Saturday, May 28, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: The Greatest Discovery

Flash Fiction Friday has a challenge up this week, involving conspiracy theories. The challenge is to write a story involving a conspiracy that turns out to be true. This is based on one of the given conspiracy theories, the idea that drug companies possess the cure for all known diseases, but they bury them, preferring to sell drugs to fight symptoms.

I should say that I don't believe that. I don't believe in any conspiracy theories. I prefer Franklin's dictum that three can keep a secret, if two are dead. We can't keep anything secret.

That said, here's a little tale imagining what might happen if one were true.

Jeanette expected headlines, her boss appearing on the Today Show, her lab the lead story on every news show. After all, their compound had done it- taken down the Big C. Cancer was gone, consigned to the footnotes of history like scurvy. But there was nothing about it that morning on TV as she dressed for an early meeting. 

They had high hopes for the compound, of course- they always did. Biomedical research was like that- you were sure a molecule had promise, but it always failed- it caused problems in humans, or it was chemically too delicate, or it was expensive. When reality met the whiteboard, reality always won. 

But this one was different, Jeanette thought, carrying her lab notebooks, her morning Starbucks, her favorite pens, and her MacBook in a public radio tote bag up to the lab. They had an 8:00 meeting, and it was 7:56. She quickened her pace a little bit. Obviously, the meeting was to set their media strategy- all nine of them were about to be very famous.

The results they were getting were astounding. They tested the patients for everything- no kidney problems, no liver, no nothing. No side effects at all. And it stopped everything- lung cancer, skin, uterine, breast, everything they tried, it worked- zapping the cancer like it was a video game. Total remission, no side effects, as easy to take as Tylenol. 

Jeanette filed into the lab, the last one to arrive. Dr. Hay began as soon as she shut the door. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have had a setback. I need all your notebooks. We have scrubbed the servers of your emails. PK53 is no longer a project of ours."

Jeanette, never a quiet sort, spoke without thinking, "What setback? We haven't had any adverse events in the trials. None!"

"Ms. Wong, I have my orders. Everyone pass your notebooks to the front."

"We are releasing, right? We're applying for compassionate use. We have to be! People are dying!," Jeanette spat. 

"Ms. Wong, I dont need to remind you you signed an NDA. You can't speak about this drug to anyone. Ever."

"But Dr. Hay! You can't do this! Lives are at stake!"

Her lab mates were sheepishly handing in their notebooks. Jeanette slammed her coffee cup down, tan liquid sloshing out the top.

"You're burying this? Burying the greatest advance in public health since penicillin?"

"Ms. Wong," her boss began. "There are forces at work here you don't understand."

Jeanette looked up at her boss, stamping her foot once with rage, a gesture that made her boyfriend giggle, no matter how serious she was. "I won't let you do this. I can't," she said firmly. 

"You breathe a word of this to anyone," he said, "you'll regret it."

Jeanette grabbed her purse and stalked out the door. He can't do that, she thought in a white hot rage- this drug could save people! This drug could have saved my mother! She thought about who to tell, taking the stairs to the street two at a time. Brian, she thought. Brian worked on "Fresh Air", he'll get someone on the story. He'd probably think I want to get back together with him, she mused, but once he hears this, he'll know how important it is, and he'll get some attention on it. Jeanette was fumbling for her phone, walking up Eighth Avenue towards the subway, when she felt a man, dressed in black, suddenly looming up beside her and shoving her roughly into the gap between two buildings. Jeanette opened her mouth to cry out, then felt the heavy thump of something on her head. She saw red inside her closed eyes before everything went black. 

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: RIP Gil Scott-Heron

Friday, May 27, 2011

Blatant Self Promotion, Volume MCMXVIII

Pure Slush is a web only literary magazine founded and edited by my brother from another mother, fellow 52/250 alum Matt Potter. Matt has kindly posted today (or yesterday, or tomorrow- he's one of those non American time traveler types from overseas) a piece I wrote called "Just Ahead". Faithful readers of this blog (both of you) may note this piece has never appeared here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

100 Word Challenge: "Couch Potato"

Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge is firmly of the opinion that if Rapture did occur, online literary challenges would be taken up to heaven with all the good people of Earth. This week's word is "Starved" and my story is called "Couch Potato".

