Choose your own adventure

The Third Component: Part III, Chapter 38

Alison Christy 12 July 2009

Something between logic and biology, between choice and destiny, between reason and desire: a third component

Editor's note: We are pleased to present the concluding chapter of The Third Component, a novel by Alison Christy: a scientist at loose ends after earning her PhD sets off to Russia in search of a missing piece of her family's past. Catch up on all previous chapters by using the navigation tool at the top right.

Chapter 38

The Interpretation of Epigenetic Data: A Systematic Qualitative Uncertainty Analysis

Tomsk, Russia, August 24, 2000: The shower is simply a tiled room with a spigot in the wall, located down the hall from her room at the Hotel Sibir, no cleaner or fancier than a high school locker room. Her clothes have been folded together in one corner of the shower and she is sure they will be soaked when she puts them on to walk back to her room. Still, it is amazing the difference a shower makes, the warm water drumming heavily against her scalp and her shoulders, the shampoo lather dripping down her neck and over her body. She scrub the skin off her arms and legs with a washcloth, leaving them red and tingling, like she is finally scratching an itch that has always been there, an itch so deep that she had forgotten about it. She imagines the days and weeks of grime pouring off her body, lifted by the soap and swept down into the grate on the floor, sweat and mosquito repellent and dirt and skin, leaving her clean and naked.

She took the ferry back to Tomsk from Kolpashevo, and on her way from the pier to the Hotel Sibir she stopped by an internet café, a little dark basement occupied by five young, pimply men and the sounds of canned violence and gunfire. She dropped her duffel bag down by the computer and sat down. She had left her rolling suitcase behind in Krolosk, along with everything else she could think to give to Laima, and in the internet café she counted her change meticulously to make sure she had enough rubles to pay for the computer time.

She wanted to give Laima all the money she had with her. It was such a small amount to Anna and so much to Laima – she couldn’t even imagine how the old woman would make it through the winter alone. But Laima refused again and again, pushing the money away, mumbling and stroking Anna’s hair.

Finally Anna offered to buy the old wooden kokle that Laima’s husband made. Laima gave her the instrument, pressing it into Anna’s hands, but she wouldn’t take any money for it.

Anna gave the rubles to Mariya and asked her to take care of the old woman. “I trust you,” she said. “Just make sure she has enough to eat.”

She gave Mariya an amber bracelet from Latvia, and they hugged each other. Anna said she would write, and she said that Mariya and Alexei should come visit her in America. She picked Alexei up and hugged him, too: her almost-son.

On the muddy shore by the boat, Laima hugged her one last time, and said, “Tell your mother I love her.”

It was one of the most coherent things Laima had said over the past few weeks, demonstrating an understanding that Anna’s mother could be her daughter and still alive, but living somewhere else.

Anna was happy for her; if it made Laima happy to think that her children were alive and thriving, that her entire life wasn’t destroyed when she was deported to Siberia, then why should she dispel the illusions of a lonely old woman?

And it felt good to pretend that it was true: to let herself believe, even just for a moment, that these deportations had meant only a small separation of time and distance, and not the rending of their two families. It was better than thinking about what it meant to not find her grandmother in Krolosk. It was better than considering the fate of Laima’s three daughters and first husband, and then to imagine all the hundreds of deportees, and their families, and the people at Pushkin Square.

It was better just to hug Laima, and tell her she was loved and missed, because it might have been true, somehow.


At the internet café in Tomsk, Anna opened her email.

Frank Porterhey
Milda Forsch Ozolins(no subject)
John McLoughlinRe: Re: Re: Re: Fwd: new protocol for viral transduction
V. ForschFwd: Fwd: don’t break the chain!!!

Anna crossed her fingers before she opened Frank’s email, though she didn’t know what she was hoping for. The problem with choosing your own adventure, she thought, is that you never know what the ideal ending is before you start.

From: Frank Porter
To: Anna C. Forsch
Subject: hey

they found michael perch in london. he was traveling under an assumed name. thought you’d want to know.

She laughed out loud and leaned back in her chair. It was somehow so funny that Michael Perch had been found. She could fly to England and find him, or she could follow him back to America, or wherever he turned up next. She could hunt him down like an elephant on safari; there was absolutely nothing stopping her.

But the very idea was ridiculous. Why would she hunt him down when she knew where he was? The absent messenger had been localized: the work was done and the paper could be published. She had been scooped, once again.

It was strangely satisfying, as though finding him had become a heavy responsibility, the only one left in her responsibility-free life, and now it had been lifted. She was completely free, just as she had been at the beginning of the summer.

She started to reply to Frank’s email, but she didn’t know what to say. There were so many things he didn’t say, so many careful omissions that would need carefully omitted responses. He must have assumed that she would travel to London, or to wherever Michael Perch was. He assumed she still wanted Michael Perch.

She typed a sentence and deleted it. She typed another sentence and deleted that one, too.

Then she started a new e-mail to her family:

From: Anna C. Forsch
To: V. Forsch, Milda Forsch Ozolins

Dear Mom & Millie,

I just got back from Krolosk and Kolpashevo and I haven’t showered in days, so this will be quick. The Laima Lapegale in Krolosk doesn’t seem to be related to us. Just a coincidence, I guess. I’m sorry about that but I had a good time on the island and I’ll tell you all about it soon.

