‘Pudding’ by Beatriz Seelaender

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He was her favourite mouse, beating all others- Mickey (too obvious), Bernard and Miss Bianca (too cutesy), Jerry (too smug; she always rooted for Tom), Speedy Gonzalez (too fast), and Pinky (too stupid) and the Brain (too brainy).

If she had to pick a pair of fictional mice, she’d definitely pick Emily and Alexander- her favourite cartoon when she was a small child, also known as The Country Mouse and the City Mouse adventures. But even Emily and Alexander were, respectively, too country and too cosmopolitan. They travelled everywhere; you’d think they’d absorb at least an ounce of other cultures.

Pudding, her favourite mouse, however, was a real mouse- and therefore immune to all slightly annoying human idiosyncrasies that kept her from loving the fictional ones. Pudding was very clever, and plump, and he liked to be petted.

Liza knew she would eventually have to infect him with diphtheria or Ebola or at best syphilis. Her professors were always ready to inject something. And they were right- she just wondered if she had it in her.

The other day someone from the Liberal Arts building broke out a bunch of mice about to be infected with dengue fever and HIV. The hypothesis was that, since the commensal pegivirus has been known to considerably mitigate HIV infections, perhaps a virus in its family- the dengue virus- might be able to do the same.

One fifth of the mice were to be infected with HIV and then dengue, and another in the opposite order. Then yet another group would be infected only with HIV, and the other only with dengue. The remaining fifth was the control group.

Professor Callaham, who was responsible for the project, called for a general assembly once she heard of the break, which she deemed extremely irresponsible. In the assembly she reminded the students that while the freed mice represented no threat to the human population, the person who did it probably didn’t have access to this information and could have potentially released a lethal contagious disease.

Despite this, in theory, being possible, Liza found it unlikely that whoever organized the break out had no knowledge of the mice’s health condition. No one wants to run the risk of getting caught for saving mice that were already going to die anyway. Not to mention that in order to break in one had to know the passwords, or at least the security guard, Marv.

Marv had guarded the gates of research facilities for a decade now, like a patient Cerberus- although, since it is mice we are talking about, a three-headed cat is more like it. Marv of course had but one lonely head growing from his neck, which was neither too wrinkled nor unwrinkled and therefore appropriate for a man his age.

Liza actually liked him a lot; he wasn’t as scary as he looked- she was considerably more scared of her professors than of Marv. He enjoyed mustard on everything, really obscure Netflix shows, and learning the science behind dog grooming. Right now his huge shadow stood onstage a bit behind the Professor, which made him look like an omen or a prophet for misfortune- a look he usually strived for as a member of the Old School of Security Guardsmanship which did not care for these new unthreatening ways of carrying oneself while on-duty.

Meanwhile Professor Callaham spoke in between uuuuuhm(…)s in a very stiff and laid-back manner, in order not to appear stiff. She reported her views on the term the lab invader had used: “Stop the Mice Massacre” had been written in (hopefully) fake blood on the walls. Liza thought Mice Massacre would be a good name for a rock band, although there was already a band called Modest Mouse and that might generate some confusion.

Callaham calmly asserted that lab mice have no idea how to live in the wild and in addition are very well taken care of before they are sacrificed in the name of science. Make no mistake, said she; they would die anyway. This way they serve a higher purpose.

Liza realized she’d rather live comfortably as a lab rat in a sterilized facility- where she was fed and well taken care of (until she was killed)- than be a street mouse swimming on the sewer or being turned to shreds by birds of prey.

The bougie mice lived less, but they had a nicer life. There was a sense of balance to it the human social pyramid lacked completely.

But Professor Callaham was still talking- about the things she gets and the things she doesn’t get and the things she thinks she could get if someone would take the time to explain it to her. Then she tried to convince the audience that she used to be a vegetarian. Liza thought she was lying based on the fact that she looked downwards while saying it.

*

She had never given much thought to all the mice that had died saving the human race from diseases that had once wiped out entire populations- sure, some of them like the Plague had been spread by their ancestors, but still; all things considered, they had paid their debt to society.

College was, nonetheless, altogether a different story. You don’t really care about animals dying till you are the designated hitter- except for dogs and cats and maybe horses, and monkeys; and elephants and perhaps rabbits if you’re one of those people who won’t eat rabbits.

