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Fiction

Tribute: Part 1

From the LabLit short story series

João Ramalho-Santos 1 July 2007

www.lablit.com/article/275

Jorge had no idea what he wanted as a scientist until Carla made him say it

Editor's note: We are pleased to publish the first installment of this two-part short story. The story will conclude next week.

She woke with the first sunlight, still undecided brightness dancing through the linen curtains her grandmother had left her in the will. The fog was lifting, the ocean rumbled quietly in the distance, another perfect day.

But not quite yet. She stretched lazily as she pulled herself up. As expected, her head rattled, the floor swooned. Beer and seafood in the esplanade, overlooking the ocean through sunglasses, looking cool. Red wine and fish stew at the unassuming restaurant that probably wouldn’t pass US health inspections, talking through smoke, looking happy. Port and dancing at the club, looking young. The beach by moonlight, feeling. Had it been her? Really? Probably. The last thing she remembered of her usually rational self was thinking that the seagull screams in the dunes were actually local kids, making fun of their middle age groans. No, the very last thing she remembered was not caring if they were.

He was still sleeping, of course. That’s what “vacation” meant. He wasn’t going to exchange mad dashes through the hospital for mad dashes through hotels, museums. No compromise. Staring at his hairy back and budding baldness, she was glad to have given in. They had set up the beach house in Secret Club-style secrecy, near the small towns their respective families had toiled in, before leaving for the bright lights of Lisbon. Why bother with Paris and Prague?

The mirror told her both face and hair could use some work. But, snapping on her brand-new swimsuit, she only saw a smile. From the corner of her eye she could feel the answering machine blinking with messages. Right next to the heap of untouched mail. It could wait, anything could wait now. Outside, the vapory curtains lifted, unveiling a perfect Atlantic blue.

**********

The blast hit him straight out of revolving door heaven. Six forty five A.M. Eighty-five degrees (Fahrenheit, he had managed to stop thinking in Celsius). Ninety percent humidity (he guessed, wrongly). If the midnight thunderstorm had wiped out any of the impossible summer oppression enveloping the airport that previous afternoon, plenty more had been on the way.

As a caricature of a jog started to emerge from his walk, Jorge felt sweat glands zoom from air-conditioning seclusion, straight into overdrive, his breath an unhealthy furnace wheeze. He suddenly remembered why he had hated those West Coast health nuts, of which he was now a not-so-proud member. After a few tantalizing minutes in familiar, sanitized, hotel grounds, he tried to find a river. The promise of water, an illusion of coolness. No city is a City without a river, and this was Three Rivers Stadium City (he knew the new Steelers home field was named after “Heinz” ketchup, but, as a football purist, couldn’t quite process that information). Even if it was more accurate to note that the “three rivers” were actually two with impossible names that fused, forming the Ohio, how far could one of them be?

Pretty far, especially if someone with negligible sense of direction didn’t bother to ask tip-hungry hotel employees, or consult any maps before setting out on his quest. Was he going to ask anyone now? Of course not, too late for that. He just puffed along, urging his legs, forcing his lungs. Something would come along.

It did. A City yawning right around the third corner. People and cars fast forwarding through the early hours, with no patience for oddball runners, or at least that’s what it seemed like to Jorge’s moribund will. Warm gusts of diesel from a passing bus put his agonizing run out of its misery. That, or the bemused look of its passengers, now that the morning was into full gear. Totally lost, Jorge fumbled around for the hotel (it couldn’t be that far...), trying to impress a perceived audience by not fainting. Uncloaked by the last dawn fog, the city now showed its magnificence. Of darkened walls and boarded up windows, buildings betraying a history of snoot and nostalgia. One thing was clear, whatever the city was doing to clean up and revive after the Mighty Steel’s downfall wasn’t working very well. If fact, the contrast between washed walls and untouched gloom only brought this point across more forcefully. Interesting, as far as efforts go, but not really uplifting. Reserving the summer for meetings was a sound plan, but the Society had better put some thinking into location.

The air-conditioning hit him with a vengeance, as if the revolving doors were punishing his audacity. He sneezed loudly entering the elevator, drawing looks from fellow exercisers that had made the sound decision of sweating in the hotel gym. But Jorge was a neophyte, in crowded health clubs he always felt he was being graded by peers. The street was anonymous. Yeah, he would get some occasional sarcasm (to put it mildly), but nothing like the knowing smirks of tanned, professional muscles. His second sneeze matched the elevator hiss. He stepped out hoping all aboard would adopt some of the viruses he was so generously spreading around.

