Schrödinger's cat

Schrödinger's cat is a famous illustration of the principle in quantum theory of superposition, proposed by Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. In simple terms, the thought problem involves a cat placed in a box with a sealed vial of poison that will break open at an uncertain time. Since no one knows when or if the poison has been released, until the box is opened, the cat might be thought of as both alive and dead. Schrödinger's cat serves to demonstrate the apparent conflict between what quantum theory tells us is true about the nature and behaviour of matter on the microscopic level and what we observe to be true about the nature and behaviour of matter on the macroscopic (or real) level.

In quantum physics it is possible that two opposite and contradictory conditions exist at the same time. The cat in the box can therefore be simultaneously both alive and dead.

The two parts of this story are meant to be read at the same time as they happen together (and happen NOW). Clearly this is impossible so you take your pick. Read whichever one you want to first and then the other. They are both true (whatever truth is).

* * * * * *

I was yelling now. I had completely lost it. "You bastard! You're a lying bitch. You've been fucking with Harry all along."

Ben shouted back. "What do you expect me to do, when you can't even bother to see I'm here any more? Think I'm a celibate eunuch?"

We traded insults, accusations, bitter as wormwood and gall, sharp and wounding as assassins' daggers.

Then we degenerated into adolescent name calling on the lines of:

"Why haven't you....?"

"Why did you....?

"Fucking cunt!"

"Bastard shit!"

Our cat, Shreddy, heard the shouts, yowled and fled into the comparative sanctuary of the kitchen.

"I'm leaving you. . ."

"Who's fucking stopping you? Get lost."

And finally it ended with Ben's sweeping out without, as far as I could see, taking any of his possessions. To my shame I hoped he wouldn't be able to find anywhere to stay overnight and that the heavens would open and he'd catch pneumonia. He didn't come back.

The following morning dawned, fine and clear with no sign of that perennial literary device, the pathetic fallacy. In other words there was no rain crying from the gutters. However, I did feel ashamed of my/our puerile behaviour of the night before.

In fact I missed Ben. Even though he could be a son of a bitch, three years living together could not be erased with one quarrel, however violent it had been. But he had gone. When I got back from work in the evening, I found he had been in, taken all his clothes and some things which he obviously considered were his, though I thought we had bought them together.

Saddest of all was his front door key lying on the top of the glass coffee table. There was no note.

The flat seemed empty and I couldn't face the prospect of staying in on my own for the evening.

Better off without him, I told myself, had something pre-packed to eat, fed Shreddy, tarted myself up a bit and took my pick of one of the local gay clubs. 'The Jam Factory' sounded and was grotty, and was mainly rent, 'The Burlingham' pretentious, 'Clicks' for the young, 'The Neptune' sailors?, 'Major Barbara' - now who would that cater for?

I went to 'Clicks', which was buzzing. And dark. And noisy. And smelled of sweat and maleness.

A couple of guys I knew by sight but not by name were at the bar. I joined them.

"Hi, Anthony," one said. He obviously knew me better than I did him. Certainly he knew my name. "On your own tonight. Where's Ben?"

I didn't see any point in hiding it. "We've split up," I said.

His friend smiled. "So, we stand a chance." That was flattering as he was tall and dark, and though not strictly handsome, was at least attractive in a masculine way. He had dark eyebrows, which I like, and light blue eyes, which I really go for.

Ben has both of these physical characteristics.

I pushed that last thought out. "Don't see why not."

The other guy, young, fresh-faced with a tousle of ginger hair, and a winning smile, said,. "Let's have a drink to celebrate."

"Celebrate?" I said. "We haven't done anything to celebrate."

"But we will."

And indeed we did.

I'd never had a threesome before. It was an interesting though eventually not an entirely satisfactory experience. There were hands, mouths, cocks everywhere which was exciting but I was always aware that I was attending to one mouth, one cock, one silky-smooth body and wondering whether the other one, so urgently prodding behind, needed more attention.

