As good as it gets

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Markus was nearing the end of his dreary conference call. His mind had began to wonder. He looked into the background of one of his colleagues who had chosen to do the call from his bedroom. He noticed the ugly brown carpet and the pink duvet covers and matching pillow on his bed in the background. He wondered when the last time his colleague had washed those pink sheets. Last night? Last week? Last anniversary? It reminded him of his ugly sheets at home his wife chose. He despised them but always did so with a smile. To his wife he also loved them. 

This wasn’t the beginning of all the lies. To Markus, if he didn’t say, he wasn’t technically lying. His wife would ask him.

“Markus, what do you think of these lampshades?” His response would always be neutral and impersonal, along the lines of

“Ah yah, very modern.” Technically he hasn’t lied, he did as he was asked, he gave his opinion and his opinion was honest. He just never mentioned the part where he felt like vomiting every time he saw them. Over the years the habit stumbled out of control and he found himself in a house he hated, with a wife he never loved and a daughter that was nothing more than an offspring, spawned to existence to give his life the slightest purpose; make sure she doesn’t starve. Whatever love he had left, he spent it in his lab. 

Markus inherited the lab, one day he found himself as a postdoc working in the atomic physics department and one day the group leader decided to quit his post in academia to become a swimsuit model specialising in swimsuits for middled aged men. The decision surprised every academic in the physics and mathematics department. Academics were so fascinated by this it spawned a research project with the psychology department. What makes one man, doing so well in his academic career to decide overnight that he will become a swimsuit model, was he on something? What transcendental fast food experience led him to that decision? The psychologists and theoretical physicists brought every variable together and tried to understand the man’s behaviour. It's a lot to think about, even to the researchers who worked in statistical physics.

And so Markus, being the most senior researcher in the group was the obvious person to take over the lab, it didn’t take long for him to be promoted to professor, only after his colleague next door Prof Hildebrand of course. Hildebrand was younger, or so appeared, he wore free t-shirts from gigs and music festivals, whereas Kellog wore shirts that were sold in packs of 5 from the supermarket. 

Hilderbrand had an ear stud and was the Berlin night club, dances for hours through the night fuelled by heavy spirits and tobacco and arrives at work the next morning to edit his Nature paper. Whereas Markus wore reading glasses and was the Munich coffee sipping hiker who had enjoyed a trek on his Saturday afternoon. 

Kellog despised Hildebrand, his lab was larger; he got more funding, all the able students applied to his projects first and the military just dropped an endless grant of money to fund his projects. 

I sat in his office for our weekly meeting and held my results close to my chest, before I presented them a heavy knock came from the door and Hildebrand opened it.

“Ah herr Kellog” He said in his heavy Berlin accent. 

“Ah ha, Hildebrand” replied Markus.

“You, still haven’t sent that email have you?”

“Erm, I believe I have.”

“I don’t think so, haha”

“Hahah I have yah!”

“Haha I’m pretty sure you haven’t” they both looked each other dead in the eyes with angry smiles.

“Ahh hahah”

“Ha! Ha! Haha” It was an extremely awkward and passive aggressive conversation and I felt very uncomfortable as I sat in-between the two. Hildebrand left and our meeting continued. 

Markus’ research was in experimentally observing the quantum wave function during the moment of collapse to get a peek into the other worlds that may have spawned from taking a measurement. He would go on about how it was indeed possible to peer into these ‘other worlds’. It puzzled me as to why he was so dedicated to his project but it begins to make much more sense. As I watched Markus type away on his computer, with a photograph of his family in which he looked extremely sad. I managed to catch him staring out of the window to Hildebrand walking across the campus. Hildebrand went over to his beautiful girlfriend and they kissed passionately. Markus had the saddest look on his face. The sorrows of a man who wished he had done things differently right from the start but fell into a spiral. A man that wished he could  simply say ‘no’ to things. He recalled back to his years as a student where during one night he went lose and kissed the woman he truly desired.

He was extremely happy, but fuelled with so much shame for doing something for himself. My results were so inconclusive I might as well not have shown up to the meeting, Markus urged me to try again, if there was one thing he was good at, it was in persisting. I went back to the lab to look over my experimental set up. It was so preliminary and basic it looked like it it would be years before we saw anything that resembled a positive result. 

I often wonder if the reason as to why Markus’ spent so many hours in his lab and so much conviction in his project was because he could peer into the life he never had. Perhaps it was somehow his final chance at living the life he wished he could have or at least proving to himself that the life he chose himself was, indeed as he often though to himself ‘as good as it gets’. 


About the Author: 
Ishiwata wishes he didn't run out of coffee and that it wasn't raining so that he could go outside. Instead Ishiwata decided to stay indoors and write. He has been writing ever since, and hasn't left his house.
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