I’ll give you both a call when I get to Moscow. I think I’m planning to stay there for a couple of weeks, until my visa runs out.

Love you both,

She sent the message, closed her email and hurried back to her hotel for a shower. She was halfway there before she realized that she’d forgotten to read John’s letter.


She pulls the damp clothes on over her damp body and hurries barefoot down the hallway back to her room. After locking the door, she sits on the shiny orange coverlet and holds Laima’s kokle on her lap, strumming it lightly. The instrument is cracked and painfully out of tune, but she likes the feel of the thin strings and the weathered wood in her hands. It is lifeless, like Aunt Lidija’s teacup and the Church of St. Basil the Fool for Christ, but for the rest of her life she will be able to pluck the strings and remember the time she spent in Siberia.

She mutes all of the strings with one palm and strums noiselessly while she sings: Dziedot dzimu, dziedot augu, dziedot mūžu nodzīvoju

Singing she was born, singing she grew up, singing she has lived her life.

There is only one person she can think of, in the whole world, who would love to see her new kokle, who would be as enthusiastic about it as she was, who would help her get it fixed and tuned. Who would teach her to write her own songs, who would even sing them with her.

And she thinks that maybe the new Anna would be better at Moscow – more competent, able to handle herself. She has the rest of her life to go back to America and make decisions and plan things. She is, after all, only thirty.

Of course, these may just be rationalizations for something that is purely biological. Predetermined from the moment she was conceived, written on the DNA inside her cells like a strip of paper in a fortune cookie, woven into a tapestry of proteins that created her body and her mind, foretelling each desire and fear that would unavoidably possess her until her predestined death.

Or possibly it is something else. Something between logic and biology, between choice and destiny, between reason and desire: a third component.

Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, she could only choose between the few options she was given; and all she knew was that she would probably (possibly, maybe) be less happy if she didn’t go to Moscow to find out if he still wanted to see her.


In this study, we demonstrated that the woman identified by Michael Perch as Laima Lapegale was not, in fact, the Laima Klavina who was born in Ogre, Latvia in 1921, married Karlis Lapegale at the age of eighteen and bore a single daughter, Verena Lapegale Forsch, before her eventual exile to Siberia, and is therefore not the biological grandmother of Anna Almanta Forsch.

While it would have been possible to deceive Verena Lapegale Forsch as to the determined identity of the Krolosk Laima, it was uncertain whether she would be pleased to hear that her mother survived the gulags and never bothered to return to Latvia and locate her daughter. It is possible that Mrs. Forsch would be happier thinking that her mother died wishing that they were together but pleased that her daughter was safe in America. Therefore we presented the data as honestly as possible.

Due to poor experimental design, we did not travel to Krolosk with a clear notion of what we desired to gain from our grandmother. We supposed that contacting a member of our direct maternal lineage would make our own lives clearer to us: as if our lives themselves and the paths we choose are in some way hereditary. As concluded by Mariya Dmitrievna (personal communication), it is possible that the Krolosk Laima, though unrelated genetically (natural grandmother) and not present as a surrogate grandmother during our upbringing (nuturing grandmother), could nonetheless interact as grandmother with a potential granddaughter, in a way that could be considered epigenetic, in the way that the Greek prefix epi means “above” or “beyond.” Thus further analysis will be necessary to determine the precise interpretation of the role of grandmother in this context.

We next examined the life and future direction of multipotent recent graduate Anna Almanta Forsch, Ph.D. While we were unable to determine any specific direction for her career, we have seen evidence of possible adult neurogenesis, particularly in response to environmental changes and novel stimuli. These data suggests several potential experiments, including a study of the acquisition of new procedural memories in the playing of a musical instrument abandoned in childhood (the Latvian kokle).

Regret is an emotion generated via counterfactual thinking, when the outcome of a choice is compared with a better outcome within foregone rejected alternatives.1 Recent neuropsychological data have stressed the fundamental role of the orbital part of the prefrontal cortex in the motivational control of goal-directed behavior, and thus a possible role in generating the experience of regret. 2

It is possible that the conclusion of any scientific study, quest, or romantic relationship will engender feelings of regret in the prefrontal cortex. However, we intend to dispel the current onslaught of this neurologic activity by returning to Moscow, to analyze the current state of a relationship subjected to irrational rejection. We will term this an observational study, as the variation in this study is not under the experimenter’s control.

Although the present study was designed to include a localization of the missing correspondent Michael Perch, his presence in the city of London was recently determined. 3 We see no reason to duplicate this data, as we no longer see this correspondent as a feasible life-partner. The progeny of said correspondent will also remain on the island of Krolosk with his mother, though future interactions with this progeny have not been ruled out.


  1. Garcia-Afonso, I., C. Kim and V. Miralles. (1993) Counterfactual thinking in response to economic loss: use of the Hargreaves model. Proceedings of the Society of Economic and Social Systems Analysis. January 15;204-216.
  2. Toska, L. C., et al. (2000) Relative rewards and the orbitofrontal cortex. International Journal of Brain Science, May;(1)3:1167-70
  3. Porter, F. Unpublished data.


This work was supported by generous funding from Verena Lapegale Forsch. The authors wish to thank Michael Perch for a thorough compilation of background information and Mariya Dmitrievna for assistance in data analysis.