When one chooses a scientific career, she might wonder whether she is smart enough, or analytical enough, or whether she is sufficiently knowledgeable. It does not occur to one whether one has it in her to give a mouse stage four lymphoma.

And it isn’t that Liza found it unethical; she knew it was necessary. She had no problem with it as long as she was not the one to do it. It made her so extremely uncomfortable, she wondered sometimes if she would be able to handle this career. She obviously could not show that she was uncomfortable because as a female in STEM she could not find anything icky, or even acknowledge the existence of a word such as icky. When she felt like throwing up she had to swallow it back down. There was also the fact that feeling sorry for animals had such a maternal, touchy-feely aura about it, she didn’t want to draw attention to her gender. Women have always had to be tougher than men, actually.

But Pudding was such a nice little thing! He was different- not only did he look different, he had been in the control group for five studies already, which meant Liza had grown attached to him. Though she didn’t tell anyone, she thought of him as her pet, and brought him treats in between trials. He could recognize her voice and smell, because whenever she came in, he would start bouncing up and down to be noticed. Because the scientific method demands rigorous testing, Liza asked her lab colleagues to observe whether he did that with them- nope!

At one point she called the lab and asked to be put on speaker in order to determine whether voice alone could spark his attention. Her colleagues found it humorous that the mouse got excited when it recognized her, and yet they still treated Pudding just like any other mouse without such heightened sensibilities:

Pudding was, after all, capable of enjoying even the most exotic cheeses, and he also enjoyed classical music and jazz. Any human as sophisticated would be writing for The New Yorker.

So when it was time for Pudding to be infected with a nasty strain of Ostnederlandermeer-Smith Disease (O-Smith, a highly contagious Sub-Saharan infection); Liza simply couldn’t do it.

O-Smith had been deemed incurable so many times, everyone in the research thought Pagglia was out of his mind- he loved being told he was crazy, though; because that fed into the mad scientist mythology he’d been trying to create about himself ever since she was an undergrad.

Liza looked at the second injection, the one containing the rough draft of a cure for O-Smith as designed by Pagglia and a bunch of other grad students whose minds she did not at all trust. One of the grad students involved in this project had revealed just the previous week he thought Antarctica was a country- if he could not understand how something as expansive as World Geography, how could he be expected to visualize microscopic interactions? For all she knew he might as well think the common cold was a bacterial infection.

Perhaps if she had faith Professor Pagglia was close to finding the cure, she could have done as she was asked and given it to him right after injecting him with the O-Smith virus. She could have risked Pudding’s life in the name of scientific endeavour, like Abraham who was willing to put his son’s life on God’s hands. This, however, was science, and science is not about faith.

Furthermore, this project was on its early stages. Many a mouse would still suffer till a cure could be found. Then they would suffer from something else.

So she stayed longer than usual waiting for everyone to leave and she had injected every mouse with first O-Smith, then Pagglia’s drug; every mouse but poor plump Pudding. The look in his eyes was so trusting and clueless as she handled him; Liza simply put him back in his little cage.

*

She considered her options on the way home:

Find another mouse and infect it instead, smuggle Pudding out of the lab.

Problems:

  1. Where would she get another mouse? She could not break into some
    other lab and get one; it would put that study and the students
    responsible for it in jeopardy, and none of them would want to take the
    fall for losing the mouse, which would probably lead into falsifying
    results, the facts of which would come to light in a distant dreaded
    future, destroying the students’ now great careers, and all of their studies
    would have their funding pulled; and one of those studies could have
    been the cure for cancer or acne or whatever.
  2. Could she infect another mouse all the while knowing this was not the
    fate Science had professed for it?

Buy a pet mouse at a pet store and infect it instead, smuggle Pudding out of
the lab.

Problems:

  1. The same as item 2
  2. She would have limited information regarding the pet mouse’s health, and
    that might mess up the results.

She did not have to replace Pudding; she could simply smuggle him out of the
lab.

Problems:

  1. Minimal investigation would lead to her exposure.
  2. She would be ridiculed for getting attached to a lab rat.

Because Professor Pagglia had to welcome a university guest on the next day, she knew there would be a window for her to save Pudding. All she had to do was be the first one in the lab. Liza decided that given the urgency of the situation, first she would get him to safety; then she’d think of a contingency plan.

