Each Friday, [tweetthis]I post a photo and a bit of flash fiction. I keep the words brief because, you know, “a picture is worth a 1,000….” [/tweetthis] To find out more click here. I admit, I skipped a few Fridays. Still, for some reason Ray and Marla continue to visit me. Regular readers might remember Ray and Marla from other photo I took along my commute to the south side of Chicago. To refresh your memory or you want to start from the beginning, enter “Marla” in the “Looking for Something” search bar for this site.
Ray thought she only closed her eyes for half a second, but when she opened them, it was because her fingers, clenched under her left cheek, tingled with the numbness of sleep. She stretched and looked around. The murmurs from Marla’s and Trumble that huddled over hot cups of tea now came from another room. The science, the testing, the progress. Ray figured if she really wanted to learn something, she needed stealth. She tiptoed to the doorway, mindful of where her shadow fell, so as not to tip-off the two scientists.
Bright lights flooded black slate counters covered with neatly arranged instruments. A shushing came from table circulated stoppered flasks rhythmically. Erlenmeyer. Ray remembered from her lessons with Marla.
“It’s acidic, all right,” said Trumble. “Your hunch was a good one.”
“Any sign of nitrogen? What about Sulfur.” Marla spoke just above a whisper that failed to conceal her excitement.
“I’m betting on Sulfuric acid,” said Trumble. “Maybe. It’s a hope.”
[tweetthis]Ray didn’t plan to say anything, and she didn’t plan to step forward. Yet, her curiosity took over her logic, as she stepped across the threshold. [/tweetthis]
She peered at the bright orange test strip for pH. “Why are you hoping for Sulfuric acid? Doesn’t that eat up just about anything?” She riffled through the test bottles and color indicator strips.
“Sulfuric acid is hungry for water,” Marla explained. “There’s got to be water here, too.”
“Water trapped in the clouds and brought down to earth.” Trumble said.
Ray followed Trumble’s gaze toward the ceiling and for the first time noticed a skylight. The atmosphere was the same grey overcast, despite the aura of hope inside the room. Dried leaves from trees long gone clung to the edges. An skeleton curled tiny talons around a beak, as if forever caught in mid-day prayers.
“I’ll work on isolating a bug that can break the acid into hydrogen sulfide and water.” Trumble’s voice pulled Ray’s attention back to his laboratory. “Come on over here, Ray, and I’ll show you what I’m doing.”
Trumble took Ray’s hand, leading her to the water baths that rotated the Erlenmeyer flasks. He told her about the different strains of bacteria he grew and how he could isolate a bug that could digest just about anything.
“Once, I even found one that liked phenol.”
That meant nothing to Ray. She repeated the word in her head three times, and planned to ask Marla later, so as not to interrupt Trumble’s story.
“Every cell mutates about once every six million divisions. For something as big as a human it takes a long time to adapt to environmental changes. Our little friends can change and adapt to just about anything because one cell equals one individual and some can divide every 30 minutes, changing and adapting almost as fast as the world around them.” Trumble paused and waited for Ray.
“And that’s what’s in the flasks?”
“Different organisms and different media.”
Marla chimed in, “You might say that Trumble creates different worlds for his little friends.”
Trumble chuckled softly and stroked one of the flasks. “Multiply and show us the stars.”
“That reminds me of a story from the Bible,” said Ray.
“Of course,” said Marla. “Trumble is a religious scholar, too. One with a sense of humor.”
“Enough of that. Your instincts were good. If you see something, take something. It could mean something.” Trumble said. “And, this time, I’m sure it does.”
Trumbled moved to another bench and removed a steaming beaker of brown sludge. “Dinner, anyone.”