Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Pink Microscope, continued.....

Three weeks later, Missy disappears.

It takes a few days for Allan to register her absence. He's tired, after all, and there's so much to do at semester's end, giving finals, turning in grades, critiquing theses. But a strange quiet hovers over the lab, gradually creeping into his office.

"Has anybody seen Missy?" He asks one morning, addressing the lab at large. A few heads look up, regarding Allan with complete lack of concern.

But then Gong speaks up. "I not see her four days." His voice is surprisingly loud and firm.

"Did she say anything about a vacation?" Allan feels foolish. In three years Missy has taken exactly one vacation, to tend her ailing mother. Not really a vacation, Allan thinks now. Where in hell is she?

No answer. He must appear in control of the situation. He strides down the narrow hallway toward her office. The door is ajar. Suppressing the urge to knock (it's his goddamned lab!), he swings the door wide and walks in.

The office is empty (as he knew it would be), looking, he thinks, as it always has. Not that he comes in here much; she comes to him. Papers are stacked in tall piles on the desk and side worktable, journals are arranged chronologically along the bookshelves.

Feeling like a snoop, Allan circles the desk, searching for information. A note, a post-it, an indication of something, anything. But the desk reveals nothing.

The computer is on, the screensaver weaving its fractal shapes in endless, meaningless webs. A photo is taped to the monitor's lower corner, a blond, smiling child of perhaps three. To his knowledge Missy has neither husband nor child. Or does she? is she even heterosexual? Allan realizes he knows nothing--nothing--of Missy's personal life. Does she wear a wedding ring? He has no idea. He's not even sure what her hand looks like. Long-fingered and elegant (like Marya's)? Sturdy and practical, short-nailed? How could he work with her all these years and know so very little?

Only this a nameless child, smiling up at him.

His hand reaches down, of its own accord, and moves the mouse. The screensaver evaporates.

PASSWORD?

Password? Fuck! Fuck!

Betamyloid, he hears from his office. The password is betamyloid.

The sticky protein fragment that fractures the axon-dendrite connection, fraying neural communication. Resulting in Alzheimer's, the disease killing Missy Wolf's mother in a nursing home in Long Beach, California.

PASSWORD?
BETAMYLOID

And he's in. His heart is pounding, he's sweaty and a bit dizzy. Must must must take up the gym again.

Missy's virtual desktop is as tidy as her real one. Program icons line up along the screen's right side like so many ready soldiers; a slide of the mouse brings the Mac Dock bobbing into view like a dolphin in one of those horrible sea parks. Allan took Betty and Tina to one of those places years ago, in Florida, watched as the trainers put those poor beasts through hoops and bounce balls off their noses. Tina had gorged on cotton candy and vomited blue puke in their rental car--

Concentrate! Look!

But for what? He trolls through Missy's hardrive, through her email in-box (same password), finding nothing but her scrupulousness, her ruthlessly organized professional self rising up through text messages to Carolina Biological Supply, to the National Science Foundation, to her colleagues across campus.

Nothing.

He gives the inbox a final quick scan. He's eager to get out of here. Anybody might walk in and catch him rooting around.

Missy, for example.

An email from SLazarus, dated 12/13. Subject line: Lunch today?

Missy--

Free for pizza at noon? G's wife is driving me mad!

S.

So Gordon is in bed with her. Bastard.

Allan follows the conversational thread. The next email, again from Sabine, reads "Where to eat?"

Missy--
How about Neptune? Dark and quiet, can talk in peace.

S

Below that, Missy's original reply:

Sabine--

Love to. Also being driven crazy, tho different reason. Why why why is Nyman sitting on a $550,000 piece of equipment he never takes out of its box? I swear I'm sneaking in over Holiday break and returning the damned thing. 550k means computer upgrades, a working laser printer, hell, a better microscope he might actually use.
I don't know what's gotten into him.
Where do you want to eat? Is 12:30 okay?
Missy.

12/13/04. Four days ago.

I not see Missy four days.

Cold sweat trickles from Allan's armpits, dampens his undershirt as it rolls down his sides in nasty little rivulets. He gives a small, involuntary shiver, highlights the Sabine/Missy email exchange, deletes it. He shuts down Missy's computer, takes final look at the smiling child, then leaves the office, shutting the door behind him.

The day is suffused with anxiety. He half-expects to be questioned--by Sabine, by Gong, even by the police. But nobody seems especially rattled by Missy's absence. That is, nobody but Allan.

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