*

She took the train at five and arrived at six, said hello to Marv on the way in, rummaged her bag for the keys and watermelon chewing gum, and heard something strange:

“Oh, it can’t be! I can’t believe it! I can’t! But how? How?!”, it was Professor
Pagglia’s excited voice.

An infinite millesimal of a second followed, one of curiosity and realization and
panic. Pagglia wasn’t supposed to be there; why was he there? It didn’t matter, there was probably some mundane explanation like the visiting guy lost his flight or train or track of the time. What happened was that Pagglia was there talking to himself uttering a prologue to the word “Eureka”.

“Oh, Scheinberg! Good morning to you- you’re an early bird, hum? Good for you! Come here, come look!”

He had been taking blood samples from mouse RV-232, aka Puddington Pipton. Pagglia gestured toward the microscope:

“What do you see, Scheinberg?!”

What she saw was Pagglia filled with pure joy- joy as contagious as OSD itself- like a child showing their parents a new trick they had come up with.

Look, look, mommy! I found a funny rock! Look, daddy! I learned how to count up to a hundred! Listen! One, two, three… “I see… no trace of O-Smith, so far. But how?”, Liza played dumb, “Could it be that it hasn’t settled in yet? It’s still incubation period?”

“We’d still be able to see it, regardless of display of symptoms. Besides, all the
other mice are obviously showing.”

He pointed to Pudding’s unlucky mice friends, who were indeed displaying classic O-Smith symptoms: uncontrollable blinking? Check (though they had not yet gotten to the terminal winking stage). Random energy bursts and the urge to hang upside down? Many of the mice were swinging unstoppably from the top of their cages. Some had already started to eat off their own paws. Not Pudding, though.

“Scheinberg, were you the last to leave last night?”

“Yes. I gave them both the O-Smith and the drug.”

“And there was nothing different about this particular mouse?”

“I don’t really know which mouse is which, Professor. So no. It’s all logged on
the files.”

“Yes, yes, I know. This is remarkable, Scheinberg! This is history being made!”

“Sure, but it was just this one mouse- why did it work for him and not the
others?”

“We should have those answers in the biopsy.”

“No! Professor, sorry, but what if the biopsy leads us nowhere and then we’re back to square one because we’ve killed the mouse? There are thousands of interactions that could have happened there leaving no trace. We’ve got a Goose with a Golden Egg here and we better not cut it up and lose it. I mean, Mouse that has but one hole is quickly taken.”

“You make a good point, actually. You have quite a knack for proverbial wisdom there, Scheinberg!”, said Pagglia, “We must recreate the experiment with a different set of mice. If this one survived, chances are another will. And once we have got a reasonable sample then we’ll see what they have in common.”

“Yes, sir, you are absolutely right. ”, replied Liza- and then, worried she did not sound properly excited, said: “This is so exciting! I’m so excited!”

“I know, I almost want to scream Eureka, but I don’t wanna jinx it!”, said the professor, picking up Pudding and petting him. “Oh, screw it! Eureka!”

“That’s so great.”

“And you know what else, Scheinberg? Because you have been so dedicated to this research project, always the last out and first in- there is a real knack for this stuff in you, kid, you know- you get to go pick up Miriam Ostnederlandermeer-Smith at the airport!”

“Sorry, who?”

Liza had always been under the impression that Wolfgang Ostnederlandermeer and John P. Smith were two different people. Reading her thoughts, Pagglia said:

“Oh, it’s not the actual Ostnederlandermeer and Smith; it’s their grand-daughter.
Ostnederlandermeer’s daughter married Smith’s son. It is quite anecdotal, isn’t it? Always makes me think the world is pulling a prank on me.”

“It’s kind of nice, actually.”

“Quite! Now go, because you have to be there at nine. And have Miles send the files on Miriam to you. I was going to do it myself, but then I decided to have him do it, but you deserve this much more. Miles never does anything; being his adviser is such a nightmare! Just call him and tell him to send you the intel on MOS.”

If there had been no good way out of this before, there was none now. She felt like a mouse trapped in a labyrinth trying to find the cheese, except there were only walls. That was a bad metaphor- she was a scientist, she could not practice her metaphors because metaphors were irresponsible according to her high school AP Bio teacher.

