By Michael Coombs
On Friday, it rained. The rain would dish around the edge of each curb like a finely-pointed spider until dripping down helplessly into the sewer grates. Sarah walked by and felt like someone was watching her in the reflection of each puddle.
“Sarah! Sarah!!” A voice was calling, but she didn’t know or really care who it was. She turned around, and up came running a big, white boy, burly and wearing flannel and jeans. He’d fit in back home in Johnston County but not here in the city.
“Oh, hi,” she said casually, like she knew him.
“Hey,” he breathed heavy, exhausted. “Did you do the group work yet? For Geology?” She blinked and tilted her head. She didn’t remember anything about Geology class. She just went earlier today, and the most she remembered was that the igneous rocks were good or something. Something.
“I was just heading to the library to do it now,” she giggled. Lies. Oh well.
“Good, good,” he heaved. “You didn’t respond to the group text yet, so y’know. I was worried.”
They stood in awkward silence for five seconds. She was about to just come out and ask him to leave.
“Alright, I’ll see you later!”
Off she went walking, down, down, down. The street kept unfurling around her, and it wouldn’t stop. People walked past and brushed her arms, and it felt like two-feet pricking needles every time. Grandma’s sewing lair. She was shaking a little, and she wanted to get back to the apartment before she went crazy. Maybe this was withdrawal.
Soon, she entered the library, but of course she was not going to do the group work because that shit was pointless. She went up the stairs, two flights (STEP, STEP, STEP), past two more burly guys and a girl who was a cheerleader who had purple eyes. She slipped past someone holding the door, and just a few feet down on the right was Dr. Chopper’s office.
“Hello? Dr. Chopper?” She leaned her head in. “We had a meeting scheduled at 2, so…”
“Oh, yes!” He smiled gently. When he smiled, his face shined and he looked like a polished caramel apple. She cringed a little. “Ms… Allens. Sarah Allens. In BIO-101? Section 1006?”
“A pleasure! A pleasure. Sit down!”
She stepped forward and sat down in the rickety wooden chair across the desk from him. It felt about twenty years old, but more like thirty because of how many high sweaty freshmen had sat down in it. She set her bookbag on the floor and rustled in her seat.
“You e-mailed me asking about… what was it?” He paused and tapped a pen to his chin. “The personal project. Right?”
“Yeah. I don’t have a topic yet, so…”
“Right! Right.” He pulled up his keyboard and began clacking at it so fast she thought the thing would erupt in a shower of sparks. Soon it would break. Soon this chair would break. She rustled.
“Well, it looks like there are still a few options on the table,” he said absentmindedly, perusing the list online. “How about… osmosis? Osmosis. That was my favorite topic when I was your age. Wrote a thesis paper on it! I did, I did, I did.”
“Um…” She looked at him closely and didn’t really know how to process this. Suddenly, she didn’t like him. “No offense, professor, but I just can’t get interested in anything that’s left. I was, uh… I was hoping maybe you could give me a rundown of each one.”
“Oh! Well, of course I can do that. A quick rundown. As long as you call me doctor!” He looked at her sternly for a second before cutting himself off and laughing. “Kidding! Kidding.” She definitely didn’t like him.
“Well, with osmosis, the thing you have to consider is how the semi-permeable membrane is like a… bouncer. Yes. But water that gets into the cell through osmosis is like a substance that has an all-access pass past the bouncer’s grip. Water is like, uh, a VIP guest. But! Sometimes the club, or the cell, is just full to capacity with VIPs. Nobody in! Nobody! And in that case, regardless of their pass, the water, or that is the VIP guests, simply cannot come in under any circumstance, no. And when that happens, it doesn’t really matter what the decision of the bouncer, or I mean the semi-permeable cell wall is, or what decision they make, you know, because the water cells, or the VIP guests, will recognize that there’s just too many VIPs and they’ll refrain from going inside. Because the cell is full. With water. So, because there is no lower concentration to move to, the water will instead… Ms. Allens!”
“What?” she asked blankly. She gave him a dirty stare for the interruption.
“Well, you… you were dozing off,” he explained. He seemed a little embarrassed. “I… oh, I’m sorry. When I talk about osmosis sometimes I just get carried away. It excites me! It does!” He cleared his throat. “Oh, but science isn’t the way for everybody. Really, Ms. Allens, just pick one and write 500 pages on it. It doesn’t have to be good. Just use—”
“500 pages?!” she blurted out.
“What? Yes, 5—oh! Words. 500 words. Wahahahaha!” he laughed fully and heartily. Sarah stared.
“Yes. And use Grammarly! Most teachers say not to, but hey, this is biology. Who gives a flip?” He chuckled at his clever little censor. “Any other questions? I can explain the others, if you want to hear more analogies…”
“Uh, no, no,” she rose to her feet and grabbed her bag. “That’s good. Thank you, professor. Uh, doctor.”
“Good,” he said crossly, then laughed. “Kidding! Have a good day, Ms. Allens!”
She left the office and went back down the stairs (CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP), into the lobby, through the tables past the librarian, through rows of shelves, and sat down in the back and opened her computer. She took in a deep breath and brought her fists down with great force—SMAAAASH!
Shrieks erupted around her while she laughed at the sight. Bits of busted plastic, and above, showers of sparks. Just like she hoped.