I was there.
It was late summer at the time, high summer, in those weeks just before the first brush of fall air finds its way in, and we were on the patio drinking, watching the trees. Scotch for me; blue kool-aid and vodka for him. He'd had a lot of it. His face was red.
"Albert," he said, smiling roundly and leaning into his chair, hands clasped around the back of his head, "did I ever tell you about my cat?"
"About your cat, Erwin?" There was a bit of kool-aid on his chin; I brushed at my own in an attempt at tactful notification but he paid no heed.
"Rumsfeld." He seemed to draw the word across his tongue. "Rummy. Did I ever tell you about him?"
"I don't believe you did, Er."
"Well," he said. "Well." And seemed to leave it at that. I went inside to get some Oreos.
By the time I came back out with the package he was scribbling furiously, tiny equations scrawled across almost an entire page (he was using his sippy cup for a paperweight) ignoring me as I sat. The sun had finished setting and the western sky was an airy prism, dividing white into orange and purple and blue. I leaned back for awhile, watching, scraping the Oreo centers off with my front teeth, as the prism shifted across the face of the globe and orange turned purple and purple turned blue and blue turned black.
"Done!" Shouted Erwin. I managed not to jump.
"So? What have you got?"
He slid the page across at me, smirking.
It was a proof. I had to stare for awhile. Oh, I got it immediately, but I had to stare.
It was great stuff, great stuff. Physics, but melded seamlessly with biology in a way I'd never seen done -- in particular, that area of the brain (what was it called, again?) that collapses the wave function (he'd found it serendipitously, in neurophysiological study a decade and a half earlier at Johns Hopkins, hadn't he?).
I traced the lingering tendrils of the equations a few seconds more, then looked at him. "You've done it. You've really done it."
Faint smile. "I have, Alby, I have."
"So why don't you bloody publish? This is Nobel Prize material, at the least! How long have you been keeping this stuff to yourself, Er?"
Lower lip trembling. "F-fifteen years."
I stared at him.
"Oh, it was stupid, Alby, it was so fucking stupid. We were graduate students, and we were stoned, and..." He broke off, staring at the tabletop, sniffing. "We took Rummy, and we put him in this box, you know? This airtight box? And we put a little vial of, I dunno, something -- something, you know, in with him? And there was a geiger counter and a tiny tiny bit of uranium, just a tiny bit, and...oh, Alby, I meant to collapse the wave function in the right direction!" Tears were streaming from his eyes now, down his cheeks and mixing with the blue on his chin. "But Bob had this glow stick in his mouth and it shone a tiny bit green through his cheeks when, you know, at just the wrong time, and I lost my concentration, I lost, I lost..."
Chocking sobs. His head was on the table. His tears were running into the Oreos. "Oh, Er," I said, patting his shoulder. "Come on, now." I couldn't quite bring myself to say, "it was a long time ago"; I didn't think it would help.
"Alby?" he said after awhile, sniffing.
"You won't let this get out, will you? You won't tell anyone? At least, not 'till I'm dead or something." He managed a laugh.
"No, Er. I won't tell."
"You've got some oreo on your lip."
To help ease any confusion, I should assure everyone that this writeup contains no complex metaphors; it is merely very silly (though, I should add, not drivel). It does have a ridiculously intricate plot for its length, however.