Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Human Trials

This week I'm going to serialize an old short story called Human Trials. I love this piece because it's ambitious, not particularly literary, and the idea itself was electrifying back in 2003 when I first wrote it. I was emerging from the long incubation of motherhood about this time, and the piece is full of constant parenting touchstones. Needless to say, my worst years as a mother were yet to come...I just didn't know it yet. This is one of two pieces that convinced me I needed to get my MFA. Not because the writing is particularly good, but because I was so passionate about the story. It was my olive branch, proof of dry land.

I'll post it in sections this week.

Human Trials: Part One

10cc administered at 8 a.m.

Trials of X on animal subjects are a joke. Half the mice continued their minuscule, unplanned existences, while the other half went into convulsions and died. I was surprised at the death rate, but we couldn't be sure of dosages. My assistant, Sal, macerated their tiny brains and we went on.

Our grant funds included a full range of animal testing, including rhesus monkey trials. Dogs if we want them. Three years ago, we were throwing everything into the work plan, including animals. But it doesn't work if they can't tell you what time they think it is. Or what day.

Sal and I took my daughter, Jennifer, to the zoo and watched the various monkey breeds in their cages. I couldn't see any sign the animals could differentiate between now and then, past and present, today and yesterday. My eight-year-old daughter exhibits a more finely developed sense of the linear nature of time than a monkey, but I couldn't test her.

Yet it had to be a human trial. When Jennifer went to her father's for the summer and I was free for two months, I decided to self-inject a low dose of X.

I'd been thinking a great deal about time and memory and how some memories seem to be written deeply into the brain, while others evaporate like mist, leaving only that tip-of-the-tongue feeling.

One memory stood out for me. Not long after Jennifer was born, I remember putting her down for a nap. It was high summer. The sheer white curtains puffed over the bassinet on a breeze scented with jasmine and barbecue. That's all. An insignificant memory, yet so vivid I could almost close my eyes and feel hot wind on my skin, or reach out and touch my daughter's newly wrought skull.

I think, in essence, that memory is what X is all about.

The day I planned to start the trial, I walked into the lab to find Sal locked in the booth. It's a glass-enclosed observation booth where we keep monitoring equipment, take private calls and eat our lunch. Its chief virtue is that it's soundproof and can be locked from the inside.

"The effects are localized, Connie," he said. His voice came out of the speaker system, rattled with electronic distortion. "But I'm experiencing…something."

"When did you do it? And how much?" I went to the door and tried the handle. Locked. I walked around to the front of the booth. Sal sat at the table, splay-legged, his arms flopped on the table. His color was more pasty than usual and his eyes had a loose, liquid quality I couldn't identify.

A blood streaked syringe sat on the tray next to his elbow.

"Ten cc's an hour ago. I've created the effect twice. I think it works, Connie."

"Unlock the door, Sal."

"Can't do it. I said the effect is localized, but it's strong. I'm not sure I can control it."

"Of course you can control it. Control your thoughts."

He laughed and shook his head. "It turns out I was never very good at that."

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