Liza was also quite scared that Pagglia would change his mind about doing a biopsy on Pudding and not tell her until it was already done in a matter-of-fact kind of way; and then she would cry in front of everybody.

Nevertheless, there was a positive side to this: her chances of getting caught were now way slimmer. Because no mouse had been smuggled out of the lab, no one would think to look for anything funny in the first place. The authenticity of the study wouldn’t be questioned, since she had lied so well- she was honestly impressed with her ability to think on her feet- and now she was Pagglia’s favourite student.

As for the negative implications of her action (it was really only one action), she would rather block out them for now.

There was the possibility millions would be spent on a research she knew had no scientific basis, diverting sponsorship from other relevant, potentially life-saving, problems. There was also a high chance that once Pagglia realized this result would never repeat itself; he’d end up killing Pudding anyway.

Pagglia was so happy with himself, Liza felt immensely sorry for him. The peculiar grin on his face indicated he thought he’d finally get that Nobel Prize-his third cousin had won one and he could never stop talking about it. Oh, boo-hoo, Nobel Peace Prize, he’d say. Look, I got a medal because I helped some people! Big deal- any GP doctor has helped more people than him.

He had also once referred to the Nobel Peace Prize as “the Hufflepuff of Nobel Prizes”, a remark which would remain lodged in Liza’s memory until she died; somehow she was certain of it.

*

Miles Gardner, Professor Pagglia’s mentee, was already on his way to the airport when Liza called about accidentally hijacking his assignment- he was not thrilled, though he did send her the information. Liza found it weird, a bit creepy even, that Pagglia made his academic minions look up all the information on his guests, but she was in no position to judge anybody at the moment.

Intel on Miriam Ann Ostnederlandermeer-Smith by Miles Gardner MOS was born in Oxford, England, in 1980, to Claire Ostnederlandermeer (only daughter of Igor) and John P. Smith, Jr. Both were scientists, though not particularly remarkable. Smith Jr was a mild alcoholic, so it is best not to drink in front of his daughter unless she, too, is drinking. Do not mention the liver, either conceptually or as referring to one person’s liver in particular, for it was that most essential organ the cause of Smith Jr’s death on 1999.

When MOS was twenty-two, she moved to Brooklyn, New York, where she owns an “indie” feminist-inclined bookshop called Herstory (a pun, it is assumed, between “Her” and “History”, indicating a focus on women whose stories have been neglected by the academic establishment). Internet profiles show a love of travelling, ergo travelling seems like a safe, sure subject to bring up in a conversation with MOS.

HIGHLY IMPORTANT:

While most of us are used to shortening Ostnederlandermeer-Smith to O-Smith in a lab environment, she is not likely to appreciate that endearing nickname, as evidenced by the full surname’s presence in all of her profiles. In case one accidentally slips out an “O-Smith”, one could tell MOS they are talking to or about a person called “Smith” who has done something worthy of an interjection. If you happen to be present in the occasion that happens, promptly declare you are Smith, and that you have made a mess out of something (perhaps lab tubes).

FLIGHT INFO: 544 New York, Delta Airlines, 9:08 ARRIVAL. BUY CARDBOARD FOR WRITING THE NAME.

She bet Miles had bought a cardboard already and that was why he was so frustrated at having to go back. Thankfully Liza had time to buy cardboard and a magic marker and a Starbucks before the flight landed. She really only bought the Starbucks because she had run all over the airport looking for the other two things.

When she sat down to write Ostnederlandermeer-Smith on her cardboard she messed up the size of the letters.

People stared at her as soon as she held it up. She understood; it was like holding a card saying “Alzheimer’s”. They either thought she was waiting for someone with the disease- which would be insensitive- or that she had it herself, and was asking for spare change. In any case, Miss O-Smith was a bit embarrassed by it when she finally walked out.

“It’s not really that nice to have the name of a disease. People always think I’m contagious or something.”, she told Liza as they walked out.

“But certainly most people know that is not how diseases work?”

“Well, yes. But I think it’s an impulse-reaction. Like if you met Typhoid Mary; you’d flinch a bit. Then they realize that’s a silly notion, and they start thinking I’m the one who came up with Ostnederlandermeer-Smith. As if one could come up with a disease, just like that. It’s funny; my grandparents were always so proud that they were able to make a name for themselves, but why would anyone want to have their name associated with something so horrible?”

“Because it’s better than not having it associated with nothing at all?”

