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

i)

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.

Everything changed.

#

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.”

“What 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.

#

ii)

She met him at his office the following week.

She wore a light blue dress, nearly pastel, which closed around her knees conservatively. Professional attire, he thought, meant to convey her expectations of the afternoon.

As they walked together across the campus from his office to the Cognitive Sciences building several students and faculty members stopped to stare at them, at her specifically, but no one said anything derogatory. She seemed not to care if they stared. The trees were beginning to bud after a particularly cold winter; walking through the campus reminded him of better times, when they were very much in love, when they made love and then afterward lay in each other’s arms laughing together, gossiping about the other faculty members, discussing their research. He couldn’t remember the last time they were physically intimate. Their lack of physical contact seemed as symptomatic of the gulf between them as their lack of intellectual intimacy.

They found Dr. Frances Ellerbe waiting for them in a large office furnished with comfortable chairs and lit by sunlight falling through a large bay window. She’d carpeted the floor in a deep cornflower shag, and full spectrum lighting from above erased any shadows from hidden places. It was a warm, welcoming environment, evidently designed to put its occupants at ease.

Ellerbe, short, overweight, in her late fifties, greeted them at the door, smiling radiantly, a modern matron in a lab coat and black leather shoes. Her manner was convivial, though Loueve knew she possessed high intelligence and acute perceptual abilities. More than once he’d witnessed her turning university officials in psychic circles, though her ability to manipulate administrative personnel wasn’t the basis for his respect for her. She understood human motivation better than anyone he knew, better than himself, but she was a rationalist, too, and had a gift for clarifying people’s beliefs in reasonable terms. Perhaps that was why Marie was hesitant to use her as a counselor; but the hope that Ellerbe could help his wife understand her own motivations was the reason Loueve had sought her out.

Ellerbe sat them in the chairs, insisting they remain apart, while she sat in her own chair equidistant from the two.

“We are equals in this room,” she said through a very faint British accent. She laid a notebook on her lap and pulled a pen from the pocket of her coat. “Let us remember that in whatever we say. We are three human beings exercising the purposes of our lives. Let us respect that quality in each other, yes?”

Loueve nodded, and then Marie, though her expression betrayed her trepidation.

Ellerbe adjusted her reading glasses, fixing her gaze on Marie, then said, “Paul has given me an idea of the events that have transpired over the last few months, since your hospitalization, Marie. I’d like to review these events briefly before proceeding. Would that be all right with you?”

“I suppose so,” Marie said.

“I know this may be painful for you. But you’re in a caring place. And I know Paul cares for you, too.”

Marie nodded noncommittally. Loueve couldn’t help but feel the distance between them.

“The difficulties between you began after you lost your child,” Ellerbe said. “You also came close to dying. Is that true?”

“Yes,” Marie said, staring only at Dr. Ellerbe. “I suffered a condition called placenta previa. It was diagnosed early in my pregnancy. My doctor warned me of the possible effects it could have on my pregnancy and my health.”

“Were you given the option of terminating the pregnancy?”

“Yes, I was. I refused. I understood the risks and accepted them.”

“But Paul wanted you to terminate the pregnancy because he was afraid of losing you.”

Marie smiled briefly, shook her head. “He never wanted a child in the first place.”

“I wanted the child for your sake,” Loueve said, “but not if it meant your life—”

“No, Paul,” Ellerbe said sternly, “you must let her speak. Her experience is just as valid as your own, more so if it pertains to her body. Go on, Marie, please.”

“What’s the point?” Marie said. “What does any of this matter now?”

“It does matter,” Ellerbe said. “Everything that happens to affect our lives matters, in large and small ways. If your health issues were the central event that began your marital difficulties, then we would be remiss if we avoided discussing them. Please, continue.”

Marie rubbed her temples for a moment, then nodded. “I knew the risks to my health, and I still decided I wanted to try to keep the baby. I took that chance, and perhaps it was ill-advised to do so, but I did and I lost the baby and I also almost died. And if I had the choice to make over again I’d make the same choice, because I wanted my child. I wanted my daughter.”

“I’m very sorry for your loss, Marie. Losing a child is one of the most painful emotional experiences we can have. Your decision was a brave one.”

“I lost my daughter, Dr. Ellerbe. When you lose something precious, there is no rationalizing the loss. And sometimes the loss runs much deeper.”

