Scientific Discovery – Week 37 of the 52 week short story challenge

‘Erwin! Erwin! Where are you?’

He could hear his mother stumbling up the stairs, so he pushed the box under his bed and went out to meet her.

‘What is it Mother?’

She looked at him, knowing that the innocent expression on his face was usually a sign that he had been up to something.

‘Have you been in your grandfather’s study?’

Erwin opened his eyes widely, knowing that it made him look even more innocent. He shook his head.

‘Are you sure?  He says that some of his bottles have been moved around. Have you touched them Erwin?’

‘No Mother.’ Erwin looked down at his feet, unsure if he could keep up the pretence for much longer.

‘Hmmm. I must insist that you do not go into that room. Your grandfather keeps some very dangerous chemicals in there. Promise me Erwin.’

‘I promise Mother.’

‘Get ready for church now. Don’t pull that face at me. We are going to church whether you like it or not.’

Erwin followed her sullenly down the stairs. He hated going to church; hated his mother’s devotion to her religion almost as much as his father did. His father opted to stay home on the grounds that his own religion did not agree with that of his wife’s, but Erwin was still considered a child and had to do as his mother told him.

As if having to go to church wasn’t enough, Erwin had to wear his best  – and extremely uncomfortable clothes. His collar was starched and stiff; the bow tie pulled it even closer to his neck. The suit was made of wool and it itched wherever it touched. His shoes; new and shiny black leather, were rigid on his feet and his toes felt cramped and uncomfortable. Having to sit in this discomfort was torture enough but for two and a half hours the preacher droned endlessly about original sin and retribution.

Erwin made a promise to himself that if he ever had children they would not have to go to church. He also decided that if he was going to be accused of being steeped in sin, he would do what he could to deserve it.

The moving of the bottles in his grandfather’s study had been done with a purpose. Erwin had only removed an old empty bottle but he had identified exactly what he needed.  Row on row of glass bottles contained liquids with exciting names and he had moved the bottle that he required so that it was hidden at the back where it wouldn’t be missed. He just needed an opportunity.

The opportunity came that afternoon. His mother was having a rest in her room, and his grandmother had gone to hers. His father had retreated to his workshop and Grandfather had fallen asleep in the sitting room, full of food and with the cat asleep on his lap.

The cat and Erwin hated each other. It loved his grandfather, tolerated his mother and anyone that fed it, but anyone else who approached it, or tried to move it from the furniture, would be greeted with a hiss and a slash of claws. It saved its worse savagery for Erwin however, who bore the scars of those razor sharp weapons.

It was the work of a moment when everyone was out of his sight, for Erwin to slip into the study, pour half the contents of the bottle into a spare and replace the original. He closed the door, breathed a deep sigh of relief and crept quietly upstairs to his room.

He pulled the box out from under his bed and after wrapping the bottle in an old blanket, he pushed the box back out of sight and lay on his bed with one of his many books on the chemistry and physics beside him. The first part of his experiment was complete.

Erwin decided it would be better to wait for another couple of days, although he moved the box into his wardrobe in case one of the maids was feeling particularly house proud and chose to sweep under his bed.

His grandmother spent the morning teaching him English; Father was at work, Grandfather was at the university and his mother was out visiting one of the ladies from the church. Erwin waited until his grandmother had gone for another lie down, before grabbing the box from his wardrobe and putting it into the middle of the room with the lid open and the bottle uncorked. He used the blanket to wrap round his hands before going in search of the cat.

It was fast asleep in a pool of sunshine on the sitting room carpet. Erwin threw the blanket over it and gathered it up before it had realised what was happening.

He ran upstairs, put the wriggling, spitting cat into the box and shut the lid quickly putting his heaviest atlas on the top to keep it shut.

Erwin knew what would happen. Putting a cat in a box with an open bottle of poison could only have one outcome. If only he could think of a way of using a separate force to shatter the bottle – a separate force that could detect life – or death.

The box stopped shaking and Erwin felt sure that he knew exactly what the cat’s status was.

He still had time to smuggle the box downstairs and out into the woods at the end of the garden.

He opened the box and took out the bottle, thrusting it deep into the pile of rubbish that the gardener had amassed for a bonfire.

The cat’s motionless body was thrust deep under the rhododendron bushes, and Erwin finished his tasks by breaking the box up and putting it amongst the other pieces of wood on the bonfire.

When his mother returned, she found an innocent Erwin studying the books his grandmother had given him to read.

She looked around the house suspiciously but nothing seemed out of place, so she took off her hat and coat. It was later in the day after she had wandered round the garden that she realised that something was missing.

‘Erwin Schrodinger! What have you done with your grandfather’s cat?’

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‘Wholly Day – mild religious references contained within’

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To some people, Easter Sunday is a holy day.  A time of religious rejoicing, spending time with the family and probably going to church at least once.