A quick shower later Jorge was thinking coffee, raiding the Meeting breakfast table before only the stalest cookies remained. He was almost half out the door when the closet mirror called him back. Ragged jeans, a red T-shirt from last years Virology workshop with “INFECT THIS!” in ominous black letters. OK, so he wasn’t chairman of anything. But he was presenting an important talk at this particular Meeting. Could he really afford the nerd scientist look? Who would see him, pass judgment? Off with the T-shirt, on with a nondescript polo; off with the jeans, on with the khakis. His “job interview” suit remained asleep in the closet, its time would come. It was only when he was walking down the corridor that Jorge felt the shock of what he had just done. You get old in mysterious ways.

Downstairs the usual chaos was underway. Scientists everywhere, crowding the registration desks and refreshment tables, hotel employees trying hard to bring their trays to said tables without having overeager PhDs knock them over, vendors setting up shop, coffee and juice spilling (Jorge instantly regretted changing clothes). Noise. It was always amazing to see how many people worked in the field, turned up for these things, how many faces he could only recognize in this particular context. Grabbing at pastries he quickly became enveloped in the wave of participants with nametags and program books, trying to find the appropriate conference rooms for the morning sessions. Jorge hadn’t even picked up his badge, had no idea what was going on. As far as he was concerned, the meeting only started after the Symposium. He owed Carla a sober performance, could almost hear her as he wandered into the main Ballroom, sipping his fill of awful coffee. “Don’t go emotional on me now, Jorge! This is America! Don’t you dare go Portuguese on me now!”

The place felt huge in its emptiness, seven hotel workers setting up the podium and the three giant screens, a few participants consulting their program books, trying to figure out which room they were supposed to be in at that moment. Jorge didn’t even want to picture it at 4 PM. Hundreds of people pouring in, thousands of coughs and muffled conversations. No cozy family gathering, as he had hoped when first invited, it was going to be packed. Not only was this one of the main events of the Meeting, but the Reception followed immediately after, and nothing like free food brings out flies and Conference attendants.

Sitting in the back he tried hard to think about nothing, for a change. That lasted all of twenty precious seconds. Then, right on cue, the hotel people unfolded the banner, the projectors hummed into activity. “Unmasking Durban Viral Dysfunction” read the huge letters on the far wall. Beneath, a much more ominous message. “The Carla Cardoso Memorial Symposium.” And there she was, radiant and in triplicate, filling the room. Jorge didn’t want to look up, but did.

Parts of his life seemed to be flashing on the screens, but he had the weirdest feeling that each screen wanted to tell a different story. On the far left he had joined the quiet Pedro Abreu lab for his PhD in the forests of Massachusetts; straight out of Portugal, no real intentions of staying. In the middle he and his father were having one of those transatlantic chats about the Universe, he wondering out loud if he should continue to work with Abreu, his father remembering an old friend who was doing well in another university close by, wouldn’t he like to visit, try new things? And there he was, on the far right screen, sweating in Carla’s office (she refused the “Doctor Cardoso” epithet), as the tiny whirlwind grilled him for an hour on his abilities, insights, goals. In English, to his utter shock (“This is America!” she bellowed). He remembered the tight green eyes shining intensely through dark (obviously dyed) curling hair. But what had branded him for life had been the fire of his own words. Jorge had no idea of what he wanted as a scientist, until Carla made him say it. Something great, something true. Something important, something purposeful, something blue. Had it really been him? Or Carla projecting her vision upon his errant soul? It mattered not. Two days later he was doing experiments in the Cardoso lab. For almost five years that was all he did. Day and night, a vague notion of weekends and holidays as things for other species to enjoy. And he had never been happier. Sad, in a way. But true.

He didn’t want to leave the Ballroom. But did. He felt he was about to “go Portuguese”, and she didn’t deserve that. Not even a virtual Carla, Mother, Daughter and Holy Ghost wrapped into one, on three giant screens.

Fate had some mercy, and as he stumbled blindly out, Jorge bumped into the immense frame of a trotting Bud Wiley, and was immediately thumped on the back till his lungs ached, enveloped in friendly Texas twang. Bud had been Carla’s mentor, one of the pioneers in systems to grow viruses safely in culture, and to test the potential efficiency of vaccines and other therapies. Carla had brought him back from deep in Science limbo when she suggested they collaborate on DVD. Bud had obliged by producing a genetically modified mouse that, for once (and as far as they could tell), reacted to the virus exactly as humans did, and on which the vaccine, now in testing, had been perfected. More to the point, that had been Shirley’s project, and Jorge felt her warmth even before she covered his eyes from behind and chirped, “guess who?!”

