The “J” in his name stood for nothing, he said; although his birth certificate recorded him as Julius. An elusive and complex man, clearly. Those complexities were never more apparent, to himself if no one else, as Julius headed back to his office, head bowed, watching his feet with the utmost care as each step landed heavily along the path. His own tread seemed to fascinate him, suddenly. The path was concrete, shining greyly in the hazy sunshine, and it felt solid under Julius’ feet. It felt like it always did: solid ground felt solid, by definition. But he’d never noticed it before, not really; never paused to take account of the fact, to be thankful. Today he noticed. But today he was too anxious (and too proud) to give thanks.
Weaving along the path, Julius raised his head to see the whitish buildings of Los Alamos that gleamed all around him, as usual, in the sticky air; but he was aware that they were no longer usual. Today, 16th July 1945, marked the point in time when this location took on an almost supernatural aura. Julius was profoundly aware of that fact, of all the myriad implications that now radiated out from this location and altered the fates of men. His overweening ambition ensured he was fiercely proud of the knowledge; unendurably anxious, too.
“It worked,” Julius muttered to himself as he eased his office door shut behind him and slumped into a chair. He stared blankly at his hands, which he clasped together try to stop the tremors in them. It was unsuccessful, so instead he gazed across the office where his name was emblazoned on the glass door.
How many names and epithets a man gets through in a single lifetime: Little Julius was long gone (if he ever existed at all); J. Robert Oppenheimer had succeeded him and come to prominence as a physicist; next the “Coordinator of Rapid Rupture” had overseen the Manhattan Project and steered it to success; now the destroyer of worlds waited in the wings to take his place. Yes, the irony of this precarious world of ours seemed to know no bounds, Oppenheimer thought. It was possible to fail the army physical test (as he had done a few years ago) because the doctors considered him underweight, because they diagnosed his chronic cough as tuberculosis and were concerned about the lumbosacral joint pain he was plagued by; yet he could still become the destroyer of worlds.
He shook his head. It was inconceivable. “What next?” he brooded.
The years-long intensity of the nuclear project, along with his infidelity, had caused deep splits in his family. Today the project hurtled towards its cataclysmic conclusion and Robert Oppenheimer would be left to return to civilian life, there to pick up the pieces with his wife, his little girl and little boy. “But now we’ve split the atom,” he wondered, “well… who’ll ever be able to pick up the pieces again?”
This short story was written in response to the latest TipsyLit writing prompt: For this week’s prompt, your story should include some form of picking up the pieces.