The Story of Mr. Peters
“What are we making?” Dr. Peters asked the one question that was explicitly forbidden. His eyes lifted from his coffee cup. His right hand raised up and pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose and he looked into Dr. Oppenheimer’s eyes.
Dr. Oppenheimer held Dr. Peters gaze until he was sure the question had been asked. “Of course I understand you want to spend more time with your son.” Then he leaned close and whispered. He whispered the name of a book, then the page, then the line at which to look.
“... furthermore it is theorized that the energy released during nuclear fission can be harnessed to create a weapon of destruction heretofore unknown to mankind.”
“Mom?” The boy sobbed, muffled by the folds of her dress. He felt cold all over. He clung to her. She clung to him. The sound of the television in the other room came through the crack in the door. He could hear his dad pacing back and forth, the clap of his hard heels on the wooden floor, bang, bang, bang. “Mom, what’s wrong? What’s wrong?”
She wrapped the boy tighter in her dress and held him closer, rocking him, she tried to sing but broke off after the first line.
The voice on the television droned an announcement. But the boy couldn’t hear what President Truman was saying.
Then Dr. Peters cried out. It was a sound the boy had never heard before, as if his father was being torn apart, as if he had swallowed all the pain in the world. The boy jolted and struggled to run to his father, but his mother held him tight, so the boy screamed. And silently, so her son couldn’t hear her, his mother screamed also.
After many decades, some old friends have dinner together. The server pours the second glass of wine and another ‘do you remember’ question is asked. Except this would be the last time, because this memory found its way deep into each of their hearts and shapes them even now. They remember their high school physics teacher, the pacifist who walked to school and refused to pay taxes, Mr. Peters. They remember the day Mr. Peters told them the story of his father.