He guessed, and guessed what she wanted next, while Bud went on merrily cheating acquaintances out of air. Since moving to the West Coast Jorge had quit, obviously. But Shirley always brought out his inner smoker, nagging him into the obscure corners to where his ex-kind was banished. That was how they had met during DVD. Project gatherings, bravely facing whatever miserable weather was plaguing them that day. There was something about that exile/refugee feeling that made it impossible to talk about science, which was all Bud and Carla (and – why lie? – also Jorge and Shirley and the others) wanted to (or could) talk about. So they had “clicked”, as she put it. Sufficiently similar to share passions and moments, too alike to share more. That’s what Shirley maintained, anyway

As if to prove that exact point she asked about the talk. Was everything set? Was he up to it? And the worst question of all. How did he feel? Jorge sighed. Portuguese, he felt very Portuguese. Emotional, he explained into her frown, one of Carla’s pet expressions. The girl that had escaped the sad territories of what girls are supposed to do, the smallness of Portugal in general. What she had left behind represented what was wrong with the world, fair or no. A story Shirley recognized as her own, although Jorge cringed at the thought of comparing cosmopolitan Lisbon to Nowhere, Nebraska.

The talk was OK, he added, not wanting to discuss the flip-flops in his stomach. Jorge was actually relieved to see Bud in such good spirits, given that the old lion would go first. He had almost maimed him with his pounding, what was he on? Shirley shook her head sadly. Medication, plenty of it. When they had met outside the Ballroom Bud had just gulped down his morning fill. He would do fine, as long as he didn’t have to talk for more than twenty minutes, his rib cage just gave out after that. Speaking of which, Shirley should go find him, before the mid-morning dose. Bud was helplessly oblivious, and would retire after the Meeting, Carla had been a real blow. Shirley was in her second round of job interviews, they’d talk more later, what was his room number? She left trying not to leave, puzzled by the look on his face. Until that very moment Jorge had never really thought of Carla as meaning anything to anyone. Beside himself.

Stupid, of course. Wrong. Where did he think she went, when she left the lab? (he didn’t, not really). And what about everyone else in said lab? Weren’t they entitled to feel the same loss? Many of them worked at least (at least) as hard as he did, as long. Some actually had lives they could go home to, once the pipettes were put down, microscopes turned off. Snotty kids with measles, lovers who didn’t understand the first thing about what they did. A book, a movie, friends, a Life. What a concept! No, no, no, no. Jorge had promised himself he wouldn’t “ramble on for hours” (as Ricardo said) about his (perceived, perceived) lack of living. Especially not to himself, on a hotel terrace, in the Pittsburgh sweat, overlooking that elusive river (one of the three, anyway) he had been trying to run to. Why bother? He always had excuses, damned good ones. Right now he was setting up his own place, trying to make it as an independent researcher. Watching over (and living off) Carla’s legacy, while trying to crawl from under its weight. The only spare time was spent at home (that was what he called his apartment), starting up the microwave and whatever game of whichever sport was on. A glass of wine, a bottle, some sleep. And he was ready again. Carla had trained him well. While managing to live a life he was no part of. At the very least, she had Fernando.

Jorge heard the typical din of a coffee break kicking in behind him, beyond the glass doors. The hasty feet of people storming the tables again. Twelve minutes, give or take. He didn’t want to face them all, face anybody. So he made all the right moves to light another cigarette, forgetting he had none. Never fazed, he pulled out a pen, puffed on it. It was what he had done in high school, trying desperately to look cool without having to inhale all that messy fire. Before social pressure and teenage girls got to him.

The herd noise died down, people disappeared obediently into conference rooms, the flood was over. Inside, the damp square on his back sliced his soul with a cold knife. He had leaned against the wall too long. The room, another shower. This time a long, deep, hot, soapy, trip. He felt his penis stand up for attention, and obliged. Too late to find out if he and Shirley were “clicking” sometime later. Try to get what you need, when you can.

