Lisa Tang stared forlornly at the small Plexiglas aquarium as A.M. Leander strode into the lab.
“Why so pensive, Lisa?” A.M. queried, as she exchanged her elaborately embroidered Kuspuk for her pale blue lab coat.
“I think my experiment died,” Lisa said, weakly, pondering a large, motionless garden spider lying awkwardly on a hammock-like web.
A.M. peered into the aquarium and clucked sympathetically. “It happens to best of us. Jus’ start new ‘speriment.”
Lisa sighed. “I know. But I was just sort of getting fond of Leonard...and I don’t even like spiders.”
A.M. raised her eyebrows. “Leonard?”
Lisa clamped her head in her hands repentantly.
“I know, I know. Dr. Wu has told us a thousand times never to name our subjects. I’m a terrible person. I couldn’t help it!”
A.M. gave Lisa a gentle hug. “I think Dr. Wu will forgive. Did I ever tell you about Franklin?”
“No. Was he that grad student last year?”
A.M. shook her head and headed to the lab refrigerator. She retrieved an ancient jar containing a giant squid’s eyeball floating in formaldehyde from the door’s condiment shelf and brought it back to Lisa.
“Here is Franklin.” Lisa squinted suspiciously at the jar. “Uh, you mean Franklin’s eyeball...whatever Franklin was.”
A.M. shook her head again. “No. Is Franklin.”
Lisa backed away from A.M. a step. “...You named an...eyeball …Franklin...”
“Lisa was already taken,” A.M. said, flatly.
“I love you too, A.M.” Lisa said, rolling her eyes.
A.M. returned the eyeball to the refrigerator and returned to Lisa’s side. “Do we need to perform funeral service? I am good Lu’teran. I can do this for Leonard.” She peered into the aquarium again. “But maybe it would be more proper to wait until he is truly dead. I do not think truly dead spiders walk like that.”
Lisa glanced at the spider and gasped. “Leonard! You’re alive! Why didn’t you say something when I called you?!”
“I think spiders are kind of deaf maybe,” A.M. suggested. “Well, anyway, this is better way to start morning than with spider funeral, no?”
Lisa shook her finger toward the spider. “Don’t ever do that again!”
A.M. gazed curiously toward the resurrected arachnid. “So, Lisa. What is experiment supposed to be, anyway?”
Lisa opened her notebook and pointed to some scribbling. “It’s a pattern memory experiment. Dr. Wu thinks if we can figure out how a spider recognizes things we can build better computers. Spiders are supposed to have very simple brains, so they’re easier to study. I’m not really convinced of that.”
“Of course not, Lisa. Spiders have been ‘round longer than us. They have had lots of time to figure things out. I think they will still be here when we are gone. God says we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Maybe true for spiders, too.”
Lisa squinted at Leonard. “But they have such tiny little heads! Where do they fit all that stuff in there?”
“They do not waste so many brain cells watchin’ infomercial shows I think.”
Lisa nodded. “Yeah, that’s a good point. I wonder what they do for fun.”
A.M. shrugged. “I think maybe they play dead.”
“Hmm,” Lisa said, carefully pondering A.M.’s analysis. She glared at Leonard. “Just for the record, young man, that was not funny.”
A.M. returned to the refrigerator, opened it, and placed her lunch bag on the middle shelf. “Do not go anywhere!” she commanded, as she closed the door.
“Your lunch is sharing living quarters with a pickled alien eyeball,” Lisa noted. “Doesn’t that bother you just a little bit? No, I guess not; you eat raw walruses.”
“I do not, Lisa. I only eat raw seals. Walruses are eaten cooked. I have es’plained this before.”
Lisa slapped her forehead in self-condemnation. “But of course! How silly of me for forgetting!”
A.M. laughed. “Lisa, you are very favorite nerdy Chinese lady. Some day you will come to Greenland. There are almost no nerdy Chinese ladies there.”
“Imagine that,” Lisa said, rolling her eyes again. “Well, just so you know, you’re my favorite cooked walrus-eating Greenland lady. There aren’t many of them at UCLA either. So what are you doing today?”
A.M. made her way to her desk and nudged a mouse, bringing a sleeping monitor to life. “Need to calibrate GCMS for Bucky Balls. You know what are Bucky Balls?”
“No I don’t,” Lisa confessed.
“They are new form of carbon. Well, not brand new; just sort of new. They probably are not in nature, so need to be made artificial…I mean artificial made. Dr. Wu says they look like igloos. Well, maybe microscopic igloos. Except they are probably black. I think. Because carbon is black. Except for diamonds, which are not black; they are diamond colored. So maybe these Bucky Balls will look like igloo shape diamonds. I have never seen them though, which is why we need GCMS. Dr. Wu has never seen igloo either, I think.”
Lisa stared at A.M. with her jaw hanging. “I’d really love to take a walk around in that brain of yours!”
“Sorry for wandering around like that. You forget that Inupiat has no parts of speech, so we always need to speak the whole thing; never just parts!”
“Ah,” Lisa said, nodding with understanding. “So, what are Bucky Balls supposed to do for us?”
A.M. scratched her head. “Dr. Wu did not say, but I have some ideas. Maybe it will be about spider brains. I have learned to not ask so many questions. If you spend too much time thinkin’ ‘bout things you will end up jus’ like like Franklin.”