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If Cormac McCarthy wrote lab lit

From the LabLit short story series

Nik Papageorgiou 19 December 2010

He came around from the bench and pulled open the drawer and he found the Kodak x-ray film and he caressed it

The sound of the lamina hood leapt up and filled the void like some tormented spectre out of the myths of the folks who’d passed before from this place. The folks who tasted both success and failure and left their bodily and soul’s imprint upon the room. Air thick with ethanol. He came from outside the corridor and let the door snap closed behind him. Then he stood there a long time like a figure in meditation, flipping the magnetic lab key in between his fingers. Waiting.

When he heard the footsteps he passed the key’s string around his neck and he stretched his calves and walked to the back of the lab. Heating wouldn’t come on for another hour and it was colder over there. He leaned back on the bench and he faced the door and he waited until the door opened and the man looked at him and they sat like that for a long time what felt like eternity and studied each other, heavy with an understanding born out of the samecast lots, the shared fate of a white and sterile place.

Mornin’, the man said.

Mornin’ to you.

It’s early. Still dark outside.

Don’t I know it.

Been here all night?

He nodded.

Got summin’ to show for it?

I might.

Bettern yesterday’s?

I reckon’.

The man let the door closesnap behind him and walked in. Well lets see it.

I figure we might have a talkin’ first.

About what.

You know about what.

You want first author. That it?

Seems like I earned it.

I ain’t seen nothin’ says you earned it yet.

But what if you see?

What then.

Do I earn it?

He crossed the lab and walked over at him slowly. As if considering but he knew he wasn’t. I’ll tell you what, son.


You show me summin’ good and I mean real good, we’ll get to talkin’ like no one’s business. But you wanna to roll big, you gotta have the cards to do it. Ain’t no bluffin’ in this game. Know what I’m sayin’?

I hear you.

So lets see it.

He came around from the bench and pulled open the drawer and he found the Kodak x-ray film and he caressed it a little and fast with his fingertips and then he picked it up like a sacred thing, like a nexus that held the past the present and the future all together in an inexorable knot. Something that filled the moment and weighed it at the same time. Fate he wanted to think. Wanted it all too much.

He passed the film to his supervisor and waited. The older man held it up against the breaking light from the window and studied it for a long time. When he brought it down again, it was like time had stopped and throttled at once.

Alright, he said.

Alright? It’s quite summin.

Ain’t that the truth.

So we gonna talk?

He didn’t answer for a while. Then he said, Do this again.

What’s that.

Reproduce it. One time ain’t enough. You know as much.

But we ain’t talked yet.

Don’t have to.

How’d you figure?

I’ll tell you summin, boy. You reproduce that, and we’re done talkin’.

Meaning what.

You git first author. Understood?

He nodded. Yeah, he said. Understood.


When the supervisor left he stood alone in the lab and watched the winter sunrise. He felt success like a vague thing, looming at the edges of the world and looking down at him. He wanted to see if it smiled at him, but it was still too far. Too impersonal. Somewhere out there and uncertainty filling the inbetween.

So be it, he said. World’s rollin’ in a void and sometimes it roll your way. Then sometimes it don’t. And all you’ve got is a Westernblot or a DNA prep or a cell assay to coax it with. What else you got.

He breathed in and reached out and picked up his white coat. Rough under his grasp and he looked around for the plastic red protocol folder.

Somewhere in the unseen world, there were data that hummed with mystery.