Lying in bed, still dripping, he resisted the temptation of opening the closet one more time. Inside, three maniacally pressed shirts and a dozen bow ties (he feared the art of the tie knot) awaited a decision. Luckily he had only brought a pair of “good” pants and shoes, the combinations were not really endless. The day before, after an hour of mindless contemplation, he had decided to let fate and last minute haste choose for him. It was not like he was accepting the Nobel. He was just going to sum up, in forty-five minutes, Carla Cardoso’s triumph. Finding out how a fashionable virus worked, and discovering a reliable vaccine. Simple. Many years (still, a record-breaking effort for speed) and many, many people, efforts and sacrifices. But who really cared? So Jorge was delivering forty-five minutes of bottom line. Cutting through all the frustrations and dead ends, creating a neat story out of the hubris that was research. Of course other groups had made contributions, the competition for crucial bits of information had been fierce, luck had played its usual part. But this was the Carla Cardoso Symposium, the others could go find their own. Well, the lineup wasn’t ideal, Petersson was also presenting (couldn’t be helped, really). But Jorge came in last, he would make sure Carla’s efforts wouldn’t be sold short.

Rushing through his presentation for the twelfth time since the plane had landed he felt a longing for the good old days of 35 mm slides. Looking at them through the light, the ritual of loading up a carousel. More importantly, the slides gave a measure of depth. A few for a ten-minute presentation, a few dozens for forty-five. You could feel, compare the weight. Now, a CD for the digital projector held everything, it didn’t really matter how much was actually on it, they all looked the same. A few images and graphs, or a few dozens, who could say? He took out the one he was supposed to give to the computer technician, tossed it on the bed like a little frisbee (he had three backups, in different places). That was it, five years of his life, more of Carla’s and a whole bunch of people he had to remember to acknowledge properly. All in a thin, round, bright disk. He was not going to take advantage of the digital medium to make last minute changes (you couldn’t do that with slides). Enough was enough. He was at peace with his choices. Everyone had benefited from their stay in the Cardoso Lab, if the vaccine came through they would benefit even more. Everyone had something. In fact, Carla now had nothing (Jorge was too young to be religious). But she had had almost everything. At the very least, she had had Fernando.

Yeah, at the very least, Carla had Fernando. Which was appropriate, since Fernando was, unknowingly, responsible for everything. Unknowingly. The word rolled off Jorge’s tongue. He should stop. Without Fernando he wouldn’t be here either.

**********

The virus had first showed up in Durban, making its way to South Africa, it turned out, from the barren interiors of Mozambique. But poor countries are cheated out of even the most dubious of distinctions, and, once christened, the Durban Viral Dysfunction (some would-be comedian general practitioner must have been converting his VHS porn archive) never looked back. It had either remained mostly dormant for almost a decade or, more likely, nobody had bothered to notice it. No kidding. An infectious agent that finds its way into the nervous system, and eases you from your normal stable self into an unpredictable time bomb, of either irrationality just waiting to explode, or lethargy, just waiting to not happen. How would that ever register in the poorest slums, from Maputo to Cape Town? When AIDS, tuberculosis, cholera, violence and famine rule, who was going to notice a few people that started acting crazy? Extreme stress and demonic possession were the first diagnoses, courtesy of the Médicins Sans Frontières and the local populations, respectively.

Awareness increased slowly, as the virus spread from mud huts to the fenced, pearly white suburbs; from Southern Africa to Europe and the Americas, following the usual trail of migrants and refugees. Like everything else, it existed only after being named, in 1993. But a few more years were needed to understand what was going on, to understand what the problem was, or could be.

So it didn’t have the sexual connotations of AIDS, the extreme gore of Ebola. It didn’t even kill you. It just came and screwed you up in unpredictable ways. After the initial infection the effects came and went at their leisure. You never knew when it would hit, how long it would last, what exactly it would do, when it would happen again. You just knew it would be there, when least expected, making you act funny. And therein lay the problem. People are cheated out of control every day, in the most insidious of manners. But having a virus do it at random was too much. First because any loss of control is, itself, tightly controlled. Second, because DVD soon turned into a major issue, or became one of the biggest scapegoats in Western history, depending on whom you choose to believe.

The charade started in South Africa, when a government official charged with corruption in the diamond business claimed that his miscue had been caused by the “Durban Disease”. He had signed the fake shipment orders when suffering from an infectious episode, had no recollection at all of the whole thing. Or course, he had transferred his ill-gotten gains (of which he had no knowledge) to the Swiss banking system while under the influence of many other episodes. It was preposterous, but sometimes all you need is a preposterous “maybe”. Soon people all over the world were claiming DVD infection as being responsible for everything, from bad financial decisions, and “artful” accounting, to poor exam results. Even after the first diagnostic tests came out, it was hard to tell what the exact dimensions of the sudden epidemic were. Not only were the diagnostic tests very fallible (no matter what Petersson preached), but also many who claimed to be infected refused to take them. But it really didn’t matter. A problem (real or imagined) was perceived, wheels started turning, our (Western) way of life was at stake, free will in peril, something had to be done. Suddenly there were funds to research what had been, up to that point, an obscure virus. And Carla was right there.