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t Paul tell you? I not only lost my child, but I also lost any hope of having any more children.”

“No, I didn’t tell her,” Loueve said. “I should have, but I thought it was only an extension of the medical issues.”

Marie nearly laughed, but the subject seemed too painful to allow any humor to invade her mood.

“Paul never understood how important it was for me to have children,” she said. “Or at least one child. My husband’s focus is extraordinary where it’s applied, but in other areas of life he’s remarkably blind. He never realized how much it meant for me to have a child, he ascribed it to hormones or cultural influence or some other nonessential human function. He never realized that life itself creates these desires in us.”

“I’m sorry if I made you feel that way,” he said sincerely. “I didn’t want to lose you.”

“You’re a brilliant man, Paul,” she said, “but you’re profoundly insecure. You’re afraid of anything changing in your life. You don’t realize that human desire changes as much as physical matter. Nothing ever stays the same. We create the changes, we decide how our lives will evolve, and the beauty we’ll create.”

“Was this important to your view of bearing children, Marie?” Ellerbe asked. “Did you feel you were creating something beautiful?”

Marie nodded, staring down at her hands.

“All physicists feel that way,” she said, “mathematicians, too. They just don’t realize that what they’re pursuing is truth and beauty.”

She raised her head and glanced briefly at Loueve before continuing.

“We’re not people who want to discover the reasons behind existence. We’re people who love creating beautiful pictures out of numbers and equations, lovely paradigms that are our imaginative currency. Physicists create beautiful intellectual structures out of pure thought, and call these creations theorems and formulae. Algorithms and paradigms are my husband’s children, Dr. Ellerbe. They were my children, too, until I realized I wanted to manifest that same beauty from my body instead of my mind.”

“But after your recovery you didn’t go back to academic research, did you?” Ellerbe said. “At least, not the same research as before?”

“That’s true.”

“Your focus changed to something new, didn’t it?”

“Yes, something very new.”

“And has this shift in focus caused difficulties in your marriage?”

“Not in my mind,” Marie said definitively. “Only in my husband’s.”

Loueve opened his mouth to comment on this, but Ellerbe silenced him with a wave of her hand.

She said, “But do you understand that a sudden shift in your focus, professional or otherwise, could cause the people in your life to feel as if you were turning away from them? From the lives you’ve shared?”

“I understand that, yes.”

“Paul also told me that after your recovery you began pursuing philosophical subjects over scientific ones.”

“Not precisely,” Marie said. “Paul claims to have read my essays on the matter, but he must be intentionally ignoring my conclusions if he believes my work—my new work—is anything but scientific.”

“And yet you use words like ‘God’ and ‘spiritual’ in your writings, don’t you?”

Marie smiled, perhaps realizing that Dr. Ellerbe had done some research of her own.

“Yes, but in truth, only as a metaphor for an experience of existence that defies scientific classification. People understand concepts like ‘God’ and ‘spirit’ much better than they understand quantum mechanics and singularities. That’s because human beings, all human beings, and perhaps all intelligent beings in the universe, have to define universal relationships in graspable terms. My work has begun in metaphors, but I believe it will conclude in tangible equations.”

“Philosophy and science simply don’t mix,” Loueve said, offended by the thought. “You know this, Marie. How can you possibly pursue something so intellectually fragile?”

“Again,” Marie said, “my husband’s grasp of the spiritual is nonexistent. He refuses to try to see my argument from a different point of view.”

“I certainly have a different point of view,” Dr. Ellerbe said. “Can you explain your shift of focus to me? I’d really love to hear it.”

“You don’t have to condescend to me.”

“I’m not judging you. I’m only here to try to understand your perspective. You’re here to be heard and, if it’s possible, understood by Paul and myself. We become defensive about the events in our lives when others fail to properly understand our motivations. In a personal relationship this is particularly true. Please, tell me.”

Marie shifted in her chair a moment, glancing back and forth between Loueve and Ellerbe, before deciding to speak again.

“After I lost the baby,” she said, “while I lay in that damned hospital bed staring at the ceiling and wishing I had died, too, I had a great deal of time to think about my life, my studies, my work. And I realized that it all really amounted to nothing, that in a fixed number of years I would die, disassemble, and throw my molecules back into the universal cauldron. Yes, I was depressed, because I’d just lost my baby, but that was only the beginning of it. My research focused on the physical mechanics of the universe, the why of energetic states, and even in the best of worlds I would only arrive at a mechanical understanding of creation.

