Paul Fisher was a graduate student studying biochemistry at Emory when he met my mother. Yes, that Paul Fisher, the guy who won the Nobel Prize. She was working as a secretary in admissions at the time, partly for the free course per semester and also for the health benefits. As she told it, they first met in the student union. He came over to her table, sipping coffee and watching the undergrads. She thought the way he flipped that long lock of hair out of his eyes was cute.
I was home trying to get any information I could. As a reporter for my local newspaper, this was a possible link to a global story. I’d mentioned the connection to my editor, and he said to run with it. So here I was, trying to see if there was a story worth telling. She was doing her laundry.
Mom remembers their first official date was at some off-campus diner. He tried to impress her with talk of the difference in molecular structure between sugar and salt. She let him go on, more intrigued by his gold cufflinks than with his science talk. They seemed to have stripes of emeralds, she told me, and were constantly catching the light.
She swears nothing happened that first night, but they continued to date for a while until they actually moved in together.
“This was considered scandalous at the time,” she said. “It was a big spacious floor-through in a brownstone about a mile from campus, with good light and lots of rooms.”
It was there Fisher set up a home laboratory and began his experiments. My mother’s promotion to personal secretary for the bursar kept her away most days. She told me she’d come home and find Paul with safety glasses on, delicately tweaking Bunsen burners and test tube concoctions that produced a vile stench. Apparently, the neighbors complained.
“What they didn’t understand was the man’s total and utter dedication to his craft,” my mother says.
“Tell me again exactly how you got all those scars?”
She rolls her eyes as if I were some foreigner unable to comprehend this.
“To him, it was all science,” she said. “Knowing he was destined for great things, I happily offered my help.”
“Things needed to be tested.”
“So he used you as a human lab rat?”
“Please, Martin, you have no idea. It was nothing of the sort.”
“He covered you in acid and you let him?”
“Martin, you have no sense of romance, do you? I was assisting a great man with his work. He needed human response to certain stimuli, what one could tolerate. Besides, we were in love.”
“Your whole back is a crisscross of permanent scarring. The pain must have been excruciating, yet you were willing to do this. Didn’t people say things?”
“People didn’t know. It was none of their business.”
“What about at the beach those are very noticeable.”
“I’d wear a modest one-piece. Look, it didn’t matter. We were young and in love.”
I had heard this many times before the great love affair with the scientific genius. But I had no hard evidence.
“Yet now he’s a total stranger. I didn’t hear any mention of you in his speech in Geneva.”
“People grow apart.”
“There’s something you’re not telling me.”
“Why does it matter?”
“It matters if some science laureate actually mangled my mother!”
“Martin, enough hyperbole. Did you ever think what I might have done to him? For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Basic rule, dear boy.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Let’s just say there’s good reason why Paul Fisher appears in public fully dressed. It wasn’t one-sided; we had a reciprocal arrangement. Truth is, I probably had it easy in comparison.”
“But what did you do to him?”
“What didn’t I do?” She chuckled to herself while folding sheets hot out of the dryer. “Sure you want to know more? This is a side of your mother you probably don’t need to know.”
This was true. In asking these questions, I got more than I bargained for. Mom as sado-masochistic dominatrix was one I hadn’t expected, and not one I was going to submit to my editor.
“But what happened? How did it fall apart?”
“There was an incident. We were wrestling, playing around. I bit his ear off.”
“Not the whole ear, but a fairly large chunk of it. There was so much blood. He freaked. Other people’s blood didn’t bother him. His did.”
“But I’ve seen pictures he has two ears.”
“He went to the emergency room, the plastic surgeon on duty re-attached it. But he wasn’t as trusting after that. I think the ear thing was the beginning of the end. Do you know who that plastic surgeon was?”
The pieces began to fit together. My late father had been a phenomenal plastic surgeon.
“He heard about what happened, wanted to meet the woman behind it.”
“And obviously he did.”
“I have no regrets. Sure, Nobel Prizes are nice and it’s great Paul Fisher has left a legacy for the world of science. But, honestly Martin, your father was a far better man.”
“And he didn’t treat you like a lab rat.”
“Now Martin, that’s quite enough.” She took the stacked clothes in the laundry basket and headed off to her bedroom.
I looked at this woman, somewhat changed by age, and tried to imagine that leather-clad mistress of science past. As I crumpled up my page of notes, I realized this: there are some details best left unspoken, some stories better left untold.
When not writing fiction, Gary Glauber is a music journalist for both PopMatters.com and Fufkin.com. Recent short stories have appeared in The Glut, Insolent Rudder, 42 Opus, ken*again, Mocha Memoirs, Pindeldyboz, Word Riot, Eyeshot, Hackwriters, Smokelong Quarterly and elsewhere. Upcoming stories can be seen at MonkeyBicycle and Long Story Short. Contact Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org.