Hello everyone! And Merry Christmas! Here is my Christmas gift to all of you, my wonderful readers! I give you the prologue to the piece that I am currently working on! I'm making slow progress, but I hope that I will be able to finish this faster than my last project, now that I have some experience. I'm trying out some new things, so I hope you all like it! Wishing you all the very best for the holiday season!
Mendel With My Heart
Prologue: A Not-People Person
I straighten my tie for the fifth time in the past ten minutes. Why can't it just sit still? I've already wasted twenty minutes this morning re-tying it three times, and now the knot keeps sliding to the left!
I pull at the collar of my pale blue shirt, trying to adjust it properly, and – Fucus! The knot's more crooked than before! I make a face at the long bathroom mirror, the white tile of the floor and the urinals along the wall cast a pale light on the room. Shall I re-tie it again? Ug but my hands are so sweaty. No, maybe I'll just leave it. It can't look that bad, can it?
Oh who am I kidding, it's me; of course it looks terrible. I need to re-tie it. As swiftly as I can, I remove the navy garment from my neck and start over with shaking fingers. I can't seem to concentrate today, but then again, when have I ever been able to concentrate well? Not for a long time, in the least. I will my quivering fingers to grasp the silk. Cross in front of the chest, right over left. Swing round, and again, and in front, over the side, and through the knot. There. That's better.
I glance back up to the mirror. Great. I still look like a terror. At least the tie isn't crooked anymore. I'd better mop up that sweat or they'll eat your alive. They can sense fear.
I close my eyes with a silent shudder.
Oh I'd forgotten how easily they can smell it. And I probably reek of fear.
Which would be totally correct, because I am totally scared out of my skin. But it happens every year, so really what could I expect?
I swear this is the worst form of torture ever.
Okay, well I'm exaggerating. I've been through worse. A lot worse. Last weekend, in fact. My fingers absentmindedly ghost over the left side of my ribcage as the memory flits across my consciousness. No. That's beside the point. Even if this isn't actual torture, this is still super nerve-wracking.
Hastily I grab a sheet of paper towel from the dispenser beside the row of sinks and dab the sweat from my brow. I turn my face in the mirror, trying to see if I missed any particularly damp spots. Completely dull, brown eyes stare back at me. There was a girl in elementary school who once said I had the prettiest brown eyes she'd ever seen. Personally, I don't agree. The particular shade of brown that adorns my irises is more similar to that of a russet potato's peel. Beautiful? Not.
At least my hair still looks acceptable. Barely. With my long, spindly fingers, I tug at a few stray locks of wavy black strands. Why can't you look like the hair in those silly shampoo commercials, huh, hair? I would appreciate it if you behaved all volumous-like and actually looked good for once. Please? No? Okay. Just stick up at weird angles like that. You don't need to make any good impressions today or anything. No pressure.
Goodness, I look like a monster that just crawled out from under the bed. Or out of the closet. Or where ever monsters come from.
Unable to handle my own reflection, I stumble out of the restroom, a jumble of limbs spilling into the hallway. I'm too skinny for my own good, but there's nothing I can seem to do about that. Not that the sleepless nights or lack of hunger help any, and it's not that I'm particularly lanky either, because the word lanky implies… I dunno, tallness? Which is something that I definitely do not have. The tallness, I mean. Who can really call a 163cm tall man particularly advantaged in the field of height? Add to that the fact that I weigh 58 kg, and you get the impression. I'm small. Which fits, I guess, cause that's how I feel most of the time, anyways. I'm less of a telephone pole and more like a fence post, I guess? I don't know. I'm not very good with the words.
The corridor is quiet and deserted. I breathe a small sigh of relief. Empty. Devoid of human life. Just how I like it. I hurry to the doors of the lecture hall and slip in silently. The room is large and spacious, with a high ceiling. The cushioned seats are arranged into three sections; middle, left and right, like and auditorium. As I stumble down the aisle towards the front, I keep my eyes locked onto my shoes, avoiding all contact, both eye and physical.
