فصل 44

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فصل 44

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VIOLET

March 21 and beyond

I knock on the door to his room but don’t get any answer. I knock again. “Finch?” I knock again and again, and finally I hear a shuffling, a crash as something is dropped, a goddammit, and the door opens. Finch is wearing a suit. His hair is cut short, buzzed very close, and between that and the stubble on his jaw, he looks different, older, and, yes, hot.

He gives me a lopsided grin and says, “Ultraviolet. The only person I want to see.” He moves out of the way so I can come in.

The room is still hospital bare, and I have a sinking feeling because he’s been to the hospital but didn’t tell me, and there’s something about all that blue that makes me feel suffocated.

I say, “I need to talk to you.”

Finch kisses me hello, and his eyes are brighter than the other night, or maybe it’s that he isn’t wearing glasses. Every time he changes, it takes getting used to. He kisses me again and leans sexily against the door, as if he knows how good he looks.

“First things first. I need to know how you feel about space travel and Chinese food.”

“In that order?”

“Not necessarily.”

“I think one is interesting and the other is really great to eat.”

“Good enough. Shoes off.”

I take my shoes off, which drops me an inch or two.

“Clothes off, midget.”

I swat at him.

“Later then, but I won’t forget. Okay. Please close your eyes.”

I close my eyes. In my mind, I’m going over the best way to bring up Life Is Life. But he’s so much like himself again, even if he looks different, that I tell myself that when I open my eyes, the walls of his room will be painted red and the furniture will be back where it was and the bed will be made because that’s where he sleeps.

I hear the door to the closet open and he leads me forward a few steps. “Keep them closed.” Out of instinct, I reach my hands out in front of me, and Finch lowers them to my sides. The Slow Club is playing, a band I like, all plucky and bittersweet and kind of offbeat. Like Finch, I think. Like us.

He helps me sit, and I’m on what feels like a stack of pillows. I hear him and feel him moving around me as the door closes, and then his knees are pressed to mine. I’m ten years old again, back in my fort-building days.

“Open.”

I open.

And I’m in space, everything glowing like the Emerald City. The walls and ceiling are painted with planets and stars. Our Post-its still hang on one wall. The blue comforter is at our feet, so the whole floor glows. Plates and silverware and napkins are stacked next to containers of food. A bottle of vodka sits on ice.

“How did you …”

Finch points to the black-light bulb in the ceiling. “If you’ll notice,” he says, holding a hand up to the skies, “Jupiter and Pluto are perfectly aligned in relation to earth. It’s the Jovian-Plutonian gravitational chamber. Where everything floats indefinitely.”

The only thing that comes out of my mouth is “Oh my God.” I’ve been so worried about him, this boy I love, more worried than I knew until right this moment, staring up at the solar system. This is the single loveliest thing anyone’s ever done for me. It’s movie lovely. It feels somehow epic and fragile, and I want the night to last forever, and knowing it can’t already has me sad.

The food is from Happy Family. I don’t ask how he got it, if he actually drove out there himself or maybe got Kate to pick it up for him, but I tell myself that he was the one who went all that way because he doesn’t have to stay in this closet if he doesn’t want to.

He opens the vodka and we pass the bottle back and forth. It tastes dry and bitter, like autumn leaves. I like the way it burns my nose and throat on the way down.

“Where did you get this?” I hold up the bottle.

“I have my ways.”

“It’s perfect. Not just this—all of it. But it’s your birthday, not mine. I should be doing something like this for you.”

He kisses me.

I kiss him.

The air is full of things we aren’t saying, and I wonder if he feels it too. He’s being so easy and Finch-like that I tell myself to let it go, don’t think so much. Maybe Amanda’s wrong. Maybe she only told me about that group to get me upset. Maybe she made the whole thing up.

He fills our plates, and as we eat, we talk about everything except for how he’s feeling. I tell him what he’s missed in U.S. Geography and talk about the places left to wander. I give him his birthday present, a first edition of The Waves I found in a little bookstore in New York. I inscribed it: You make me feel gold, flowing too. I love you. Ultraviolet Remarkey-able.

