Back and Forth
An excerpt from Theories of Entanglement by Krissy Kneen (Text Publishing, 2022)
My father named me Stella because he was obsessed with astral bodies and because my mother baulked at his first suggestions. She frowned and shook her head when he offered Nebula and she thought he was joking when he wrote Meteorite on the list of potential names they had stuck to the fridge.
Stella was a compromise, or that’s what he told me.
My mother didn’t survive my birth and therefore all his stories about the time before her death remain uncorrected.
I faithfully orbited my father throughout my childhood and far into my teenage years. I studied maths and science with a passion that mimicked his own. I spent my evenings with him, staring through his telescope. He taught me about the biggest things: the galaxies, the black holes, the distribution of matter throughout the universe. He taught me about the smallest things: quantum particles, quarks. He told me about the theory of entanglement as if it was a bedtime story. Entanglement means that tiny, tiny particles which have come into contact with each other are paired like left shoes next to right. He told me that he and I were entangled now, and that this meant whatever happened to me would affect him even if he was a long, long way away. It made me feel safe to think of this. My left shoe to his right. I stood on his feet and he waltzed to the rhythm of the ten Einstein field equations which he recited to the tune of Some Enchanted Evening.
I leap-frogged through school, accelerated, and fuelled by the paternal passion of a theoretical physicist. I skipped too many grades and found myself surrounded by school-yard conversations that excluded me. I was big for my age, big-boned, my father said which was a little unscientific of him. The other kids were more observant. They just called me porky. They were three years older than me and yet my flesh kept swelling as if to keep up with this unnatural acceleration.
There were two of us in the course, two women in a sea of young men. I would squeeze myself awkwardly into the tiny seat in the lecture theatre. I couldn’t pull the table up and across in front of me because my belly would get in the way. I had to perch my laptop on the arm of the chair. Sometimes this meant I couldn’t type fast enough to keep pace with the lecturer. Sometimes, being fat meant that I missed what was being said.
The other girl in my class was neat and compact. She had perfectly kohled eyes. We clocked each other warily from our separate places in the room. Even though she was five years older than I was we should have become friends, two women, buoying each other up, supporting each other, having sleepovers, studying together for the exams.
It didn’t work out that way. Somehow we knew there was only space for one feminine presence in this vast sea of men. I could feel myself caught in a rip, drifting to the edge of the room as the boys closed ranks around their preferred candidate
My father was at a conference in Czechoslovakia when I switched from science to social work. He called the moment I had submitted the online form. It was as if somehow he knew. I pressed send and the phone buzzed and I knew it would be him. Two particles entangled. His left shoe to my right. My step, his counter-step.
“How’s the conference?” I asked him.
“There’s a ball tomorrow night, can you believe it? A room full of physicists dancing?”
“Gosh. Who will they dance with?”
“Their wives I suppose.” I thought of that other girl in the physics class I had just abandoned.
“Wish I was there with you,” I told him, “I could be your dance partner.”
“I am always dancing with you,” he said, “Even when I am on the other side of the world.”
I felt his hands around my waist. My father’s reach was the only one that didn’t measure me.
I remember when I was a child there used to be mirrors in my father’s house but he removed them when I was fourteen. I still remember the day. I remember him opening the door to the bathroom that I had forgotten to lock. And me naked inside. I wasn’t sure if I should cover my breasts or my crotch or my face, which was red and puffy and streaked with tears. I expected him to apologise, to step back and slam the door closed behind him, but instead he pushed the door wider. He looked at me. I had never felt more naked. He said nothing. He turned and walked away.
I stopped crying but I stood there not knowing what I was supposed to do next.
When he came back I grabbed a towel but because of my surfeit of flesh, a towel was like a bandaid on a gaping wound. Bits of me spilled out from the sides of it and I busied myself trying to hold enough of the towel over the most obviously obscene parts while my father took the driver-drill to the screws and hefted the mirror down off the wall.
That night we stood on the deck and threw all the mirrors off onto the concrete path at the side of the house. The satisfying shatter, the flash of an almost-full moon in the arc of silver.
It was over too quickly. I still wasn’t sure what was happening. The mirrors lay in dangerous shards reflecting or rejecting the sky. We would have to wear shoes from then on or we would be picking glass out from between our toes.
“Look.” my father said, pointing up to the night sky.
They were his stars. They had always belonged to him. That’s daddy’s work up there. When I was really young I thought his office was actually in the sky.
“Look,” he said again, pointing up to his stars. “Look how small we are.”
Feature image via 'Art Collection - The Metropolitan Museum of Art'