Marie Curie’s Kitchen
by Ellen Goldstein
One pane of sunlight is all that is kept warm on the stove now that your father is gone, his bones light-shattered beneath a Paris carriage. After a while you stop trying to cook; those are lessons for other girls. Instead you learn to drink tea the way your mother does, strong and bitter, standing before the lab table. A slice of sausage when she can be bothered. You are not going to be like other girls. The old wooden hangar shakes in the wind.
Your mother spreads out pitchblende from Czechoslovakia. Your job is to pick out the pine needles from the crevices of the lumpy grey-black ore, a radioactive Cinderella.
Once you’re old enough to be trusted, you pour heavy basins of ore into vats where your mother hopes that she will finally distil radium. She burns with purpose, a narrowing flame, another swallow of tea.
You work in silence until darkness falls and your mother finally smiles. “Look, Irène, the pitchblende glows like fairy lights.” And you are still young enough to wish it is true.
Ellen Goldstein’s work has appeared in journals such as The Common, Tahoma Literary Review, StorySouth, and Carbon Culture Review, as well as in the anthologies Not Quite What I Was Planning, Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, and Queer South. She is the author of Stuff Every Beer Snob Should Know (Quirk, 2018). Learn more about her writing and editing work at www.crescenteditorial.com.
Image of Irene and Marie Curies in 1925 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.