As I reach the front of the room, I glance around. Judy is standing by the lecture podium, tinkering with the projector and the power-point presentation setting, just where she was before I left to fix my tie. And then I glance back at the seats.
Oh goodness, students! There are already students here!
Sweat begins beading on my forehead once more. My fingers start twitching. Oh Fucus, why are they so early?
I glance at my watch.
Quarter to nine! Already!
The terror in my expression must have increased exponentially, because Judy's voice nearly makes me jump to the ceiling – which would be quite the feat, I assure you.
"Solomon, you need to calm down."
I turn to face the woman at the podium.
"I-I'm trying, Judy, I really am."
"Really? 'Cause it looks like you're about to piss your pants," says Judy with a small smirk.
"Y-Yes, well that's totally not unfeasible," I reply. Why did she have to bring that up again? Haemophilic hippopotami, she doesn't need to bring up that incident every time!
Judy chuckles to herself. "I remember. Why don't you sit down? Calm your nerves. We don't start for another ten minutes," she says, gesturing to one of the chairs behind her.
I nod. Yes, that's a good idea. Sit down. Lessen the risk of my body executing a falling of the over, I suppose. Although it would be entirely possible to collapse out of the chair, that would be considerable more difficult.
Then again, this is me we're talking about. Hm. Perhaps it would considerably less difficult for me to collapse out of a chair compared to normal people.
I turn my gaze to the stream of students filing into the large lecture hall. Maybe that will take my mind off of things.
Upon my return from the bathroom, there had been a handful of seated students. Several of them are sitting in the front row, even. Well, talk about eager. Not that I should be complaining; I was almost just as eager – arguably more eager – than they are when I was that age.
Even more students are now filling the room; the volume of the chatter is rising. A constant stream of bodies is emptying from the hall and with every new appearance, and I'm getting more nervous.
"Solomon, could you stop tapping your leg like that? You look like you're about to fall out of your chair."
Judy's quiet tease breaks my concentration. I look down. Sure enough, my legs are twitching violently, as if independent from my body.
"Oh." Silently, I will my limbs to obey – after all, they are my limbs. They should do as my brain commands, right? Theoretically. "Sorry, I didn't realize I was doing that." My legs still, much to my relief.
Judy sighs. "I know."
"Remind me again why I'm here?" I ask for the millionth time. I've memorized her answer by now, but I still can't bring myself to believe it. Not really.
"You know why you're here." Not the usual response, but not unexpected either.
I sigh. I guess there really isn't getting out of this.
I look at my watch. Four minutes to go. Approximately. I'm trying not to think about it because the more I think about it the more nervous I'm going to get which will make me think about it more and I just can't think about what's going to happen in – three minutes now! Oh dear!
The hall is almost full to the brim now. Two hundred fifty students. All looking at me (well, technically, they're looking at Judy and me both, but my brain doesn't really seem to get that).
I swallow the lump that has formed in my throat.
This is going to be fun.
The last few students are finding empty seats – a tall boy is shuffling into the middle of the sixth row; a small slender one clutching a pile of textbooks to his chest is hurrying into a seat on the left; another student sporting sherbet orange sneakers scurrying her way into a place near the back.
And then Judy clears her voice, amplified by the microphone clipped to her shirt lapel. The noise dies down, the room falling silent.
I can practically hear the sweat rolling down my back.
I just hope that they can't.
"Good morning, everyone," says Judy with a practiced smile. Why is she so good at this?
No, don't think about it. Better yet, don't think at all.
"Welcome back! I trust you all had a good winter break!" Yes, that's it. Focus on the sound of Judy's voice. "And welcome to Biology 234: Introduction to Classical Genetics and Genetic Analysis! I'm Dr. Walker, and I'm the coordinator for this course. I also teach one of the other sections of Bio 234 – the MWF afternoon section."
