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So Slight a Thing

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Some said—I said, everyone...everyone said—they looked at each other like father and son. Father and son. Teacher and pupil. Like mind and like mind. But he had his own sons; he had other pupils. He was surrounded by genius, by bright eyed, eager boys taken in by his work.

I was fooled; we all were. And we’re all dead and gone. And only now can I see. Only now.

His eyes were too bright, too eager, and the captivated my dear husband. They took him in. And they haunted him forever afterward. He was haunted by so many things. Why should that night in 1941—that chilly autumn evening like so many other autumn evenings—be any different?

He played Beethoven or maybe it was Schubert. He was a better pianist than I was; he was a better pianist than he was a mathematician—I always thought so, anyway, and Niels always said Heisenberg failed to completely grasp the math. Maybe that was why he grasped the music. I remember that much.

I remember the silence, the way they stared at each other...the way I felt out of place, as if I was the object between them, the thing diverting their paths.

I still see them in the library that evening, awkward, longing, and unsure. Did they know then that I knew? Had they always known. Niels could forgive him anything; he did when all was said and done. We went round and round about it—they did—but Niels could never fail to love him.

I will never forgive him.

I will never forgive those bright, willing eyes—those cruel, demanding, clever eyes. I will never forgive the way he looked at my husband, the way my husband looked at him.

There was so much talk that night, but what did any of us really say? What did it really matter? Of course the world wanted to know; even they wanted to know, for neither one of them was quite sure. It was muddled with what they were thinking. There was nothing to be done about it. We were all being watched in those days.

They wandered about each other like lost lovers—Heisenberg a lost a child and Niels with open arms. And what of our own lost children? Of our boys? It was not me that Niels turned to for comfort.

He turned his head away and I knew. I knew. And he did not come to me then or after. I knew where he went. But how could I hate him for it? He went to his clever son, his maddening lover.

So near...but settled in the dust we raised, the dust they raised.

Silence. And they’re walking again. But I don’t watch their backs disappear into the night. How can I?

How can I?