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AUTOCLAVE • by Kevin Jewell

She hated it when he did that. It was a put-down, but a subtle one, so that she couldn’t call him on it without sounding shrill and petty. But there was no chance he didn’t know what he was doing when he asked her to check his inputs. God forbid that she check his experimental model, no, Melanie was only worthy of checking his typing. Fucker.

But that was lab politics. She recognized that now, and she’d be out of here in a semester. Then when people looked at her resume and saw that she’d worked with the famous Dr. Zartosky, and asked her about the man, she’d tell them. She’d tell them what an arrogant bastard he was, and how the famous Zartosky hypothesis had been stolen from a poor grad student, a student who had gone insane and now washed petri dishes in his lab, heavily medicated.

But Melanie couldn’t share those thoughts until she was out of here. Her learning experience here might be worthless, but she needed to make sure she didn’t end up heavily medicated at the autoclave herself. So she took a deep breath, let it out, and nodded. “Of course. I’ll get on right on that.”

Dr. Z was already on the next item on his agenda. He needed his class notes re-typed. That, at least, would be Jill’s problem. Ever since the department staff meeting when she’d publicly complained about Dr. Z’s dirty coffee cups appearing on her desk, Jill had been on the Doctor’s shitlist.

Melanie looked at Jill as she was delegated the secretarial task. Post-doc at a world-leading research lab, and she would be re-typing class notes. Again. It was clearly getting to her. Melanie could tell she was about to snap. The Melanie that had started this post-doc would have taken her aside and commiserated, but something in the air told her it wasn’t a good idea to get involved. Besides, neither Jill nor Melanie had landed a tenure slot yet for next year.

Dr. Z was now excitedly discussing Arturo’s idea for a new interlace procedure. Never mind that Jill had brought the exact same idea up last week and been ignored. Now it was the best thing since the pasteurization of Swiss cheese. Dr. Z wanted to co-write a paper with Arturo on it.

Melanie looked back at Jill. This was it. She recognized the same thousand-yard stare Yvonne had last year, just before she snapped. Melanie had been present at the meltdown. It was on that day that Melanie had resolved not to let it happen to her, and cauterized her ego to the disrespect that surrounded her each day.

Sure enough, a second later Jill slammed her notebook on the table and threw Dr Z’s class notes at him. The papers exploded in the air, pages fluttering across the table. Jill didn’t say a word, just snarled. As the lab team sat and watched, mouths open, Jill stood up, grabbed Dr Z’s coffee, dumped it on a $300,000 spectrophotometer, and stomped out of the lab.

Melanie smiled. Maybe she’d learned something at this post-doc, after all. She could appreciate one less competitor on the market. That was lab politics, after all.


Kevin Jewell lives in Austin, Texas, where he writes with the South Austin Writers Group. SAWG works to keep Austin weird one tale at a time.

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AUTOCLAVE • by Kevin Jewell, 3.3 out of 5 based on 46 ratings
Posted on February 24, 2009 in Literary, Stories
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  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    Fewer, not less.

  • http://rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com/ Rumjhum

    I wouldn’t want Melanie for a colleague! :-)

  • Gerard Demayne

    I used to have an autoclave. Didn’t get any use of it all winter then even in the summer it would mostly just sit around. It really liked lettuce.

    No, wait, that was a tortoise.

    Story didn’t zing but the basic idea was sound. Might have worked better if Melanie HAD played more of a role in Jill’s meltdown, demonstrating that she had ALREADY learned something from her time there. Possibly had something to do with the brilliant students breakdown as well.

  • http://www.writewords.org.uk/oonah/ Oonah V Joslin

    “Melanie had resolved not to let it happen to her, and cauterized her ego to the disrespect that surrounded her each day.”
    stuck out for me – but something always snaps.

  • Bob

    I’m with Gerard on this one (not the tortoise part; just the last paragraph). Nothing really happened except that Melanie sat through a meeting and watched a co-worker snap. Her learning is only a revelation to us if she had somehow taken an active part in Jill’s meltdown.

    The grad student going insane because of a stolen hypothesis may have been a little over-the-top, but that’s a minor point.

  • Paul Freeman

    This story was heavy going for me, i’m afraid.

  • http://www.gloriousmud.net Sue Borgersen

    It was going fairly well for me until I tripped up on the 5th? para. The Melanie THAT? The Melanie WHO would have kept me sailing through.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    A story of dissatisfaction with routine which could take place in any field. But aren’t the students exaggerating the disrespect and put downs? Dr.Z doesn’t insult them or complain about them or make cutting remarks, or ask them to do things out of keeping with their assignment. He just distractedly goes about making sure the tasks are done by those assigned to him. Did these students ever hear of seniority?

  • http://joeprentis.com Joe Prentis

    Kevin, I would say that you have worked in corporate America where these things are the norm rather than the exception.

  • Jen

    A cute ending.

  • Margie Lott Chapman

    I hate office politics of any type in the work place!

  • http://patriciahale.blogspot.com Patricia J. Hale

    Liked it.

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