Christie Wilson ~ Solvay 1927

The din­ing room, elec­tric with the shift­ing of wool and the sta­t­ic that hums over the tables in the form of spec­u­la­tion and vibrat­ing con­ver­sa­tion, leans towards the impor­tant ones as they enter and take their seats at the tables.

As usu­al, we’ve been instruct­ed on invis­i­bil­i­ty, but it is dif­fi­cult not to linger. I take inor­di­nate amounts of time refill­ing the cof­fee cups, clear­ing plates, and stack­ing crois­sants in mounds that I hope can with­stand the motion of the room.

My broth­er, Walter, is at uni­ver­si­ty. He has always shown promise. I am at Hotel Metropolie. I have always shown fem­i­nine ingenuity.

Under nor­mal cir­cum­stances, I would not be per­mit­ted to enter the din­ing room until the meals had end­ed and all present had made their way to the con­fer­ence, or if it were evening, up to their rooms, where I have heard them pace about, argue, laugh. But Edward, the head­wait­er, has been ill for sev­er­al days, result­ing in a bit of chaos that has allowed me to shift respon­si­bil­i­ties. Amazing what one can achieve by sim­ply being the first to take the tray.

Einstein is laugh­ing and pat­ting the one beside him. I only know the names of the ones whose pic­tures have been in the paper, Einstein, Bohr, and the woman, Marie Curie. I’ve guessed at some oth­ers based on Walter’s descrip­tion, but I can’t be sure.

Today I’m try­ing to keep a men­tal list of notes because yes­ter­day the paper where I scratched out phras­es to take home to Walter rubbed a raw rash on my fore­arm. It must have been damp when I shoved it up my left sleeve.

They are all shuf­fling now, clum­si­ly push­ing at chairs as Bohr ris­es, try­ing to be the ones clos­est to him because they want to hear any­thing he might have to say in response to Einstein’s gedanken­ex­per­i­ments, a word that rashed me yesterday.

When the last one, the one with the fine smooth face, has exit­ed, I walk to the win­dow and pull back the cur­tain to watch them go. Walter says they are work­ing on mat­ters of great con­se­quence to us all, though Walter has a ten­den­cy to exag­ger­ate in his excite­ment. If he had his choice, his focus would have been sci­ence instead of busi­ness, but we are all behold­en to our fathers.

Other mem­bers of the wait staff have begun clear­ing plates. I slide behind the table where Bohr and Einstein were seat­ed and begin to stack their plates. If I touch the plate the physi­cist touched, I touch the physi­cist. If I touch the plate the physi­cist touched, I touch the physi­cist. And the pho­tons… I don’t know enough about the word pho­ton, anoth­er rash word, to make my game work. No matter.

I start to stack the cof­fee cups and see that tucked under the edge of a saucer is a sketch.  There is a rec­tan­gu­lar frame with two springs hang­ing from the top. These springs are attached to a rec­tan­gu­lar shape with some sort of slot in the mid­dle. On one side of the rec­tan­gle are tick marks that seem to cor­re­spond to a point­er on the same side of the frame.

My first thought is guil­lo­tine.  My sec­ond thought is toy. Neither of these is accu­rate, but the longer I study it, the more I want to see one. I want to pull the rec­tan­gle down, watch it recoil. I put the cups I have been hold­ing down and take the paper in my hands just as one of the younger ones, face flushed from hur­ry, bursts into the room.

He moves toward me, and I tuck the paper up in my sleeve, winc­ing as it scrapes the ridged and flak­ing skin.

Excuse me. Did you hap­pen to see a piece of paper here?” The man is lift­ing cups and saucers with no care as to how they land when he sets them down.

Paper, sir?”

Yes, it was a sketch. Did you see it? It wasn’t thrown away was it?”

No sir. I haven’t seen a sketch.”

The man ducks his head under the table to look on the floor, and I look with him, even pulling out a few chairs so he can get a bet­ter view.

I’ll have to both­er him to repli­cate it.” The man sighs as he straight­ens and makes his way toward the door.

Excuse me, sir?”

He stops. “Yes?”

What was it? The sketch I mean.” I low­er my head as I face him, so he will think me shy, inter­est­ed in his man­ly bustle.

It’s Bohr’s answer to Einstein. More proof of the quan­tum. It will need to be test­ed, but it seems clear to me. Uncertainty is obvi­ous­ly present.” His words are fast, and I am tak­ing them in whole, etch­ing them inside me.

He chuck­les, “Uncertainly is obvi­ous­ly present. What a thing to say.” He looks at me. “I sup­pose I sound like a mad­man, espe­cial­ly to you.”

I work to keep my brow straight, my face impas­sive to his words. He goes through the door. The oth­er mem­bers of the wait staff have gone as well. I unbut­ton my sleeve and peel the paper off of my arm where it has stuck to an open slit of wound.


Christie Wilson is a writer liv­ing in Illinois. Her work has appeared in Atticus Review, apt, Driftwood Press, Gravel, and sev­er­al oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. She is cur­rent­ly writ­ing a col­lec­tion of poet­ry and a nov­el. Visit her at or fol­low her @5cdwilson.