At length, though, we all climaxed (in our own different ways and positions) and I got myself up, dressed and went home, feeling slightly guilty and lonely though I told myself that I had done nothing wrong. I was a free agent once again and 'anything goes'.

Nevertheless, waking in the morning with only the soft circle of Shreddy lying purring at my shoulder brought back a wave of longing and loss.

Fuck that for a game of soldiers! OK, perhaps threesomes weren't my thing but this new-found freedom encouraged me to behave like a complete slut. Out every night, doing the clubs, the gay bars, the cottages, the gyms. Not that I was all that successful. I had to admit that I'd lost the first flush of youth which was brought home to me when I was rebuffed by a guy, surely even older than I was, who said, "Sorry, mate, you're too old." Not even 'You're not young enough' which would have amounted to the same thing but seemed to be extra cutting.

Nevertheless I did wake up with a stranger's head on my pillow from time to time, much to Shreddy's disgust.

So, was I enjoying myself? For a time, I guess it was fine, but there was something lacking – and I don't mean the guys who turned me down. I mean the feeling that me and someone else really mattered. That I could spend an evening in without feeling lonely (Sorry, Shreddy). That I could complain about my day at work and find a sympathetic ear.

In short, I missed being part of a partnership.

OK. I admit it, I missed Ben. I'd known I would but had tried to block it out of my consciousness. At last I admitted it to myself (actually I admitted it to Shreddy but the outcome was the same).

The following day three weeks after he'd left, I phoned him at work.

"Sorry, Mr Winters doesn't work here any more," said the receptionist, not sounding sorry at all.

That was odd. He'd worked there for a long time, even before we two had met. "Was it a sudden decision?"

"I don't think it was his decision exactly," she said.

"I don't understand. He loved that job."

"The manager decided he wasn't pulling his weight."

"You mean he got the sack."

She suddenly realised she may have said too much. "I can't tell you any more. Sorry." She rang off.

I couldn't understand what had happened. Had he found a better job? But getting the sack was hardly a good career move. I worried though of course it was no longer my problem. We'd split irrevocably and it was no longer my concern. Yet after three years of intimacy, I was still interested in Ben and what had happened. Was there more than just 'interest'? I tried not to think about that.

I had no idea how to find out more information, though. Ben's parents had emigrated to New Zealand and I knew they weren't exactly close. I didn't really know of any close friends – except of course the egregious Harry, the guy that last quarrel had been all about.

Could I bring myself to contact him? I guess it was only hurt pride that stopped me but eventually I overcame this and gave him a ring.

"Harry," I said. "Anthony Parsons here. Ben left some of his things at the flat. Do you know where I can contact him?"

It was a lie. And I couldn't bring myself to ask if the two of them were living together. But his answer surprised me.

"Sorry. Haven't seen him for a long time. Have you tried him at work?"

"A long time. Do you mean weeks?"

"Months. It must be about six months since I saw him – and that was when we all got together for the Girls' Gala Night at 'Clicks'. Remember?"

Remember? I certainly did. That had been a night and a half. A night of frenetic, legs in the air celebration. Couldn't exactly remember what it had been in celebration of but I did remember the occasion. And the hangover the day after. Both Ben and I commiserating with each other about the awfulness of our headaches.

But if what Harry said was true, and he certainly sounded genuine, then there hadn't been any sex between him and my Ben. My accusations had been false. Why hadn't Ben denied them?

I was confused and I wanted to speak to Ben but had no idea how to get in touch.

I decided that my recent episodes of loose morality were not me and tried to focus on finding Ben. I asked around but no one admitted to having seen or heard from him. I worried but couldn't decide whether he now constituted a missing person. The police would just laugh at me if I contacted them. He was after all twenty five and a fully responsible adult.

It was about a week later when I went back to 'Clicks'. Spike and Wallace (the two guys I had had that 'adventure' with) were there as usual by the bar. I saw them as soon as I got in and wondered whether to creep out without their noticing but Wallace, the ginger one, spotted me and they waved me over.

