‘The Tiniest Atom’ by Sarah Schofield

Sarah Schofield read an extract from this tale at the 2016 Ilkley Literature Festival, and it blew me away. It still does. It’s the only story here that explicitly considers the idea of determinism. Originally commissioned for an anthology based on famous scientific thought experiments, it concerns ‘Laplace’s Demon’, in which knowledge of the precise location and momentum of every atom in the universe enables the future to be calculated. Schofield weaves this abstract notion into a touching tale of wartime loss and peacetime regeneration. Frank returns from World War One, visits the son and widow of his comrade Ted and becomes part of their household. He adopts Ted’s roles as lover and father, carries out his jobs and pursues his hobbies. In flashbacks to the trenches, Ted explains ‘Laplace’s Demon’ to Frank in the chaos and bloodshed of war. Later we see Frank working with Ted’s son Thomas to reassemble his fallen comrade’s orrery – a symbol of the predictability of life and behaviour, and an emblem of emotional recovery from horror and destruction. Frank’s life may appear to be fully plotted, but he makes a curiously life affirming decision to walk in Ted’s shoes. 

First published in Thought X, Fictions and Hypotheticals, Comma Press, 2017. Available online here