“Yeah? You’re exactly the same as all your beady-eyed comrades here.”
“I’m a Wistar. We’re better than the other rats.”
“Fine. But why can’t you stop yourself from pressing that lever? I mean, haven’t you ever wanted to take over the world or something? I bet you could if you just read the experiment’s abstract.”
“Because it feels right. Besides, I’ve heard it ends with a dash of pentobarbital. Even after Solomon mastered all the facts he kept singing that stupid song by Kansas. I like my cage. The bedding’s comfy.”
I twist the intracranial electrode tube and 14 vigorously squirms. His skull is exposed- crimson-brown scar tissue crusted around the edges. I push his head hard against the glass and try to be quick.
“Sqeee! (What the hell was that for!?)”
“Sorry, I’m not too sure.“ I muttered. “Nothing’s fair you know.” 14’s nipping at the canula protruding from his brain with little yellow incisors. Then we chat on lighthearted subjects: an upcoming comedy, the tantalizing hint of first snow, what we want for dinner. In an hour he’s left in the dark of a research room tinged with the heavy fragrance of metals and plastics, wood shavings dipped in ammonia. The sign on the door says: “Do Not Disturb! Rats at work.”
I finished early this Monday. I head outside into the real world to catch the train back, points-purchased diet soda in hand. My muscles ached slightly. With a few unruffled steps I felt like getting lost on purpose, but I knew this place too well now.
Something about the cold began to elicit a mentally taxing catalog of future obligations. I discontentedly compared them to the third grade responsibilities that I had once scrawled on a sheet of pink construction paper with a broken crayon:
1. Finish times-tables homework
2. Walk Jenna everyday!!!!
3. new N64 game on Kenneth’s birthday
4. Animal report
5. get Valentimes candy for class
Suddenly a flash of white swiftly scurries past my ankles on the pavement. “OMGOMGOMG Hurry the F*** up!” it screamed. So I follow 14 into a questionable crack in the subway wall. I know there’s a place called Wonderland in northern Boston.
We emerge onto a large field. Remember the end of Disney’s Dinosaur? Lush with life, an eternal spell of pure rapture and satisfaction; the feeling after the final final exam. It’s 75° and the sun’s beaming bright. Look at that golden radiance! She’s one lucky lady alright, never daunted by the guise of transience. “14, this quiet reverberating jolt down in my very core tells me that I’ll survive the scrutiny of time, in my platypus costume.”
“See, you forgot everything already!”
“But I’ll remember the moment I did.”
“Why you did?” 14 looked impatient.
“You mean why I ate Reese’s Puffs -mixed- with Cookie Crisp for breakfast instead of just plain ol’ oatmeal?
“You’re an idiot.”
“Touché. Once I learned- spread your head, but thick on the tiniest piece of bread, your pick; they don’t all need to know the cogs are spinning anyway. Though I wish they would slow down more often. Maybe they never cease because I overestimate the strength of idle rust. Thoughts to action, to behavior, habit, personality, finally to something higher (though I doubt you have one). Well, I wouldn’t want to become corroded. It’s neuroplasticity. We program our cells. Ourselves?” I sprawl out on the grass, hands behind my head. I might’ve seen a pterodactyl.
“C’mon get up! I’m gonna be late!” And he’s off again.
Soon we’re back at the T station. A mother in heels is looking at her blackberry and holding the hand of her snot-nosed whining daughter. Red-cheecked clones in baseball caps guffaw in a circle and a little woman with a sharp face and purple-rimmed glasses sips a steaming Starbucks latte. Farther down there’s a sleeping man curled beneath his belongings- stuffed garbage bags and a broken bottle of whiskey.
“Look look! There! Isn’t it beautiful?”
14 dives straight into a stash of collected empty aluminum cans and old wrappers sitting on the tracks. “My shinies!” He’s rolling in ecstasy. And the T comes rushing along its course with burning yellow eyes, blowing a gust of air that makes the tips of my hair dance like flickering split-end fire on a vacant countenance. I’d like to see if 14 had made it, but that animal report was waiting for me.
I crawl up out of the subway into the city‘s shadows, squeezing through a similarly painted jam of sardined strangers clambering among a conveyer belt of manufactured success. Old lampposts conceive a vaguely ethereal kind of illumination that exhibits a cluster of rowdy kids incongruously shouting as they loiter in empty lots festooned with slapdash graffiti. Comfort in chaos. I can see my breath now and pull my jacket tighter; there’s only a few more blocks. I hope I sleep well tonight.