“But then I realized that every intellectual construct of creation over time had been an attempt to do the same, only in poetic terms instead of mathematical ones. The loss I felt, and the loss I felt to any connection with life, couldn’t be explained in numbers. That’s when I realized that people didn’t need the numbers, they needed the poetry. I needed the poetry. But I couldn’t in good conscience use the same metaphors in ancient or modern religions, since I don’t believe in the absolute quality of any religion. My models existed in pure science, and so my terms had to be as general as possible. I use terms like ‘God’ and ‘spirit’ to describe intangible states of existence. That God is the universal state, and that as a part of that state we are also God. And every expression we offer the universe in which we live is a spiritual expression of existence. My contention is simple—that science and religion are actually identical expressions, one framed in metaphors and one in numbers. In this way our existence has meaning, our science has meaning, and will continue to have meaning in whatever human beings do.”

“Expressions,” Ellerbe said, “like creating theories, and bearing children?”

Marie nodded. Loueve thought she might actually be blushing, though he may have been mistaken. He’d heard this explanation before, of course, but still couldn’t reconcile it with his own beliefs. Why would she come to believe such a thing?

“People seem to respond to this understanding of existence positively,” Marie said. “Possibly because my theories free people’s minds from religious convention, the specifics of a belief in God. And it allows those with a scientific mind to find spiritual connections to inchoate reality. The great divide between science and religion has always been the question of a personal god or gods, an overseer who controls creation. Assigning that role to the whole of the universe, and to ourselves as a part of it, gives us a new understanding of existence, and the opportunity to define our own purpose, now and in the future.”

“It’s an attractive proposition for people who find science sterile and self-effacing,” Ellerbe said. “Is that why you’ve felt the need to publicize your beliefs? To speak on the subject?”

“I suppose so.”

“And this is causing problems in your relationship with Paul?”

“If it is a problem for Paul. He thinks I’m proselytizing to fools, and I don’t. He wants our lives to return to the way they were before. But people change. My hope is that he would support those changes in me, but I think that may be asking too much of him.”

“I can’t believe in something I think is misguided,” Loueve said.

“I’m not asking you to,” she said, meeting his gaze briefly. “I’m asking you to respect my beliefs, to support my work.”

But Loueve didn’t believe in her work. In fact, he despised it in the same way Voltaire despised the effects of superstition on unenlightened minds. If he could only —

“Marie, I have read a couple of your essays,” Ellerbe said, “and I wanted to ask you to explain something to me.”

“Yes?”

“Your concept of ‘contraction’ as it relates to universal creation.”

“It’s a fairly simple concept,” Marie said, sitting up in her chair. “We begin from nothing, that is, the God that we know suddenly appears in a grand explosion of matter — the Big Bang, if you will — and for a long, long time this self-knowing God manifests Himself in a trillion different expressions of energetic states, in stars and planets, black holes and galaxies, and in intelligent beings. Then, after billions of years, this matter that is the body of God contracts again into itself, joining every beautiful expression to that singularity that is nothingness. This is the creation metaphor that our ancestors struggled to define. People have asked all through history, ‘what is the meaning of life’? That is the meaning. We are the meaning, and how we express ourselves in the time of our existence is the beautiful expression we achieve.”

“In a flower, or in a child?”

“Yes.”

“Or even in mathematical formulae?”

“Formulae, too. Everything, every part of creation.”

“We are all part of the same Godhead, so to speak.”

“Yes, essentially. You see, scientists search for the mechanics of existence, but only knowing the mechanics leaves purpose behind. There is purpose in this universe, in life, too, no matter how briefly expressed. Time doesn’t exist, only expressions of matter. Our consciousness allows us to control those expressions, though, and that is the meaning of our lives. The concept of reincarnation is only a metaphor for the renewing of energetic expressions over and over again, until all matter falls back into itself, all expressions become one, and we are all joined together again.”

“There is no loss,” Ellerbe said, “no death?”

“No,” Marie said. “Even Paul would have to admit that entropy holds sway over every atom. And once every atom is consigned again to that state of null existence, there is no more death, no thought, no pain.”

“No sense of loss?”

