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Lab noir

A man's gotta have a skill

Nik Papageorgiou 11 December 2011

Eyes pierce me with that unforgiving look that only a white coat can hold together

Note: To be read with gravelly, Tom Waits-like voice:

Water on my face and when I look up, it's raining. Icy droplets fall off my hands and it takes me a very long time to look at them. When I do, they feel disconnected and foreign. Reverse amputation.

It's not every day that you kill your best friend.


Not exactly friend.


Two hours ago and I'm staring straight at the bottom of a flask. Keeping my mind perfectly empty. It's a skill I acquired a long time ago. It's the same skill that's got me doing what I do, and doing it so well. Man's gotta have a skill. You haven't got a skill, you haven't got anything.

Time ticks away on the old clock over the door. Rain outside won't let up and I wonder if I'm ever going to be the same again after this. It's not like I haven't done it before. I'm, as they say, confident in my profession.

It's just that this, as they say, stretches me outta my comfort zone. Way outta my comfort zone.

Ditch of a lab and ugly music on the old speakers. Fog outside and the muted taps of heels on the pavement. My right hand spins a syringe on the bench’s smooth surface and my left hand taps a rhythm I heard a long time ago.

The waiting. Hardest part of the job. Seconds plunging into oblivion and plenty of time to think about how there's no outcome is certain. Plenty of time to dig up stories about how it went wrong, how the X factor kicked in, how you were surprised and not in a good way.

Plenty of time for memories. Plenty of time for that chill to run down your spine and tell you things you don't want to hear.

Plenty of time for doubt.

Rain's falling harder now and raps the windows like a machine gun. Short bursts, then long, sustained fire. Combat flashback and the voices around the lab fall silent like a tomb. Eyes lift up from hunched shoulders and look outside. Grey and fog. Kind of day that'll weep for you.

Weep with you.

It's time. My stool makes a quiet scrape when I push it back, like a child's whimper. Eyes turn from the windows and pierce me with that unforgiving look that only a white coat can hold together and my feet take me to the cupboard on the left.

It takes me a while to get the Virkon out. Maybe doubt. Maybe memory.

In the end, everything dies.

I'm back at my bench and the eyes haven't skipped a beat. Don't do it, they whisper. There's no going back. This is a bridge you'll have to burn.

My hands are steady with the bottle's cap. I've been burning bridges my whole life.

Ugly music still blaring out of the speakers, but someone turns it off as if to mark the occasion.


Quiet gurgle of the Virkon, like a death rattle.

It's close now, and my face feels like it's carved on stone. Feel nothing. Just do.

It's my skill.

Man's gotta have a skill.

A couple shakes of the flask, and I tell myself that's not the sound of HeLa cells dying.

I tell myself that's just the rain falling outside.


Two hours later and I'm out, looking up, and then down, looking at my hands.

I tell myself it's what I do.

Thoughts, stories, memories, doubt.

I tell myself the rain washes it all.

I tell myself the rain is my Virkon.