This story is by T Jenkins and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Carl, my husband, was always supportive of my scientific research. We sat for dinner after my promotion to full professorship.
“A toast,” he raised a glass, “to the most beautiful biologist on the planet.”
I raised my glass as his eyes crinkled with a grin.
“I am so proud of your work. Who else has their doctorate in molecular biology? With awards in your post-doc research into… um… lizard tails.”
I won awards for my studies of the regenerative nature of certain life forms. Reptiles and their method of regrowing entire limbs after dismemberment fascinated me. Although Carl encouraged my work, he cared little for my new university lab. There were many cages stacked on shelves, each one containing a gecko or iguana. The cages were glass or wire containers with heaters and sunlight bulbs, depending on the needs of the occupant. Some had small pools of water embedded in soil or sand. I learned what was necessary to keep them alive after I slashed off an appendage. Usually, it was a leg or tail. Those grew back with the best results. I became quite the expert in surgery.
On the second anniversary of my appointment as a full professor, they gave me a larger lab. The discovery that alligators could grow back their tails by Professor Kyoto in Florida galvanized research around the globe. My university wanted to be at the forefront of any commercial aspects my work might produce. The payout, along with the acclaim of my peers, was an exceptional prospect.
“Dearest, you’re spending a lot of time at the lab. Lucky for you, I don’t mind sharing.” Carl sipped from his glass of water. We were lunching on the back patio near his newly installed lap pool. He loved to swim for exercise. I tried swimming with him, but he was much more graceful than I, and the boredom of the repetitious laps overwhelmed me.
“You’ll do the same lizard experiment a hundred times, but can’t swim ten laps?”
I bit into a strawberry and leered at him. “I enjoy watching you more.” We both laughed.
Still in my lab coat from working on a Saturday morning, I would return to work and stay until late that evening. Carl was right. I spent a lot of time at the lab. But we were making amazing progress!
Wearing nothing but swim trunks, he was dry from his morning swim after relaxing in the sun. We bought a lap counter device so Carl could keep track. His mind wandered, and he lost count. He reached down to switch it on.
“I better get my laps in today before I forget.”
“Carl, dear, you’ve already swum today. How about taking a nap since you just had lunch?”
“I swam already?” His memory lapses were disturbing.
It was my third anniversary as a professor when I made a breakthrough in regenerative research. I needed to accelerate my work to continue.
“Carl,” I spoke to my husband over breakfast. He made the best blueberry pancakes. “I need your perspective in the lab today. Will you come help?”
He sipped coffee and finished the last bite before speaking. “Love, you know I don’t have a clue what’s going on in your lab. Why do you need me?”
“Well, sometimes, it’s good to get an unbiased opinion. I promise there will be no sawing off limbs today.”
He smiled. His grey mustache didn’t make him look older, it made him look more refined. He was fit for sixty-five. Doctors had diagnosed his lapses of memory as Alzheimer’s disease, so he accepted a graceful retirement after forty years in government contract work. He kept busy at home and stayed active. I still enjoyed watching him swim laps. He had long, lean legs that cut through the water with ease. They reminded me of the long, lean, regenerated alligator’s tail I had worked with for the last six months.
“I do like your new lab. At least you have more room for your lizards.”
I did have more room. In fact, I had several rooms. Because my research had become more high-profile, there were security measures put in place to protect it. It was puerile that scientists couldn’t share our research across the planet with freedom, but corporate espionage didn’t respect the disciplines that science required. There were no boundaries. I kept the most advanced experiments in an ‘inner sanctum’, of which only I and my trusted lab assistant had access.
“So, you’ll go with me then?”
An escaping blueberry distracted Carl. He stabbed it with his fork and crunched it between his teeth. His smile was momentarily blue.
“Where would you like to go?”
I lost him again. Sometimes he could maintain coherent thoughts for an entire conversation. Other times, I felt I could see his brain derail in mid-sentence. The disease was currently in stage two, but I knew it would continue until he would need special care.
My fourth anniversary of work was a triumph. My assistant and I made huge strides forward. I sat beside Carl at his medical bed, helping him with a late-night snack. His memory loss had quickly accelerated.
“Dear, you don’t have to feed me, you know, my hands work fine.”
I beamed at him. “Just showing my love for you. You are doing so well!”
“I do like to swim, though. How long have I been abed? Can I swim today?”
“Maybe tomorrow. Now you hush and get some sleep. Your body needs lots of rest.”
The monitors beeped and chirped. I checked his IV to be sure that the fluids and chemical cocktails were still flowing. In all my years of research, one of the most important skills I learned was how to sustain my patients. I loved Carl dearly. He supported me and my research when no one else would and he knew I would do the same for him. I would do whatever it took to keep him comfortable. The memory care facilities in the city were substandard and I felt justified in keeping Carl in my own lab. I could look after him and he was a great help to my efforts.
It was my fifth anniversary when the university pulled the plug on my work. They claimed I had not gotten the proper authorization for human experimentation. They confiscated my notes and tried to close me down, but I won at the last because they refused to let Carl die.
It wasn’t difficult to convince Carl to help me with my research. I showed him our amazing advances. We could now regrow certain limbs on mammals and reptiles. I showed him the revised environments we built to hold our work. We had geckos, iguanas, alligators but also rats, dogs, cats, and a calf. He signed the paperwork, and I co-signed as I had the complete power of attorney.
I showed him the special habitat environment built just for him in my inner sanctum. There was a medical bed, but also a lap pool for exercise. He enjoyed the endless current and constant temperature of the water. I stayed with him for several nights to acclimate him. He soon forgot about home. Then the work began.
I still think it was espionage. Someone bribed my assistant with more money than she could resist. I was sitting on my stool next to the lap pool, talking with Carl as he swam, when the doors abruptly opened. Dr. Krefitz, the Vice-President of Research at the university, along with campus police, marched in.
They stopped in awe at my research. I could tell it impressed them beyond speech. I regained my composure and stood.
“Dr. Krefitz, what are you doing?”
He couldn’t put a sentence together. He stared at my husband, Carl.
“This is Carl, my husband. Say something Carl.”
“Hello!” my husband beamed from his lap pool. He loved to swim. It was almost two years’ work, but after I amputated both legs and part of his pelvis, I had successfully coaxed his body into the world’s first human regeneration. He loved to swim, and he found with his new alligator-like tail, he could swim much faster.