Spaces Between

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Ingrid’s blue coat moved up the pebble path from the beach. Head bent forward as her long yellow scarf played with the breeze. She stopped, bent to lift something on the side of the path, set it into the basket on her arm. Then on, more slowly this time, head still down. Could he keep things this peaceful for the whole conference?
The window frosted in front of his face, so he wiped it with his elbow and stood a little further back. When he looked again, Ingrid had left the path, was moving through the dunes. She picked up, ambled on, seemingly at random. Like a quantum, but his research was much easier to understand.
The hotel kettle boiled behind him, so he made instant coffee and brought it back to the window. Ingrid was still whizzing back and forth, sometimes on the beach, other times on the dunes, always watching the ground. Her universe edged along the line where gentle waves touched the sand, or in a semicircle out from it.
The coffee smelled good. The heat of the mug felt comforting as his hands wrapped around it. The taste was bitter, so after the first sip, he held it under his face, breathed it in as he watched his blue and yellow quantum move below.
Space. What a strange word. Space as vacuum a quantum moves through. Space as emptiness between people. Ingrid needed it she said. Time on her own. She was certainly making the most of it down there. Had he given her long enough?
He liked to think of her moving around his nucleus, bouncing on an invisible boundary, then back and forth at random. Her negative charge held in his universe by his positive one.
Below the window, he saw the Professor stride out across the formal garden towards the path. His customary hat and belted coat, his heavy built shape headed straight towards Ingrid. Setting down his coffee too fast made some splash over onto the table. No time to mop it up as he ran out.
Ingrid stood close to the Professor when he reached them. Her eyes flashed, cheeks flushed, lips pressed close. Was he too late. Had she already lost her temper? Her face turned to him and the Professor guessed by her movement that he was behind.
‘Hello there. Cold but beautiful out here, don’t you think?’ The professor sounded friendly, not in the slightest offended.
‘Yes, very refreshing.’
‘Ingrid tells me you were going over your presentation. I’m very much looking forward to it.’
Before he could reply, or get into an interesting conversation about the points of his research, the Professor had nodded and walked briskly away.
He turned to Ingrid. ‘Did he say anything more about my work?’ He tried to keep his voice casual. Ingrid hated to be questioned.
Ingrid snorted. ‘That man is the most arrogant being I know, too full of his own importance.’
‘I hope you weren’t rude to him.’
‘Don’t worry. I said nothing to stuff up your chances. Not sure how anyone could work with the likes of him.’ She shook her head as if shaking off something unpleasant, then held out her basket, rattling shells. ‘Look at the way the light plays on them.’ Without waiting for him to reply, she strode out towards the hotel.
He ran to catch up with her and took her swinging hand in his own. He’d hoped he’d managed to soften Ingrid’s dislike of the great man, but now he wasn’t so sure. Right from their first meeting there had been sparks. How could he help her get used to the Professor, or at least tolerate him?

He put his hands on each side of the wooden stand and smiled round at the attentive faces. ‘Is it a particle? There are only two possibilities: yes or no.’
‘The quantum all the properties of a particle. But when it travels further out, that’s when the change happens. Then it behaves exactly like a wave, sends ripples that radiate out. Detectable ripples. This research investigates this point of change, has potential application in the development of a new kind of powerful but microscopic batteries.’
He could feel their attention. Not a sound, not even a cough or shuffle. All eyes on him. Even the Professor. Had he gone too far with that reference to batteries? He’d no clue if it was possible, but it certainly sounded plausible. Who knew where this sort of research could lead? Who could have foreseen advances made possible by the microchip with its roots in quantum physics.
Ingrid came in the door at the back and stood while he moved through the mathematics of this argument. Unlike the rows of seated men and women, Ingrid was never still. She leaned against the wall, stood off it, took a hankie out of her pocket, searched for something in her handbag.
He moved over to the computer desk and clicked the mouse to show the next slide. He turned to face the huge screen on the wall behind the desk, beamed the small circle of light along each line of digits and symbols, explaining each step in the equation. Each time he turned back to face the room, Ingrid was in a slightly different position. On the slide before the last one he looked up and she was gone.
His eyes swung to the Professor’s seat. It too was empty.

His notes in his hand, he hurried along the hotel corridor. He’d a good reason now to give them to the Professor who had missed his closing argument.
The Professor’s bedroom door was very slightly ajar. He heard low murmuring inside so he knocked. Nothing changed so he knocked again, harder this time. His knuckles moved the door inwards.
The gap that opened revealed Ingrid, clothes in crumpled heaps around her ankles, her naked body close against the Professor. No space between them.

About the Author: 
Averil Meehan's PhD is in the area of managing memory problems in computer programming. She writes drama, flash fiction and poetry.