Working for many years in AIDS and influenza, Carla Cardoso had made a name for herself, been cited as a leading authority for both viruses for more years than she cared to mention. But it’s hard to leave a deep imprint in overcrowded fields, and (after gaining all the tenure she needed) Carla had sought out different challenges, obscure delights to call her own. She kept the other research alive, of course, that was what brought in most of the funding, but was open to whatever turned up.

What turned up was a box from Portugal, samples from patients a doctor working at the Tropical Medicine Institute had collected from Mozambican immigrants. He suspected they were infected with this “Durban thing”, but had to clue at all as to what to do with them, his colleagues being more interested in AIDS. So he looked up famous virologists. Portuguese, to start with, always go for your own. And so Fernando Gouveia’s samples made their way to the Cardoso lab right about the time when DVD excuses started hitting the talk show circuits. Carla called an impromptu meeting and, to the dismay of many, changed the whole focus of her lab overnight. They were the first to apply for the big DVD funding available, and didn’t stop to breathe after that. Ricardo, Françoise and Lita had purified the virus, and figured out how to grow it in the lab. A huge team of collaborators led by Marc Schlatt discovered how it got into cells. Sampath perfected a method to detect it (but was scooped by Petersson), Kelley and Cesare mapped out the genome (and submitted the paper two days after Nature had taken Aimee Stuart’s, Petersson protégé). Jorge and Yukihiro wore out four different graduate students between them in the fastidious job of chopping up the two key proteins the virus used to navigate its human host, purifying them, trying to figure out what they looked like, how they worked, what could be done to slow them down. With John The Computer Guy (whose prowess with software was only matched by his total disgust for Biology and “slimy stuff”) they made simulated animations of how the viral proteins might function, narrowed down possible candidates for vaccine development. When Carla was satisfied they were on to something, Bud Wiley got called up from the minors for his final hurrah.

Meanwhile, papers from the Cardoso lab were coming out fast and furious, their importance overblown by the sexiness of their subject. All the big journals, Science, Nature, Cell, almost begged for the latest developments, and Journal of Virology and Virology (once gold standards for lab publications) were suddenly degraded to backup status. When the first (successful) vaccine tests showed up in Science (Carla had decided early on to favor “American Journals”), the general press made the triumph official. Carla Cardoso was “The Woman who Solved DVD”.

Not that everyone was happy. In Nature editorials, the British tried desperately to promote Petersson as a worthy co-solver. Which was funny, not only was his vaccine only half as effective (and hadn’t even been decently disclosed yet), but the soon-to-be Cambridge “Sir” was Swedish (Jorge was totally immune to the “pan-European thing”). Pointless anyway, Carla had already been featured on CNN seven times. The World had made up its mind. Right before she vanished.

One day she was running around the place like the usual tornado. What were the latest results, what was needed to complete any one of the many ongoing projects? Offering incredible insights left and right, expertly juggling temper tantrums and tender compliments to nag everyone on. Always pushing the right buttons to get the most of each of her lab members. Then the TV crews arrived for the vaccine announcement, the media circus camped out for a few days. When it left, it seemed to have taken Carla with it.

Of course, that was only Jorge’s perception. Crouching over his bench, staring into the computer monitor, by then he was aware of Carla as the vague, reassuring presence that tapped him on the shoulder from time to time, and nodded approvingly at some of his better suggestions. But she had lit such a fire under him, that he didn’t really notice that they had all begun to relay the latest results via email, that her schedule had started calling for more and more travel. It was only after the Science paper had come out, and the din died down, that Jorge noticed that Carla was nowhere to be found. Worse, he had gotten the fateful email in which she suggested it was time for him to move on, find his own position. He had done as much as he could working for someone else, it was time to prove he could do it for himself. She was right of course, he knew that. But the coolness of the hastily written, typo-filled sentences stung more than he could acknowledge. Especially when he found out others had gotten the exact same message, copy and paste, change the name at the top.