A bit like the Sainsbury’s Easter advert – I can’t help thinking that the man is going to run amok and slaughter his family now that he has found the hammer and screwdriver though.

To others. the day is a nuisance because all the big shops are shut, the TV is full of religious stuff, and everyone feels sick from eating far too many Easter eggs, bunnies, and anything else you can make out of chocolate – oh use your imagination – I’m trying to keep it clean here.

For me, religion is an extremely personal thing.

I respect the right of all other people to observe their own religions – and I expect them to respect my right to tell them to do one when they knock at my front door trying to co-opt me.

They must have all been busy today because I was blissfully undisturbed whilst munching on the chocolate bunny given to me by my Best Mate. I’m saving the giant Walnut Whip for tomorrow afternoon when Hub goes off to work.

We were regularly exposed to religion as children; the vicar had a goat that I was very attached to so going to Sunday School was never a chore.  My Mum used to deliver the parish magazine and I can remember the front room being tidied because the vicar was coming round.

When I got older, a friend and I decided to sample the delights of different churches in our area.

Probably the best was the one with the swimming pool because they gave you 50p at Christmas and 50p on your birthday.  Our attendance was short-lived; being January babies we joined in December and left in February.  Discovering that the swimming pool was used to dunk people in whilst fully clothed was a bit of let down too. Okay, so we were mercenary but 50p bought a lot of sweets in those days.

Religious studies in senior school were an eye opener.  We had two teachers: Reverend Double-Barrelled Surname (who had a very cute son) and Mr Groper, a lay preacher in more than one sense.  Not surprisingly, I preferred the Rev’s lessons as he was rather sweet and could be easily diverted into telling proud stories about his son.

The Groper would work his way round the room massaging shoulders as he preached fire and brimstone about impure thoughts whilst trying to find out exactly what kind of thoughts we had been having – it was an all girls school so he had plenty of shoulders to grope.  He only did it to me the once.  I snarled at him and he gave me a very wide berth after that.

Someone complained (not me) and he was replaced by an earnest young lady fresh out of teacher training college who tried to get us to sing hand-clappy songs but had to stop when the grumpy human biology teacher next door complained about the noise (we were not singing nicely).

In my twenties I flirted with religion to the extent that I got confirmed and for a while, was the anarchic leader of the church youth club.  Said youth club had been set up to occupy the time of the unruly choir, a rather wonderful bunch of teenagers whose company I found far more acceptable than some of the so-called Christians who’d push you out of the way in their haste to get communion before the wine ran out and had to be watered down and re-blessed.

The vicar and his sub were extremely nice people who were well aware that many of the congregation were less than Christian in their attitude.  If I learned anything about Christian charity, it was from them, not from the bigoted family of churchwardens who looked down on anyone who didn’t conform to their norm.

As the worst member of this particular family was going down for communion one Sunday morning, a spotlight fell from the ceiling and JUST missed him.   It may well have been an accident but I always felt that it was the old man up the lady flexing his muscle.

The vicar and his sub were also understanding when the youth club had a children’s tea party with jelly and ice-cream; a ham sandwich was found in a light-fitting some weeks later.  Food Fight!

They had the common sense not to come over to the church hall on Sunday evenings expecting us to be involved in bible study; more often than not the lights would be dimmed and we would all be bopping around to ‘Rocking the Casbah’ or ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’.  The bad taste Hallowe’en party at the Vicarage was perhaps pushing the boundaries a bit too far – especially when the head chorister turned up in a blood-stained loincloth as the Risen Christ.

Life moved me away from the church but the vicar’s sub got his own parish later and baptised both my boys.

For a while we did Midnight Communion at our local church because it made life more Christmassy;  especially the late comers who had lurched over from the pub in search of forgiveness or a sip of wine.

When the boys reached school age we moved on to Christingles.  Uni Boy quite enjoyed them but Gap Boy got told off because he started eating the dolly mixtures off his Christingle and wouldn’t blow his candle out when asked.

We made our own Christingles at home after that, and after extreme exposure to alternative religions at high school, both our boys are now decidedly atheist – but at least they are consistent in their attitude to religion.

I love old churches though.

I love the carved  wood, the cool stone and the solace that can come from a brief moment of quiet contemplation.

Not all churches have it unfortunately, and I know as soon as I walk in the door whether that something special is there or not.

If not I beat a hasty retreat.

I suppose I must still be a bit religious because I still can’t get to sleep without saying the Lord’s Prayer to myself. It is a bit like a mantra that keeps my beloveds safe I suppose.

I must be growing up slightly however, because I still have three Easter Eggs left and two hot cross buns that I forgot to have for lunch.

Happy Easter – and it is wholly up to you how holy your celebration is – just keep your hands off my Easter Eggs.

I shall go back to being unwholly tomorrow when Hub and I join the Bank Holiday throngs to buy exciting things for our new kitchen – but more of that to follow.