Marie smiled. “All things are returned to a nascent state, which is complete and utter silence.”

“All peoples from all times will be joined together in that silence as well, yes? We will all meet again in that one expression of existence?”

“Yes.”

“It is a comforting thought,” Ellerbe said, “that we never really lose anyone we’ve loved in this life.”

Marie lowered her head, nodding.

Ellerbe turned to gaze at Loueve. “What do you think of this concept of existence, Paul?”

Loueve, certain of his estimation of his wife’s philosophical endeavors, was hesitant to attack Marie’s beliefs. He recognized exactly what Dr. Ellerbe was trying to elicit from his wife, and the pain he felt for her refused to allow him unrestrained debate.

He said, carefully, “I believe Marie’s ideas are an emotional response to a difficult event. She was always certain of her research, always steadfast in her approach to academic studies, perhaps even more so than I. She has a brilliant mind, too brilliant to be wasting on philosophy. It’s an emotional compensation for a painful loss.”

“It’s not compensation,” Marie said as she raised her head and stared at her husband. “You think that because I lost my child I also lost my professional acumen, but you’re wrong. The pain I felt was only the precipitating event that caused me to look deeper at my life, at everyone’s lives, to find deeper meaning. Publishing papers and drafting theories is only a part of life, it’s not life itself.”

“So my life is shallow? My research? My purpose?”

“My focus has evolved away from pure research. I have no problem accepting the implications. You, however, seem to think I’ve lost my mind. Isn’t that true?”

“Let’s be careful,” Ellerbe said. “It’s too easy to react emotionally to beliefs that affect us on a deeply subjective level.”

“Marie, I don’t believe you’ve lost your mind,” he said, “but I do believe you’re compensating for your loss by creating and reinforcing the idea that nothing ever dies and we’ll all be joined together at the end of time. And that’s simply not realistic. That’s not science, that’s mysticism.”

“It’s no more mysticism,” his wife said, “than belonging to a cult of numbers. Can you find meaning, real meaning in a mathematical expression? Or is that simply another way to shield yourself from the impact of reality?”

“That’s a harsh judgment,” Ellerbe said. “Perhaps —”

“Let her finish,” Loueve said, “I’d like to hear what she has to say.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Marie said. “You don’t care to hear anything that even remotely contradicts your narrow beliefs about existence. Going beyond a classroom or laboratory would mean that you’d have to actually confront life rather than only theorize about it. I refuse to do that any longer.”

“I’m not disengaged from life.”

“Nor am I. But you seem to have great difficulty accepting me for who I am now. Did you only love me because I was a reflection of yourself?”

“Of course not. I’ve loved you for who you are. I always have.”

“Do you love me for who I am now?”

Loueve didn’t answer immediately; he felt both Marie and Ellerbe watching him expectantly, but he was mindful enough not to say anything emotionally charged.

After a moment, he said, “I love you for who you are, for who you’ve always been. But I don’t think you’re really the person you say you’ve become. I think the person you’ve always been is hiding behind a facade to keep the pain away. I believe if you accepted the pain, accepted the loss you would lose the facade and become who you’ve always been.”

Marie nodded.

“I told you this would be a useless gesture,” she said. “If you believe that I haven’t sincerely changed then we have nothing further to discuss.”

“Paul,” Ellerbe said, leaning forward, “isn’t it just as possible that you refuse to acknowledge these changes in Marie because you’re afraid of confronting a very real change in your wife? How do you know her beliefs aren’t sincere?”

“The circumstances tell me what I need to know,” he said. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“But even if that’s true, and I’m not certain it is, are you prepared to accept Marie for what she says she now believes? Many couples, after all, have different philosophical or religious beliefs, and they actually thrive in their relationships. Believing the exact same things is no prerequisite for a successful marriage.”

Marie stared at him, waiting for his response.

“You don’t seem to understand the gravity of the matter,” he said. “I’m a respected faculty member. Marie was, too, until recently. These people I work with don’t consider her current pursuits a matter of ‘differing beliefs’, they consider it an affront to the rational. And they’ve let me know it. And these people she’s associating with—they’re no more than anti-intellectual dogmatists, they’re not philosophers.”

“I think you have your answer,” Marie said. “His reputation is more important than our marriage. And I’m an embarrassment to him. What will they say at the next faculty coffee?”