He says, “This is the book I was looking for at Bookmarks, at the Bookmobile Park. Anytime I went into a bookstore.”

He kisses me.

I kiss him.

I can feel the worries fading away. I’m relaxed and happy—happier than I’ve been in a while. I am in the moment. I am here.

After we finish the food, Finch takes off his jacket and we lie side by side on the floor. While he examines his book, and reads sections aloud to me, I stare up at the sky. Eventually, he lays the book on his chest and says, “You remember Sir Patrick Moore.”

“The British astronomer with the TV show.” I raise my arms toward the ceiling. “The man we have to thank for the Jovian-Plutonian gravitational effect.”

“Technically, we have ourselves to thank, but yeah, that’s him. So on one of his shows, he explains the concept of a giant black hole in the center of our galaxy. Understand this is a very big deal. He’s the first person to explain the existence of a black hole in a way that the average person can understand. I mean, he explains it in a way that even Roamer could get.”

He grins at me. I grin at him. He says, “Shit, where was I?”

“Sir Patrick Moore.”

“Right. Sir Patrick Moore orders that a map of the Milky Way be drawn on the TV studio floor. With the cameras rolling, he walks toward the center describing Einstein’s general theory of relativity and goes into some facts—black holes are the remnants of former stars; they’re so dense that not even light can escape; they lurk inside every galaxy; they’re the most destructive force in the cosmos; as a black hole passes through space, it engulfs everything that comes too close to it, stars, comets, planets. I mean everything. When planets, light, stars, whatever, pass that point of no return, it’s what’s called the event horizon—the point after which escape is impossible.”

“It sounds kind of like a blue hole.”

“Yeah, I guess it does. So as he’s explaining all this, Sir Patrick Moore pulls the greatest feat ever—he walks right into the heart of the black hole and disappears.”

“Special effects.”

“No. It’s, like, the damnedest thing. The cameraman and others who were there say he just vanished.” He reaches for my hand.

“How then?”

“Magic.”

He grins at me.

I grin at him.

He says, “Being sucked into a black hole would pretty much be the coolest way to die. It’s not like anyone has firsthand experience, and scientists can’t decide if you would spend weeks floating past the event horizon before being torn apart or soar into a kind of maelstrom of particles and be burned alive. I like to think of what it would be like if we were swallowed, just like that. Suddenly none of this would matter. No more worrying about where we’re going or what’s to become of us or if we’ll ever disappoint another person again. All of it—just … gone.”

“So there’s nothing.”

“Maybe. Or maybe it’s a whole other world, one we can’t even imagine.”

I feel the way his hand, warm and firm, fits around mine. He may keep changing, but that never does.

I say, “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, Theodore Finch.” And he is, even more so than Eleanor.

Suddenly I’m crying. I feel like an idiot because I hate to cry, but I can’t help it. All the worry comes out and just spills all over the floor of his closet.

Finch rolls over and kind of scoops me into him. “Hey now. What gives?”

“Amanda told me.”

“Told you what?”

“About the hospital and the pills. About Life Is Life.”

He doesn’t let go of me but his body goes stiff. “She told you?”

“I’m worried about you, and I want you to be okay, but I don’t know what to do for you.”

“You don’t need to do anything.” Then he does let go. He pulls away and sits up, staring at the wall.

“But I have to do something, because you might need help. I don’t know anyone who goes into the closet and stays there. You need to talk to your counselor, or maybe Kate. You can talk to my parents if you want.”

“Yeah—that’s not happening.” In the ultraviolet light, his teeth and eyes are glowing.

“I’m trying to help you.”

“I don’t need help. And I’m not Eleanor. Just because you couldn’t save her, don’t try to save me.”

I’m starting to get mad. “That’s not fair.”

“I just meant I’m doing okay.”

“Are you?” I hold my hands up at the closet.

He looks at me with this hard, awful smile. “Do you know I’d give anything to be you for a day? I’d just live and live and never worry and be grateful for what I have.”

“Because I have nothing to worry about?” He just looks at me. “Because what could Violet possibly have to worry about? After all, Eleanor’s the one who died. Violet’s still here. She was spared. She’s lucky because she has her whole life ahead of her. Lucky, lucky Violet.”

