Tania Hershman – Tiny Unborn Fish

He brings her to the lab. What does she see? She sees me. She blinks. My timer beeps. She blinks again. I turn, take my test tubes off the rocker. Looking back, he’s standing with her, pointing round the room, and she, she’s smiling, blinking, smiling.

My hands move without me, flicking open Eppendorfs, taking a pipette. Why’s she with him? I want to shake her too. I pick up my protocol. Don’t get distracted. Not your business. I look for my solution. Must tidy up my bench. In my head she looks at me and blinks.

[private]We all go to lunch. He’s talking, talking, talking. Can’t you see that he’s moronic? I want to say. She’s pale and smiling, opposite me, next to him. He knocks his shoulder into hers. Do you know he’s awful, I should say. He gets most of it wrong, he can’t think straight, he’s got no grasp of anything. Not that we don’t all make mistakes, I tell her in my head, as she picks at her sandwich. But there are ones you can’t avoid and then there are his, splashing on the bench, like little children flooding sandcastles.

“We’re getting married,” he says and she looks at me and blinks while he grabs her hand and, like a moron, kisses it. I know I’m on the verge, my eyebrows raising. I stand up, mutter all the things you’re supposed to say, and leave.

He brings her to the lab. I turn around and see him leave her there, he rushes off to look important. She’s coming this way, my face gets hotter. I motion to a stool. She’s moving slowly, as if each lab bench is a minefield, as of her touch could send us up in smoke. She perches, blinking. I peel off my gloves, take new ones from the box.

“Lovely,” she says, and her voice isn’t high, isn’t tentative.

“What?” I say. She nods her head.

“Lovely purple.” I look down at my hands. I never notice any more. I worry that I’m blushing. I need to speak.

My timer beeps. She laughs and I think that if I could I’d have a timer with that sound, ten or twenty times a day, an hour.

“Your cake ready?” she says, almost a drawl, a wickedness in her look. I grin. She knows that he’s a moron. Clearly.

“I’m making scones today,” I say, and then we’re moving to the microscope room, dark and cool, and she’s sitting while I focus.

“Larvae,” I say. “Put your head here, can you see them?”

“Little buggers, bloody hell,” she murmurs, and I stand beside her in the dark, cool room while in this dish, tiny unborn fish have no idea what’s coming next.[private]

Tania Hershman is currently writer-in-residence in a biochemistry lab at Bristol University, working on a short story collection with Arts Council England funding. She finds the lab peaceful and has developed a pipette obsession. Tania’s first collection, The White Road and Other Stories (Salt, 2008) was inspired by science articles. www.taniahershman.com.

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