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art by Seth Alan Bareiss

Schrodinger's Wife

Preston Grassmann became a freelance writer after working as a regular reviewer for Locus Magazine. He was born in California and educated at U.C. Berkeley, where he lived on the same block as Philip K. Dick. His first published science fiction story, "Cael's Continuum," appeared in Bull Spec in 2011. His recent stories and poems have been published in Nature Magazine (multiple contributor), Mythic Delirium, Caledonia Dreamin', and Apex.
Erwin stands outside the door of his house/her house and wonders if his wife is home/not home. He has just finished another long day of theoretical discussions about cats and boxes and he just wants to sleep. He knows that whether or not she is there depends on the observation of that morning's event.
In quantum entanglement, if the measurement of one entangled particle is known (clockwise), the other will have an inverse corresponding value (counterclockwise), no matter how far apart they are.
He had an argument with his wife that morning. She told him that he was too entangled in his work, that he had begun to live his life in a state of uncertainty, and that they would both be much happier if he were more certain about his life. "You're both right and wrong," he had said, "depending on the situation."
What if he doesn't go inside the house, he wonders now, staring at the door. The moment he walks inside, he will know if she is there or not.
Erwin opens the door. Instead of looking inside the house, he looks up at the walls. The wallpaper is a vivid fuchsia with ornate swirls and little vases. But it could also be a soft shade of red, covered with the faces of women looking down at him reproachfully. He was never sure which. Of course, it could've been both.
"Is anyone home?" he asks.
Erwin had always liked the Many Worlds Interpretation, because it gave less importance to the act of observation. It would mean that in one version of that day, he could walk into an empty house.
"I'm in here," she says, from somewhere inside.
In Objective Collapse Theory, superpositions are destroyed the moment some objective physical threshold is reached (time, mass, temperature). "I'm in here," is a physical threshold of sound. The possibility of another world in which he could enter the house in silence did little for him now.
"It's been quite a day," he says, which could mean that it was good or bad. He walks down the hallway, thinking about a recent experiment where a beryllium ion has been trapped in a superposed state. But Erwin realized he could never be an ion.
He stands outside the door of their room, hears something inside. If he opens the door, will she be there? There are too many doors and boxes in this world, he thinks.
He slowly opens the door, wanting to postpone the observation for as long as he can.
"I'm sorry about this morning," she says, lying across his bed in a tight-fitting black camisole and a cat-mask.
Even though Erwin can see her, he doesn't know if she is there or not, but he is certain about one thing--he is still alive.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 4th, 2014


Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment that points out the paradoxical nature of The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics. It posits the idea that a small scale event--the decay of a single atom--can have a large-scale effect--the cat is both alive and dead until we open the box and observe it. I wanted to write a humorous story that paralleled this idea of small and large scale interaction in terms of theoretical observations and domestic life. "Schrödinger's Wife" imagines a moment in the life of a scientist who brings his theoretical obsessions home.

- Preston Grassmann

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