By Liliana Hopkins
This is the first chapter of a longer science fiction work titled “Lotus Flower.” In the excerpt, the reader is introduced to a scientist and his life’s work.
Mel pulls his coat tight around his waist. A mean cold rattles the spines of the few surviving trees. The chill remains, long after he enters the lab and thaws his tired, old bones.
The lab is an ant to any hawk that roams over the rolling plains, but to Mel, it’s his entire world. The facility is flat, one story, and wide; a snowy sandbar in the winter. He spends most of his isolation either wasting time in the kitchen or absorbed in his project, shuffling back and forth between the machine and operation rooms.
He prepares a pot of coffee while waiting for the neuroimaging machines to shudder back to life. A small photo of him and his daughter rests in a gilded frame near the sink. Whenever he does the dishes, he indulges himself with a conversation.
“How’s calculus going? Never was very good at math myself.”
“Remember that waterpark I took you to the summer before you started middle school? What was it called? Crocodile Cove, Alligator Cove, I don’t know. You had the best time. The whole ride home you cried and cried and kicked my seat, telling me you wished I left you there.”
“I bought your favorite coffee beans today. Want a cup? No sugar, lots of milk, right?”
There are never enough dishes to wash for this long, but Mel is sure to drink three cups of coffee in the morning, each time in a different mug.
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After his first coffee, he checks on the MRI scanner. It’s an older model; it takes half of the morning to power on. He writes to his supervisors every month, requesting technological upgrades and giving updates on his advancements. They go unanswered. The longest he’s worked without instruction is five years.
Mel shuffles to the operation room, which is adjacent to the machine room. The doors swing open. Covered with a tarp, the body lies still on the surgery table in the center of the room. He moves around the edges to collect his tools and jars of organs. Mel prepares his work station at the surgeon’s table in the center of the room, near the body’s head. Gray, gelatinous chunks bob up in and down in a glass container filled to the brim with yellow liquid. Years before, he spent most of his days looking through a microscope. Then, there were only threads of neurons, tangled nerves with sparse neural networks, and now, the mucusy beginnings of a cerebellum.
Mel leans into his chair, his back groaning from decades of hunching over desks. The scalpel sneers at him, silver toothed and quick witted. It knows Mel is no surgeon.
“Lotus Flower” began as an exercise to deepen my understanding of the human body and mind. Chapter one is simply an introduction to the larger work. In later chapters, I attempt to weave neuroscience concepts into the story’s natural progression. Using sensory imagery to describe different elements of brain matter pushed me to look at neuroscience with an artist’s eye. I also have to make sure I have a full understanding of the topic before I can translate it into the context of the story and my writing style. Balancing the scientific and artistic interpretations is challenging. It’s extra rewarding, however, to simultaneously improve my writing and knowledge of the human brain.
Liliana Hopkins exists at the intersection of science, writing and art. Her creative work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Penn State’s Lake Effect National High School Poetry Contest, Hollins’ 56th Annual Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest and the National Vans Custom Culture Contest. As a volunteer for the BioMedical Engineering & Imaging Institute at Icahn School of Medicine Mt. Sinai, she redesigned and rewrote the neuroimaging page of their website. Liliana is currently writing literary articles for Soul Talk Magazine and finishing her final year of high school.