The Scientific Method

Source: RT Visions

Source: RT Visions

Maria* cast a critical eye over what she saw in the mirror. Simple white blouse (first button undone), classic red A-line skirt (above the knee, but nothing scandalous), red patent leather high-heeled shoes. The shoes were stupidly expensive, terribly impractical and almost cripplingly painful, but her husband thought they looked amazing, and really accentuated her calves. She loosely tied her long, bleached blonde hair back into a ponytail, and applied lipstick, also bright red. She could hear her husband** finishing getting dressed; she really should get a start on breakfast.

*Dr Maria Wood (nee Fellini) PhD Organic Chemistry ANU. Winner of Dr JJ Roberts Prize in Chemistry. Awarded ANU PhD Scholarship in Organic & Biological Chemistry. Thirty-four years old, 170 centimetres, 62.5 kilos. Previous employment: Four years Research Academic at  UNSW, then two years Research Scientist at AustraChem Pty Ltd. Salary on leaving $79,330. Currently unemployed.

**Dr Stephen Wood. Phd Applied Chemistry, Deakin. Thirty-nine years old, 175 cm tall, 110 kilos. Currently major shareholder (67.5%) and Director of AustraChem Pty Ltd. Last years taxable income, approximately $975,000 not including dividends, capital gains or income from patent licences.

Maria made her way into the kitchen, her heels clicking primly with each step on the exotic hand-scraped hardwood flooring, opening the pantry door to grab an apron. The garment hung loosely on the inside, frilly and pink, and as she reached out she paused momentarily…

…momentarily cast back to her room as a child, pink walls and a pink ceiling and a pink furniture and pink pillows and pink blankets and pink dolls and a pink doll house and her pink dresses and she felt that if she stood still in this room she would disappear in the sea of pink, camouflaged against the unending and unbroken colour and she hated pink, she hated her room she hated her dolls she hated her dresses, she would sneak into her brothers room and steal his Lego, steal his puzzles, steal his magnets and play with these toys, build wonderful buildings, bridges, rockets, squealing in delight after solving a tricky mystery, studying the magnets, attracting and repelling, it was more than worth enduring the occasional bruise from an angry sibling, anything was better than the sucking pink-hole that was her room, her zone, her place

…before grabbing it and throwing the straps over her neck, tying the pink lacy ribbon around her middle with a large, decorative bow.

The kitchen was huge, spotless stainless steel appliances and unblemished glass surfaces. A long dining table lead to a pair of massive glass folding doors, through which the harbour could be seen. The water view was framed perfectly by a carefully manicured garden of towering palms, dark green and glossy bushes forming a hedge, and a large number of plants carefully selected for either their edibility, or the attractiveness of their flowers. Maria knew each plant, she would spend a little time each day tending her sage, her basil, her marjoram, which was artistically interspersed amongst glorious blue Lobelias*, magnificent yellow Aconitum**, and the tiny delicate pink-purple flowers of the Comfrey***. In the year since she and her husband had moved to the house, Maria had taken control of the garden, spending much of her significant free time tending it. Her husband was thrilled with this arrangement, as he had no interest in plants, and certainly did not have a green-thumb. They often laughed over his utter lack of botanical knowledge and inability to tell one garden plant from another.

One time, after being asked to pick herbs for their salad, he had come back with bunches of kikuyu grass and had eaten the lot, thoroughly confused why his wife had tears streaming down her face, laughing fit to burst. Since then, the fact he once ate a handful of the lawn with a mustard vinaigrette and a medium rare steak was a shared joke, a story to tell at parties (and she told it often, much to his chagrin). When she sent him out to get salads these days, she would call it ‘mowing the lawn’, or ‘harvesting the lucky dip plant’****.

*Lobelia: Toxicity, overdose can cause rapid heart beat, low blood pressure, coma, death.
**Acontium (alternatively Aconite):  Toxicity, nausea, low blood pressure, vomiting, respiratory-system paralysis, heart-rhythm disorders, death.
***Comfrey: Liver damage, cancer.

