Tomorrow at noon

 

Tomorrow at noon

by

Glen Mehn

Alice puts down the phone, hands tingling with nerves. She can’t believe she’s done it. Robert Ashe had smiled at her a week go as she brought the cheek swabs over to him. “Just a swipe. I’ll be a little firm, but it’s just a big cotton but, really”. He was the first man she’d found attractive since Ed had dropped her months before.

Autumn and winter had been spent a series of tracksuit bottoms and wine over DVDs. Going to pubs and clubs held no interest; drunken fumbling in the dark and a double round at last orders just wasn’t what she wanted these days. She hadn’t been depressed in the sense of wanting to kill herself or not be able to get out of bed, she was just much more happy to sit back and slow down her brain. Get up. Go to work. Come home. Wine, a DVD to drag her over an emotional landscape, and bed.

Some part of her brain that had been sleeping through the past seven months was waking up. Or maybe it was just the oncoming spring. How did the pale blue scrubs and lab coat look on her? What knickers was she wearing? Would he ask for her telephone number?? Would she give it out if he did?

Her professional face went through the motions of telling him what will happen and when.

“We’ll screen for a variety of conditions, and we’ll be able to monitor your medical records in case there are new genetic markers that we find later. The results typically come back in a week, though it can be as much as six weeks, if there’s something we need to look in to. We send them off to a government lab which is slower, but more thorough.”

“They’ll find out that I’m actually next in line for the throne, right?”

It was a stupid joke. Stupid, but it made her smile.

“And they have the PR to deal with it if they do.”

He’d laughed at her corny response to this, and they’d chatted for a few minutes, but he hadn’t asked for her number.

#

That evening, she’d walked out of the lab; the the sun was still in the sky. She skipped the takeaway and the ready meal aisle in the supermarket and bought some vegetables, mince, and tomato sauce, and fresh pasta, making herself a nice meal. Alice imagined eating it with Robert Ashe. Even though he wasn’t really her type.

She eyed the half bottle of wine from the night before and poured herself a small glass to have with dinner, capping the bottle before going to put on her next DVD.

She’d put it in the tray and then went to look out the window of the quiet street below, the endless streets of middle class London spreading outwards outside.

There was a book on the bookshelf, The Awakening and other stories, which she read at A level but could only remember hope and discovery crushed by sadness and despair. She took it up and turned to the short stories in the back of it, and read one, then another, and then started rereading the novel. The forgotten DVD reflected the blue flash of the television screensaver.

She went to sleep late and rose early, refreshed, with the sun and skipped her normal breakfast paracetamol and toast in the morning in favour of a soft-boiled egg and soldiers.

Over the next week she read The Haunting of Hill House, and had made a good start on White Teeth when Robert’s results came back. She snatches it up and look over it. The results are odd, though. They must have been contaminated or something. Well. She c still call him and let him know, but she won’t ask him out.

“Hello, is this Robert Ashe?”

“Yes. Yes it is. Who’s calling please?” She smiled at the sound of his voice.

“This is Doctor Alice Patel, from Genomic Research? I’m just calling to let you know that we’ll be sending your results for further analysis, so it’ll be a few more weeks.”

“Really? Anything wrong?” An edge of panic lines his voice.

“No, no, They came back a little odd, so I’m just going to order up a deeper scan of them with the second swab. I don’t think it’s actually anything to worry about. In fact, I think their equipment must have been malfunctioning, it was so strange. We’ll sort it out, though, not to worry.”

She heard a sigh down the phone. “I don’t suppose there’s anything you can tell me?”

She looked down at the results. “Not really. It really doesn’t make sense. There are these SNPs – pronounced ‘snips’ – that are off the chart for variation. We’re going to have to use a different, slower technique for the assay. Basically, we’ll get more information, so even if it does turn out you have a unique variation or two, we’ll get the extra research benefit and you get a more detailed report.”

“So I’m not the queen?” She could hear his smirk down the line.

“It’s too early to say, but I wouldn’t get choosing your official birthday yet.”

He laughed his rich laugh that she’d liked so much.

“Listen, would you like to… go for a walk or something?” The words were out of her mouth before she realised it, and her heart was pounding.

“I’ve been thinking about you since you took my genetic make-up for analysis. Yes. Yes, please.” The words came from his mouth quickly, naturally, in the course of conversation, like it was a completely normal thing to ask. “Saturday at noon?”

#

They meet at the Serpentine Gallery and agree on the merits – and lack – of the exhibition.

In Knightsbridge, they discover a shared love of wandering through London’s centuries of architecture.

Walking past the Royal Chelsea Hospital, he offers her his arm and she takes it.

In a pub on Queenstown Road in Battersea, they can’t choose a wine, so have ale instead.

The pub has a bookshelf for its patrons, prompting a walking discussion of books; they agree to swap her White Teeth for his Good Terrorist when each was done.

She turns him back towards Battersea Park, wanting coffee and ice cream, and he agrees and kisses her in the shadow of the Pagoda.

She takes him back to her flat.

#

The sun streaming in wakes her on Monday as he sleeps next to her, with his impossible attraction. She feels like a new woman. They spent all night together, talking and discovering each other, and hid away all day Sunday. Sure, it had been awkward, but neither of them were embarrassed by their fumbling, and everything just kind of worked.

#

Three weeks later, Friday afternoon. They haven’t seen each other all week, but they have been texting, though he’s gone silent.

She calls up his case information on the computer. Sometimes it arrives before the notfication letters come through. The search comes up blank. Her telephone rings before she can re-run the search.

“Doctor Patel?”

“Speaking. Who’s calling please?”

“Hello, Doctor Patel? This is Director Alasdair Miller of MI5. I realise this may come as something of a shock to you but I can assure you it’s not a joke. A couple of my men will arrive shortly to remove any paper records and genetic material you have for a Robert Ashe. It’s a matter of national security, I’m afraid. Can’t go into much detail. We picked him up yesterday. He keeps talking about you. He is obsessed, won’t eat, won’t sleep. He hasn’t left his room in days. We’d like you to come in and talk to us if you would?”

She scans the paper, the impossible genes. “I’m sorry, is there a mistake? Has he done something? Am I in any danger?” Two men in dark suits come in and show them their badges. Perfect men. Chiselled faces, broad shoulders. Her type, until she’d met Robert. She knows from the way they talk that that’s over, though. Best if she doesn’t mention anything.

They take her to her flat and go through her computers, demanding any of his records. Told them that there was obviously a tainted sample. They leave her after a few hours of debriefing, and thank her for her assistance. She promises to call if she comes across anything else.

She goes to the toilet and throws up, again. She’s wanted to since she saw the men but she didn’t want to see her doing it.

Robert is gone. There are more unique SNPs in his genotype than are in the entire HapMap, she’d guess. A wealth of useful information.

She pats her lower belly. She has more of Robert’s DNA in any case.

 

©2014 Glen Mehn

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