Author’s Note: This is quite the departure from any sort of story I’ve ever written, I think. But I enjoy its bite. I finally figured out how to finish this quick-write (only took me four years to do so). Enjoy.
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“I taste arsenic on the back of my throat. Are you trying to kill me again?”
I slowly, gently nudged the brown-glass bottle to the back of the open cabinet in front of my chair with the toe of my shoe. “No,” I said, not moving from my microscope, though I knew my voice carried a bit of five-year-old pout. The sort of pout that you get when something doesn’t go your way but you can’t admit it.
Of course I had been trying to kill him. I had been trying to kill him for years. But it seemed that he had developed a tolerance for rat poison after all the dollops in his morning coffee. Oh, well. Scratch experiment #275 for a failure. Back to the drawing board, I supposed, literally and figuratively.
He just shook his head and looked at me in that contemptuous, pitying way. “You’d do better with ricin,” he commented rather sagely and shuffled over to his lab table.
Who was he to pity me and, moreover, give me advice on how to kill him? It was his fault I was still stuck here, amongst these fumes and biologicals all day long. If he’d simply approve my thesis, I could move on and be done with it. But no.
“I have determined,” as he loved to say, “that your thesis lacks depth, structure, and you need more time to perfect your method of experimentation.”
More tests, more experiments, more data. Evermore data. It had been seven long years, my financial aid was just about dry, the university was dead set on being rid of me, and here was the old geezer pissing time away because he was a lonely, old, sadistic prick.
The place smelled like mothballs and formaldehyde and it clung to me when I left. Even showering with hot water and lemons didn’t get rid of it. That was no way to pick up a girl in a bar or club: smelling like a convalescent home. Once, a girl told me that being with me was like sleeping in a coffin or a morgue. Yeah, that relationship went well, meaning it was blessedly brief and long ago.
I hadn’t had sex in three years. Three damned years with nothing but my own hand for company! Even the macabre girl was good for a roll at least.
So, yes, I was trying to kill him, had been for years. But the old dotard just wouldn’t keel over and die. It was like he had made a deal with the afterlife to be my personal torment here on earth just so long as he could keep living, keeping me from my goals, from even the barest acknowledgement of the scientific community. Because of a foul ordinance of the university that required doctoral candidates to have the signed approval of their supervisor on any article they wished to publish, my professional dossier was empty. Old Crab wouldn’t sign off any even the merest observational report that was intended to leave his lab.
Yes, Old Crab. And he looked the part, too. His eyes were beady and black and glittered in the lights of the old-fashioned Bunsen burners that he insisted on using, scoffing at modern heating plates. His hands were gnarled and he had arthritis so badly that his fingers sort of clamped together most of the time so that he looked to have two claws instead of ten fingers. When he flew into a rage, he turned a bright orangey red. Not even a pinky red like most humans. His skin was so sallow that the red fused into an almost carrotish color when the blood rushed to his face and neck.
I hated this man, hated him with all my gut and being. I was ready, I was done. I wanted to be free. But I was so invested, so in debt, that I couldn’t afford to just walk away. I had to graduate, I had to have at least something to show for my years of servitude. I was so busy stewing in my utter rancor and hatred that I didn’t realize that it had fallen quiet in the lab. It was never quiet. Old Crab was always clanking things together and dropping stirrers and such. So quiet was a curiosity. A curiosity that made me turn around.
And I couldn’t help it. I laughed. I laughed and laughed and laughed until I cried. And then I picked up the phone.
They said he died of heart failure due to old age and an extremely carcinogenic habit of particular cigarettes (Weren’t those things banned years ago? He must have eaten them like candy).
Me? All I could think of was the sight of him on the floor, arms and legs splayed out in like a crab that’s been flipped onto its back and stomped on.
Is this what they would call a frabjous day?