by Nina Schuyler
Listen to Nina read this story at the BUR #7 release party:
"There are three ways I can win this fight."
There are three ways I can win this fight. Maybe two. He writes down a calculation; no, three. Amber drops trickle down the sides of his glass, joining the body of brandy below. And that's the question, isn't it? How to separate heavy particles from light? ("We're late!" says his wife from downstairs.) He bites off a bothersome hangnail. Turn drips into autonomous entities. Magnetic separation might work.
He hears car keys jingling, high heels clicking against the hardwood floor. Before he can find his ear plugs, he loses his concentration, his mind agitated by tonight's engagement, which she insisted they attend. ("I'm going whether you go or not," she said.) A dinner in honor of some emeritus who wrote a ridiculous thing about black holes. He swirls the liquid in his glass. A gas centrifuge might do it, cleave U-235 from 238. Krauts better be asleep on this; he might even beat Ol' Op. Now that would be something to celebrate. He hovers over his notepad, breathing in the blue ink scribbles of equations, which slowly transmute into the scent of jasmine perfume.
"I hate being late," she says, her dark eyes furious.
She's standing in the doorway, her dark hair swept up in a tight, high bun. She's wearing long white gloves, a forest green dress, sleeveless and low cut to reveal her cleavage. The dress, he knows, wasn't purchased with him in mind. Though it still has the effect of overwhelming him with sensate datum. He wants to run his hand along her smooth arm. The light shifts, darkening the room, and now he sees it, the huge expanse between them. But it's impossible. Matter's neither created nor destroyed, a basic principle. Regardless, there is a gaping hole. And the question is, what to do about it?
She's tapping her shoe, as she did when he first spotted her so many years ago at their college dance. Across the room she stood in a gaggle of girls, tall and regal, her hair streaming down her back, a smile not emanating from her mouth, but her eyes. Eyes that caught his, once, twice, impatient and smiling, a magnetic force not flowing clockwise or counter clockwise, but straight at him. He pushed himself off the wall and crossed the echoing gymnasium. Simple as that, he said, "Shall we?"
As he huffs out of his chair, he hears himself telling her about his calculations, the wonder of enriched uranium, "an amazing chain reaction," and glances at his notepad, just a quick look to make sure, he's already getting new ideas. When he turns to the doorway, he's just in time to see the swish of her hem as she heads down the hall.