Einstein's Child - Part 1
by Lawrence Buentello
Yes, I will be thy priest, and build new fane
In some untrodden region of my mind,
Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain,
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind.
John Keats: Ode to Psyche
Why had she changed? It made no sense, and after all this time he still didn’t know.
Paul Loueve felt the anger rising in his mind and silenced his thoughts before his emotions overwhelmed him, breathing deeply and closing his eyes against the sight of her standing at the podium preparing to speak. He’d refused to sit in the audience, her audience, with its zealous overtones and sycophantic participants. He’d chosen instead to stand on the side of the stage, hidden from those people he despised for what they’d taken from him.
When the applause waned, he opened his eyes again and studied her on the stage, her thin, graceful body poised over the lectern with the posture of a professional lecturer, her eyes gazing down on the notes before her. He still loved her, deeply, and with an understanding of the distance between them. Not here on the stage, but now in life, a life that had become a source of abiding frustration for him.
“In my life as a scientist,” Marie Loueve began, her voice rising through the auditorium, “I have been exposed to many points of view, some strictly materialistic, some profoundly spiritual. My own viewpoint, too, has fluctuated, from the strictly atheistic to the profoundly spiritual. But now I feel I’ve reconciled these differences in a very real understanding of creation and spirituality.”
Loueve had always loved his wife’s voice. She wasn’t physically beautiful; it was her voice that first attracted him, a soft, inviting voice that made any conversation a sensual experience. When they first began seeing one another, he intentionally encouraged their debates just so she would keep speaking to him in that wonderful voice. Hearing her offer that aural gift to others seemed like a stolen experience.
“I’ve come to share this viewpoint with you tonight,” she continued, “and to explore that reconciliation so many of my former colleagues have condemned. I only ask that you listen with an open mind, and an open heart. The universe is neither completely objective nor arbitrarily supernatural, but something of both, functioning together in the measurable existence we all share.”
They’d argued before she left on this first leg of her speaking tour, something they seldom did before her illness. So much had changed in the year since her recovery, destroying, it seemed, all the amity they had created in seven years of marriage—
“You can’t go through with this ridiculous tour,” he’d told her in their apartment in Cambridge. He’d lost every measure of sympathy for her. His anger, something rarely manifested, felt barely controlled beneath his voice. “How could you possibly go along with these people?”
She’d turned from the large window of the living room, the strain of her decision hardening her expression. She only shook her head, though, and refused to engage him in a debate. He wanted that, and she knew it; if he could manipulate her into offering him a logical assessment of her rhetoric she might be forced to change her mind. But she wouldn’t argue.
Instead she said, “My appearances are already booked. And there’s nothing wrong with the people supporting me. They see something meaningful in what I’m saying. I wish you’d support me in my beliefs, too.”
“These people don’t support you, they idolize you for giving them an excuse to be irrational. Who are they, anyway?”
“They’re my friends.”
“Your friends. Yes, I’ll just bet they’re your friends.”
“They’re people who respond to my work, Paul.”
“Your work is in a laboratory, in front of a classroom, not in front of New Age dreamers.”
“You’re pretty judgmental for a man who’s worked in a theoretical realm half your life. What right do you have to judge me?”
He rubbed his mouth with his fingers, a tic he always indulged while forming an argument. She seemed to notice this and smiled almost helplessly.
“You’re so predictable,” she said, still smiling. “Everything in your life is an equation to be solved. But life isn’t an equation. It’s an experience.”
“Sometimes it’s only a subjective experience,” he said, moving closer to her. The world beyond the window focused into a busy city landscape, full of buildings and people with beliefs, erroneous, mundane beliefs. If he could only wave his hand and dispel all the irrationality in the world— “You have a logical mind, Marie. Surely you see this is only a distraction.”
Her smile faded. She held her hands before her self-consciously.
“No matter how logical the mind,” she said softly, “no mind can know absolute reality. We only play at knowing the true state of existence. Why are my cosmological paradigms any less valid than yours? Or anyone else’s, for that matter?”
