A Schrödinger State of Mind

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He awoke with a head rattling like the inside of a haunted house. His index finger traced the ridged plastic dials of his suitcase as though it was something he had rehearsed nights for. The dials surrendered the way the knobs of her spine did when he touched her. A click in the dark. She stirred.

Her oversized t-shirt—his actually—slid down one shoulder as she propped herself up on the bed. Her bare shoulder gleamed from the passing lights filtering through the curtains. She watched as he packed her heart inside his suitcase. He could have shaken her, told her he was leaving, that there was still time to pin him down as if he was a mounted moth. But he did not. Her heart was between his underwear and toiletries, trapped like Schrödinger’s cat.

Schrödinger’s cat. How did it come to be that a Nobel Prize-winning essay got treated with the same reverence as a cat meme? This wasn’t what he imagined quantum research to be. Quantum research picked the locks guarding the universe’s subatomic secrets. It was austere, abstract work that yielded limited practical applications but was definitely more enriching than the low-hanging apple of Newtonian physics. He liked that research was about answers. He would have none of that pop-science pandering, even if theoretical physics was a forest he wandered lost in, what with its arcane branches of mathematics and dense terminologies.

Still, this much he knew: at the nuclear core of Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment was a paradox, an impossible probability. Once, on the subject of their relationship he had tried to explain how they could not have their cake and eat it (superposition would have been more appropriate a term, but cake seemed more relatable). She insisted that it was possible to be in, in between and out of love at the same time. He maintained that that was not how quantum mechanics worked. She said, We're not talking qubits and wave functions here, Guan. We are talking about us. The conversation ended with her muttering that cats make horrible test subjects.

That was the point, he wanted to say. Cats, like people, were complex. There were too many quantum states that a cat could occupy; more than 10 to the power of 23, to be precise. Weeks later in the university library he found Robert Frost’s poem about a fork in the woods. He used to think the poem was about how our circumstances resulted from our choices until she told him no, that was not what it meant. The road not taken or otherwise, it scarcely made a difference; we cheat ourselves into believing it does. Her reading surprised him. He had not realised how entangled they were in their misinterpretation of each other, that he was as much a ridiculous theorem to her as she was a misread poem to him.

But it would make a world of difference, him choosing to leave or stay. Right now his decision led to one reality, the reality of waking up without her for good once he walked out the door. He dared not speak, for if he did his words might take to the air, shattering the silence. When that happened he would have no choice but to go.

He spoke anyway. I will call.

The broken pause pooled at their feet. Like hydrocyanic acid its fumes choked them, corroding every passing second. He watched as her emotions, more than 10 to the power of 23 of them, collapsed into one observable state of mind.

About the Author: 
Loh Guan Liang is the author of the poetry collection Transparent Strangers (2012) and the co-translator of Art Studio (2014), a novel originally written in Chinese by Singapore Cultural Medallion recipient Yeng Pway Ngon. He updates at http://lohguanliang.weebly.com