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Hot Tin Roof: Electron Configurations


When light collides with an electron, the electron’s trajectory is immediately altered. The collisions can be measured, plotted on graphs, connected like constellations.

by Kyle Laws

I. It might have happened on a Tuesday. Maybe a Sunday night after the weekend had lost its momentum. They might have been high together for the first time, and being too far into the moment to unwrap the condom, their son might have been conceived. Forty packs of cigarettes later, his mother’s period might have been two months late. It might have been a Thursday when his mother found out for sure. She might have combed through the aisles for the pregnancy tests, walked by once, browsed the magazine rack instead, and returned. She might have blushed as she picked up the purple box, might have looked around before reading the back carefully, and walked across the store hiding the box in her coat. The cashier might have looked at her—might have not. Might have just charged her the $15.99 and placed it in a white plastic bag with a receipt. She might have lit a cigarette in the car, cradling it between her fingers, hand lax on the gearshift. She might have lit another in the bathroom. She might have blown the smoke through the vent. She might have cried—might have not.

II. His father’s hands were always dirty. Rough like denim, strong like wrenches. Motor oil caked in the deep cracks of his forehead, the fine lines around his eyes. Stuck in a constant squint from the position of his bifocals, he claimed to always see spots—webs of electrons stretching across the sky. He would look at them, but they’d always dart away.

III. He would have come home that Thursday, passing the driveway slightly and then, throwing the old blue Chevy into reverse, he would have parked it under the carport. She might have smelled him before she saw him. After kissing him in the living room, his thick oily moustache would have smudged her nose black. She might have stepped back, tears welling in her eyes. She might have told him the news, articulating slowly: “I’m pregnant.” It might have bothered her to hear her voice echo through the room. He would have sat in the white wicker chair, his head a hanging apple. He would have looked at her eventually and told her he loved her. She might not have said anything back. She might have just wiped the grease from her nose.

IV. One hundred and sixty-five packs of cigarettes later, her son might have been born early; might have weighed less than five pounds. They might have taken him home eventually, but they wouldn’t take any photographs for a while. His mother might have held him in the first photo. She might have shielded her face with a cigarette. The camera’s flash cut through the smoke—ghostlike, his father would have thought. She might have left a year later, her son bundled in his favorite blanket. The cool, grey wind might have stung their cheeks. She might have placed him in the back seat of the purple Mazda. He might have been asleep. Tugging at the straps, she might have made sure he was safe before dissolving into the fog. She might have sat at the stop sign just over the hill, wipers blinking away the tears. His father would have stood in the living room until he got hungry. He would have gone to bed early.

I. Eighteen years passed, and their son went to college. He had too many girlfriends at the time, loved too many times, fucked too many times. A girl he knew would have asked him for a pinch of salt for her tomato. It might have been a Tuesday—maybe a Sunday. There might not have been a tomato. They would have talked about them anyways, drawing out words, creating pauses. He didn’t like tomatoes, but she seemed nice enough. He might have tried one for her.

II. He often dreamt of tomatoes, of electrons, of ghosts in walls. He would remember her. They would meet for coffee in December. She would arrive ten minutes early. She sat at a corner table, shifting her weight nervously. He might have walked around the block once before entering, but he eventually went in. “Hey,” he might have said, “how’s it going?” She said she was fine, that she was single now with a cat and an apartment. “Yah, me too.” They bloomed quickly like the squeeze of an orgasm—like nuclear fusion. They’d watch each other shed their skin; and then lying on the bed, they’d pulled the covers overhead. It would be dark. Fingers would linger, tracing shapes on each other’s stomachs. They’d fuck flawlessly over and over, and afterwards they’d poke around exploring their darkest corners.
It seemed solid, but shifted like a boat in the bay.

III. She was prone to changes in the seasons, so as the spring sun sprung from behind the winter clouds, she began to see spots. He caught her chasing one in the bedroom. “Floaters,” she said, expecting him to understand. “What’s that?” “They’re like tiny bubbles suspended in syrup, only in your eyeball.” “Weird,” he said. She would mention the spots frequently, whipping her head to see one, her long blonde hair skirting around her face. She’d stare at him afterwards, eyes milky with frustration.
But he was fleeting, as always—stuck in the furthest valence. He blamed his parents for neglecting him intimacy. She called him fingerless. He agreed. “Ghostly,” she said.

IV. Summer came, and they split. He’d manifest from time to time, but it always hurt. He watched her mesh into the atmosphere, cloudlike and wispy. Always bursting with sunshine. He stared. Spots might have formed in his eyes, darting between the clouds like trillions of tiny electrons shifting, colliding, bathing in the light.

Kyle Laws is a senior at The University of Iowa and studies poetry. He admittedly considered doing something else once.


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