"You aren't afraid of a bit of hard work?" he pressed, frowning in that way that made some of the other girls tremble.
"No—of course not."
"And you do want to go to college?"
Well, yes. She did—very much. But did Father want her to? He never said anything about it. And she never asked.
Father sent her to the best girls' school in the city and demanded nothing but the highest grades from her (not that she'd ever struggled with that). So, Winnie had always hoped college was in her future . . . but she could also imagine Father telling her it was a waste, since he could teach her anything she needed to know.
What if he didn't want her to go to college?
What if he meant for her to keep working with him, for her to continue their experiments forever?
The prospect made Winnie's breath catch.
Surely he'd want her to go to college. Mama had gone to university, and it had been much more out of the ordinary then. If she were still alive—
Winnie stopped herself. No. No point thinking about that.
But still, she couldn't help but wonder: What would it feel like to have a life you didn't long to escape?
"Miss Schulde?" Mr. Claremont pressed. "You do intend to go to college?"
"I—I'd like to—" Winnie began.
"Well, good!" he interrupted briskly. "Have your father call and set up a meeting so we can discuss it."
Winnie shook her head. "I can't."
"What do you mean?"
Mr. Claremont had expected excitement, she imagined. Effusive thanks. Not to see his brightest pupil transformed into a stammering dope. Well, it irritated Winnie too. But that didn't change anything.
If she asked Father now and he said no, that was that. Dream, dead. Hope, over. She couldn't just spring this on him. It would take finesse. It would take time.
"It's too soon," Winnie said.
Mr. Claremont shook his head in annoyance. "Miss Schulde, what are you afraid of?"
The answer just sprang into her head. Was it true? Of course not. She wanted all the time. She wanted this very thing—her, at Barnard. This wasn't her first time thinking about it. Of the Ivies, only Cornell admitted women, but Barnard was at least the sister school of an Ivy—Columbia, where Father taught. Now they would have a whole physics department there, just across the street from the world-renowned one at Columbia! Wouldn't that be grand?
Winnie didn't just love physics because it was Father's chosen field, and hers by default. When Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor the year before, an awful feeling of "if that could happen, then any awful thing could" had taken hold of everyone. This sinking feeling of "my god, what next?"
For Winnie, quantum mechanics was an antidote to that despair. Not because it was clear or rational. It wasn't. There was an uncertainty principle, for heaven's sake. But physics offered a window into the true weirdness of the world—a way to understand the unexpected not as chaos or tragedy, but as mystery. And mysteries were easier to withstand.
Quantum mechanics governed the behavior of subatomic particles—the very heartbeat of existence. And that heartbeat was strange. It made simple rationality seem childish by comparison, and Winnie's own awkwardness and oddity somehow okay.