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The witching hour

From the LabLit short story series

Polly Ashford 26 January 2012

There is enough alcohol coursing through her veins to reassure her that coming here is a good idea

It's midnight.

There is enough alcohol coursing through her veins to reassure her that coming here is a good idea; a necessary detour on her way home. After all, she wouldn't sleep knowing that she had left a new student to shut down the lab for the night.

After walking through a light, cool rain descending from the darkness, the fluorescent glare of the strip lights is jarring and unpleasant. She pauses in front of the lift, her finger hesitating over the button. Unwise, perhaps, to use it when there is no one around, but it's either that or the stairs, and she can't face the effort. As it is, the lift carries her safely to the third floor with merely an echoing groan.

The long walk down an endless corridor is punctuated by sideways glances; each doorway examined for signs of life. Nothing. Finally, she reaches her lab, and force of habit makes her check the door of the office opposite, but it is closed. Even he has gone home. She punches in a familiar set of digits and the lab door releases with a beep. She stands in the darkness for a moment, leaning back against the heavy wood, and releases a gentle sigh.

It's peaceful. The only sounds she can discern are the rapid ticking of the watch on her wrist and the low whir of a chiller in the corner. The freezer kicks in and adds a few clicks to the symphony. Not entirely silent, and not entirely dark either. There are pinpricks of green light that she struggles momentarily to place; a computer screen on standby, a hotplate running in the fume hood, and, unsurprisingly, a forgotten water bath still heating to 37 degrees. Her eyes grow accustomed to the grey film of moonlight struggling through the bank of tinted windows, and now she can make out the edges of the benches and cupboards.

She perches on a wooden stool and rests an elbow on her bench. The weight of perpetual tiredness dissipates in the absence of things to do.

It's soothing to just sit and watch and think.

In eight hours she will have to share this space again under the glare of the lights, exchanging pleasantries, moving sideways to pass without touching, answering questions posed at inconvenient moments... But right now, she's alone. The calm, the solitude, the space; she could almost believe it was all for her.