Ever fallen in love (with someone you shouldn’t’ve)?

From the LabLit short story series

Richard P. Grant 5 May 2010

I remember taking a step back, not committing to anything. I'd been taken in before

It started so well.

We have been together for a long time now, ever since that gloomy Friday afternoon, the rain spattering against my tiny window, grey light from the iMac playing over my lab book. Fran walked into the office – do you remember? – and asked if I wanted to go to the pub. I shook my head, said I still had to work, try one last permutation of the data. She turned the light on and I blinked against the intrusion. I’d be quicker, she told me, if I could actually see what I was doing.

I rubbed my eyes, picked up a couple of the papers that had been sitting, accusingly, on my desk for a week. I skipped the abstracts, skimmed the introductions, read the results. Examined the figures. Re-read the results, checked the discussion. Called up the journal’s website and the high-resolution pictures of cells. Swore softly at the figure legends and the over-cropped IPs. Wondered, briefly, what the reviewers were thinking: if the paper had even been reviewed.

I turned back to the preliminary data I’d generated and pretended that there was no previous work; that somehow the published papers were fundamentally flawed (a mental exercise that was all too easy). I ran my finger down the column of numbers, clicked on a few links, double-checked, and –

And there you were.

Different from the others, somehow. Not obvious. Unconventional, but you grew on me. I remember taking a step back, not committing to anything. I'd been taken in before, and was wary. I was afraid to get too close at first, wondering if it would work this time. I determined to get to know you better, find out what you meant.

Everything fit together. It was perfect: you answered all my questions, and posed your own. We grew together. I told people about you – just a few friends at first, not wanting to share you, share us, with the world. Not just yet. But then I found I couldn't stop talking about you. I wanted everyone to know.

And for a few months we were happy. Everything we did together seemed to make sense, to be right. Everything seemed to vindicate those initial, tentative proposals; we were made for each other. There were questions – there always are – about you. How could I be sure? Isn’t it too early? I put them down to jealousy. I knew you were the one.

It’s not that cracks appeared. It wasn’t a slow fading. It was sudden, unexpected. It was a simple control experiment, one that would hardly have been mentioned in the paper. Confused and choked, I repeated the experiment, hoping against hope I’d simply mixed up the tubes, yet somehow knowing it was over.

Now I’m sat here by the window, sunlight picking out every detail on the goldfinches at the feeder, and there’s no other choice. Like so many hypotheses before, I’ve got to let you go.

It’s not me, it’s you.

Other articles by Richard P. Grant