****In the 2011 ABS data, 0.7% of all deaths in Australia (a total of 987 deaths of which 686 were males) were from accidental poisoning.

Maria could hear her husband stomping down the stairs, his heavy footfalls and slightly laboured breathing giving away his recent weight gain. She smiled – she didn’t mind at all. Despite his new ‘cuddliness’, she felt the same about him now as she did on the day they met…

…the day they met at her interview, the aggravating pompous idiot arsehole sitting across from her, staring at her tits the whole fucking time, hands under the desk pushing down an uncomfortable erection right in front of her like she wasn’t even here, gradually realising he hadn’t even looked at her CV, her research, her publications, he’d found a photo on her academic homepage and thought it might be nice to have a hottie in the lab to wash the fucking test tubes and get the fucking coffee, and she raged internally, wanting to ram the waterglass in front of her into his sweaty face, but screaming on the inside as she knew full well she would take this job, she knew that even with the lack of recognition, the refusal to include her as a contributor, the outright theft of her ideas, even with the gross stares, the inappropriate patting, the disgusting innuendo, even with all this, AustraChem couldn’t be worse than her current job under the clammy and touching fingers of Professor ‘Gropey’, and she smiled and shook the arsehole’s hand and in her head she screamed and screamed and imagined the broken glass cutting his face, popping his eyes, watching him bleed…

…and she didn’t think this would ever change.

She was frying as Stephen walked in, puffing and grunting, his large round face a blotchy red. He was awkwardly carrying his suit jacked over the shoulder, a squash racquet, gym bag and laptop in an expensive leather case. His silk tie was loosely hung around his thick neck, and his white shirt bunched up around the buttons – she would need to buy him the next size up soon.  “Mmmm, is that bacon and eggs?” he asked, sniffing the air like a hound, “I am so spoiled, sweetheart.”

“Only the best for my big sexy man Stephen.” She moved closer, giving him a peck on the cheek, and hugged him around his waist, her arms only just able to make it around*.

*Males in the highest waist size quintile (greater than 107cm) compared to the lowest waist size quintile (less than 84cm): 

– had 2.2 times the incidence of cardiovascular disease;

– a three fold increase in the incidence of diabetes; and

– double the risk of death from all causes.

Stephen started scoffing down his breakfast with haste, throwing whole fried eggs into his mouth. Maria handed him the morning’s vitamin and supplement tablets – she insisted he take these to supplement his zinc* and potassium** intake, critical minerals for sperm count. He slugged the four tablets back, washing them down with a sugary cappuccino. “Sorry love, cant hang around.” He grunted around his third piece of bacon, whilst Maria carefully placed his lunch (a large dish of seafood pasta carbonara) into his gym bag. “Late for a morning meeting. And I’ll be late home too remember, I’m catching Jonno for squash like you suggested.*** It’ll be good to hit the court again.”

“No problems sweetheart,” said Maria, “I wont cook anything tonight, we can take away Indian**** when we get home.”

*Prolonged excess zinc intake can cause low copper status, reduced iron function, red blood cell microcytosis, neutropenia and reduced immune function, as well as affect cardiac function.

**Excess potassium in the blood can cause Hyperkalemia, which can lead to cardiac arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.

***Undertaking overly vigorous exercise beyond an individual’s current fitness capacity has been linked to cardiac and respiratory issues.

****Total food consumption (not including snacks): Two fried eggs, four slices of bacon, three-hundred grams of penne pasta (cooked), seafood cabonara, one take away serve of rice, vindaloo curry and garlic naan. Total calories approximately 3,500. Recommended calorie intake for average male: 2,400.

“Ah, shit I have to bolt, sorry hon!” Maria carried his jacket as Stephen sweated his way down to his car, “Ugh, traffic is going to be awful.”