"Still not back with Ben?" asked Spike in greeting.

I shook my head morosely.

"He didn't sound all that happy when we saw him," said Wallace.

I nearly choked on my mouthful of beer. "You saw him!"

"Sure. He was sitting on a bench in Finsbury Park."

"Looked as if he'd been sleeping rough."

"Smelled as if he had too."

"When was this?" I asked.

"When was it, Spike?"

"Yesterday morning. You know we were off to town to get that new jacket you lusted after."

"That was the day before yesterday."

"Was it? Anyway you chose the wrong colour."

I interrupted the fashion conversation. "Did he say anything? Did he say what he was doing? Where he was living?"

"He didn't say anything. Just sat on a bench looking miserable."

In spite of my probing I couldn't get anything more out of them so I left. They seemed a bit surprised and I wondered whether they thought a repeat of our previous activities was on the cards but I wasn't keen. I went home.

I did wonder whether I should walk through Finsbury Park but it's not a particularly safe area to wander through in the dark and I doubted whether Ben, whatever had happened to him since we split, would be stupid enough to stay there overnight.

In the morning, though, I phoned in 'sick' to work and visited the park. It was Spring and some of the trees had a heavy coating of blossom. A blackbird sang on one of the boughs sweetly competing with the rumble of traffic noise from the streets outside. A few joggers loped their way round the paths. Some dishevelled looking homeless guys sat on the park benches, most with brown paper bags containing, I assumed, bottles of something alcoholic from which they slugged from time to time. I walked round and inspected them casually.

Ben wasn't there.

Eventually I sat down on the same bench as one of the dossers, who looked, as near as I could make out, to be about the same age as me.

"Do you know a guy called Ben?" I asked.

"Whaffor?" It wasn't exactly a helpful answer.

"He's a friend of mine and I wanted to get in touch with him."

The guy turned to look at me. He was younger than I first thought, probably just out of his teens and I wondered what had made him leave home and settle for what must be this dreadful life on the streets, little or no money, no comfort, danger and little or no future.

The guy though knew it when he saw a chance. "Gimme a fiver for some breakfast," he said.

Did that mean we had a bargain, that he actually knew of Ben? Or more likely it was a con.

"I'll give you a couple of quid," I said. "If you can put me in touch with my Ben, I'll give you the rest."

He appeared to consider this. Then said, "Deal."

I handed over two coins and waited.

"How old's this friend of yours?"

"Twenty five."

"Describe him."

"'Bout my size. Black hair. Light grey eyes."

"That him?" He pointed to a figure who had just entered the park and was slouching towards us.

It was. He looked ghastly, unwashed, his clothes unkempt and crumpled, hair thick and matted, stubble on his cheeks and chin. I almost didn't recognise him. I sprang up and started towards him.

"Oi! Where's my money?" demanded the guy on the bench.

I hooked out a fiver from my wallet and gave it to him, then went to Ben.

It wasn't exactly a romantic meeting. "What the fuck's happened to you?" I asked. And clasped hold of him in a hug, which wasn't a good idea.

God knows where he'd been but he stank of everything that was really nasty. My first reaction was to spring apart but I didn't. I held him. Close.

I heard a comment from the guy on the bench. "Should 'ave asked for a tenner."

So that was it.

We went back and I washed the filth off Ben under the shower – which we both shared. We cried a little, admitting that we'd both been wrong, kissed a lot and eventually ended up in bed. Shreddy seemed pleased. She pawed her way into an interstice between us (after the majority of movement had ceased) and lay purring in the gap.

It's not possible to say that we shall be happy ever after and no doubt things will be difficult again but we both know that our parting was the most painful thing we have experienced and that, I suppose, is something.

* * * * * *

Anthony and I were having one of our rows.