“Listen, I’m the freak. I’m the weirdo. I’m the troublemaker. I start fights. I let people down. Don’t make Finch mad, whatever you do. Oh, there he goes again, in one of his moods. Moody Finch. Angry Finch. Unpredictable Finch. Crazy Finch. But I’m not a compilation of symptoms. Not a casualty of shitty parents and an even shittier chemical makeup. Not a problem. Not a diagnosis. Not an illness. Not something to be rescued. I’m a person.” He smiles the awful smile again. “I bet by now you’re pretty sorry you picked that particular ledge that particular day.”

“Don’t do that. Don’t be like this.”

Like that, the smile is gone. “I can’t help it. It’s what I am. I warned you this would happen.” His voice turns cold instead of angry, which is worse because it’s like he’s stopped feeling. “You know, right now this closet is feeling pretty tight, like maybe there’s not as much room in here as I thought.”

I stand. “It just so happens I can help you with that.”

And I slam out the door knowing full well he can’t follow me, even though I tell myself: If he really loves you, he’ll find a way.

At home, my parents are in the family room watching TV. “You’re home early,” Mom says. She gets up from the couch to make room for me.

“There’s something you need to know.” She sits back down in the exact same spot and my father clicks the television off. I immediately feel bad because before I walked in they were having a peaceful, happy evening, and now they are worried because they can tell by my voice that whatever it is isn’t going to be good.

“On the first day of school after Christmas break, I climbed up on the bell tower ledge. That’s where I met Finch. He was up there too, but he was the one who talked me down, because once I realized where I was, I was scared and I couldn’t move. I might have fallen off if he wasn’t there. But I didn’t fall off, and that’s thanks to him. Well, now he’s up on that ledge. Not literally,” I say to my dad before he can jump for the phone. “And we need to help him.”

Mom says, “So you’ve been seeing him?”

“Yes. And I’m sorry, and I know you’re mad and disappointed, but I love him, and he saved me. You can tell me later how unhappy you are with me and how I’ve let you down, but right now I need to do what I can to make sure he’ll be okay.”

I tell them everything, and afterward my mom is on the telephone, calling Finch’s mom. She leaves a message, and when she hangs up, she says, “Your dad and I will figure out what to do. There’s a psychiatrist at the college, a friend of your father’s. He’s talking to him now. Yes, we’re disappointed in you, but I’m glad you told us. You did the right thing by telling us.”

I lie awake in my bedroom for at least an hour, too upset to sleep. When I do drift off, I toss and turn and my dreams are a twisted, unhappy jumble. At some point I wake up. I roll over and drift off again, and in my dreams I hear it—the faint, faraway sound of rocks hitting the window.

I don’t get out of bed, because it’s cold and I’m half asleep and anyway the sound isn’t real. Not now, Finch, I say in the dream. Go away.

And then I wake up fully and think, What if he was really here? What if he actually got out of the closet and drove to see me? But when I look out the window, the street is empty.

I spend the day with my parents, obsessively checking Facebook for a new message when I’m not pretending to focus on homework and Germ. The contributor replies come in from all the girls—yes, yes, yes. They sit in my inbox unanswered.

My mother is on the phone periodically, trying to reach Mrs. Finch. When she hasn’t heard from her by noon, Mom and Dad head to Finch’s house. No one answers the door and they’re forced to leave a note. The psychiatrist has (somewhat) better luck. He is able to talk to Decca. She leaves the doctor on the line while she checks Finch’s bedroom and closet, but she says he isn’t there. I wonder if he’s hiding somewhere. I send him a text, telling him I’m sorry. By midnight, he still hasn’t texted back.

On Monday, Ryan finds me in the hall and walks me to Russian literature. “Have you heard from all your colleges yet?” he wants to know.

“Only a couple.”

“What about Finch? Do you think you’ll wind up at the same place?” He’s trying to be nice, but there’s something else there—maybe the hope that I’ll tell him no, Finch and I broke up.

“I’m not sure what he’s going to do. I don’t think he knows.”