Judy launches into her beginning-of-the-term lecture – grade distributions, midterm exam dates, assignments, problem sets, textbook information, etc. I've heard it four times now, and it's all pretty standard procedure.
As my colleague continues her speech, I scan the room.
There's a tall-ish girl in the very centre of the front row, a clipboard and pen in hand. Her dusty brown hair is tied into a loose ponytail behind her. A few seats over is another girl with a laptop wearing a light blue dress (isn't the weather rather cold for a dress? January isn't the warmest of months, in my opinion; I mean, we're above the 45th parallel North, for goodness sakes!). On the right-hand section of the seats, a boy whose face looks like a vicious battlefield between acne and skin is sitting with the course textbook open in his lap in the front row.
In the second row, a boy with thick rimmed glasses is sipping from a cup of steaming liquid energy (normal people call it caffeine; I don't understand how they can drink it without exploding into pieces). On the other end, a girl is texting on her oh-so-fancy-too-many-applications-to-count phone.
Behind them, further back in the room, more students are fiddling with their things, a blonde boy twirling his pencil, an Asian girl searching her backpack, a tall, athletic boy wearing a shirt that reads 'LYFE HAX' is whispering to the friend beside him, and others.
"Any questions so far?" Judy's voice probes his audience. Not a sound, not a single movement.
"Excellent. In that case, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Dr. Solomon Riesling,"
I freeze. Xenopus! She's already finished? I need to pay more attention! I'm not ready for this!
Shakily, I stand from my seat behind Judy (albeit with plenty of help from the chair). My legs are so much the consistency of jelly that I almost collapse with the first step; I grab the edge of the computer desk to steady myself. There's a small wave of laughter. Not a good omen. The lights seem rather bright, and I get the distinct feeling that I'm a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding tuck.
I swallow. Hard
I am so a Not-People Person.
"Dr. Riesling will be your instructor for the rest of the term." Judy taps a button on the podium console, turning on the feed to the tiny microphone clipped to my shirt.
"H-Hello everyone," I say. Or, try to say. I'm not sure if the sounds that have just tumbled out of my mouth were entirely coherent. Nobody seems to notice anything, however. I suppose that's good? "I-I'm Dr. Riesling, and, um, as Dr. Walker kindly noted, I will, um, be your instructor for Bio 234, the MWF m-morning section."
I glance hesitantly to Judy, who has since taken a step back. She gives me an encouraging nod. Okay, Solomon, keep talking.
"I… Um… I guess I should tell you a little b-bit about myself? I have a PhD in genetics, and, um, I specialize in the model organism C. elegans. It's a n-nematode, and – well, I don't suppose you know what a nematode is?" I ask hesitantly. Silence. A cough. My legs begin to tremble. "Well, it's a k-kind of, ah, simple worm, really and – What I mean to say is, I-I have a small lab here at the university." I try to smile. Weakly.
Silence. The students are just… sitting there. Looking at me. Why are they just looking at me? OH GOD I KNEW IT THEY CAN SMELL MY FEAR ABORT ABORT ABORT.
A student raises her hand in the front row.
"What kind of genes are you working with?"
OH! I CAN ANSWER THAT! Relief washes over me.
"R-Right now I'm trying to characterize mutations in g-genes that are involved in cell, um, cell specialization. Specifically, I'm looking at, uh, transcription factors cascades in certain n-nerve cells. Alright, um, so enough about m-me, and back to Classical Genetics."
I look down at my hands, and notice the computer monitor on the podium console. Oh right! I have a power-point presentation! Excellent!
I tap the touch-screen and it moves to the next slide. A picture of my building appears, with some informational text beside it.
