“Man, did you see who you’re scheduled to swim rats with today?” my colleague, and locker companion asks with a laugh.
“Nope. Haven’t looked at the schedule. I presume I’m going to be setting up my mouse study in Repro,” I mutter while I pull on my scrubs.
“You presume wrongly, Nerd-man. You have to help Phoebe-the-Wise run behaviorals on her F1 babies.”
“Sarah’s gone on vacation, my man.”
“What’s she running? Startle Response? Eye Exams?”
“Eye exams-you wish!”
I snort, “Not with Phoebe, I don’t. Lights on or lights off, she’s not one to mess with.”
“Yeah, know whatcha mean,” Perry says as he launches his dirty lab coat into the wash pile. “Christian. No chance for-“
For some reason, though I don’t know Phoebe Wise that well, I don’t want Perry talking bad about her. I’ve only worked with her a few times before, but she caught my attention. Quiet. A little shy, but really smart. Hard worker. She’s never let me down any of the times she’s taken my studies on my weekends off.
I check the schedule to see which room the behaviorals are in. Well, looks like we’ll be swimming the F1 generation today. I hate that behavioral. Boring and long. Some of the rats are quick studies, but some can take the whole sixty seconds and still not swim their way to the end of the maze. Sixty seconds doesn’t seem like a lot of time until you multiply it by fifty critters.
“Hi Ben,” Phoebe says with a smile when I enter the room.
“Gotta swim ‘em, huh?”
“Yeah. The pups are so big already; I think most of them are smart, though.”
“Are these Group Ones?”
“Nope. Swam those guys yesterday. These are the Twos, and they seem to be pretty normal.”
I like Group Ones best. Defective genes rarely affect the control animals, but the higher groups could have potential delay deformities. With Group Twos whose parents have defective genes we could end up with more animals not being able to figure out the maze, which means a longer amount of time in this room.
“I’m ready, Ben”
“Okay. Go ahead and drop the first guy.” I set the timer.
Phoebe leans over the tank and gently releases the first male into the water. He swims in a circle for a second and then takes off around the perimeter of the maze. Phoebe has nice hair that lies along the back of her neck like a scarf. I watch her eyes follow the pup around the maze. Her smile is still in place, and she chuckles gently as she records the rat’s swift progress.
“Why are you a Christian?”
My question startles her, and she delays answering me while she retrieves the pup from the water.
“I needed peace, Ben,” she finally answers.
Her eyes meet mine, and I get the feeling she’s reading my mind.
“Peace. Huh. Well, I know how lack of peace feels,” I say with a laugh.
“Yeah. Peace and my mom with her schizophrenia do not mix.”
She doesn’t reply right away, but when I glance up, she says suddenly, “Do you want me to pray for you, Ben?”
Now how did she know I was thinking that? She’s looking at me with such genuine concern that I feel tears gathering at the edge of my eyelids. Whoa. Time to get back to work. Get a grip, Ben.
“Forget it, Phoebe. I was just being nosey.”
We finish the rats in less than three hours, and I head out the door to my next assignment.
Phoebe catches my eye just before I close the door to her study, and her gentle smile makes me stop.
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have you say a prayer or two. For my Mom, I mean.”
“For you, too?”
I don’t answer her, but she stays put in front of me. Again, my throat aches suddenly with a sad kind of longing, and Phoebe seems to know it, too. She pats my arm before heading back to her study.
“I’ll be praying, Ben.”
I nod mutely and turn to leave. One last time I glance back at Phoebe, and even her shoulders seem set with purpose and strength. “What makes Phoebe-the-Wise so wise?” I ask myself. “Is it some kind of spiritual gift that only Christians have?” I don’t know, but I plan to find out. Someday.
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