The Test Tube by Dan Timoskevich
Hillary braced herself against the table as she pulled the stir rod from the beaker. Why bother looking? There’d be no reaction. Every test disproved her hypothesis, invalidated everything she had worked for since she had become a researcher. But she did look. She had to, just like how a couple weekends ago she had to look at the picture of Matt, her ex for four years now, just to remind herself that a possibility might have been there, as if that photo could conjure up the smells of his home, his hair, his sweat. While it reminded her of their shared existence in a world of hope and possibilities, she hated herself when she’d do this because that wistful thrill could never displace the weight of failure. She had given it all up for things she hoped would fester in that beaker, for things so microscopic and little that no one would notice if they were taken away. All the sacrifices she’d made—the time, the lovers lost, the vacations forgone—all for beakers, tubes, and smug Karen, her lab assistant who doubted the hypothesis since the beginning but came along if for no other reason but for the opportunity to say, “I told you so. I was right. You were wrong. And there you were thinking you were so smart.”
And Karen didn’t even bother to participate in the experiments anymore. She’d simply notate the results when the day’s tests were completed and submit them to the department. And today she looked on the verge of euphoria. How happy she’d be when that final test failed. Yes, but you were right here with me wasting your life, too. Except Karen probably enjoyed it, reveling in Hillary’s failure. She’d go home tonight to her convent of an apartment, slip into her fuzzy slippers, sip on hot cocoa, and marvel at the bigger world outside her window, the world protected from deeper understanding. But she’d be just as distant from that world as Hillary would be from the microbes in the tubes. Except Karen wouldn’t realize it; she wouldn’t realize that nobody liked her or accepted her, that time had scooted past her with much more indifference to her existence than it had passed by Hillary. Hillary had had lovers. Hillary, despite her disadvantage in years and experience, had gotten the promotions and esteemed positions. Hillary had had so much more. As she stared with skepticism at the beaker, she suddenly realized she had lost so much more and had more left to lose, and maybe that was more painful than anything.
The measurements appeared a little lower than tolerance allowed. An encouraging sign that the substance had actually bonded with the foreign material. She wouldn’t know for sure until she tested the viscosity. Nothing definitive, but finally an inconclusive result, a result that might buy her a month, a little more funding, a few more experiments. She felt Karen’s eyes following her. She put the stir rod aside. She nodded at Karen. Then shook her head. “No new results,” she dictated as Karen pulled out her pad and notated the official results. “We’re done here.”
Lyle Rosdahl, a writer living in San Antonio, edits the flash fiction blog & best of in print for the Current. He created, facilitates and participates in Postcard Fiction Collaborative, a monthly flash fiction response to a photo. You can see more of his work, including photos, paintings and writing, at lylerosdahl.com.
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Test tubes are wonderful things. So much possibility in such a small clear glass vial. But, as is the case here, so much disappointment too. What I find interesting -- and this is the point -- is the ending. Why does she say what she says? We can certainly understand her decision, though it is shocking, from her character, limned so nicely from such a few moments and thoughts. What’s your interpretation? Leave a comment with your thoughts.
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