Through the thick glass in the top of the study room door, I can see Mike holding up one rat after another. He has his back to the door, but I rap on the glass sharply to get his attention. He looks unhappy when his face turns my way.
“Let me in,” I mouth.
He ignores me. I knock again. I’m literally starting to get steamed in my full-face respirator, jumpsuit, bootees, and gloves. He saunters slowly to the door and bows at the waist as he lets me in. I smack the top of his head with my pen.
“Nutcase! Why did you leave me out there? And why are you still in here?” I grouch. I put my pen away and head to the computer to log in.
“Who sent you in here?” he asks.
“Paul. He says no males are allowed anymore. You’re supposed to be wearing full gear, y’know.”
He shrugs. “Too late. I figure I’m sterile by now. Been in here for two weeks already with no gear.”
“Paul’s heading this way to see if you’re gone,” I warn. I take a printed sign out of my pocket, unfold it, and step over to the window to stick it to the glass with duct tape. NO MALE ADMITTANCE, it reads in red and black hazardous-looking letters.
Mike reads the sign and shakes his head with a laugh. “Now they tell me.”
I check the computer to see where he left off on his obs. “You weigh this guy yet?” I ask as I take a limp, fat, and complacent male Charles River rat from a metal condo. His beady eyes regard me calmly and his limp toes strike me as funny. I giggle. “What did you put in his food block? Pot?” I laugh as I tickle the chubby white tummy of number 78314. The rat scrunches his toes but makes no further gesture. At least, he isn’t baring his big teeth at me; he could easily eat half my hand.
“That seems to be the effect of the stuff,” replies Mike. “Makes them very laid back. Too bad it made them all sterile, too.”
I observe the placid rat and gently place him back in his home, then tap his data into the computer. “They know what the trouble with this junk is yet?”
“Other than the fact that it makes boys not be boys anymore? Nope.”
I watch Mike and realize he’s not his jolly self. “What’s wrong with you?”
“This.” He waves his hand around at the study room. “I’m only 26 years old…newly married…and this stuff might have done me in for life. No kids. That stinks.” He slams his book shut.
“What’re you doin’ in here then? Get out of here. I already told you Paul’s on his way and NO men are supposed to be in here. And look at you! No protection at all. Didn’t they put that hazard sticker on the door yesterday for a reason, Mike?”
Again he shrugs languidly. “Too late now. I’ve breathed this air and handled these animals every day for two weeks since they started dosing. I figure I might as well go down with the ship. Gonna have to tell the wife that it’s a no-go on the kiddie-roos.”
I smile. Mike’s drama is part of why I like working with him, but his goofy antics can sometimes frustrate me, too. “You don’t know that anything’s wrong with you. Go out there and get your blood test from Dr. Frankenstein and wait for the results before you jump to conclusions.”
Mike takes one last look at his used-to-be study. “This was my first study assigned to me on my own.” He hunches his shoulders and slits his eyes, Brando style. “I coulda been somebody…I coulda been a contenda,” he mimics, badly.
I laugh. “Hey, I firmly believe that if God doesn’t plan for this to be the end of your papa or career dreams, it won’t be, Buddy-boy.”
He gives me a serious look. “Other than the fact that you sound like Darth Vader talking through that respirator, I can almost believe you.”
“Trust God, Mike. Science is often wrong as you’ve found out, but God…He knows it all.”
He shrugs me off and heads for the door. Just before he goes out into the safe air of the corridor, he turns and gives me the thumbs up. “Maybe I’ll take Him up on it this time, Kiddo.”
Note: This is a true story and God did intervene for my co-worker. “Mike” had two children a few years later.
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