“I suppose, if you’re one of those people who are just dying for acknowledgement.”

For someone who spoke as if she were above the human need for recognition, thought Liza, Miriam O-Smith was quite desperate to assert her superiority.

“No, I know that, I was just thinking; that’s how they might have felt. I don’t need that sort of validation.”, said Liza, feeling that she was being judged for showing understanding.

“I mean, it’s just so unfair that they gave me this name. I’d have been happy with just Smith. There are thousands of Smiths in the world; I’d have fit right in.”

Great. Miles’ notes were completely inaccurate. She thought maybe he had sabotaged her, but in thinking it over Miles had had neither the time nor the savviness to do that. Most likely, thought Liza, Miriam O-Smith loved being Miriam O-Smith, though she did not love that she loved it.

“Then, if I may ask, why do you use your full name on social media?”

“Have you been cyber-stalking me?”

“Not really. We just look up some information so that we know what to talk to you about. But I wasn’t the one who did it anyway.”

Should she be sharing this? She thought everyone knew.

“You do this with everybody?”

“Basically, yeah.”

She had in that piqued Miriam O-Smith’s attention; and she gave a disappointing answer to Liza’s invasive question:

“There is already a Miriam Smith on Facebook- actually, more than one.”

“If you hate your name that much, though, why do you keep accepting these random invitations to look at our researches? I mean, no offense, but you’re not a scientist.”

“None taken whatsoever. I don’t know; when I get to places like this people treat me like I’m such a big deal… I get free airline tickets, great meals, people driving me around… It’s fun! I mean, the name carries some perks. My cousin Eric is an actual scientist and he doesn’t get invited to stuff, just because his name is Eric Smith. It kills him, really.”

So, you wonder why anyone would ever want any acknowledgement from one’s community, but you do enjoy being made to feel special by the people in that community, though Liza. But instead she said:

“Guess there is something in a name after all.”

“Yeah, they want to kiss my arse because they think I have some kind of power to, I don’t know, influence people into donating them money or something. It gives them leverage, too; anyone would back their research if I were backing it as well. It’s a strange notion; that I’d be able to judge which research should be funded, but it turns out that it matters what I think.”

And right there was an opportunity:

“Okay, between you and me, I don’t think Professor Pagglia’s research is very promising.”, said Liza

“Oh, wow. How so?”

“He thinks he’s onto something and I believe he’s just chasing ghosts.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I don’t want millions to go into a project that’s a dead-end.”

“But how can you tell it’s a dead end?”

“I can feel it.”

“That’s not very scientific now, is it?”

“No, it’s not. But I trust my gut.”

“In that case, tell him what you think.”

“I don’t want to upset him.”

“Learn how to be assertive. As women we are trained not to hurt men’s feelings, and that’s why men are such cry-babies when inevitably something doesn’t go their way.”

“No, I know that. It’s just, he won’t listen to me. He thinks he’s had a breakthrough with a mouse and I think the mouse is just naturally stronger. He’s been through many trials already, but Professor Pagglia is going to put all of his eggs in this one basket. Counting his chickens before they hatch. But the professor will obviously not let it go; curing this disease has been his obsession since forever.”

Why was she talking in platitudes? She sounded like a fifty-year-old kindergarten teacher.

“So you want me to tank the research?”

Those were some harsh words from Miriam O-Smith.

“No! Just… I feel like maybe if you could convince him that… I don’t know…It’s not the greatest way to approach the study?”

“I don’t really like getting involved in office intrigue.”

“Well, this is laboratory intrigue; it’s different. Lives are at stake.”

“I’ll… think about it.”

“Great, that’s all I’m asking you to do.”

She doubted Miriam O-Smith would give that talk a second thought. It was time for a drastic undertaking- suddenly, Liza knew exactly what to do.

*

“Come on, Marv, I’m not gonna rat you out.”

Pun not intended- okay, fine; pun intended.

“I’m offended you’d think I’d turn anyone in for a pastrami sandwich.”

She hadn’t really bought the sandwich for him; he just assumed. That gesture alone had Liza go from being 50% to 80% sure Marv had played a part in the break in.

“It’s not to turn anyone in. I just want to know- come on, you had to have known it.”

Marv was in no rush to speak. He took two bites of the sandwich:

“Why are you obsessed with who did this all of a sudden? Oh, did you bring any mustard?”

