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Fiction

Suit: Part II

From the LabLit short story series

João Ramalho-Santos 5 October 2008

www.lablit.com/article/422

This was not the science they usually discussed, where minds are swayed by data, something grander that the arguments and those who make them. This was personal taste

Editor’s note: We are pleased to present the conclusion of a two-part story about a scientist's unusual purchase.

Immediately after pulling into the parking lot of the closest mall it became obvious to Jackson that, in his haste, he had picked too many little helpers. Selecting colleagues for wardrobe prowess was not something he had done before. In lab coats and at casually relaxed parties they all looked the same to him, at least from that standpoint. But their clashing tastes were immediately obvious as, lab coats discarded, they roamed the discount stores and the higher end boutiques, fiercely arguing colors, styles, brands.

This was not the science they usually discussed, where minds are swayed by data, something grander that the arguments and those who make them. This was personal taste, where data truly didn’t matter, and nobody wanted to yield. Once an almost deluded freedom lover, Jackson found he hated this particular diversity on principle. But he was stuck: might as well try to learn something. Black and White were apparent dividers. Either the only right colors, or too funereal or too bright, respectively. Dark blue drew the most indifference. It seemed somewhere in the grey or brown/beige area lay the consensus.

An hour into the process (just figuring out Jackson’s size had been a challenge) the only thing that had been decided was no one was comfortable with Jackson’s descriptions of available shirts, shoes, ties in his wardrobe. They were going for the whole package. And, being people of logic and vision, the lab realized they would have to manage a simple compromise, that would insult no one, and get them all back to work. A brown/yellow ensemble seemed to work best, and was also voted in by the remaining colleagues back in the lab, to whom someone quickly sent pictures from a cell phone, Jackson posing as a scarecrow trying to pose as a mannequin. On the small screen the suit seemed to set off an odd orange glow, blurring, engulfing Jackson in its aura. It worked.

Once the main piece was decided upon the rest seemed incredibly easy, especially after an old school retail clerk, out of retirement because he couldn’t afford it, took an interest, and explained to the hodgepodge gathering what went well with what. Jackson actually cherished the challenge. Neither science nor life had been helping him much lately. The issues the lab was tackling were lofty, but still far from any real applications; the issues with his son and new unborn house were too real. Choosing the right shirt color and tie pattern seemed both innocuous and oddly profound, especially when an obviously wrong choice was made. He didn’t even notice how his party dwindled, colleagues well aware that the panic had subsided, assistance no longer needed. Some of them even thought of warning Deirdre about her shopaholic partner, a malady quickly cured by an acute case of credit card statement. At any rate, they left. After the clerk had managed to dig out his register from under the pile of toppled spoils, and had neatly folded every single piece into crisp stylish bags, Jackson walked alone into a stretch of parking lot, proud with a job well done.

Back home he carefully displayed the suit and shirts and pullovers and ties and shoes and belt and endless socks and underwear and even luggage, trying to get Deirdre caught up in his trance, while keeping Ajax from joyfully trampling upon it. He barely managed the second, but never had any chance with the first. Deirdre had seen too many suits in her lifetime; she wanted to tell him that the stuff he had bought was just about as bland as what he already had. Just a different kind of bland. She didn’t, wondering, as some of his colleagues had, when the credit card bill would bring him back home. As for Jackson, he was too ecstatic with “different” to care about “bland”. Money? He had waited until all his fellow scholars were gone to use one of Daniel’s lab credit cards, solemnly bestowed upon him for Prague’s sake. Only he and Daniel (and a friendly accounting person with a magic touch for making irresponsible spending disappear neatly inside the budget) would ever know.

**********

Unlike regular meeting participants, plenary lecturers aren’t required to register, or even attend. Trendsetters need not concern themselves with what followers are doing; all they really have to do was show up for their own talk on time. That was fine with Jackson, especially after he sensed the disappointment in the locals that someone was filling in for Daniel. He just did his careless tourist bit, languished around until the time came to honor the suit.

It was nothing less than amazing. Everything unfolded perfectly, he didn’t miss a button, the tie knot came together at the first try; whatever their chemical natures, all fabrics felt as if they floated a micron above Jackson’s skin. In the end there was a man in a mirror. Vaguely familiar, but what was he, what did he, like? Jackson couldn’t say he knew, just that a strange sense of trust engulfed him, and he was powerless to fight it.