“That’s not fair.”

“Without compromise,” Ellerbe said, “you will only drift further apart. Marie, do you believe your marriage can survive these changes?”

“I don’t know,” Marie said.

“Paul?”

He said, “I want our marriage to survive.”

“But under what circumstances?” Ellerbe asked. “Will you love your wife unconditionally? And she you?”

Loueve didn’t know what to say. He felt entirely cheated by the affair, placed in an unwinnable situation created by the death of a child he never wanted in the first place.

“Your baby is not coming back to you, Marie,” he said; he knew he was saying something potentially fatal to their relationship, but he couldn’t suppress his feelings any longer. “No matter what nonsense you create in your mind. You can’t change reality with words.”

“Is our daughter now Einstein’s child? If her spirit follows curved space long enough it will return to me? After a billion years? Ten billion? Is that what you think my theories are all about? I know why you didn’t want a child, Paul — you’re so damned afraid of change, of any disturbance in your small view of life that you’d rather abort our daughter than accept the risks inherent in bringing something beautiful into the world. You hide behind science, you don’t use it to explore life. That’s why you can’t accept my work.”

Dr. Ellerbe said nothing. Loueve only watched as tears filled his wife’s eyes. If either Marie or Ellerbe were waiting for his response, he had none to give. Her irrationality was the impediment to their reconciliation, not his belief in a life built on reason and science. She was haunted by ghosts, not inspired by reality. Sanctifying neuroses didn’t make them any more rational.

“I believe every question has been answered,” Marie said, rising from her chair. “There’s nothing left of this marriage but the past.”

He wanted to say something, but he couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say. Stating the obvious had not affected her perspective in the least. All he had at his disposal was a logical argument.

Loueve watched his wife move through the warm, beautiful office, open the door and leave.

The silence in the room pulsed through every nerve in his body.

After a moment Loueve said to Ellerbe, “What can I possibly do to change her mind?”

Dr. Ellerbe, sitting back in her chair and glancing at her notes, only shook her head. She met Loueve’s gaze steadily.

“I don’t believe you can,” she said. “Are you prepared to change your beliefs? Are you prepared to live with a different point of view?”

“How can I possibly do that? Her rhetoric is completely irrational.”

“Perhaps the only way to save your relationship is for you to accept her beliefs and support her, no matter how irrational you believe them to be. If you can’t do that, Paul, you may just have to accept that your marriage won’t survive.”

“I’m right, Dr. Ellerbe. She’s wrong, dead wrong. Why should I have to accept her ridiculous theories?”

“How do you know you’re right, and she’s wrong? Can you know something like that without testing it, first?”

He smiled sardonically.

“I don’t have to test her theories empirically to know they’re nonsense,” he said. “Anyway, how could you possibly prove something like that scientifically?”

“That may be the point.”

Loueve sighed, wondering if he’d played his last gambit in the matter. But after a moment’s thought he believed he found a legitimate flaw in Marie’s argument. If he could only speak to her once more, preferably away from everyone else, counselors as well as sycophants, he might yet be able to convince her to change her mind. Perhaps the shock of releasing all her unspoken grief that afternoon had prepared her to assume a more thoughtful attitude. It was possible. Unlike Marie, he wasn’t prepared to surrender his marriage.

He didn’t tell this to Dr. Ellerbe, since she might try to discourage him, and he needed no more impediments in his life.

#

iii)

By the time Loueve returned to their apartment she’d gone.

She left a brief note telling him they would finalize their separation after her speaking tour had concluded. The finality of the communication saddened him, but also fortified his resolve.

He tried calling her after he thought the emotional impact of their session had subsided, but she wouldn’t return his calls. She hadn’t given him her schedule, and certainly none of her handlers would oblige him. He felt a growing desperation, an impending sense of inevitability, but he remained rational and told himself that she only needed enough distance from recent events.

After a few days, though, determined research on his office computer uncovered the announcement for her speaking engagement at a hotel near UCLA. After copying down the details, he packed a bag and bought a plane ticket for California.

Loueve knew her people wouldn’t allow him to see her if that was her wish. Apparently that was precisely the case, because when he appeared in the hotel lobby and requested to speak to her from the courtesy phone, Gloria curtly told him that Marie wouldn’t see him under any circumstances. And when he ignored this rebuff, rode the elevator, and knocked fiercely on her door, he was interrupted by the hotel’s security personnel who demanded he leave the building.