“You’ll make it to work on time. Isn’t that why I let you get this silly sports car**?”

“Let me? You practically insisted I buy it!”

Maria licked her apron corner and raised it up to clean leftover egg off her husband’s face. “Well you work hard, I think you deserve to spoil yourself sometimes.”

*Speeding is a factor in one-third of all road accidents in Australia. More than four thousand Australians are injured in speed related accidents every year.

She gave Stephen another quick kiss as he got in the car. He sat, pressing the start button, and reversing down the drive before stopping halfway and calling Maria’s name. She ran down (as fast as was possible in those heels), while he wound the window down and handed her a large manila folder. “I nearly forgot to give you these! I’ve arranged the income protection and life insurance coverage. Here are the copies. I know you only suggested a mill, but I went for two.”

“Oh thank you honey, you have no idea how much better this makes me feel.” Maria smiled a dazzling, genuine smile as she stood there, gently rubbing her left arm a few inches above the elbow*. “If we are going to try and get pregnant, I need to be sure that everything is set up, that we would be looked after if anything ever… happened. Y’know?”

*Implanon subdermal progestogen birth control implant. 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, practically undetectable.

“Yeah, sweetheart. I know. I would never… ah shit, I have to go. See you tonight sweety!” Stephen roared out of the driveway in reverse, leaving her clutching the manila folder. She slowly removed her shoes, her apron and casually walked back towards the house. She was lowering the garage door when a delicious idea sprang to mind. Grabbing her smart phone, she began to draft a text. A bit flirty, a bit sexy. Getting the right tone was critical.

When she finished, she hit send and looked at the clock – Stephen had been gone ten minutes and would be close to the freeway by now. She was still pouring breakfast (a dry white wine) to drink out in the garden – when her phone beeped with Stephen’s reply. Not even two minutes had passed*.

*Distracted driving plays a role in approximately 32% of all road traffic accidents in Australia.

Maria laughed softly and walked outside, already drafting the next dirty text message to entertain her husband during his commute.

 


Oh god this story was a freaking struggle.

It isn’t where I wanted it to be… it didn’t go where I wanted it to go. Does it work at all…? I have no idea.

Excuse me… deep breath….

The perfect murder

Ok, this is my first post for a few days. I wanted to write the so-called ‘perfect murder story’ – essentially a murder which is undetectable by the police, where the murderer will get away with it. I had a few ideas banging around in my head on this – the disappearing murder weapon (aka Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl), getting someone else to do the killing and take the blame, getting the victim to suicide, etc. When I was tossing these ideas around, I eventually settled on ‘modern living’ as the method of crime.

This readily brought me to my murderer and my victim being a wife and husband. My wife encourages me to diet, to exercise, to drink less, as she wants me to be alive to see the kids graduate school – so in my story the wife wants the opposite, so she encourages ‘bad living’ as a way to get rid her husband. Poor diet, speed, and encouraging accidents all contribute to her plan.

And finally it was in the researching that I came to the idea that the murderer was a scientist – my murderer’s plan is reliant on statistics, on knowing where the unknown risks are and forcing her husband into taking them. It also gave me a ready motive, as gender bias in science has been filling my twitter feed of late, a depressing number of sexism in academia stories, both in the news and in blogs. So my female scientist is inwardly enraged, and outwardly acting a role.

So what went wrong…?

I tried to be too clever. I wanted to experiment with format here, to almost write three stories in one:

  • a sweet surface tale of a husband and his loving wife
  • an unpunctuated stream of consciousness, highlighting the hate and rage that Maria is barely suppressing
  • a clinical, detached, scientific-looking description of the exact thing that the murderer is hoping to cause – sending a text to your husband is sweet, romantic… unless you are deliberately distracting them on the road.

I stand by the fact this would have been a good idea had I been able to pull it off, but unfortunately I don’t think it worked. Ultimately this is with you the reader though, so if you do manage to read all of it, let me know what you think.