It was pathetic. This much Jackson did know, knew that the man had no choice but to move whenever he did. Just a recently groomed person in a suit, proper though it all was. But still. Was this the gravitas senior scientists were supposed to carry around, or just how confidence scams worked?

As he made his way to the auditorium all the confidence wavered somehow. Daniel had been spot on, the place seemed like a display for high-end shoppers, and Jackson’s just another suit, its strength sapped by uncountable siblings. However, it was still his suit, his metamorphosis, his power. As he stepped up to the microphone, the lights went down, the suit glowed. At that exact moment Jackson may not have remembered every word of his prepared speech, but the suit was ready to deliver them all, to a reception of thundering applause. A few days later that was pretty much all he would tell a bemused Daniel, who, as a good micromanager, would be somewhat angry for not being able to know exactly how he had been impersonated. And by whom.

Perhaps Daniel would have been a bit more upset if Jackson had volunteered his post-talk adventure, while parading the gala dinner hall. Karen, the hand said, holding itself out. Jackson shook it suddenly remembering who the hand was attached to. Karen Joseph from the old days, although hard to recognize without her lab coat. And she wanted to know what Jackson’s plans were.

Plans? To get on a plane home before jet-lag killed him. No, wrong answer. Karen’s smile took on a different hue, professional, steely. She had barely recognized him, and Jackson immediately sensed this was a compliment. He had given a magnificent talk, confident, secure; clearly he was finally ripe to move on. So, she repeated, what were his plans? Finally Jackson remembered where Karen had moved to. Another University Hospital she was Dean of Research for, somewhere. She was in Prague to gauge possible recruits. And there was plenty of available lab space Jackson could occupy, a start-up package, a salary, benefits. All negotiable. Negotiable, of course, if there was a reason to negotiate. If Jackson had plans. To leave Daniel, to form his own group. And, to Jackson’s utter surprise, he found himself having plans, and earnestly discussing them, leaving with Karen’s card and promises of an arranged visit, a draft of a contract, a possible appointment for Deirdre at the legal department. And too many questions, most of them not rhetorical.

In the darkened hotel room the suit came off as effortlessly as it had conquered the body of its owner. Jackson was just about to return it to its protective Samsonite skin, but packed everything else instead; the jacket vest, shirt and pants watching neatly on a hanger propped on the closet knob.

Sitting on the bed Jackson again found the man in the mirror. A spent, naked, bleary-eyed man. Next to his mirrored self the suit jacket kept catching a sliver of neon light from somewhere in the Prague silence, shades of fire dancing along the sleeves. Jackson looked on, mesmerized by the patterns, drunk with confused sleep, seeing a different him inside the suit, confidently goose-stepping to podiums everywhere. The sleeves seemed animated, alive, moving towards him. Brown and gold Armani-like tendrils pleading for a return, demanding his body back; as ominous thuds resounded inside his skull, their intensity increasing with the suit's growingly spasmodic movement. Eager to abandon the hanger, reaching out.

Jackson stared it down.

The phone rang, and he didn’t know if he had slept. He must have. The wake-up call had crisply carved up the silent room, now bathed in grey, devoid of ominous thuds. A ruffled bed, an unmade suitcase. A hanger with a suit hanging on the closet door, quiet in its dawn drabness. Jackson was thankful for new questions. Had the suit been animated by a desperate wish? Or by the equally powerful pounding of lovers in the room next door? Most of all, should he pack it snuggly into its immaculate bag, or leave it as a token to Prague; to do whatever it could somewhere, and to someone, else?

In short: did he believe in Suits? That was the question.

But, Jackson thought, it didn’t need to be. Both possible answers meant he should keep it; it was either too relevant, and thus precious; or not relevant enough, and thus merely useful.

That was his excuse anyway.

Related information

© 2008 João Ramalho-Santos

The author dedicates this story to Luis Gabriel Sánchez-Partida

Read other stories by the author on LabLit.com:

Heat

Experiment

Limbo

Reunion

Tribute

Collaboration