Green Beans

Submitted into Contest #137 in response to: Write a story about a scientist.... view prompt

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Fiction Romance Sad

“Alas, I have found the neural mechanism responsible for loneliness!” exclaims professor Salone. “Now we will be able to create a pill to cure people of the agony of their isolation.”

Satisfied with the progress he had made for the day, professor Salone puts away his microscope, hangs up his lab coat, and packs up his things. With one last look at his antiseptically clean workspace, he leaves the lab and heads to his car.

Professor Salone turns the key in the ignition and puts on the radio. “Why are all these songs about love?” he thinks to himself. “With my new invention, all these ignoramuses will be able to do away with their petty feelings and focus on something useful.”

Although academically professor Salone knows all about the science of loneliness, his empirical knowledge of the subject appears to have failed at providing him with any sort of resolution to his own feelings.

Professor Salone goes home to his apartment, puts a singular chicken breast in the frying pan and gets his favourite frozen beans out of the freezer. He rips open the bag of beans and they all fly out covering the whole kitchen floor in green bean galore.

Although he’s annoyed that he spilled the beans and is irritated that he is now obliged to pick them up, professor Salone laughs to himself as he realizes the absurdity of what just happened.

He imagines what would happen if Joan from administration were there with him. Maybe she would laugh with him and help him pick up the beans.

“Pish posh,” says professor Salone to himself, “this is nonsense. I barely even know Joan from administration. It is highly illogical that I am thinking about her in my spare time. What a waste of neurotransmitters!”

This is not the first time professor Salone has thought about Joan in his spare time. In fact, just today, he had thought about her several times. As he prepared his bowl of oatmeal this morning, he had thought about how impressed Joan might be by his healthy breakfast which is both an excellent source of resistant carbohydrates and an arsenal of micronutrients.

The list goes on, however, for the sake of professor Salone’s propriety, I will refrain from revealing them all here. Although professor Salone would do anything to get this longing out of his head, he has realized there is simply nothing he can do. He hopes that his new pharmaceutical development will be able to eject Joan from his daydreams at once.

***

After months of refining his treatment and obtaining ethics approval, professor Salone is finally ready to make his pill for loneliness available to the public. He distributes his pills at a local pharmacy and decides to meet his customers to observe what kinds of people would be interested in his pill.

On the first day, people are lining up around the pharmacy before it opens. Professor Salone arrives promptly at 9am and scans the crowd of people as he makes his way to the front of the store. He passes men carrying briefcases, moms pushing strollers, old men holding canes.

Professor Salone is perplexed. He recognizes many of these people from the grocery store and coffee shops around town. He assumed that they were all going home to houses full of people and loving families. On the outside, they don’t look like the kind of people who would be lonely. He scratches his head and continues to make his way into the store. “Maybe my qualitative observations will help me answer my research question,” he says to himself.

He enters the pharmacy, opens his satchel and unpacks his pens and lab notebook. When his desk is organized and the medication is ready for distribution, he opens the door for the customers.

His first patient is a young woman. She tells him her name is Amelia, she is 21, goes to university, and lives in a house with roommates. Under additional notes, professor Salone writes that she is intelligent and beautiful. (For professor Salone who is preoccupied with Joan from administration, this is strictly a qualitative observation). For the second time this morning, he is completely flummoxed.

Although his social skills are admittedly limited, professor Salone decides to exercise his elementary skills in an attempt to convince this young woman that she may in fact be a valuable companion for another lonely human.

“Why are you lonely?” professor Salone says unceremoniously.

“I don’t know,” Amelia says taken aback. “Sometimes I feel like I’m different from everyone and everyone seems to be a part of something that I’m left out of.”

Professor Salone is familiar with this feeling, however, he thought that Amelia would be the kind of person who was always a part of the thing that he was chronically excluded from.

“Amelia, I don’t want to give you this medication because there’s nothing wrong with you,” he says.

“Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me but I’m tired of feeling like this,” she says. “Every day of my life, I wake up and try to be this person who is nice and intelligent and healthy and I’m tired. Nobody sees me and I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”

Professor Salone looks at her and his heart feels heavy. If he gives Amelia this medication, she will stop trying to find connection. Maybe she will feel better, but then someone else will be missing out on getting to know her. If there is one other person out there in the sea of lonely people and they find each other, maybe all these lonely feelings will be worth it.