“I may need their services.”

“Are you crazy? This is already a minor scandal; I can’t let you do this.”

“It’s just one mouse!”

“What? Why?!”

“Because he’s like my pet mouse and I don’t want him infected with a deadly disease!”

She sounded like a whiny pre-teen.

“Do people know you’re attached to this particular mouse?”, said Marv.

“Yeah, but…”

“They’ll know it was you and they’ll pin the other break in on you on top of
it.”

“Fine, then I need the people who broke in last time- they get to free some mice and I get Pudding. They didn’t get caught last time; they won’t get caught now.”

“Well, they might escape, but I’ll probably get fired.”

“We’ll just do it while someone else’s on duty. Do you hate any other guards?”

“No, I’m not a hateful person, jeez.”

He was right- all things considered Marv was being pretty nice about it. He hadn’t even laughed at her. And she could see he was dying to tell her whodunit.

“Just… tell me who did it and I promise we’ll keep you out of trouble. I just want someone who supports mice rights or whatever stupid thing they said.”

“It’s not like that, though; it was Callaham.”, he said, clearly delighted with himself.

“Professor Callaham?”

“No, Ryan Callaham.”

“Who?”

“Hockey player? Plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL?”

“Tampa has a hockey team? Why? It’s in Florida!”

“Doesn’t matter, I clearly overestimated your knowledge of sports. Professor Callaham reached a dead end on her research and didn’t want anyone to know. She promised I wouldn’t get in trouble, so I ran with it.”

“So she just released the rats? That’s really imprudent.”

“You came here asking to do the same thing.”

“Yeah, but I’m a student. I’m practically an infant of the academic world. She should know better. But how did she do it without getting caught?”

“It’s her lab!”

“How do you find out it was her? Or did she tell you?”

“Okay, so; I know because the night this went down, she gave me a coupon for some really expensive restaurant that was about to expire that day. I thought that was shady, obviously, and asked her what she was trying to do there. She pretended it was sexual harassment but she was really bad at pretending, and so eventually she confessed her mice bail-out plan to me. I felt sorry for her, so I went to the restaurant after all. It really was good. In exchange for my cooperation she said I wouldn’t be implicated.”

“Wow. You are such an easy bribe.”

“I’m nice- it’s different. Also I was sort of embarrassed for her.”

“Do you think she’d help me with my thing?”

“I mean, on the one hand, why’d she care; but on the other hand, it’s insane how much these people hate each other.”

“Yeah, I know. Did you know Vargas is suing Vega for her parking space?”

“And Vega is suing everybody for spreading that rumour about her.”

“What rumour?”

“You don’t know? Well, I ain’t being sued.”

“Well, the only rumour I heard was that she was stealing Freon from Skiller’s air conditioning to make meth, but I find this sort of hard to believe- what kind of person would have a meth lab at her own lab? Like, where you have grad students? People would notice it.”

“Maybe the grad students were in on it. Maybe they got a cut.”

“Come to think of it, they did have a lot of coffee filters, but never any coffee.”

“I just don’t get why she couldn’t use the stuff from her own air conditioning.”

“It would look shady. It’s more random to get it somewhere else- especially from Skiller, who is cold all the time. Working on his lab is a nightmare.”

“Well, it backfired. If you’re breaking bad you gotta break better.”

“Good stuff, Marv; good stuff. Oh, but what did Pagglia do to Callaham, d’you know?”

“From what I heard, he wouldn’t pass one of her students and the guy had to wait a year to present his doctorate. And by that time a student of Pagglia’s had presented a similar research like it was his idea.”

“Woah. Pagglia is cold. I would hate his guts too. Do you think Callaham is in her lab?”

“No, I saw her go out but she’ll probably come back because she didn’t have her bag or anything.”

“Thanks Marv. You are quite the gossipmonger.”

“Thanks for the sandwich.”

“And such an easy bribe!”

*

I know it was you. Meet me at the Pixie Wall at 11 pm Liza thought the note was good enough. She didn’t take the time to have it printed out- especially since those things could be traced back- and she found the whole cutting out of magazines stuff a bit crazy. It wasn’t like anyone would recognize her handwriting. And she could have been talking about anything; really. It could have been a note from Vega insinuating she knew Callaham had been smuggling coffee filters from her lab.