“Your cosmological paradigms are based on an emotional perception of the universe instead of an objective one. When our emotions direct our beliefs in the face of scientific evidence we lose our objectivity. We offer emotional reasons for the existence of phenomena instead of material ones. Now, you know that. You’ve taught that, too. How can you suddenly turn your back on what you’ve always believed?”
“People evolve their thinking. Haven’t you read my essays, Paul? It’s all there, if you’d care to read them.”
“I’ve read them, Marie.”
“And you still have no feeling for the truth they contain?”
“A metaphor is not science.”
“Metaphors help explain science. Most people could never know those theories expressed mathematically.”
“Most people are undereducated idiots. Mathematics creates an objective framework for meaningful scientific beliefs.”
“Metaphors were vital to Einstein’s work. He first found the metaphor to explain phenomena, and then proved the metaphors mathematically. That’s what I intend to do.”
“Then you’re planning to do the impossible.”
She wouldn’t be swayed by anything he said. When a logical attack of her theories failed to move her, he complained of the ridicule he’d had to endure from his colleagues at the university; when this failed, he emphasized the strain her actions were having on their marriage; and when this, too, proved futile, he decided to say what he’d wanted to say, what he should have been saying since the inception of her ‘theories’, but had refrained from saying because of a regard for her feelings.
But she wouldn’t engage his arguments concerning trauma or grief. In tears, she left him and walked into the bedroom, closing the door behind her. He didn’t follow. He knew that nothing he said could penetrate the shield of her emotions. No logical argument would ever do that. He sat staring from the living room window contemplating the torn fabric of his marriage, incapable of finding the right words to mend it.
The next day she left on her speaking tour, and he returned to his research, the question of their marriage still waiting to be answered.
Until he decided to join her in Philadelphia, unable to bear the weight of that question any longer.
Loueve realized that he hadn’t been listening, and only rejoined her lecture as she was framing her central thesis.
“If the universe, or the sum total of creation,” she said, gazing from her notes to her audience, “is what we know as God, then God is the sum total of every energetic state within it. Therefore, whenever we are observing the universe we are also observing God. But more than this, since we are a part of universal creation, we are also part of God, and all our thoughts of God are simply God manifesting expressions of himself. Because of this, we are God, exploring every metaphoric expression we offer. We are, even as individuals, God expressing facets of himself, expressly in the ways we choose, which may be cruel or merciful, hateful or loving.”
Too many paradoxes, my love, he thought, shaking his head at the applause echoing through the auditorium. The best of all agnostic worlds, dressed in the guise of science. Yes, he had read her essays, and knew the substance of her argument, her special cosmology. Despite her enthusiasm, he simply couldn’t understand how she could abandon rational science for mysticism.
Or perhaps he only refused to understand. He wanted to resume the lives they had been living; he wanted them to once again share the things they had been sharing, but he didn’t know if these things were possible.
Loueve listened to the rest of her speech, hating every word of it, until the question and answer session began. When the members of the audience began defining their own special brand of ignorance, he had to turn away.
His love for her was never in question. They met as graduate students working in the same department under different professors, but after their first few quiet moments together only their unique responsibilities kept them apart. When they did meet he would discuss his research, and she hers; but they were happiest when, after they received their doctorates, they were finally able to discuss the studies they conducted together. The university simply had to hire both, or else they would have gone elsewhere. But working together was only a pretext for being together. Paul had been an intensely focused child, and then a purposeful young man. Marie had always been the brightest and most imaginative student at every level of her education. What they shared, and perhaps what attracted them initially and kept them together, was a similar intellectual insulation from the world, manifested in papers and lectures, first on quantum mechanics and then on creation theory. They both held that academic mantle before themselves, exalting in its unique perspective. Their love was for one another, and also for those things in life they both held sacred. She with a sad, secret smile as she contemplated new theories, and he in a bombastic oratory as he explicated one formula after another. But both their theories and formulae were firmly grounded in rational science, and in a reverence for naturalism that took the place of any spiritual channel.
Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton, Max Planck, Ernest Rutherford, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, these were the icons that gave meaning to their world, not the prophets and deities of the world’s religions. People, the world, the entire universe at once became an equinamous proposition, differentiated by manifestations of energy. Philosophy was a pastime for social apologists; science was an art for the understanding of universal existence.
Loueve, then, was very much surprised when Marie told him five years into their marriage that she wanted a child.
He argued against the idea, claiming the addition of children would only impede their work. Why in the world did she suddenly want a child, anyway?
It’s irrational, she responded, and it would interfere with our work, but not fatally.
But why a child?
She couldn’t give him any better reason except that a child would represent an expression of their love for one another. There was nothing reasonable in this for him—he didn’t want children, he’d never wanted children. And now she was presenting him with an insupportable desire. But she persisted, and he relented, because it was important to her, despite his feelings on the matter.
Her pregnancy was difficult from the beginning. He panicked, because he translated the doctors’ warnings into dismal odds. He pleaded with her to have an abortion in order to save her health, perhaps even her life. It was a logical response to a dangerous medical situation, and he tried to appeal to her sense of the rational—but she wouldn’t abort the child. She said she was willing to risk her health for the opportunity to keep her child, that having children was as natural to human beings as studying nuclear physics, so why should she relent?
Six months into her pregnancy she began hemorrhaging. He waited three days, three long days with her in the Intensive Care Unit, before her doctors were certain enough of her vital signs to declare her condition stable. She survived — their child didn’t, but if he thought her wounds would heal and life would resume its previous dimensions, he was wrong.
He met her after the lecture and convinced her to see the city with him the next day, the Museum of Art, the Franklin Institute, the Longwood Gardens, and for a while they were both able to forget the issue before them. He tried to regain her confidence, which he thought precarious, but he would have to have some measure of her trust before she would agree to his request.
In the meantime they walked the streets of Philadelphia commenting on the architecture, on Franklin’s inventions, on the beautiful weather—anything but the subject on his mind.
When they returned to her hotel room he pressed his advantage, asking her to speak with him on a personal matter. She stared at him dubiously, and reminded him that she had to review her schedule with her assistant.
He persisted, and waited in her room while she spoke to the person who filled the role of ‘assistant’, a middle-aged woman named Gloria who always wore crisp business suits and watched him like a nervous mockingbird watches a hungry dog. He never asked for her last name, since he thought that might assign her some meaning in their lives she didn’t deserve. She raised her graying head from time to time to glance at Loueve where he sat, no doubt contemplating his motives, while Marie spoke quietly and succinctly. His wife hadn’t lost her ability to organize her thoughts efficiently, though now they were centered on speaking dates and local media appearances. Some follower, or perhaps multiple disciples, had encouraged her to bring her message to a wider audience, and in little more than a month she had assembled a team of loyal supporters to help her in this cause. But they were all cast in Gloria’s image, sincere defenders of a system of belief that hadn’t even existed the previous year.
But as he listened to her proposed timeline of speeches he realized he needed to secure some of her time as well, so he rose and interrupted their conversation. Gloria gazed up from the small computer she held on her lap as if he’d offered a profane curse.
“Before you book yourself solid for the next few months,” he said, “I need to ask you for a favor, Marie.”
Marie gazed at him, her mouth open expectantly, before saying, “What sort of favor?”
Loueve glanced at Gloria briefly before saying, “I’d prefer to talk to you about it alone.”
“We’re very busy,” Gloria said, her tone flat, though Loueve could see the resentment in her eyes. Who were these people with which his wife had suddenly surrounded herself? “Don’t you think you’ve already taken up enough of her time?”
“I’m not talking to you,” Loueve said, “I’m talking to my wife.”
“You’re obviously trying to disrupt her schedule. You’ve intruded enough on her work.”
Loueve stepped toward her, and the woman flinched visibly.
“When I want your opinion,” he said, “I’ll ask for it. But it’ll be a cold day in hell before I care what you think.”
“Hell is where you find it, Dr. Loueve. You’d do better to support your wife’s efforts rather than try to sabotage them.”
Before Loueve could respond, Marie stood from her chair and said, “Enough. I don’t need this kind of aggravation from either of you.”
