter on his tabletop and pretended to be busy with his holographic viewer. “You left this in the living room,” Finch said, giving him the synthesizer. Jason took it and obligingly hit the keys in his mild, obedient way, but he looked uncomfortable and impatient. Finch said, pointing at the little glowing thing, “What’s that?”

“Nothing much.”

“It’s very pretty. Mind if I see it?”

Jason shrugged. He generated a jagged screeching tune. Finch picked up the sphere. Jason looked even more restless.

“What does it do?” Finch asked.

“You press it in places. It turns colors. You have to get it the same color all over.”

“Rubik’s Cube,” Finch said. “An old idea brought up to date, I guess.” He put his fingertips to the sphere and watched in surprise as colors of eerie indefinable hues came and went, blending, shifting. Touch it a certain way and there were stripes; another and there were triangular patterns; another and the surface of the sphere burst into thick, brilliant, throbbing patches of color, almost like a Van Gogh landscape. He had never seen anything like it. “Where’d you get it?” he asked. “Jennifer buy it for you?”


“Grandpa Finch send it?”


Finch felt himself growing annoyed. “Then who gave it to you?”

The child looked momentarily troubled, tugging at his lower lip, twisting his head at a peculiar angle. Then he began to contemplate the synthesizer, and the old serene Jason, imperturbable, studious, returned.

“Nort gave it to me,” he said.


“You know.”

“I don’t. Who’s Nort?”

Jason was manipulating the synthesizer, quickly getting the hang of it, making something close to a tune emerge. He had dismissed Finch from his awareness as thoroughly as though Finch had been transported to Pluto. Gently Finch said, “You aren’t answering me. Who’s Nort?”

“He plays with me sometimes.”

Finch decided to drop it. Jason would tell him about Nort in his own good time, he supposed. Meanwhile the boy was mastering the synthesizer with gratifying swiftness; no point distracting him from that. Finch picked up the sphere again, stroked it so that it went through a whole new series of color changes, and brought it almost to the single hue that apparently one was meant to achieve. But he did something wrong and kicked it into a geometrical pseudo-Mondrian pattern instead. A clever gadget, he thought, and went off to find Jennifer and to catch up on local gossip. The mysterious Nort quickly slipped from his mind, and he might never have thought of him again at all if Samantha had not remarked, when he was in her room to say good night to her, “I’m glad you’re back. I don’t like Nort, really. I hope he doesn’t come here any more.”

Very calmly Finch said, “Oh, he was here again?”

“Two days, this time. Tell him not to come, will you?”

“I don’t know if I can do that. You know who Nort is, after all, don’t you?”

“Sure. Maman’s nephew. A nephew is something like a brother, n’est ce pas?”



2011 - 2018