Polymers
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They’re headed to Richmond on the midnight bus, a young couple, wary, thin-skinned. Rachel flips on her reading light, twists on the airflow. Calvert watches the woman on the other side of the aisle play solitaire on her lap. The reflection of the reading light marks a hexagon against the black window. Calvert glances at his watch, and Rachel peers from her book to see. The bus seems to float through the night.

“It’s stuffy in here,” Rachel says.

“Yeah,” Calvert says. “How’s the book?”

“Okay. Good.”

Calvert knows she won’t elaborate. Their relationship has altered in this way. Rachel is tight-lipped. Silence is now more comfortable, always at the ready. Rachel wonders what Calvert is thinking. She knows he wouldn’t say even if she asked.

  
 
Calvert has much to say, actually. He’d love to tell her how disappointed he is in the arc of their closeness, how their marriage has become confined to comfort, how his father rubbed off on him the wrong way, and for that he’s sorry. Rachel has questions, about Calvert’s father, about simple childhood stories, about their closeness. She doesn’t ask. They are comfortable reading, watching others.

Calvert thinks about his father often, the master of polymers, the inventor of Teflon. His father used to recount the moment of discovery: how he cracked the valve, but no freon whistled out, how the tetra flouroethylene mix became a polymer unexpectedly. Then, his eyes would dart as he remembered the Manhattan Project scientists who needed a gasket -- and the New Jersey company who bought the powder, keeping it in two hundred and fifty pound kegs in a bank for collateral. Rachel has heard it all before.

“Do I bore you?” He asks suddenly.

“What?” She snaps her book closed, peers up from the ring of light.

“Am I boring?”

She shakes her head, squeezes his hand. At times Rachel wonders if he’s depressed, yet she thinks, surely this is just the age in which we’re living. If he’s depressed, we’re all depressed. And what’s the difference anyway?

Calvert wasn’t supposed to tell anybody about the bomb, a secret between his father and the government. But now it’s out. Calvert feels embarrassed. He betrayed his father blatantly, and now… He wouldn’t be able to…

The woman stacks her cards, flips her reading light off, and closes her eyes. Calvert turns towards his wife, pats her kneecap. Rachel places her hand on top of his. Her touch eases his failures. That is something, he thinks.

“This bus is quiet,” he says.

“Yes,” she says. “It’s dark and quiet.”

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