Life’s Work – a fragment

I recently felt compelled to write something…a story, a novel, who knows?…about my own life. But not really. While I may have had some similar experiences to my main character, I never felt the shock and pain described for Margaret. What’s below is a piece of what I have planned. Let me know what you think in the comments section below. Want more? No good? Can’t wait to hear!

Margaret could not believe it had come to this. Her life’s work, her dearly held dreams, dead; then reborn; then refashioned into something cherished beyond measure. She remembered her second-grade class watching caterpillars build their chrysalises, emerging two weeks later as a creature repurposed. Is this how a butterfly feels? She imagined the shock of realizing that she had an entirely new body – the old had gone, the new had come. She felt the pain and stiffness of flexing her brand-new wings for the first time. Her mind accessed a scientific journal article from habit, one which outlined the vast, transformational changes occurring inside a chrysalis[1]. So dramatic that most of the caterpillar’s identifiable organs dissolve in a stew of rearranged body parts. Her dreams had dissolved, emerging as something foreign and unidentifiable even to herself. But, in spite of the pain of dissolution and the stiffness of emerging, this new life was very beautiful indeed.

“I’ve reviewed the DNA sequencing results; we successfully cloned arc3.”

The principal investigator briefly raised her eyes from her laptop to glance at her youngest graduate student, head still angled around her office door, eyes alight with excitement at his achievement. He was twenty-something, she couldn’t remember what college he came from or what his degree was in. Just a minute, she wondered, was he even a member of her lab? When had he joined? She made a mental note to ask her lab manager what this one’s name was.

Finally, “Excellent. Show your electrophoresis results and the sequencing results to Patrick. He’ll show you how to promote expression off of your plasmid vector.”

She resumed typing the key outline for her latest grant submission to the National Institutes of Health – being her university’s top-funded researcher did not come easily – realizing after many minutes that she was being watched. She glanced up to see the same graduate student shifting uneasily.

“Well?”

“Um, not sure who Patrick is, Dr. Kessler,” he mumbled.

“How long have you worked here?” she grumbled impatiently, “Never mind,” she held up a hand to stop him before he answered, “I don’t have time. Patrick is the last bench to the right. If you have any questions, ask him.”

—-Break—- Got to fill in more here

Before that day, Margaret always thought that her acquaintance were being melodramatic when they exclaimed how one phone call could change the course of their lives. “…like today, when my carpenter called and told me the pitch of the roof of our addition just must be changed. It’s going to be ruined – the whole project…” Margaret tuned out the nearby socialite at the university mixer just as quickly as she had tuned the woman in only seconds before. How could the pitch of a roofline change someone’s life? she had wondered. But then, on that day in early autumn, her cell phone buzzed, and her whole world changed.

“Maggie, you’ve got to come home. Mom needs you,” the voice on the other end of the phone halted. Margaret waited, wondering if she should say something, wondering what she could say. Her sister continued, “I need you. I can’t help her with treatment. I can’t talk to the doctors. Goodness, Maggie, you are a doctor!”

Her sister’s voice, her little sister’s voice, brought to mind memories long buried. Wasn’t there some recent Science article about that? About the relationship between sound and memories, specifically voice and memories.

The white walls of her office gave way to pine groves, hills of green, towering magnolia trees. Her mind wandered to the one magnolia tree whose branches gracefully swept the grass, enormous leaves forming a natural hideout for two adventurous girls. Little-girl braids flying, they would race across the yard and scoot into the cool darkness near the heavy trunk of the old tree, dirt smudging their knees and cheeks.

“I wuv you, Maggie,” her little sister’s preschooler eyes shone adoringly at Margaret. And she would brush her hand over Megan’s hair and pull her close in a hug. “I love you too, Megs, and I always will.” She would whisper, surrounded by the heady fragrance of magnolia blossoms.


[1] Lowe, T., Garwood, R., Simonsen, T., Bradley, R., and P. Withers. 2013. “Metamorphosis revealed: time-lapse three-dimensional imaging inside a living chrysalis.” Journal of the Royal Society Interface. 10(8):1-6.

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