So why did you post it?

Good question. My stated stance is that if its no good, don’t post.

That said… honestly think I’m clinging to the hope that this is actually ok, and that I’m being too hard on myself… but I really don’t think that is the case. Maybe I can get some constructive criticisms and learn from this experience.

Regardless, I am unwilling to spend any more time on it – it took forever to draft, and I’ll be glad to see the back of it. It’s Monday tomorrow, new stories, new flash fiction, I can leave this murder story behind.

As always, comments and criticisms are welcome.

Cheers

KT

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13 thoughts on “The Scientific Method

  1. I liked it. I do think you pulled off the three stories in one. The bold where you are describing the facts reminds me of what you would see on a TV show on the screen…I liked that part. The only part I would leave out is where she mentions the life insurance…No smart woman would wait until last minute for that. Too suspicious. She would have done that months in advance. As it appears she is hoping he will die that day in a crash on the highway from her texting. haha. Which is cool. Sorry. But it is. But you are not doing anything more with it as you said..but if you ever do, I would take that part out. But I liked it. -alex

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    1. Yeah… the insurance bit was added at the end. I *nearly* just added it as a factoid under Stephen, but it didn’t seem to work there either…

      I got really frustrated at this story, I think mainly because I was (am) sure that the idea has (missed) potential… So I’m glad you liked it, and thanks for letting me know 🙂

      Cheers
      KT

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I’m going to disagree with you here. I came to see a Friday Fictioneers post but caught sight of this as I scrolled down, and just kept reading – because I think the writing is really good in terms of description/characterisation and because the structure intrigued me. As I kept reading I thought “this is the most interesting story I’ve seen posted in quite a while.”

    I can imagine what a pain the 3-part structure must’ve been, but I thought it was well handled except at this point: “she felt the same about him now as she did on the day they met…” which then proceeds to describe the unwanted, lecherous first meeting. The problem I had with that is that it flat out sign-posts Maria’s attitude towards her husband and so robs the rest of the story of the mystery that I enjoyed in its earlier part, i.e. what’s happening and why is it being described like this. So, for me it would have worked better if that scene had been delayed or been more nuanced and open to interpretation.

    But, like I said, I ended up reading a story I hadn’t come to see because it hooked me – so it’s gotta have something, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are too hard on yourself – for me the unresolved ending works – the story continues after the story as the delightfully Machiavellian/Borgia wife plots to factor in imaginative risk factors into his life – you know she is going to get him in the end, and the readers mind is titillated by the options of how she got him. I liked the insertion of stats. My only wish that the story could have been a bit longer.
    If you get a chance for an amusing trying to murder someone story, have a gander at the tv series “Randall and Hopkirk (deceased)” Episode “Paranoia”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the very kind words 🙂 I originally envisaged a longer piece, but found the stats took a lot of work, and the story wasnt quite heading where i wanted.

      I may revisit in the future 🙂

      Cheers
      KT

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, research can take bloody ages. Your stats were good, and essential to the impact of your story. I have a confession to make. I am a hopeless writer – planning anything is beyond me. I usually just have an idea, then let it off the leash and let it run. If I don’t like where it goes I bin it. I can get away with this in short pieces. Obviously would not work for a novel.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ha – there is a lot to be said for the no-plot or pantsing method – its distilled creativity. I’m almost certain I would write myself into a corner though. I am a compulsive plotter – my planned novel has 80 pages of planning – every ‘segment’/plot point has about half a page of notes, with odd details about conversations to be had, etc.

        I’m sure I will vary from this, but having it in place gives a sense of comfort. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. A while back I tried one of those novel writing programmes – which provide a structure to work within. I was too disorganised to use it. There is a huge gap in skill set between writing short stories and a novel. Without any organisation I have noticed my own stories are sorting themselves into categories. The best I can hope for is one day perhaps putting together a selection of stories around a similar theme. So – good luck with the novel writing. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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