He was never a violent man; passionate, certainly, but never violent. If they meant to keep him away from his wife, he could only bide his time and wait for an opportunity to speak to her.

She finally responded to his repeated telephone calls, and he spoke eloquently enough to convince her to meet him again. Her speech was scheduled for seven the next evening, but if he could meet her before then in the observation garden on the roof of the hotel they could speak privately for a few minutes. He cradled the hotel telephone, glanced nervously at his watch and began rehearsing what he would say to her, over and over again, like a desperate prayer.

#

At six o’clock he walked into her hotel and rode the elevator to the observation level. He found a seat in a secluded corner and waited as he stared out over the dry, hazy skyline of the city.

As he sat in shadows, suddenly aware of the gravity of his position, he thought of their life together, and the memories they shared. She hadn’t lied to Dr. Ellerbe. She’d remarked to him many times, even before her pregnancy, that she thought scientists must find a more meaningful conduit for their work than a simple reporting of facts. Those facts had to be collated, analyzed and interpreted in meaningful ways. But he believed she’d meant only in the sense of practical human applications, never as a substitute for religious convention.

She was also correct in her analysis of his personality. He was protective of his academic identity, but not because he was fearful of ridicule. His defense of pure science arose from his belief that superstition would be the ruin of the world, and if quasi-scientific proposals were ever mistaken for pure science then mysticism would continue to inform humanity, and no doubt carry it to extinction. After living with him and working with him for so many years, how could she not understand this?

It wasn’t just a matter of subjective belief against objective observation; it was a matter for future generations embracing actual science or mystical associations.

As seven o’clock neared, he felt he’d miscalculated her intentions, and that she wouldn’t come up to the garden. If so, then he would have to try to confront her at another venue, at another time.

But just as he was thinking of leaving, Marie walked into the garden from the elevator.

She was alone, and paced to the edge of the observation platform overlooking the city. He waited a moment, enjoying the sight of her in a beautiful black dress, almost regretting the interrupting of her reverie because of the reaction she might offer. But he rose from the shadows and walked toward her.

“Hello, Marie.”

She turned suddenly, recognized him, then relaxed.

“Paul,” she said, “you’re only wasting your time. There’s nothing left to talk about.”

“I’m your husband, Marie,” he said, stopping a respectable distance from her. “We should be able to talk to each other. We’re not divorced yet.”

“Isn’t that only a formality? We seem to have nothing in common anymore.”

“We’re not so far apart, you know.”

“It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not realistic. If you can’t accept the differences in our beliefs, if you can’t support me, then we have nothing left to share.”

“But your beliefs are wrong, Marie, and I can prove it.”

She smiled, a lovely, painful smile.

“You refuse to surrender the debate, don’t you?” she said. “Paul, nothing you say will change my mind.”

“You’re a trained physicist,” he said, “and you know the limits of what you’re proposing. So you must also know that the idea of universal contraction is considered implausible, given the observational data. The expanding universe will not slow and then contract again into a singularity. Matter will continue moving apart, all matter, every energetic particle will eventually be isolated from every other particle. Contraction will never happen, the data don’t support the theory anymore. Why torture yourself with a metaphor that is unprovable?”

“We still don’t know if universal expansion is infinite. The data are still in question.”

“No. That metaphor is based on an erroneous assumption, incomplete observational data. There’ll be no contraction, no coming together of energetic states, no return to silence. The silence that occurs will come from an extreme isolation of particles, not from a joining of energetic states. You must know this in your heart. The child that you lost, the child that we lost is gone forever, and as comforting as it may be to believe you’ll be rejoined with her it’s simply not true.”

“And if contraction is ultimately proven legitimate? Will you change your mind and acknowledge the validity of my beliefs?”

“It won’t be.”

She nodded. “It may just take a lifetime of study to prove it one way or the other then, won’t it? Perhaps that’s something a physicist will determine one day.”

“Marie, you lost the baby, but are you also going to lose your career? And your husband?”

She laughed softly, and he didn’t know why she was laughing.

“You still think it’s about losing the baby, don’t you?” she said. “But I told you before, that was just the precipitating event that led me onto a different intellectual path. Don’t you see what’s happening?”

