by Jordan A. Rothacker
Dr. Mame removes her glasses and rubs her eyes, kneading the dry dough-like skin. The nights seemed to be getting later. The coffee didn’t stay warm enough long enough, the metal stools hurt her butt and lower back, and the lab tables were always cold on her forearms as she leaned over her work. How far it is she has come. At last, she finished her doctorate. She got a good job at this lab and finally after two years of putting in seventy-hour weeks she was promoted to Director. What has it got her? She’s pushing thirty and her life is graphs, charts, and pages of data, and of mostly other people’s research at that. The esteemed Dr. Mame never gets to go on site, she never gets to go out in the boat, and she hardly ever gets to spend any time in the tanks even. And this is her work, this is what’s supposed to matter most. Sure, she got that promotion and this job and the doctorate, but at what cost? The notion of a social life has always been inconceivable, yet as was said before, she is pushing thirty.
She hated to think that that could be the missing link to her happiness. Still the notion grew and she in turn entered deeper into her work. That’s probably how she got this last promotion to Director. A little over a year ago her sister got pregnant and married and Dr. Mame worked like a beast unchained for about nine months. About the time her fury subsided her awed superiors, amazed at her fetish for menial lab work, promoted her to Director of the whole lab. With a whole lab under her reign she has more work, more supposed esteem, and more listless yearning, which of course she hasn’t the time to notice.
“Hey Mamey, I mean Dr. Mame, where would you like these specimens?”
“Over on that table is fine, Georg.”
Oh Georg. Georg was one of the original perks of the promotion. A six foot three blonde Norwegian interning some lab time while pursuing his Masters. His strong toned physique bronzed by the alien sun of an alien shore was keen for application. Georg, at hand and foot, always ready to lend a hand where a hand was needed, always brought a smile to Dr. Mame’s face, but recently even that was waning. His persistent readiness, once a flattering and appetizing part of a day’s work, has now become a pestering annoyance. Even his little nickname for her, Mamey, at first cute and endearing, eventually became the topic of a little reprimanding talk she entertained her staff with, clarifying the finer points of respect and protocol.
Yes, she still can see how attractive Georg is, and God only knows how long ago her last date was, but all the excitement has gone out of the prospect. Georg is just the guy who carries in and unloads the orders and specimens for her and can possibly, if need be, run errands. Just another part of her staff that she has to over see and direct.
“That’s all of them. Do you need anything else, Dr. Mame?”
“No, no thank you, that’ll be all Georg.”
The hard work was all definitely worth it, but she was just beginning to feel so tired. Moreover, she was plagued by that cliché about regulations on rest for the weary. The mere thought of rest made her get up and busy herself with work. At hand were the new specimens and they could provide a working distraction far superior to reviewing pages of data from other people’s work.
She begins by preparing the specimens for observation and looking over their charts. It seems the lab had just received samples of a marine flatworm called Pseudoceros bifurcus. As she observes, Dr. Mame notes their activity with a raised eyebrow and a curious and thoughtful “humpf”. She is confused as to what the pairs of worms are doing but enthralled in watching the process. The way they move at each other and dodge, rear and spring, like a violent dance, draws the flushed doctor farther into this work-related divergence and drives her blood hotter. With blood mounting in her once pallid cheeks, the same blood that was roused to finish the doctorate, get this job, and the promotion to Director, she checks the charts and reads that the worms are hermaphroditic and the activity she watches is a form of penis fencing where the slower weaker worm, defeated and stabbed by the penis of the competitor, is inseminated and forced to carry the child of the pair. Apparently, in hermaphroditic organisms, the desire to inseminate is as strong as the desire not to be inseminated. Once these creatures begin to resist the passivity and submission of child bearing they must keep fighting, always avoiding the penises and desires of others and always stabbing when the chance is given, doing whatever it takes to stay at the same fast, safe, and triumphant pace of life they have always fought for. Once they get you down you’re out.
After reading, Dr. Mame watches a little more of the flatworms and their violent dance. She smiles sadly at the bittersweet victories of the fastest worm and a love she will never know. Placing her glasses on the lab table and rubbing her hard red eyes, she rises with a deep authoritative yawn that still squeaks at its peak. Dr. Mame is very tired and decides that she deserves to go home early—she was the Director wasn’t she—and have a long overdue rest.
Jordan A. Rothacker lives in Athens, GA where he earned a Doctorate in Comparative Literature and a Masters in Religion from the University of Georgia. Rothacker majored in Philosophy at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY, and his life has been split between New York (where he was born) and Georgia. His journalism has appeared in periodicals as diverse as Vegetarian Timesand International Wristwatch while his fiction, poetry, and essays can be found in the likes of Red River Review, Dark Matter, Dead Flowers, Stone Highway Review, Mayday Magazine, As It Ought to Be, and The Exquisite Corpse. 2015 saw his first published book-length work, The Pit, and No Other Stories, a novella (or “micro-epic” as he calls it) from Black Hill Press. His most recent work is the novel And Wind Will Wash Away (Deeds Publishing, August 2016). He loves sandwiches (a category in which he classifies pizza and tacos) and debating taxonomy almost as much as much as he loves his wife, his dogs, and his cat, Whiskey. www.jordanrothacker.com