“This is a personal matter,” he said, “and I don’t care to share it with someone you’ve only known for a few weeks.”
“I’ve known Marie long enough to know she’s a brilliant woman,” Gloria said, “and that her beliefs are valid ones. They’re brilliant beliefs, and no matter how much you hate them you’re going to have to accept that they exist.”
Loueve was trapped by his own desires. He couldn’t rebut this ridiculous woman because he didn’t want to upset Marie. Otherwise, he would have shredded her ludicrous suggestion. But there were always enablers for irrational beliefs, always proponents of superstitious definitions of reality.
He turned to his wife, ignoring, for the moment, her vociferous assistant.
“May I speak to you alone?” he said. “Please?”
Marie turned to Gloria, touching her on the shoulder.
“Come back in a few minutes,” she said, “we’ll only be a little while.”
The woman glared at him again, her disgust evident on her full, round face.
“I feel sorry for you, Dr. Loueve,” she said to him as she rose from her chair. “You have no concept of the reach of your wife’s theories. Thousands of people have already found them, and in a few years that number will be in the millions. The world needs her.”
Loueve almost smiled at the statement’s absurdity. This woman made it sound as if his wife were starting a new religion. Such was the nature of the people with whom Marie now associated. This thought only made him angrier, though he had no outlet for his feelings.
When Gloria left the room, Marie said, “You didn’t have to be so vicious with her. She only means the best for me.”
“And I don’t?”
She sighed, then said, “Sit down and tell me about this favor of yours.”
They sat, Loueve feeling strangely uncertain about their physical proximity, while she watched him with quiet brown eyes. He reached over and placed his hand on hers, loving the feel of her skin against his palm.
“Marie,” he said, “we never discussed what happened to you the way we should have.”
“I know,” she said, smiling grimly. “But I never felt ready to do that. I still don’t know if I’m ready.”
“I think we need to face some difficult things. I think we need to talk about what happened, and about what’s happening now.”
“It won’t change anything, Paul.”
“I’m not saying it will. But I think we should discuss things nonetheless. Marie, if you ever loved me, please do this for me.”
“What would you have me do?”
“You know Dr. Ellerbe at the university, don’t you?”
Marie’s eyes widened slightly.
“Yes, we’ve spoken on occasion.”
Dr. Frances Ellerbe, a clinical psychologist and lecturer, as well as a licensed therapist, was someone whose objectivity Loueve respected, and a professional mediator he thought his wife might approve of as well. He’d spoken to Ellerbe before leaving Cambridge for Philadelphia and gotten her conditional acceptance of his request for her to act as their counselor.
“I’d like for us to sit with her together,” Loueve said, “and talk about these things.”
“Everything. Your lectures, our marriage, our problems. And the baby, too.”
He watched her struggle to retain her composure, admiring her strength against the emotional turmoil stoked by the memory.
“I’m not trying to change your mind about anything you’re doing,” he said quickly, and hoped the lie wasn’t evident in his voice. “I just think we need an objective third party to help us find some closure on all these things.”
“Closure?” she said, her pained expression transforming into a pale smile. “Paul, there is no closure. There never will be. Not until the end of time.”
He didn’t understand her meaning in this, but ignored the statement and persevered.
“We need closure,” he said. “We both need to decide where we’re going in life, and then accept it. Don’t you think we need these things?”
“I know where I’m going in life.”
“Am I going with you?”
She didn’t answer for a moment, then said, “I don’t know.”
“Well, isn’t that worth deciding? Won’t you do this for me?”
She didn’t want to—the fear of confronting the most painful experience of her life was plainly on her face. But he mortgaged all their years together to convince her to agree. In the end, she told him she would meet him in Cambridge in a week, and he hugged her, kissed her gently and thanked her for agreeing.
“I won’t change my mind, Paul,” were the last words she said to him before he left the room.
Lawrence Buentello is an American writer and poet born, raised, and living in San Antonio, Texas. He has published over 130 science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mainstream short stories in numerous magazines and anthologies. He has won several competitions for his fiction and poetry and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Edgar Award. His fiction can also be found in several collections of short stories.
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