It could have been that Callaham ate someone’s lunch without asking for permission. The more Liza thought about it, in fact; the more she convinced herself that her threatening note was not clear enough. So she added a little drawing of a mouse- now she had the opposite problem. So she got another piece of paper, wrote the same thing, and signed it as Jerry Thomas.

It so turned out, though, that going through all that trouble wasn’t necessary after all- barely had she decided on the position the note should occupy on Callaham’s desk (she had at first placed it inside a drawer and left the drawer only slightly open so that only the one sitting there would be able to see it, but then decided there was too great a risk she wouldn’t notice it, either; so she would place it inside a folder), Callaham herself entered the room.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“I was…looking for you?”

“Inside that drawer? Oh, what is this? Did you mean to leave this here…? I know what you did. What in the name of God is a Pixie Wall?”

“It’s the…wall down the hothouse with the pixie graffiti? You know; a pixie with pink hair?”

Professor Callaham did not know.

“The one that famous graffiti person made? What’s her name? There was this outpouring of frustration when the dean wanted to paint over it?”

“I don’t follow graffiti, Scheinberg, sorry. Now, why exactly are you blackmailing me?”

“I’m not trying to blackmail you. I mean, I was, I guess. But now I feel bad- I just need your help and that was my leverage. I need you to help me do the same thing with Pagglia’s mice.”

Liza thought she’d expressed herself well.

“You signed it Jerry Thomas? For god’s sake!”

“I know, I know, sorry. I didn’t want to expose you. I’m not going to tell anybody. I just- I messed up, on another occasion. I mean, I messed up here too, but I messed up Pagglia’s O-Smith trial really bad, and I need that control group far away from that lab.”

“The control group? How could you have possibly messed up the control group?”

“It’s a long story.”

“Scheinberg, if you want me to even consider helping you, you better tell me what the hell you did.”

“It’s more like…I didn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“I didn’t want my favourite mouse to get Ostnederlandermeer-Smith so I didn’t inject him with it, or Pagglia’s drug- and I was gonna fix it, I was gonna get another mouse, but Pagglia was way too early the next day when he wasn’t supposed to be there and now he thinks he found a cure for O-Smith.”

There were five beats of silence. Callaham looked astounded; like she had never known so explosive an amount of incompetence from a grad student; or undergraduate, or kindergartener.

Her eyebrows were so up her forehead Liza was sure a wrinkle was being formed right then and there. Liza for a moment wanted to punch herself in the face- why would she share this with a faculty member? How dumb did she have to be?

But then Callaham’s face opened up and she laughed for what felt like five minutes.

While Liza was thankful for that benign reaction, it did not make her feel any smarter. Callaham was in tears; her hands on her stomach- hurting so badly in such a marvellous way. Liza didn’t say anything; she had learned that when people had these sorts of reactions, saying “It’s not funny” will only ever make them laugh harder.

When Callaham thought she was done laughing, she got up for a glass of water- she might have felt dehydrated. Only then did Liza venture to speak:

“So, are you gonna help me or…?”

It was too soon- Callaham reverted back to her previous state, spitting the water all over the floor. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, she was supposedly saying, I just…

“Sorry, sorry, I’ll stop. We’ll save your…favourite…mouse friend, as long as I get to tell this story to anyone who can’t do anything about it.”

*

KINGSTON UNIVERSITY SEES SECOND MOUSE ESCAPE IN TWO MONTHS, VEGAN STUDENTS DENY ACCUSATIONS AS PROFESSOR IS SUSPECTED OF FRAUD

April 20 th , 2018

[KINGSTON, NH] Kingston University has been going through an animals’ rights activism crisis, as Dean George Denners puts it. For the second time this year, research labs were broken into and hundreds of mice have been released.

Marvin Slater, head of campus security, said labs are not considered a priority by the administration, and therefore do not require 24-7 vigilance. He explains that, due to their high-tech security system and password-protected rooms, labs are expected to be secured from 12 am to 5 am, when he reports back to duty.

The Dean confirmed Slater’s declarations, saying it was not the fault of the security guards. “It’s purely lamentable. Clearly the administration should have been doing it more to prevent it. We plan to increase security in those areas.”

When asked whether the university would seek external help, the Dean said:

“We are not planning to involve the police on this- for now we are just looking for the people who did this to come forward on their own. No one is going to be expelled over this.”

