With a trembling smile, the scientist sat facing her beakers and test-tubes. She had long ago turned her bedroom into a chemistry lab and surrounding her was a deranged rainbow—hundreds of chemicals that mixed in the right proportions could spew forth neon clouds or explode the ten-story apartment building entirely. The young scientist knew this and so she was extraordinarily careful whenever handling her chemicals. She’d even placed a very serious, very stern sign on her room’s door: DO NOT ENTER—DEATH POSSIBLE.
Of course, her setup wasn’t legal, but that didn’t bother the scientist for she knew that laws were just invisible things created by humans and so they (the laws) had no real meaning. She took comfort in the fact that many famed scientists had rebelled against the customs of their times too—had sacrificed life, limb, and freedom to truth’s pursuit. Blind, house-arrested Galileo had refused to recant findings that the solar-system was heliocentric. And Newton, oh stubborn stubborn Newton, had done two things to greatly impress the girl: first, he’d once pushed a pin into the back of his eye socket just to see what would happen; and second, he had had gold counterfeiters executed. There were others of course, how could she forget—wait, she was forgetting—what was his name?—oh, dear—how could she forget the one scientist whose name she could not now remember but whose existence validated her own? A scientist who needing human subjects for his pressure chamber submitted himself as lab rat one, his wife as rat two, and then gruffly awoke his spouse after her pressure-induced faint, looked her in those dilated, murine eyes, and said, ‘When’s dinner?’
Her nose too was starting to bleed.
Oh a wonderful bunch to be sure, and looking around her room—her chemist’s stage—she held her breath at its very beauty. She’d bought chemical refrigerators, custom tables, and all sorts of esoteric and expensive gadgets which only she and other pedigreed scientists knew how to use. And because her roommates were not pedigreed and were curious enough to smudge pristine glass but not to learn even that oxygen derived from the Greek oxy geinomai—I bring forth acid—she’d had a fingerprint lock installed on her door.
And after she’d started to fill the room with all of her gadgets, gizmos, beakers, chemicals, burners, and other odds and ends, she had realized that the space wasn’t big enough. When the first roommate left, she rented his room and had the separating wall torn down. She moved her bed and dresser into a corner behind a plastic divider. Of course, most scientists wouldn’t sleep with their chemicals, but she eschewed most: She wanted great. And look here: Great scientists don’t stop to think about fumes—to understand the chemicals, you must live amongst their beaker homes, talk to them, pet them, kiss their glass bottoms—even the arsenic’s—discriminate against none.
Still, at the time, as hard as she tried she just could not quiet her pedestrian conscience. Finally to appease its cries—What about the fumes!?—she had multiple vents installed and both bed and toilet sealed behind air-tight plastic. (Certain fumes were traded for others.) At midnight exact, she unzipped her plastic room, flipped on vent two, gazed once more at her array of chemicals and the chair she loved because it reminded her of one Einstein had been photographed in, closed her eyes, and fell asleep to the vent’s rotary moan.
Now, all the while that her lab and room were being constructed, she liked to be outside. For while it’s known that real—true—scientists don’t give a hoot for convention, they do still require inspiration. And nothing inspires like nature. So when she sat in the park on her knit blanket, pulled out a sandwich, and ran her fingers through the grass before opening her latest crime novel, she knew she was in the company of great minds. Darwin.
Yet most of the time, even as some detective paged closer to his killer, her mind was drawn from both book and park, back to her lab and to how many experiments she would conduct, to how much original thinking she would contribute to the intellectual world. She dreamt of when her lab would one day be finished, when she could finally swoop into chemistry’s squared fields—the periodic table she loved so much she’d had it tattooed on her back, updated occasionally alongside the spasms of scientific discovery—oh how she loved chemistry!
But her project had continued for over a year. Vents, refrigerators, toilet, tube racks, mixers, centrifuge, hot plates, burners, gas lines, eye wash. From her park blanket, she’d call her contractor in an impatient huff. ‘Things aren’t moving fast enough! Priceless time is being squandered! Get on with it!’ and then she’d hover around the construction area itself, warning the workers of dangers—loss of sight, loss of fingers, burns, death—gasping in horror every time the plumber stepped too close to a shelf of beakers, sputtering ambiguous threats should any chemical be tipped, mentioning none by name, sighing only, ‘You’d never understand.’
But after a year and a half, with lab complete, she smiled and thought to herself she was quite pleased with the final product. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I am quite pleased with this product.’
Spinning in her chair, she watched domestic and scientific meld. Food refrigerator and chemical fridge, chemical shower, table, computer, clothes washer. An ingenious slot in the door for food deliveries meant she’d never have to leave. And so going to the park for inspiration for the last time—picnic basket in hand—she double-bolted her door and thought, ‘When I return, I’ll be ready to stay forever.’