"Rich?", I said hopefully.

He wasn't listening. I don't know why I even try anymore. He checked out years ago. After the kids came, and then especially when I got sick, he just left, mentally. It's like he's waiting for me to die.

"Rich?", I asked again.

It was stupid to even try. He wasn't the man I married anymore. I'm lonely, I want to tell him. Just hug me, tell me that I matter, tell me that it is going to be okay. Lie to me.

"What?," he barked.

"Forget it," I said.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Indie Ink Writing Challenge: Young Americans

This week, my Challenge goes out to Lazidaisical, while I am challenged by the immortal Plaid Pants, who gives me "ruins at dusk", while neither confirming nor denying the color (or colors) of her pants. I call this "Young Americans"

"You have to travel," everyone told me. "You should go see the world. It will inspire you." I put them off, until my bank balance, fat from a couple of pieces that sold for more than I thought they would, convinced me I could. I paid my bills ahead, packed up, and left for a month, sketchbook in hand, ready to see the Old World.

It was unsurprising. It was old, and very beautiful. People were generally nice, understanding and accepting my ignorance and managing to explain to me, with pantomime and phrases from Matt Damon movies, where the public bathroom was. It was odd seeing signs with unfamiliar logos and words you couldn't understand. As an ignorant American, I got used to reading every flat surface around me, from the warning on a bus window to a vending machine, with subconscious speed.

I had one week left before returning to home and hearth. It had been a fine trip, and I had made sketches, and I had some new ideas. But I had a lingering wish that it be over- that I was back among people I knew, television shows I could understand, Chinese food I could order at 3AM. Rules and customs that I knew, friends that would answer when I called them. Culture was all well and good, but I was about ready to go home.

Our tour bus was making its way up a long, winding hill. The bus driver appeared to be a David Bowie fan, as he kept playing the same Greatest Hits cassette over and over as we kicked up dust behind us. We were at a set of ruins up here, broken walls and columns and old statues. The tour leader, a round bellied Irishman named Phillip, announced, as the daylight faded, we could push on to one more site, or just call it a day. I was all for the latter, along with a sullen teenage girl, but the rest of the group, the girl's earnest mother, several robust seniors and a single man, all voted to press on, so we did.

We finally pulled off to the side. I could see some stone outbuildings and another long wall. It looked more or less the same as the last stone wall we saw, but I held my tongue. There was a vending machine inside the bus enclosure, and I stopped to get another bottle of water. I put in the coins, but the machine wouldn't drop the bottle. Looking around anxiously for some sort of attendant, I saw only the single man. I hadn't spoken to him yet, but as I usually did, I had quickly sized him up as the only fit potential suitor on the bus.

I wasn't the most active person I knew. Not by a long shot. But I had my share of boyfriends, and people who would open their bed to me if I asked. I didn't dare on the trip- you never know what the laws are, never mind the rules and customs and niceties of coupling outside your own land. But in my typical fashion, I eliminated the others and settled on him. Whenever I was in any group, I would analyze it for potential mates, just inside my own head. If it was going to be any of them, it would be him.

I remembered a line I heard a comedian use about the actor Alec Baldwin: the closest thing to James Bond that you're going to meet on this Earth. That's what the single man was- calm, cool, and collected. Trim, with well fit, fashionable clothes and a shock of dark hair, he had noticed my distress with the machine. After nearly a month with no attention from anyone, my body perked up when he caught my eye.

He came up beside me.

"How many did you put in?" he asked. His voice was smooth, like a radio DJ or a lounge singer's would be.


"It needs four," he said, sliding one more of the strange foreign coins into the slot. I heard the mechanism release, and the bottle thumped down to the bottom. "I made the same mistake this morning."

