Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Post-bravado and the string of tail lights winding up the hill

After studying charts of the human skull and its many peculiarities for three nights straight (apparently unsuccessfully), I stood with the other two counterparts of our trembling trio in the lab this morning knowing it was going to be a "no lunch" or--at very best--an "order in" kind of day. Which was too bad, because it was sunny for the first time in a few days, and it would have been so nice to sit outside. Instead, however, we anxiously perched atop our stools, all breathing through our mouths to avoid the smell (though eventually, as the minutes ticked by, we all abandoned the naive notion that we'd be out of there before the smell of decay had permeated not only our olfactory receptors, but had sunk into our hair, our clothes, down to our shoelaces). Camie was wearing a cornflower colored cardigan, which on the one hand was great foresight, since the lab is always cold, but on the other hand was preposterous, considering the degree of spatter we'd been warned about by Prof. Branch, along with horror stories of jewelry lost in some open cavity. Luckily for Miss Cardigan, we'd drawn the "dry specimen" card, which significantly reduces the spatter-factor, but also makes our task much harder. There before us in a wax paper package were the fragments of some rustic piece of pottery that we eventually came to recognize (though not quickly enough) as what was once a head--probably a man's head. A separate package contained a rusty fleur-de-lis of substantial weight. Our preliminary research made it seem likely that it had once topped a nineteenth century fence, until it was evidently removed and used to bludgeon the owner of the aforementioned skull. The metal relic was made of iron, which made the task of extracting any blood information particularly challenging. Century-old blood is brown, we all agreed, a conclusion reached not from our textbooks, but from empirical experience. Camie's grandfather was a creepy farmer who evidently housed an old hoe in his shed with traces of something flecking away on its end. Jamison and I had both seen Lincoln's pillow in a glass case at Ford's Theatre, so there was that. While Camie and Jamison worked away at the jaw--an area which holds little to no fascination for me, I tried to piece back together the dome. We were only three-quarters of the way through when time was called. Although we didn't come anywhere near to solving the mystery, Prof. Branch said we had done quite well, and I heard later that a girl in the "wet specimen" group ran crying from the room in the middle of the whole thing and that another guy--in response--almost pulled the emergency chemical shower. Apparently they also let one of the most important elements of the project, some sort of mucus membrane, slide down through the drain. Afterwards, I asked Prof. Branch whether the old metal fence-topper was real, and he gave me a strange look which implied the answer was yes. Nevertheless, he also permitted me to put the thing in a plastic bag and take it home to use as a bookend. What a cosmic irony if it were to slip off the shelf and conk me over the head one of these days.

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