Daniel’s the only American in the lab. Back home in New Jersey, he sometimes let that go to his head. After spending so much time in Switzerland, he’d put on affectations. Sighing at the pot of instant coffee, frowning at the peanut butter.
In the lab, he’s on his best behavior. He’s just a postdoc, lowest man on the totem pole, even though this is a chance of lifetime. He’s been here sixteen months, his longest stretch. His family no longer lives in New Jersey. Or more properly put, his family’s no longer his.
“Check the temperature,” says Pascal.
This is Daniel’s job, monitoring the temperature of the experiment. It must be colder than deep space. That’s cold enough to slow the speed of light, but in Daniel’s lab, the goal is somewhat different. They aim to slow the passage of time.
His daughter, age eleven, is settling into her new home in San Diego. Ellen had to marry a tech guy. Of course she did. She’s always wanted an easy life. He shouldn’t blame her, but he does—she wanted what he couldn’t give, not on a postdoc’s salary. Not with him sleeping on a cot in a lab, somewhere across an ocean.
She never really appreciated what he was trying to do. When the first set of experiments failed, and then the second, she didn’t understand—or maybe didn’t care—that this was exactly how science works. It’s failures all the way down.
She never called him a failure, though. It was more: “The toilet is running, keeping me up at night.” “Lea needs braces.” “Lea needs a father.”
Lea doesn’t seem to need him anymore. At eleven, she’s her own person, right down to her colorful plastic bracelets, her pierced nose. It’s just a delicate little diamond—Ellen’s husband bought it—and when Daniel saw it he couldn’t believe so much could change in a few months away.
Lea doesn’t even share a language with him anymore. She’s picked up the slow, questioning cadence of the West Coast, while he’s still thinking half in French. Their secret conspiracy of junk food has given way to gluten-free food in packages and free-range chicken. He hates how everything free costs so much.
As he monitors the sub-freezing temperature, Daniel muses that there’s no way to buy his daughter’s heart. Or he doesn’t have the right currency. If they’d stayed in New York it would be easier, but now he has to travel halfway around the world to reach her. On his last visit, he had to change planes in Tulsa. When he got there, she was older again.
For him, when he was a child, fifth grade was a lifetime. A changing terrain of hills and rocks and ruts. But his daughter’s school year passed in a blink. Passed while he was monitoring the instruments, checking the temperature, buying cheese on his lunch break. She’s nearly a woman.
Everything impossible is possible, except the things he’s tried to do.
Pascal nods at him. It’s time for another test run. He starts the equipment and feels his foolish heart accelerate. It always does. Maybe this time it will work.