"Aha," I said, removing the bottle from the machine. "Thanks."

"I'm Jacob," he said, extending his hand.

"Keith," I said, shaking it. Yup, I thought. I definitely feel something.

"Shall we go look at more rocks?"

"I guess we shall," I said. We walked side by side towards the group, who were gathered near one end of the wall. Phillip was talking about Roman legions as we made our way to the edge of the group. He didn't take my hand or anything so forward, but he seemed to deliberately stand near me. I looked at him in profile, his eyes focused on our group leader. I felt my heart pound a bit. Maybe this trip wasn't so bad after all.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: Livin' On A Prayer

The folks at Flash Fiction Friday have a challenge up for this week involving a list of ten songs with commonly misheard lyrics. The challenge is to take one of the songs, and write a story based on the title. This is my entry, "Livin' On A Prayer".

Kevin wasn't perfect. He was a little quick to anger, and he was a little slow to follow me if I talked too fast about too many different people. He wasn't the cutest boy I've ever met. His nose needed work, and his skin was kind of splotchy. His family was a disaster. But he worked really hard, and he would sit on the bed and hold me when I was crying, his heavy voice whispering, "Baby, it's ok," even if he didn't understand what I was upset about.

I was far from perfect, too. I could lose 20 pounds. I was no beauty queen. My face still broke out, and when it was that time of the month, I could be a raving lunatic. I was insecure at some times, and vain at others. I could be stubborn, and I spent too much money on makeup and girly things I didn't really need. I dragged him to social functions he hated, and made him watch and care about television shows he hated when he'd rather watch sports.

I sat on the edge of our bed and watched him sleep, his breath whistling slightly through his nostrils. We both worked crazy hours, plus I was still in school, but money was still a constant problem. If he was getting all his hours, and the cafe was busy, we could clear rent easily and even buy a little wine to have with dinner. If business slowed, or if one job or the other cut him back, we scrambled even to eat. I worried about it constantly.

The morning had been a blessing, a stretch of several consecutive hours where we could sleep in the same bed, murmuring endearments, falling asleep in each other's embrace and waking up together. For once, for 12 lovely hours, no one had to be anywhere. I loved Kevin, and he loved me, and I felt more sure of that than I ever had of anything. I accepted him and his faults, and he accepted me and mine. Alone among my circle of friends, I had no doubts about the man who shared my bed.

What happened this morning wasn't anyone's fault. I don't think either of us were entirely awake, and we did what adults do when they are half clothed and in love and alone. It was natural- without really thinking about it, we started it, and then it was done, and we were both asleep again. It was me who bolted awake, maybe 20 minutes later, not exactly ashamed, but aware that what had just occurred, enjoyable as it was, shouldn't have happened. Plan B, I thought immediately, staring at the ceiling, remembering a women's magazine article I had read in a flash.

I'm not stupid. I paid attention in health class, and I knew what happened when you lost control of yourself. Our constant money crunch meant that prevention wasn't always in the budget. So I plotted, and planned, and said no when I wanted to say yes sometimes. We talked about kids, of course- everyone our age did, and a few already had started. But we agreed, not yet. Not until money worry wasn't a constant, panicky nausea in my throat.

I slipped into a pair of his sweatpants and a too large t shirt. I pulled my hair back into a sloppy pony tail, found a pair of shoes and my car keys. I fished his wallet out of his jeans and removed a twenty, then found a matching one in my purse. I inspected myself in the mirror, making tiny tugs and adjustments. I looked horrible, but I couldn't spare the time or the effort to look any better.

I watched him sleep for another second. He worked so hard. I worked, too, but a lot of my work was standing around, talking and thinking. His was lifting and bending and stretching, his muscles doing the work, making him so tired some days he would fall asleep while talking to me. He wasn't handsome, he wasn't smart, but he loved me, and he was mine. I can't, I won't put him, put us, through this. Not now. Maybe someday. But not now.

"It will be OK. Someday," I told myself as I shut the door quietly.