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.
“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 www.christiewilson.net or follow her @5cdwilson.