By Kasandra Sharac
“As in the literal Greek myth? Oedipus? Really?”
“If James Joyce can call his shit 'Ulysses', I can call mine 'Oedipus'.”
“Sure. Sure, you can. And yes, I'll read it, you know I will. I'll give you comments by next week. How did the presentation go, anyway?”
“Oh. Horrible. There was a question from the audience.”
“Why I used a t-test on data that don't follow a normal distribution.”
“Oh. That's more of a comment, really.”
“Well, there was a second question.”
“What was it?”
“The second question was how I could have been so stupid as to use a t-test on data that don't follow a normal distribution.”
“Were there any oth-”
“The third question was a more general question: how I could be so stupid.”
“Basically, by the end of the Q&A the general consensus was that I should go fuck my mother.”
“I'm sorry about that. What do they know, anyway? I mean. Uhm. Oh, hey, by the way, did you think about what the doctor said?”
“The laser thingy? I don't know, Cassie. Sounds scary as fuck to be honest. I don't think I can deal with it right now, ok?”
“Oh, but babe, it's just lasers. You've seen lasers before. It's the stuff light sabres are made of. It's the same lasers that you give to a cat. The same lasers that you had your hair removed with. Why would your eye be any different?
And if it can help you – if it can make your life more comfortable – why not just do it?”
It wouldn't have taken much or I would not be standing here in front of you today. I had to really convince Marlene to go through with the surgery in the beginning, you know. I remember it well, it was a Blue Monday. She just got back from a very successful conference.
The next time I saw her, she wore sunglasses and told me she had to squirt stuff into her eyes for a while, but that she was feeling quite good.
Nothing seemed off in the beginning. We were walking in the park and she pointed out an eagle on a distant mountaintop. I told her that I couldn't see it myself, but I was happy for her.
Then Valentine's Day came.
“It is pooping!”
“It is literally pooping onto your eyelash!”
“I don't feel anything, Marlie, are you hallucinating? What is pooping?”
I put my hands all over my face, but all I can feel is my face.
“Well, at least I think it's a demodex. I've never actually seen one before.”
“What does it look like?”
“Long tail. Scales. Kind of melancholic grin like a dolphin. And I thought it had huge nipples, but those seem to actually be its feet. Actually, there are several of them on your eyelashes. Oh, hey, there's one peeking out from your eyebrow. Hi there!”
Few of you probably know that besides being an absolutely amazing microbiologist, she was actually also a very skilled writer. She would wax all poetic and tell me that there were crimson craters like on Mars in my irises. That my skin was like a desert. Moundy and wavy. Desiccated but resilient. That microbes clustered in communities in the oily oases around my nostrils. That a phalanx of pathogens made a pathetic attempt to colonize my left cheekbone, but couldn't even break through to the outer layer. Stuff like that, super romantic.
“What do you see, babe?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“There were some kind of spherical bacteria tightroping on slime trails between our lips just now.
And here... Let's take a peek.
Hmm. There are lumps of lactobacilli and yeast living in your pussy.”
“They look happy, though. I would be happy if I lived there too.”
She presses her face into the lactobacilli.
Oh! Are you not afraid of squishing them?”
“Nah, some of them look pretty dead already.”
By the first day of spring, she could already see all kinds of proteins, which she described as big and wriggly. I tried not to think about things too much around that time. She seemed excited about her new condition in any case. We could live like this.
Holy Saturday. We were dying eggs with turmeric. She was cradling one in her hand, carrying it over to the basket, when it dropped. She started crying.
“I can't take it anymore.”
“Hey, babe, don't worry, it's just an egg.”
“Cassie, I am practically only seeing water molecules in front of my eyes! I can barely even see you, other than the aura of where the water molecules dissipate into... is this oxygen? And is this one here nitrogen? Yes, this fat one is nitrogen...
You see! I cannot focus on anything at all. I'm seriously considering quitting my PhD. And I can't even cry about it because that only makes it worse!”
“Don't worry, we will find a way.”
“No. We will not find a way. You have done enough, Cassandra. If it wasn't for y-”
“It's my fault? Sure, because you are devoid of any agency, are you not, Marlene?”
“That's not what I mea-”
“Everything is always everyone else's fault! The fact that you've been writing a thesis for over six years! The fact that you've been writing a novel for over eight! And that nothing you do or make ever gets published! And you know why?
Because everything is always a gimmick with you! You spent days working out whether the colour scheme of your slides should be magenta and burnt orange or lilac and ochre, but you didn't even bother to do the statistical analysis properly. You've abandoned your PhD long ago!
Oh! And besides! What even happened in 'Oedipus'? Literally nothing! And the only reason it was named that way, was because, after ten pages of literal nothingness, the guy blinds himself out of boredom? Edgy as fuck, babe!”
“Drop the scissors, Marlene!”
“Don't do it!”
“Don't worry, babe. I've tried it on my thigh first. It wasn't too bad. You should have seen how the desert parted and the consistency of the flow with which the blood cells filled the space. Why should my eye be any different?”
Oh, gosh, sorry about this.
Didn't mean to get all teary-eyed.
Where was I?
It's just that... our relationship was tense around that time. We said some stuff we didn't always mean, y'know. She tried doing some things she deeply regrets... But she really did not want to live like this anymore.
Luckily, I somehow convinced her to go about things the correct way. Surgically. She decided to go back to the laser place and just ask them to put her under and put the laser on full blast. To be painlessly blinded out of her suffering.
When we got to the doctor's, however, he said that that would be highly unethical. And that he saw great potential in her.
“Just imagine! If enough time passes, you might be able to see beyond the smallest known elementary particles! You can reveal the greatest secrets of the universe to us!”
Marlie keeps her eyes closed and holds my hand: “I'm not sure I want that”.
The doctor looks at me.
I turn to Marlie: “But if it can make you important, babe... at least just think about it, ok?”
And yeah, so, here we are! As you all know, she is currently seeing fermions and we are all very excited and anxiously awaiting the next phase.
What can I say? It really has been quite a journey so far. I feel so blessed to be here. Look at all of this. Look at this banner! 'Microscope Marlene'? Hilarious! Did you make that, Joe? Fantastic. You're the best. Oh, and who knew adding kimchi to a Bloody Mary would taste so good! Can't wait to get me some more of those!
Thank you so, so much for inviting me. Us.
Marlene sends everyone her warmest regards and thanks you for respecting her wish to remain out of the public eye. Kasandra is a linguist and writer currently based in Paris (the one in France). She is both from North Macedonia and from the Netherlands and caught between cultures. She speaks Macedonian, Dutch, French, German, English and a bit of truth‐conditional seman‐ tics.