Not that this was unusual. After three years of living together, I guess, we had lost that first flush of romantic love, found our differences and not yet learned to come to terms with them, admit that we both made mistakes.

This argument was different.

"Ben, you've been fucking with Harry. Admit it."

Harry? He was just a friend and I hadn't seen him in months. Not since that party at the club when we'd all let our hair down big time, Anthony included. But even then we'd drawn the line at actual sex.

I could have denied it but I felt wronged. It's all very well being accused of something when you've actually done it. Then you can feel guilty and start blustering it out. On this occasion I was innocent and just felt angry.

Accusations followed, mostly of a trivial nature, but these developed into puerile name-calling. I won't even dignify them by recording them. But they left us seething. And we both sulked which is something we are both good at and can stick at, if necessary, for days.

Anthony Parsons, my partner, is twenty-seven years old. He is slim but strong, with brown eyes that sparkle with life above high. deep cheek bones, a straight nose and a smiling mouth with teeth that he takes good care of. He has longish blond hair cut in a currently fashionable uneven look and styled with gel. He is intelligent and most times is happy with our relationship. Just recently though things had been going wrong. Whose fault it was I don't really know. Perhaps we had kept each other's company too much, excluding friends. Perhaps the whole thing had just reached the end.

But his accusation of my having sex with Harry took me completely by surprise and I reacted badly.

"I'm going out," I said.

"That's right. Run away from it."

Shreddy, our cat – well, actually Anthony's cat as he's had her since she was a kitten, looked up from her bed beside the boiler. She's an ancient moggie, pushing twenty-one I think, and doesn't like us rowing. She does however like the warmth.

I didn't even reply to Anthony's jibe but went out into the sunshine. Our road runs alongside Finsbury Park and rather than stamping angrily along the pavements, I went into the park. It's pleasant there and you can hear the birds singing. There's a lake with overhanging willows whose leaves trail down into the water. Sometimes there are too many joggers, but that's mostly in the early morning and the evening. Often the benches are occupied with down and outs, homeless guys who mutter incoherently as you pass but that day there were none.

I found a seat and sat down wondering what to do. OK, rows happen. You get over them or break up. It's as easy as that, except it isn't. I tried to analyse my feelings towards Anthony but the anger got in the way. I stared at the lake not really seeing it.

Suddenly I focused and found that in fact I was actually staring at a young man who stood, back against a tree and who was staring back at me.

I looked away but not before I had noticed he was wearing a dark T-shirt and jeans and had a watch on his right wrist. And also that he was attractive in a clean-cut, studentish sort of way. OK I'm gay and I notice these things (even at a casual glance)!

When I looked up again, he was still staring. 'Ben Winters,' I said to myself. 'You are in a relationship and have been for the last three years. You are not going off with a casual pickup you come across in the park'.

He was tasty though, and Anthony had just accused me of having it off, unjustly as it happened. Did I feel we were on a break? Did that justify my smiling at the guy? And should I have nodded to him in a more than friendly way when he came over and sat down on the bench beside me?

The banality of pickup conversations.

"Nice morning," he said.

"Lovely!" (I've just split up with my boyfriend.)

"Haven't seen you here before."

"Are you new here too?" (I'm not sure if I'm on a break.)

Then there were the physical manoeuvres. He stretched out his legs and splayed them. My eyes were irresistibly drawn to his crotch which looked as if it was bulging with available goodies. I was expected to grab him?

There were people walking up and down the path in front of us. What was I even thinking of doing?

"Sorry, mate," I said. "Gotta go."

He looked at me, surprised, then shrugged.

I walked off, not even sure where I was going. I couldn't face going back to the flat. For a moment I almost turned back to the guy on the bench but then made a decision and went out of the park and onto the streets.

Grey pavements, grey buildings and grey thoughts. Of course I've experienced breakups of relationships before. What gay guy who's reached the age of twenty-five hasn't? Well, I suppose some haven't! But they always depress me, even if it's me who's done the breaking up. So there I was, Saturday afternoon, with no place to go, and not even a toothbrush or underarm deodorant stick on my person.