He nods and shifts his books to the other hand so that his free hand is now next to mine. Every now and then I feel the brush of his skin. For each step we take, about five people call out to him or nod a what’s-up. Their eyes move past him to me, and I wonder what they see.

Eli Cross is having a party. You should come with me.

I wonder if he remembers that it was his brother’s party Eleanor and I were leaving when we had the accident. Then I wonder for a minute what it would be like to be with him again, if a person could ever go back to someone like good, steady Ryan after being with Theodore Finch. No one will ever call Ryan Cross a freak or say mean things about him behind his back. He wears the right clothes and says the right things and is going to the right college after all of this is said and done.

When I get to U.S. Geography, Finch isn’t there, of course, because he’s been expelled, and I can’t concentrate on anything Mr. Black is saying. Charlie and Brenda haven’t heard from Finch in a couple of days, but they don’t seem worried because this is how he is, this is what he does, this is the way he’s always been.

Mr. Black starts calling on us, one by one, down the rows, asking for progress reports on our projects. When he gets to me, I say, “Finch isn’t here.”

“I know very well … he’s not here and that he won’t … be coming back to school.… How are you … coming along on … your work, Miss Markey?”

I think of all the things I could mention: Theodore Finch is living in his closet. I think there’s something seriously wrong with him. We haven’t been able to wander lately, and we still have four or five places left on our map.

I say, “We’re learning a lot about this state of ours. I’d never seen much of Indiana before I started, but now I know it really well.”

Mr. Black seems happy with this, and then he’s on to the next person. Under my desk, I text Finch: Please let me know you’re okay.

When I don’t hear from him by Tuesday, I ride over to his house. This time a little girl answers the door. She has short, dark hair sliced into a bob and the same blue eyes as Finch and Kate. “You must be Decca,” I say, sounding like one of those grown-ups I hate.

“Who are you?”

“Violet. I’m a friend of your brother’s. Is he here?” She opens the door wider and steps out of the way.

Upstairs, I pass the wall of Finches and knock but don’t wait for an answer. I push the door open and rush in, and right away I can feel it: No one is here. It’s not just that the room is bare—it’s that there’s a strange, dead stillness to the air, as if the room is an empty shell left behind by an animal.

“Finch?” My heart is starting to pound. I knock on the closet door, and then I’m standing in the closet, and he’s not there. The comforter is gone, along with his guitar and amp, the notebooks of staff paper, the stacks of blank Post-its, the jug of water, his laptop, the book I gave him, the license plate, and my picture. The words we wrote are on the walls, and the planets and stars he created are there, but they’re dead and still and no longer glowing.

I can’t do anything but turn around and around, looking for something, anything he might have left to let me know where he’s gone. I pull out my phone and call him, but it goes right to voicemail. “Finch, it’s me. I’m in your closet, but you’re not here. Please call me back. I’m worried. I’m sorry. I love you. But not sorry I love you because I could never be sorry for that.”

In his room I start opening drawers. In his bathroom I open cabinets. He’s left some things behind, but I don’t know if this means he’s coming back or if these are just things he doesn’t want anymore.

In the hallway I pass his school pictures, his eyes following me as I run down the stairs so fast I nearly fall. My heart is beating so hard and loud that I can’t hear anything except the drumming of it, which fills my ears. In the living room I find Decca staring at the television, and I say, “Is your mom home?”

“Not yet.”

“Do you know if she got the messages from my mom?”

“She doesn’t check the phone much. Kate probably got them.”

“Is Kate here?”

“Not yet. Did you find Theo?”

“No. He’s not there.”

“He does that sometimes.”

“Goes away?”

“He’ll be back. He always comes back.” That’s just his thing. It’s what he does.

I want to say to her and Charlie and Brenda, to Kate, to his mom: Doesn’t anyone care why he comes and goes? Have you ever stopped to think that something might be wrong with this?

I go into the kitchen, where I check the fridge and center island in case he left a note, because these seem like note-leaving places, and then I open the door to the garage, which is empty. Little Bastard is gone too.

I find Decca again and tell her to let me know if she hears from her brother, and I give her my number. On the street outside I look up and down for his car, but it’s not there either.

I pull out my phone. The voicemail picks up again. “Finch, where are you?”

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