But what stung the most was where she actually had disappeared. Portugal. Bryan, her “administrative assistant” (Jorge always wanted to call him “secretary”), finally spilled the beans. Yes, she had gone to a two-day meeting in London. Via a five day stopover in Lisbon. Yes, she had presented back-to-back talks in San Francisco and Melbourne. But where had she been in between? After a while Jorge only needed one guess. And when she didn’t squiggle her way to Portugal, the old country came calling. In the immense form of the soon-to-be-divorced (god, how cliché was that?) Fernando Gouveia, a name and face Jorge had only been vaguely aware of, but now seemed to be everywhere. Never dwarfing Carla, that was impossible. But having this strange effect on her when they did show up together. A glow, the glow (that’s how Lita put it). So Jorge decided to heed the proverbial writing on the wall. He brushed up his CV, bought the suit that now rested in his Pittsburgh hotel closet, went on the job interview circuit. After that, things kind of just happened, and, with a barely audible whimper, it was over.

Jorge remembered his last lab gathering. A few months after the Triumph, a few days before he left. Carla rented out the local Aquarium for the evening, invited half the town, catered a lavish banquet that a famished crowd three times larger would have had a hard time leaving a dent in. Of course there were a lot of no-shows, and many put in token appearances, munching on a crab leg with barely concealed contempt. It’s not nice to gloat, and Carla was on a roll from the first sip of Merlot by the piranha tank, Fernando the quiet presence behind. But who could blame her? At his last lab gathering (he had declined a funereal farewell party, god how he hated those!) Jorge would have preferred a quiet evening with the “family that really wasn’t”, as Yukihiro aptly put it, in his inept English. However, this was not the same group he had joined five years earlier, just an average band of nervous wrecks hoping that they had invested in the right “next big thing”. They had, and now Carla was hot, going places. Everyone could see it; heck, Jorge would not have gotten the Assistant Professor gig (and a generous deal it was) if not for his suddenly-very-impressive CV.

The only dampener was when the cleaning crew came in at the very end, disposing of platter after platter of uneaten delights into welcoming dumpsters. Though thoroughly buzzed, Jorge had enough conscience left to feel disgusted. Carla read his face and tumbled over, the Merlot souring on her breath. In English, still in English, always in English. “Don’t go Portuguese on me now, Jorge! Don’t you dare! This is America, deal with it!” He hadn’t; he didn’t; he was trying to. But, as his former boss collapsed in the arms of her lover, mumbling in a tongue that was common to all three, Jorge reminded himself of where she was having her little escapades. Getting in touch with whatever roots were left, in a country she had despised for twenty odd years, going Portuguese-prodigal-daughter on him. America, indeed. You get old in mysterious ways.

Three days later they didn’t manage to meet at the airport, he going west, she headed east, home. No fond farewells, no tense good-byes, no sincere thank-you looks.

Jorge dialed room service for some light lunch, wiped his face dry. People were not a viable menu option, right now.

**********

He woke up from a paper-thin sleep, skimming the surface of dreadful dreams he was lucky not to have dived into. The past couple of hours had been spent twisting and turning in the artificial darkness, anxious glances at the phantom green glow of his alarm clock. Its progress was so slow, that when it dutifully chimed at 2 PM. Jorge was swept into a surprised frenzy. To top it off the phone rang. Shirley. How was he doing, everyone was gathering in the Ballroom, shouldn’t he be getting ready. Fine, good, yes. He was vaguely aware that most of his colleagues considered him to be “weird” (actually, he didn’t know the half of it), probably thought he was experiencing some sort of meltdown. No, he was just sweaty and uncomfortable. And very nervous.

His third shower of the day was slow, deliberate. He used it as a focusing point, to blank out the universe, checking items off, in preparation for the Mission. Hair, stubble, deodorant, underwear. Finally, the sacred closet swung open, and Jorge followed the game plan, taking out the first shirt he could lay his hands on. Pink, salmon, whatever. Which was excellent, there was only one bow tie that really went well with that, at least according to the clerk at the Men’s Wearhouse. Ten minutes later he swung the jacket over his shoulders, picked up the precious CD, slapped cologne generously around, admired the mirror. He was the Man, he was It, he was Hot. Go, go, go!

The door slammed behind him, and the cleaning lady stepped aside as Jorge skipped to the elevator, throwing uppercuts and jabs at invisible opponents.

{to conclude next week...}

Related Inforation:

© 2007 João Ramalho-Santos

The author dedicates this story to Kristen Grace.

Don't miss the author's previous fiction on LabLit.com.