“Unearned Glory” – a story

Why is all of my work apparently so dark…?

~~~~

“So raise your glasses, fellow scientists, to this year’s honoree!”

In union, a hundred or so crystal flutes elevated briefly, borne aloft by cheers of “congratulations!” and the like, before being brought to smiling lips around the ballroom.

A dozen tables full of exquisitely dressed, well-respected scientists, partook of the expensive beverage, even as I couldn’t bring myself to do so. A hand clapped me on the back, nearly shocking me into dropping my glass.

“Dammit, Jeremy! You’ve changed the world, by God. You’ve changed the world forever,” came a voice I knew all-too-well.

I turned and looked into the cool, grey eyes of Doctor Frederick VonWiesel, chair of experimental physics at Oxford, and my mentor from my college days. His excitement was smeared across his face.

“I knew you were bright, lad, but even I couldn’t have predicted this.” He laughed the same laugh I’d heard a hundred time in class. “Instantaneous travel!”

“Teleportation,” a helpful woman to my left–the wife of the committee chair’s wife, I think–chimed in. “Real, actual, teleportation!”

I forced a smile, feeling the blood simultaneously rush to my cheeks and away from my brain. My vision blurred a bit, and I felt myself beginning to spin.

“Excuse me. I need to grab a bit of air,” I heard my voice say, as calmly as if I was actually deserving of all this. “Just a quick trip to the balcony, and I’ll be right back.”

I set my glass on the table and moved quickly away from my adoring fans–my jailers–before the door would be shut for hours with no hope of escape by the rest of the well-wishers in the room, all wanting to shake my hand and tell me how brilliant I was.

Liar.

I made it to the balcony in time to prevent myself from passing out. I grappled with the bow tie around my neck as a huge gulp of cool, fall, New York air filled my lungs, refreshing my body but doing nothing to soothe the constriction on my soul.

If they knew, you’d never work again, came that voice in the back of my head–the one I should have listened to months ago.

In the silence above the city, my hands grasped the marble barrier separating me from open space and a forty-story drop to Park Avenue. The stone was cold, though my fingers barely registered it. I could see my fingers were white from the tightness of their grip. Consciously forcing my hands to unclench, I saw color return to them, though still no cold penetrated them.

That day in the lab, it would have been so easy to explain. But now…

The noise from inside briefly broke through my self-pity, only to be cut off again as the doors closed once more.

“Jeremy?” The voice I dreaded most called my name softly in the evening light. “Are you coming back in? They expect you to say something.”

I kept looking out over the rapidly dimming skyline. “They don’t want to hear what I want to say.”

Soft footsteps approached. I don’t think she knew how I felt about all of this, about her.

“What do you want to say?”

“You don’t want to hear it, either.”

“Tell me.”

“I want to talk about–” I stopped myself. “I need to talk about Anthony.”

The footsteps stopped.

“What about Anthony?”

I inhaled again, deeply, the now rapidly cooling air burning my lungs.

“It should be him standing up in there,” I finally said, after expelling more air than I thought possible in an effort to forestall the inevitable.

“I know you guys were close, Jeremy, but this is yours. If Anthony was here, he’d be cheering louder than anyone for you.”

If Anthony was here…

But he wasn’t.

But I was. Because of him.

I felt a pain in my hands, and I looked down to see them gripped so tightly to the marble the skin was nearly transparent.

You deserve this pain… and more.

Forcing my hands to unclench once more, I jammed them into my armpits, clamping down hard. I turned to face her.

She stood there, as radiant as I had ever seen her. A pale blue gown, perfectly matching her eyes, her almost-blonde hair swept upward. A concerned frown on her pale lips.

Those lips…

“I didn’t discover this.”

The words fell from my mouth before I could stop them. Before I realized they had even formed in my mind.

“Anthony did this, then he–”

I couldn’t say any more.

Cognition crossed her face, as she finally realized what I was saying. Her mouth half-opened, closed, opened again, before snapping shut.

“The accident?”

Wetness on my cheeks. I’d come too far to turn back.

“He called me. Said he had something big to show me.” My eyes landed everywhere but hers. “When he showed me… he sent the dog… it was incredible… I made him send me.” Finally, I found her eyes.

“He made me send him. But something… I couldn’t… he just…” I couldn’t finish.

Her face betrayed nothing. But her eyes…

“I’m sorry.” My voice was barely audible. “I’m so sorry.”

“But what about all this?” Her hand gestured wildly toward the building. “The awards? The accolades?”

“I stayed there for two days, going over his notes, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Whether I could get him back. I couldn’t. I passed out from exhaustion.”

I looked skyward, finally glad the words–the truth–was coming out.

“The Dean found me, unconscious. He couldn’t wake me. He looked at the notes I was pouring over, and he thought that it was my work. I panicked.”

“You panicked?”

Her calm threatened to unnerve me. But I couldn’t stop, not now. I looked at her again.

“I couldn’t admit that I’d… killed… Anthony. I couldn’t… and then, everyone knew about the work, and–”

“And you just took credit for it? Is that it? You couldn’t handle the truth, so you made one up?”

I turned back to the edge, staring back into the darkness, finding no solace in the constellations of windows across the city.

You don’t deserve solace…

A long silence. My face grew wetter.

Footsteps again, coming closer.

“June–” I sobbed into the night.

The impact surprised me. I didn’t realize that June was so strong. Or maybe that was her anger, her rage, coming to bear between my shoulders.

I remember wind, then black…

~End

 

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