This week’s piece of flash fiction for Wednesday Briefs is, unfortunately, not the third part of Disassembly Required. It’s actually a weird, goofball stand-alone piece about a couple of college kids cramming on a Sunday night. Write what you know, right? Perfect for fans of unusual slugs and unusual physicists. I enjoyed writing it, so I hope y’all enjoy reading it!
Slug Love. One-shot. Prompt used: I asked you not to tell me that.
“I asked you not to tell me that!”
“Tell you what?”
“About the banana slugs!”
It was 8 pm on a Sunday night, and Trista and her best friend Ronaldo were at the library. Surrounded by five stacks of books deep, they sat at one of the biggest tables on the group study floor. Only a ring of empty and half-full coffee cups separated their working space from the towering texts that made up their study fortress. Ronaldo’s laptop face was clean, while Trista’s silver laptop was buried underneath layers of stickers that said things like Stand back, I’m going to do science, back in my day, we had nine planets, and drop the base. Instead of the biology essay she had due the next day on the history of forensic zoology, she’d found multiple articles on banana slugs, and was inflicting the minutiae of the Ariolimax columbianus‘ sex life upon Ronaldo.
“So you’re not interested in how banana slugs are simultaneous hermaphrodites?” She clicked from one tab to another. “Or that sometimes slugs will bite off the genitalia of their mate after copulation?”
“Hey. Hey!” Ronaldo waved a plastic domed container of what at one point had been a mocha mint frappe cappuccino in front of Trista’s screen. “This isn’t making the quantum mechanics any more appealing.”
“Appealing? A-peel-ing?” Trista grinned, a sliver of tongue peeking between her teeth.
“Shit, I made a pun, didn’t I?” Ronaldo hid his face in the pages of a paperback copy of Feynman’s QED that had seen better days.
“Dude, if you’re gonna hide your pun shame, a book by the prank king of Los Alamos is pretty much the worst place to take refuge.”
Ronaldo heaved a huge sigh and freed his face from the confines of Doctor Feynman’s magnum opus. “So. Banana slugs.”
“You want to hear about them after all?”
“Not really, but it’s better than trying to explain probability amplitudes.”
“That’s the thing with the stopwatch, right?”
“You—” Ronaldo gestured at Trista with the book—”are a biology major. Feynmanian diagrams aren’t even in your wheelhouse.”
“Hey, have you seen Feynman at Caltech? That man is all in my wheelhouse.” Trista reached for a clear, tall cup containing a frothy and fruity drink and nibbled thoughtfully at the straw. “Like, sexually.”
“Nope. Nope nope nope.”
“I mean, I’m not here to disparage his body of intellectual work, but I’d totally disparage his physical body. And by disparage, I mean encumber sexually.”
“Okay, this is officially worse than the banana slugs.”
“I haven’t even talked about how big their testicles are compared to the rest of their body! Or how they have one lung—”
The sound of books knocking around on a book cart rolling past brought the conversation to a pause. Ronaldo scanned to see where the cart was, only to notice that the occupants of the table adjacent to theirs were curiously super-focused on their work, faces noticeably red. And then he realized the book cart had come to a stop by their own table.
“Hey.” The student worker,—or so Ronaldo judged by the girl’s ridiculously youthful baby face—looked at them both. “Please maintain a respectful volume level during mid-term week. Okay?”
“Okay,” Ronaldo and Trista mumbled in unison, as if they’d been scolded by their parents.
“Also, you might like this.” She pulled a book from her cart and dropped it on the shortest stack of texts on the table. “Have a good night.” She rolled away as swiftly as she came, the wheels of her metal cart barely making a sound in the plush carpet.
Trista picked up the book the worker had left. “Quantum Electrodynamics for Dummies?” She began to flip through the pages.
Ronaldo groaned. “I’m not a dummy—”
“Oh shit.” Trista grew quieter than usual. “Look what’s inside.” She pulled out a thin sheath of papers from the gap between the cover and the title page. Pages of college rule sheet paper were covered in calculations and diagrams, and the top page opened in a banner of black and red ink with the words A QUICK GUIDE TO FEYNMANIAN DIAGRAMS AND THE QED LECTURES in smart, block handwriting.
They stared at each other then whipped around to catch a final glimpse of the girl with the cart, but there was no sign of her among the long row of study tables and open stacks of books. The only physical proof she’d ever existed was a library copy of QED for Dummies and a set of physics notes, presumably written by the same person.
“I think we just met a physics wizard.” Trista took a long, hard drink of her fruit froth drink before adding, “And I’m totally in love.”
“Physics is still not your field!” Ronaldo protested.
Trista shrugged. “I mean, the only difference between physics and biology is how big the specimen on the slide is, right?”
“I haven’t even got the time to explain how incorrect that is,” Ronaldo started. But it was too late. Trista looked as though she was already in dreamland, her straw hanging idly from her mouth as her gaze wandered away from her computer screen and up to the ceiling.
So he left Trista to her fantasies of riding through a sea of cartoon drawings of quarks with Richard Feynman and the library physics wizard and returned to his work. Except that he didn’t go back to one of his tabs with an actual academic, from-the-paywall Elsevier articles. He instead opened a search browser window and typed in banana slug reproduction method, then hit enter.
The second miracle of that night was that both of them actually finished and turned in their assignments on time.
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