by Gio Clairval
The white rat looks forlorn, sitting on a pile of empty clothes. Professor Talbot rolls her eyes. Apparently, Jeremy Turn, her assistant, was carrying the rodent snug in his breast pocket. It's a tradition among postgraduate wise-asses. But why did he strip, and where did he go, leaving his mascot behind? Turn never parts with his pet, which he calls "Lavoisier."
Despite her aching knees, Professor Talbot chases the rat across the lab. Finally, she closes her hand around the squirming beast, carries it to the maze, and drops it where it belongs.
In the showers, she looks for Turn, hears the water crashing down in the only occupied stall. Talbot stumbles on sneakers covered with sequins, glittering disco forgottens waiting for their partners. Beside the shoes is a shirt with sewed-on frills. Turn is going to a party, wearing a fancy 18th-century getup. If Talbot had the nerve to open her assistant's locker, she would probably find a three-cornered hat.
Tomorrow is Turn's big day. Defending the useless thesis. And he's going to spend the night drinking and dancing.
Silly Turn. Carefree Turn. Happy Turn. He's faffing around, as if he were about to walk down the aisle to give up his freedom. Which, in a way, he is. He's marrying the Academy.
Her eyes ache in the crude light. Forty years, climbing the university ladder--up or out--running around in the wheel.
The rodent she just put in the maze scratches at the glass wall, squeals at the Professor. Free me, free me! She pets the prisoner.
Sudden pain makes her jump back. The damned rat bit her! Only then, does she remember.