"Right, so before I get into the c-course material, I, uh, have some housekeeping things to m-mention. My office is located in B-Block D of the Biological Sciences building complex. Come up to the third floor, and, uh, my room number is 3052, r-right in the corner there." I take a shivering breathe before continuing. "I'll be holding o-office hours on T-Tuesday and Th-Thursday at 11am for one, uh, one hour. Knock on the door because I u-usually like to keep it l-locked. If you need additional aid with the course – I mean, uh, questions about the material or help with the problem sets, uh, that sort of thing – you can send me an email and we can arrange a m-meeting at another time…"
I replace my laser pointer into its case with shaking fingers. A sigh escapes me, unheard by the throngs of students leaving the lecture hall.
"Well that wasn't so bad, was it?" Judy says to me as she packs up her computer to my left.
"Yes. It was worse than last year!" I exclaim, throwing my arms into the air.
Judy chuckles. "No, it wasn't, and you know that. Don't be so dramatic! It was fine." The bespeckled woman picks up her briefcase. She opens her mouth to say something, but at that very moment, a student appears in front of us. She is an average girl: brown hair, green eyes, jeans, t-shirt, backpack.
"Hi, Drs. Walker and Riesling? I'm Fiona. I have a few questions about the class?" I think to myself: How can you already have questions about the class? We didn't even learn anything examinable today!
Behind her, a small line of students has formed. How can so many of them already have questions?! Panic rises once more.
"Sure," replies Judy, "Go ahead."
I disengage my hearing attention from the conversation; Judy can handle whatever this student has to ask. I continue to pack away my things as the handful of students crowd around.
So young. So eager. I forget that I was like that once. Once…
My thoughts are broken by a student who addresses me. "Dr. Riesling?"
I blink. Oh yes, that's me. That's my name.
"Hi, I'm Jordan. I had a question about the textbook for this course? The online syllabus lists two of them. Do I need both of them?"
I blink again. "Um, text b-books? Oh, um, yes, those. Well, Dr. Walker uses the B-Baker and Miller text, I think, uh, the one with the plants on the cover? It's on the, uh, fifth edition, if I r-remember correctly? And I, um, like to take my examples from the o-other text, the Huxley one, c-currently on the seventh edition. I think it h-has better practice questions."
The boy (average height, black hair, brown eyes, medium build – I need to stop doing that) nods. "Okay. Huxley... that's the 'Introduction to Genetic Analysis' one, right? So I should get the seventh edition of that one?"
"W-Well, yes, technically? I mean, s-strictly speaking, you don't need to buy it if you don't want to. All the examinable material, um, will be coming straight from m-my own lecture slides."
Jordan smiles. "Okay, cool. Thanks Dr. Riesling!" And with a wave he disappears into the throngs of students entering the hall for the next lecture.
Another student fills the space. "Hi Dr. Riesling, I'm Amy," says the girl - taller than average, black hair, tan complexion, almond shaped brown eyes. "I had a question about the exams for this course?"
I blink. "Um, okay?"
"Are they going to be cumulative, or non-cumulative? And will they be held in class, or outside of class hours?"
My mind swims, trying to find the answers to her questions. "The exams are, um, cumulative. For the m-midterm, we usually arrange an exam hall, um, in the evening, taking p-place outside of class hours. The, um, final exam is usually s-scheduled during the final exam period."
The girl - Amy - nodds and leaves.
When I turn back to Judy, she's bidding the last student farewell.
"Ready to go?" she asks.
"Yes please," I say with a small shudder. Lecture halls have gone from a comforting place where I can hide my anonymity to a place that gives the chills – I have too much exposure in them now.
Judy laughs, and I can't help but notice the stray white hairs in her long locks. "C'mon, lunch is on me today."
So I'm still working on writing this monstrosity; I have it slated to be approximately 30 chapters (plus or minus a one or two, depending on how the events play out). I don't know when I'll be able to begin formally posting chapters, but it should be sometime in Jan or Feb... depending on how focusing I can be and how efficient I am with my writing... haha we'll see how it goes. Until then, take care!