The next day, slowly rotating in her Einstein chair, rows of test tubes like a perpendicular sunset, she froze. Before her was the room’s one imperfection, her only impediment to great discoveries. In her rush for completion, she’d overlooked the singular thing no scientist would stand for. She jumped to her feet, shook a fist at the room’s only window and shouted—attempting 17th Century Enlightenment, but sounding more hackneyed pirate—‘Damn ye, distraction! Damn ye!’
Oh but that very afternoon, laying prone in the park, tanning, head propped on hands as she watched two dashing lads fling a frisbee, she chided herself, ‘But I can’t just cover the window with bricks. And anyway, where would I get my inspiration from?’
Days passed. Frisbees arched. She stared once again out the window and jolted at a thought like a metal bumper to skull. Rolling backwards, ‘Eureka!’ she shouted. The problem was not the window at all. Her impediment to grandeur was simple: She wasn’t miserable enough! Everyone knew a scientist needed misery, and so long as she was content, never a great thinker would she be. She called her contractor and barked.
‘But you’re out of your mind!’ the contractor shouted upon hearing her request, but she laughed, doubled her offer, and paraphrased Einstein, ‘Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre carpenters!’ She knew she would soon be a real scientist, a true scientist, and so her ninety thousand dollar debt didn’t bother her at all.
Within two weeks, with her new project complete, her other two roommates moved out without even collecting their security deposits. No, sitting alone, running her finger along her newly constructed, elaborately designed table, staring through bedroom’s plastic at the poster of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man taped over her bed, she knew she was closer now. And the following day, a vision of a Nobel prize accompanied her as she strapped herself into her custom built contraption. The next steps would be difficult, but she was undeterred and pushed the button to turn on the saw.
Upon awakening, she cauterized the gaping wound using her meticulously designed machine. Getting up from the table, she felt perfectly miserable. She was happy.
But returning to the park once more, it was painfully obvious she hadn’t gone far enough. Sure, it was a nuisance having only one leg—she lived in a fourth floor walkup—but the obstacle was easily overcome with a pair of crutches. She knew that to really conduct the types of experiments she wished to conduct—earth shaking experiments!—she would have to be much more miserable and this she thought as she strapped herself in for the second time more difficult sure but not unmanageable.
At the park the very next day, she was irked by the blades of grass that had probably inspired Darwin but that were causing her only nausea as they stuck to the spots of blood showing through her leg stumps’ bandages. She was vexed by the fact that while having no legs was quite the challenge indeed, it had not been enough to stop her from thumping down her apartment stairs and using her knuckles and fingernails to crawl hop bounce drag herself to a hospital supply store. The salesman had given her horrified looks, but a credit card had eased nerves, and she was duped into buying the top-of-the-line wheelchair which now in the park she knocked over out of frustration.
She was losing both hope and blood. But as she dragged her wheelchair back up the stairs to her lab, she knew she was simply suffering the pain of all scientists. She blinked with terror and enthusiasm as she strapped herself in for a third time.
When again she found herself at the park the next day—when a ball rolled into her lap and out of habit she threw it back with her left arm, her only arm—she began to cry. She waved her right stub in aggravation. ‘I’m not miserable enough!’ she yelled to the obnoxious stares of passersby.
Getting back upstairs took the better part of a day. Someone should’ve helped. But when neighbors passed, they simply stepped over her torso in disgust. ‘Well,’ she thought, ‘this is the scientist’s burden’—when suddenly she noticed the pool of blood on the step, lost her grip on the wheelchair, and then flung herself down the stairs after it. Regaining consciousness, entangled in the chair’s spokes, ‘Galileo must have been this miserable,’ she thought.
It was the last time she strapped herself onto her table that proved the most trying. But as she pulled a strap tight with her teeth, she steadied her shaking fingers with the thought that only those things that were difficult were worth doing. She’d heard this said before.
Waking up on her table for the last time, she felt more miserable than she’d ever been. From the table, looking feebly out the window, she could see her beautiful park—children running, dogs chasing balls, kite strings held by hands she did not have—and she knew she could never go to that park again. As she wormed around the table thinking of all the famed and great scientists whose ranks she would soon join, she cried and cried and cried for joy.
It was hard to maneuver her limbless torso back into Einstein’s chair but not impossible. And besides, as it had been for her cerebral lineage, time was meaningless now. Once in the chair, by flopping her head from side to side, she was able to turn to face her Leonardo poster. With tears dripping down her smile, ‘You truly were a genius,’ she said, and then wagging her head once more, she turned to her rows of beakers her collection of gizmos doodads her notepads computer mixers gadgets tubes whirlydads hoohahs jars jars jars jars upon jars of silent beautiful translucent chemicals and she cried cried cried, Time to get to work.