What goes on in the lab....

Short Stories Nov 16, 2022

I loved him from afar. Did he know, did he suspect? Had I signalled tiny cues, subconscious on my part but overlooked by my nerdy research colleague? We’d worked together in the lab for the past five years since commencing our post-doctoral research in 1958. But to Doctor Hedley Bean, I was invisible. A dust mote circulating insignificantly around his workbench. A distraction from his true love – valves, circuits and electronic wizardry.

Our proximity to each other in the shared lab hadn’t affected my own projects. I was a committed researcher, consistently meeting deadlines to give progress reports to sponsors and superiors at the university. But I was acutely aware of his presence at all times. Dr Bean had a brilliant mind for electronics, yet was socially awkward, and clueless in matters of the heart. While the cognitive domain of his brain was undeniably top-heavy, his affective domain barely registered. Perhaps I was attracted to this brilliant mind, but it was possible that his unattainability intrigued me and gave me a subconscious, yet unrequited, challenge. There was also the unexplored possibility that as a 40 year old single female, I felt safe and secure within the fantasy of an impossible relationship. So many questions, too many variables. I’ll never know.

Hedley was certainly no oil painting, but I tingled a little whenever our paths crossed or limited conversation took place. The tingle wasn’t sharp or intense like a nettle sting, it was a subdued stimulation. I was pleased that he’d even acknowledged my presence, but there was also an internal warmth and pleasure in regions of my body that I couldn’t explain. Perhaps it was wind.

Then one day in 1963 our working relationship was altered irrevocably. I was casting furtive gazes at Hedley across the lab. My goodness, didn’t he cut a fine figure in his lab coat! Once pristine white, but now trending yellowish, it was perhaps a little loose around his chest and a smidge too fitted against his stomach. Hedley’s thick tortoise-shell framed spectacles perched regally atop his ample nose. They partially masked the bushy barbed-wire eyebrows lurking behind. Tufts of black nasal hair protruded from both nostrils. Perhaps this was an overt sign of cleverness. In the interests of scientific rigour, however, I made a mental note to observe other researchers to test this hypothesis. But he looked up quickly and called to me. Had he noticed that I was watching him? I almost danced towards him, such was my excitement. Perhaps he wanted to discuss matters of the heart, to unload a secret obsession with me. Or maybe he needed me to pass him his pliers or a valve or transistor. But his eyes were alive, darting around wildly. He was beaming. This was a positive sign. He needed me.

Throughout the past six months, whilst I’d been engaged in routine transistor research, Hedley had been beavering away constructing an electronics gadget which he’d dubbed an Auragraph. Despite the Cold War, he’d covertly obtained leaked details of Russian scientists who’d recorded the halo of the human aura. They’d piggybacked their research from the 1939 discovery of Kirlian photography. Corona discharges were visible on a small screen in beautiful black and white. Hedley had given himself the challenge of replicating the Russian findings and taking it one step further – to discover the spectral colours of the bursts of energy emitted in a human aura. Hedley’s excitement was bubbling over as I approached the hallowed lab-bench of this illustrious scientist. My thoughts were racing.

“Yes Hedley, yes. I want you to want me. I want to be wanted. I’ve worshipped you for five years. Use me, Hedley!” I panted in the privacy of my own mind.

Dr Bean’s excitement only extended towards his new gadget. My shoulders slumped noticeably when I realised his need for me was merely work related. He enthused about the electronic componentry and screen he’d constructed. The smell of hot solder was still hanging in the charged atmosphere of the lab. Lying on the bench next to the screen was a crude helmet made of sensors and wires. It was connected to his Auragraph. I beamed at his face from close-range. I’d never been this close to him before and in my state of blind adoration I obligingly overlooked the gobs of saliva he was excitedly spitting in my face. He explained its complex construction and the science behind the Auragraph. I listened to his rushed explanation, nodding continuously, but I heard nothing. I was watching a piece of lettuce from his egg and lettuce sandwich. It had stuck to his front tooth and was now moving up and down rapidly. I wanted to grab his face with both hands ever so firmly then remove that piece of lettuce… with my darting tongue.

In a state of absolute compliance on my part, I agreed to his suggestion that I don the helmet of wires and sensors and monitor the screen. I agreed without a second thought and cooed silently as he fussed with the fitting of the helmet. He played with my ears, flicked away hair, attached probes to bare skin. I revelled in his closeness, in his absolute focus on me.

I was seated and shallow breathing when he flipped the Auragraph’s power switch. There was an instant flash of white light then excruciating pain. Thousands of knives stabbed into my skull and the heat was intense. My back arched involuntarily and I shot backwards over the chair. I was screaming hysterically before the blinding white light dissipated, then everything became black.

When I regained consciousness, Doctor Bean was crouched over me administering the kiss of life. His hands were performing feeble chest compressions between my exposed breasts. He’d hastily disconnected the electronic helmet from my skull. The air was acrid with the stench of my singed hair and burnt flesh. I roughly pushed Hedley away from my lips and breasts and screamed at him to stop touching me. I never wanted to see that self-absorbed bastard ever again. His jaw dropped open in pained hurt. The piece of lettuce remained defiantly stuck to his front tooth.


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