“I see my wife throwing her career away for a tragic form of psychological comfort.”

“That’s not it at all. You have a keen awareness of things, Paul, so you shouldn’t play at being obtuse. I’m not losing a career in the sciences, I’m expanding it.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Is it? Is it ridiculous to use science and philosophy together to enlighten people about the value of their lives? Are you blind to the effects of my work? I have thousands of people coming to my lectures, reading my papers, listening to what I have to say.”

“What is it that you have to offer them, Marie? Where’s the actual science in it?”

“Science is as mutable as human belief. But they can evolve together, and if my concepts eventually take the place of conventional religious doctrine, then so much the better. People can keep their humanity and also their spirits. And science. Yes, I understand it’s a risk combining the two, and if the science changes then the philosophy must change as well. But is that so wrong, Paul? Isn’t that what science is all about anyway?”

“Science is all about learning the truth of the nature of things. There is no interpretation, there is no explanation for creation, except one that is entirely imaginative. Joining science and religion is impossible, because religions confuse their metaphors for truth. Newtonian physics, that’s truth. A body in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by another force — that’s reality. We’re all moving apart, unless we act to stay together —”

“By a common gravity?”

He nodded, exasperated by the argument.

“Yes,” he said. “A common gravity.”

“But if we share no common gravity,” she said, moving forward and placing her hand on his chest, “then how are we supposed to remain together, Paul?”

He placed his hand over hers. Her touch allowed him to realize exactly what he was losing, and he felt that loss constrict his throat.

“I love you, Marie,” he said, trying to keep from losing his composure, trying to prevent a fall of tears. He simply didn’t know what else to say. “I don’t want to lose you. Please.”

“You can’t keep everything you love forever,” she said, and she had no difficulty letting the tears fall from her face. “Sometimes there’s just not enough gravity to keep things together.”

“I can’t lose you.”

“Then come with me and help me with my work.”

“I don’t know that I can.”

“Isn’t love enough?”

He couldn’t answer. He simply didn’t know what to say.

She held his gaze for a moment, and in her eyes he recognized the love they’d shared for so many years, though her tears also told him she was strong enough to endure another painful loss.

“I have a speech to give,” she said, patting his chest, and then moving away from him. “I’d like you to come down and listen to it with an open mind. Then decide once and for all.”

She walked back to the elevator while he stood rubbing his palm over his forehead, and then she was gone. He dried his eyes on his sleeve and turned away from the garden, incapable of making any more arguments.

#

Loueve stood by one of the doors of the ballroom in which she was scheduled to speak. People filled the seats, while others who hadn’t been fortunate enough to find a seat stood against the walls anticipating her arrival. Who were these people? They were all ages, some vibrant, some somber; perhaps some were university students, perhaps even physics majors from the local universities.

He remained by the door in shadows, trying to remain inconspicuous, though it was unlikely anyone would recognize him. Marie had been interviewed by the local media, Marie had been the subject of countless reviews, Marie had been the face of this new perception toward ‘science’.

Loueve was just another face in the crowd.

Was it possible that she was correct in her assessment of the impact of her philosophies? That she would have more of an influence in the world, in peoples’ lives, than he ever would? Was he entirely mistaken about her motives, and the sincerity of her work?

She was a brilliant woman, after all, and quite capable of forging a new path in science that he was incapable of perceiving from his present view, a syncretism of science and philosophy. Or perhaps she was entirely wrong, her emotional collapse responsible for her abandonment of meaningful science.

If he kept his science, then he would lose her, and if he kept her, then he would surely lose his science.

He loved her, would always love her, but didn’t know if that would be enough. He hoped, as deeply as any man could hope, that what she said tonight would set his mind one way or the other.

A booming voice announced Marie’s arrival to the podium, and as she walked across the room the air roared with applause. Smiling radiantly, she stood before her audience and waited for the applause to subside. She gazed from one side of the large room to the other, but he didn’t know if she recognized him standing by the door.

“I’m here with you tonight,” she said, and Loueve knew that she had found him in the audience and was staring directly at him, “to speak to you on a matter of faith.”

In a moment of insight, as he stood in shadows listening to the brilliant woman who was his wife, he realized that perhaps there was something of genius in what she said, and in the way she said it, if the majority of humanity could be moved from a superstitious world into a more enlightened gravity.

If he, himself, could move –