Professor Edward Pagglia, whose lab was most affected- out one hundred and one mice- disagrees with the dean’s attitude: “Whoever did this should be expelled and locked up, in my opinion. Among those mice was one who showed very promising reactions to an Ostnederlandermeer-Smith trial drug. This person may yet cause, in their irresponsible action, millions of unnecessary deaths.”

The granddaughter of Ostnederlandermeer and Smith, Miriam Ostnederlandermeer-Smith, who had been examining Pagglia’s study, was not as critical: “I don’t particularly like the fact that these mice have to die in order for people to live. I understand it’s necessary, but I see why whoever did this did it”.

The prime suspect, at the moment, is Animalia Support Crew activist Rain Bridges, who studies Social Sciences in that same campus and has been known to paint over the university’s cafeteria walls with fake blood (an occasion after which he came forward immediately).

Bridges vehemently denies the accusation, however, that he is behind the Mouse Escape, who said: “If I’d done it, I’d have posted about it. I would have turned myself in the next day and explained my reasons to Georgie, whom I respect very much. But this one wasn’t me. Props to whoever did it though; it takes balls to do the right thing, and just because it isn’t my MO doesn’t mean I don’t support it”.

As for his fellow Animal’s Rights militants in ASC, he says he can’t speak for all, but that he is mostly sure no one there had been responsible for the lab break-ins.

She was also not as confident as Pagglia regarding the prospects of his drug:

“Everyone thinks they are going to cure this disease. I’ll believe it when I see it, and what I saw was not especially promising. I think Dr. Pagglia might have bit off more than he could chew and now he’s trying to blame it on those Lib students.”

Professor Olivia Callaham, who had her lab invaded and mice taken on Feb. 24 th, thinks there is a miscommunication between departments.

“A huge part of the problem is that they think we’re evil, and we think they’re ignorant- when neither assumption is correct. I, for instance, don’t support animal-testing for cosmetics and other unnecessary products. I even was a vegetarian for some time. But I think everyone can agree we are far from being able to dispense mice from our labs altogether. We are looking for solutions here; we are looking to save lives. I don’t know why this is such a bold statement in the first place, but people’s lives probably come before those of mice. Although ultimately those researches help everyone.”

When asked whether the break-ins had put human lives at risk, Callaham laughed: “Did Pagglia tell you this? Well, I can’t speak for him, but I don’t want to hide behind what happened. Let’s just say Professor Pagglia had been telling everybody he’d had a breakthrough and ‘cured’ O-Smith, and it’s really convenient for him for his saviour mouse to disappear all of all sudden.”

Callaham later clarified she was joking- not accusing her colleague of orchestrating a break-in. Approached about Callaham’s remarks, the Dean dismissed it as “a joke that didn’t land”.

Miriam Ostnederlandermeer-Smith, nonetheless, took the joke seriously: “I mean, I know it sounds conspiracy-theory-ish, but come to think of it, it might as well have been him. I mean, Dr. Pagglia was really, like really confident he’d found the answer and- let’s just say other people were not as confident. But he was telling everybody about it and then he realized he bit off more than he could chew. Like, I’d get it if he’d done it to save face- it’s human. A lot of people call me telling me they’re close to finding a cure for Ostnederlandermeer-Smith Disease and I always tell them, I’ll believe it when I see it. It’s crazy how much scientists love to jump the gun, and then you’re the one who has to tell them- woah, calm down a bit. Let’s see what we got and what we need. So yeah, I think it’s possible he did it. I wouldn’t blame him, he’s an anxious guy.”

Pagglia declined to comment on the accusations, but he did file a suit against his colleague Olivia Callaham for slander, which he later retracted per the university’s request.

Beatriz Seelaender was born in 1998 in São Paulo, Brazil. In 2016 she published her first novel, in Brazilian Portuguese, and has since been trying her hand at English. Seelaender has had essays published by websites such as The Collapsar and The Manifest-Station, and her short stories can be found in Psychopomp Lit Mag, The Gateway Review and others. Her story “A Kidney Caught in Quicksand”, published by Grub Street in 2017, earned recognition from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association in the categories of experimental fiction and humor writing.

Seelaender is currently studying Literature and Languages at the University of São Paulo.

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