Thursday, June 20, 2013

Diamond Ring (an unfinished story)

Diamond Ring
Sergio de Régules

“You are going to work where?”
It wouldn’t have made me so angry had this been the first time Mary Rose suggested that she was having trouble believing me. She did so by her words, her tone and her stance –lashing out with chin thrusted forward in that last syllable, like a fist.
         “We discussed this, remember? Diamond Light Source?”
         We had been together since highschool. I think what brought us together were all those things we didn’t have in common –I was sort of a nerdy character, she was a cheerleader, I was a jazz freak, she went for the bubble-gum music of her middle school years, I was kind of pleasant-looking, not your awkward, badly-dressed nerd at all. She was drop-dead beautiful.
         She was also a stutterer. She stuttered when she ordered a meal at restaurants, she stuttered when she talked to her mom on the phone, she stuttered when she called her swimming coach with lame excuses for not being able to go to practice later in the afternoon –“s-sorry, my aunt from Co-co-connecticut is here”, “can’t m-m-m-m-make it, I p-promised to help my m-m-mom with s-s-s-s-s-summer cleaning”. But when she was peeved she didn’t stutter.
Perhaps that’s why she was peeved all the time.
         “Eleck-keleck-keleck-keleck.” That would have been the sound of a happy Mary Rose trying to say electrons or electron synchrotron. An angry Mary Rose –and she was angry when I explained I was moving to the UK— just went ahead and spit elecTRONS at you, stressing the trons instead of the lec, as if to give the particles more momentum, like a turn round the synchrotronic whiplash. On my first week at Diamond Light Source I started calling the synchrotron storage ring Mary Rose.
Unfortunately, I had yet no friends to share the joke with. I was alone in my spartan living quarters when I came up with this bon mot, but I chuckled to myself and salivated in anticipation of the time when I would drop it unto a circle of conviviality at Diamond, no doubt to hilarious effect. I kept picturing the staff and researchers henceforward lovingly referring to the ring by the name of the girlfriend I had left behind in the US.
         “You know what? This is just like you. Why can’t you get a normal job like everybody else? Diamonds and light bulbs? And in the UK!”
         “I’m sorry. Dr. Wyatt thinks going overseas will do me a world of good.”
       “Then you should probably go out with Dr. Wyatt instead of me. Dr. Wyatt hasn’t given you several years of his life.”
         “Well, in fact, he has. He coached me through graduate school and supervised my dissertation…”
         “That’s not what I meant. You never understand anything. You know what? Pack your stuff and go to England for all I care.”
         She emptied one of my drawers on the bed. “Honey”, I said, but I was really past honey-ing her back to a peaceful, stuttering mood. I’d had it. I packed and spent a week at Dr. Wyatt’s before my flight out.
         Fred and I (we’d grown closer in the few days I spent under his roof) were nursing tequilas one evening while Mrs. Wyatt was away when he asked me about Mary Rose. I told him.
         He cackled.
        “Same thing happened to me, kid. There was this pre-Mrs. Wyatt, or a proto-Mrs. Wyatt, if you will. You know what she said when I told her I had decided to be a physicist? She said ‘how are we going to manage on a physicist’s wages?’ Well, that didn’t last much longer, I can tell you.”
         I sipped my tequila. It was too strong for me. And the couch was too bumpy and hard. Couldn’t one afford a new couch on a physicist’s wages?
         “I’m done with Mary Rose. We quarrel all the time. Perhaps it’s better that I’m going away.”
         “You’ll have me to thank for it, then, kid. You’ll like Diamond Light Source.”
         “I work at Diamond Light Source,” I said out loud in front of the mirror later that night, practicing pick-up lines. “How do you do?” At first I wouldn’t let on I was a physicist. Strategy. Let them think I led a life of bright lights, precious stones, and cocktail parties. Diamond Light Source could be made to sound like the name of a special-effects company for big-budget movies, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, either, if I wanted to impress English chicks. Before I went to bed that last night at Dr. Wyatt’s I checked my phone for messages. Nothing.
         One week later I had yet to make any friends and impress any English chicks. I was assigned a special night shift. The hours were long, pulling beams of electrons out of the storage ring and shooting them towards different targets in my assigned beamline. Computers hummed, chair springs creaked and the great ring beyond the beamline walls made its serpentine presence felt by a kind of hiss, or a rubbing noise, like a snake slithering past the walls where I sat alone with my experiment and my thoughts. I had my phone radio app tuned to a jazz station from Toronto. The music played in tinny wisps of sound from the miniature speaker. It entwined with the sound from the massive ring, coupling with it, writhing in ecstasy while the ring spewed electrons into the beamline. I thought of sex in the control cabin with a beautiful female researcher or technician. Was I the only guy ever to have such thoughts at Diamond? Was I a pervert?
Later in my room I thought about Mary Rose and how she mispronounced electrons and her picture merged with the great circle that was the Diamond Light Source itself.

X rays slammed into the sample from Whitney and Slew with a quantum bang and diffracted every which way into the detectors. The computers gobbled the data, churned, and produced a bunch of graphs that to my highly-trained eye were like windows into the subatomic structure of the sampleupon which the chemists down at Whitney had staked all their hopes.
It was not a fullerene.
I delivered the bad news over the phone.
“Sorry, guys. You’re not quite there yet.”
“Shit!" said the technician.
For a couple of months now Whitney and Slew had been sending samples to Diamond Light Source to test. They were aiming for some new kind of super something-or-other that would make them lords of the pigment market in Britain, and possibly in Europe. But for that to happen their samples needed to have a special kind of crystalline structure. That was the only part of their research I cared for or understood. I would place their sample in the experimental laboratory of my beamline and then, late at night, when most in-house staffers were snoring, I would pry a jet of electrons from Mary Rose and send them screaming at almost the speed of light down the beamline. And every time, like a harbinger of calamity, I had bad news to deliver.
At lunch I’d try to look dejected to call attention to myself. So far it hadn’t worked. Every one had their own troubles. I was not the only forlorn soul around. 


Elizabeth J. Neal said...
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