My grandmother often sang at the club
owned by my father’s aunt and her husband.
My dad’s aunt was Grandma Laura’s sister.
The club was a neighborhood supper club,
not a fancy night club. In the Sixties
and early Seventies most neighborhoods
had lots of little restaurants and lounges
with live music. It was mostly local
bands and performers. Local musicians
made a little money and customers
enjoyed live music. Later, however,
the so-called economies of DJs
playing tapes made such places history.
Customers made do with recorded songs.
Local musicians were left high and dry.
Before and after her performances
Grandma Laura spent hours talking to me.
Once when she’d been wearing the glowing bra
on stage, in the dressing room she changed clothes
behind a screen while I sat on a couch
by the make-up table performers used.
She changed into a black skirt and green blouse.
When she sat down at the make-up table
she was still carrying the glowing bra.
It still glowed in her hands but was fading.
Grandma Laura saw me staring. She smiled.
“What do you think of this garment?” she asked.
I told her my dad thought it was a trick.
She laughed, but it wasn’t a happy laugh.
“That’s my son,” she said. “But what do you think?”
I enjoyed talking to Grandma Laura.
She listened. She took me seriously.
Lots of adults don’t really talk to kids.
I picked my words carefully. “I don’t think
it’s a trick. I don’t think it’s real magic.
I think it’s something else. But I don’t know
what kind of thing it could possibly be.”
Grandma Laura laughed again, happy now.
She rubbed my head. “You’re my grandson alright!
It is not magic. It is not a trick.
This garment’s science and technology.”
She tossed the bra to me. “Feel it,” she said.
“Don’t be shy. Looks like fabric, doesn’t it?”
I nodded. “It looks like fabric,” I said.
“But it doesn’t feel right. It’s cold. It’s hard.”
“That’s right,” she said. “It’s not fabric at all.
It’s wires. It’s metal and stuff like metal.
It’s many different kinds of the thinnest,
most amazing wires ever created.”
I said, “The wire near the body’s different.”
“You have good eyes. All the wires are so thin
they are woven together just like thread.
But the wires against the skin are special.
They’re called composites and they don’t conduct
electricity. Shall I tell you how
the garment works, how it generates light?”
I frowned. “I don’t think I would understand.”
Grandma Laura frowned, also. “What you don’t
understand today, you might tomorrow.
Always learn whatever you can. Later
when you learn more everything might make sense.”
I nodded. “Okay. Tell me how it glows.”
I was still holding the bra. She pointed.
“Those thousands of wires are hollow,” she said.
And they are not just hollow. The thickness
of the open interior changes
in a very calculated manner.
A very special fluid circulates
inside the wires. Body heat makes it warm.
Convection currents make the fluid flow
through the changing inside diameters
of the wires. The patterns of the changes
make the fluid form vortices. Do you
know that word? Do you know what vortex means?”
I had read some science fiction story
where a giant whirlpool caused a ship to sink.
The writer called the whirlpool a vortex.
“Is a vortex something like a whirlpool?”
“Yes, you are my grandson,” she said, again.
“And yes, a vortex is like a whirlpool.
Inside the hollow wires the fluid spins,
and pressure makes it spin even faster.
The spinning and pressure become so strong
that a tiny percentage of atoms
can’t even exist in a normal state.
These atoms become particles we call
virtual state matter. Then they’re so strange
they pass right through the thinnest metal wires.
When they pass through the wires, two things happen.
The thin wires develop a potential.
That means if you connect the wire’s free ends
to some simple circuitry you can make
electricity. To run a motor.
Or radio. Or recharge batteries.
Anything. The second thing that happens
is the virtual particles quickly
lose energy and reconstitute as
mostly normal photons. Photons are light.
We see the photons then as shining light.”
No matter how hard I tried to picture
all that stuff I had no idea what
an atom was supposed to look like, or,
even worse, what virtual state matter
was supposed to look like. But I did own
a transistor radio and I knew
the batteries were always running down.
Grandma Laura said that the glowing bra
made electricity. I wondered if
it was like batteries. Did it run down?
“If someone puts this on,” I asked, “would it
glow forever? Would it ever run down?”
Grandma Laura raised an eyebrow. “That is
a very good question. And the answer
is no. Not forever. There’s no such thing
as a perpetual energy source.
But since the vortices break down atoms
even though there’s just a tiny amount
of fluid, there are a lot of atoms.
A lot in this case means a vast number.
Kept at body temperature that garment
would eventually break down enough
atoms so that vortices wouldn’t form.
But even if it glowed around the clock
it would glow for about three hundred years
before the vortices inside lost shape.”
I was still holding the bra. “Wow,” I said.
“Oh, yes,” Grandma Laura said, nodding. “Wow.
Just imagine shirts made with this technique.
Or jumpsuits. Or tents. Imagine panels
people could put on their roof in the sun.
Lingerie like that bra was just a lark,
a way to demonstrate the principle.”
Suddenly the bra in my hands felt like
handfuls of pure diamond or sheets of gold.
I very carefully put down the bra
on the table between us. I looked up.
“Is somebody going to make those things?
How come nobody’s ever heard of this?
Why does my dad think it’s some kind of trick?”
Grandma Laura let out a long, sad sigh.
She sat back in her chair. I never thought
of her as old. She was in perfect health.
Singing on stage she was as beautiful
as any of the young women singers.
But at that moment, when she sighed, sat back,
I realized this was my dad’s mother.
It occurred to me she must be about
seventy years old. Or even older.
But just as I was thinking about age,
Grandma Laura inhaled a long breath and
sat forward in her chair. She grinned at me.
When she grinned, she looked like she was glowing.
But she looked like she could glow forever.
(Tomorrow: Free Energy! Light Without Heat! Lifts And Separates! #3: The Paperclip Nazis)