And then I thought of Harry. A delicious revenge. Anthony had accused me of playing away with him. I hadn't, and probably wouldn't, but Harry surely wouldn't object to my crashing out on his living room floor. That's what guys of our age do, isn't it?

I gave him a ring on my mobile.

"Harry," I said. "Anthony and I have had a bit of a breakup. Could I stay at your place for a couple of days – until I get things sorted out."

"Sure," he said, and I sensed a note of glee (well, enthusiasm at any rate) in his voice, and, when he opened the door to me, I swear his eyes had a bit a sparkle in them. I don't think this is actually possible as 'sparkle' in eyes is usually a reflection of some external light (rather than internal anticipation) but he certainly was pleased to see me.

He gave me a hug which lingered and he expressed regret about the breakup, yet his clasp pulled me to his whole body and we touched all the way down. I'm sure I felt a reaction just below the midriff. I really wasn't attracted to Harry and hoped I wasn't going to regret my decision. He had a rather long face with lugubrious eyes and I always felt that he needed comforting rather than anything else. Now though I could see he was feeling passionate.

OK, I'm afraid I bowed to the inevitable. After all he deserved a reward for his generous impulse and he was touchingly grateful afterwards but, to tell the truth, he was a pretty good lover.
In the morning, though, I felt disgusted with myself. What had I allowed myself to do? What had I allowed Harry to do? I was Anthony's partner (even though we had problems) and here I was lying next to someone I didn't fancy, didn't even much like, to whom I had given myself, my body, my essential juices in one admittedly tumultuous act of orgasm.

I hoisted myself onto one elbow and looked at Harry, lying there still asleep, mouth slightly open and his breath coming out in little wheezing gusts, not exactly snores but not far off.

In a minute, a couple of minutes, his eyes would open and expose that pale lugubrious expression. I didn't want him to see me. Or see him recognise me, perhaps even smile and reach out, anxious for a replay of what had happened last night.

I got carefully out of bed from under the covers and picking up my clothes on the way, went bare-footed into the kitchen. Perhaps I intended just to slip out of the flat, the kitchen led out into the hall and to the front door.

Then, half in and out of my underpants, still with socks and shoes to put on, I heard the telephone ring. It stood beside the cooker and I was about to snatch at the receiver when Harry burst through.

"Oh," he said. "Thought you'd gone. Just let me answer this." He picked up the receiver. "Hi, Harry here." He listened for a moment then held it out to me.

"It's for you."

It was too late for me to tell him to say I wasn't there, so I took it from him. It was, as I had feared Anthony.

"So you are with Harry." The accusation rang out before I could actually say anything. "I knew it."

I couldn't deny it. With Harry listening I didn't want to say something along the lines of, 'I'm just crashing out here for a couple of nights. There's nothing going on.' With both of us naked in the kitchen, that would have been patently untrue.

Instead I said. "I'll come round and we can talk it out."

Which is what we did. Surprisingly enough we didn't have an enormous row, just decided that perhaps the relationship had reached an end.

In fact we remained friends. I moved in with a couple of guys whom we knew from Clicks, the gay club. I liked them both, Wallace, the red head, a little better than Spike, the dark one. Yes, I did have sex with them on occasions, one at a time. There were hints that they'd like a threesome but I'm not sure about that. Sometimes I think it might be fun. We shall see.

Work is good. I've been made up to manager so my career is prospering. I still see Anthony from time to time, Anthony and his new boyfriend of course.

Sadly Shreddy, the old cat, has had to be put down. His kidneys eventually gave out. They are talking about getting a kitten but nothing's been decided yet.

* * * * * *

Anthony Parsons (27)
Ben Winters (25)
Spike – the dark one
Wallace – ginger
Shreddy – the cat

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Date started: Monday, April 21, 2008
Date finished: Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Words: 4,199

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