“Amelia, I know you feel lonely and tired, but maybe you’re worth waiting for,” he says.

They stand there looking at each other, the oddest of pairs, and then without saying anything, Amelia takes one last look at the medication, sighs, and walks out of the pharmacy empty-handed.

***

Professor Salone is starting to think this new medication might be a mistake, however there is a line of people waiting outside waiting to be served. He reluctantly lets the next customer in.

The door opens slowly and a man staggers in with his cane. The chair stutters as he pulls it out across the tile floor and then he sits down and looks at professor Salone. He doesn’t say anything, he just sits there and frowns. Professor Salone can see the pain and loneliness in his blue wrinkled eyes.

Professor Salone thinks it might be best not to bother with social discourse in this situation. “Can I get your name please,” says professor Salone.

“Herbert,” says Herbert.

The next question is awkward to ask but professor Salone needs it for the paperwork and his qualitative observations. “What brings you here today?” he says softly.

Herbert purses his lips and looks up at the florescent light that is flickering on the ceiling. “Well,” he starts, “I spend most of my days doing puzzles and watching tv. My wife passed away years ago and I don’t know what to do with myself anymore.”

“Tell me about your wife,” says professor Salone.

“We were together for 60 years,” says Herbert. “Whenever I came home, she was just always there. She had Alzheimer’s for the last few years of her life, and I watched her slip away and now she’s just gone. She died on her birthday and this year when that day came around, I stayed up all night looking out my window.”

A tear rolls down professor Salone’s face. “She sounds really great,” he says. “Most people never have that.”

“Yeah,” says Herbert. “And this is my price now that she’s gone.”

“If you’re sad it means she was important to you,” says professor Salone.

Herbert looks at the medication and sighs. “Maybe this feeling is the only thing I have left of her.”

And with that, grabs his cane, pushes his chair in, and shuffles out of the pharmacy empty-handed.

***

 By the end of the day, professor Salone has seen many lonely hearts, however, most of them leave the store with nothing at all. When the stores closes at the end of the day, he has not had time to serve everyone in line and tells them that they will have to come back tomorrow.

He packs up his satchel and walks out the door and makes his way to the parking lot. As he’s walking past the line, he notices that none other than Joan from administration had been waiting. He’d spent all this time worrying about himself, never considering that maybe Joan was lonely too.

“Joan!” he says, rushing towards her.

She looks up at him and smiles when out of nowhere, professor Salone trips over a crack in the pavement and spills his satchel full of pens all over the ground. They both laugh at the absurdity of the situation and Joan helps him pick up his pens.

“Would you like to get coffee sometime Joan?” asks professor Salone.

“Yes, of course!” she says blushing.

Perhaps her ability to pick up pens will generalize to the green bean population as well, speculates professor Salone.

Maybe that’s all any of us ever need in life, someone to laugh with us and help us pick up green beans.

March 17, 2022 02:25

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2 comments

David Hampton
16:25 Mar 24, 2022

Hi Julia, I was asked to comment on your story as part of the Critique Circle. The concept is interesting, but the story kind of drags a bit and there are areas of redundancy that could be eliminated, ie; pill is used three times in one of the paragraphs. The previous comment about 'tense' is also valid. The description of wrinkled eyes was odd...perhaps wrinkles around the eyes would work better. Also, the line '...when out of nowhere' he trips over a crack is confusing. The term usually means some "thing" is coming out of nowhere, not...

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Jeannette Miller
15:34 Mar 20, 2022

I like this story of discovery. He thinks he knows the answer to something until he realizes he forgot to ask the question first. I also liked the short examples of loneliness and they way you incorporated them into the larger picture. One note, watch the tense used. For example, "puts away his microscope, hangs up his lab coat, and packs up his things." I think it should be "put away, hung up, and packed." Sometimes, reading it aloud to yourself with a different tense will help you determine if it sounds correct. Overall, a fun story with ...

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