Chemistry Happens in a Lab – SG Phillips

“You’re very handsome.”
“Thanks, you too.”

They were both feeling pretty good about themselves, maybe happy that they weren’t ghosted. He asked if she could meet Thursday. Wednesday worked better for her. He offered to meet at CB. She didn’t like CB, but since she picked the day, he got to pick the place. He liked her etiquette, it was reassuring, but at 7 he was nervous. He drank 2 pints before she showed up. 

“You’re a tattoo artist?” he asks. That’s stupid, she had that in her profile. You already talked with her about that. He misses her reply. Silence.

“I used to draw, my high school had a good art instructor, but he passed.” “Oh, that’s sad. Good teachers are hard to find.” Pause. Sip. “Did you have any in Ohio?” “Huh? Oh, good teachers. No one memorable.” Silence. He sips, then gulps his beer. They are sitting at the bar, facing some loud TV’s. A football game is on. The bar is mostly empty, the staff is indifferent to any and all touchdowns.

“I had one, actually.” “Oh?” “He really brought home how with projects, we don’t really finish them.” He waits for her to go on. She doesn’t. Art is only abandoned, or some empty phrase like that is what she meant. A touchdown is scored.

“I switched to science. It’s more boring than it is hard. I thought art school looked harder,” he says. He’d gone to college for music originally, but flunked out, but he doesn’t mention it.

“I mean it depends, more patience maybe. Projects can take a long time.” 

“Oh, because—” The silence is broken by a buzzer. Maybe the players will dump blue gatorade on the coach. Or maybe that’s Hockey. It must be a lot of fun to be invested in this game, he thinks. Players are interviewed, it-is-what-it-is-ing the questions back at the journalists, both teams, in celebration or loss. He remembers suddenly.

“Because you have to make sure they can survive on their own, like after they’re abandoned.” Now the truism seems less empty. I get it now; this is progress. He feels good. 


He orders another beer. She does too.

She looks at him intrigued, then with a big smile. He’s about to laugh and ask what’s up. “Hey Peter!” she says to the manager, behind him.

Old friends from art school, catching up. The manager has a gallery he exhibits at once a month. They keep talking. He stops paying attention. Another round. He contemplates a final for a lab, then tries to remember the name of a band from a half-remembered chorus that played in a movie he saw last week.

“Yeah. He finally got through to me.” “You were very perfectionist before that class.”

They must be talking about that instructor, the one that told her the empty phrase. Maybe you had to be there, he thinks. Oh, Donovan, “Atlantis.” That’s the song. 

He offers her a smoke. She gulps her drink and tells the manager with the art studio they’ll be right back. The manager asks if he can bum one. “Yeah man.” Water wings for conversation. The guy seems cool anyway.

I’m cool. The three of us are cool. I feel good. He etches these ascriptions before his mind’s eye like a litany.

All three light up, enjoying the feeling of wanting to sit down after the first inhale. It’s cold and dark. The conversation turns when he’s asked about himself, but everyone’s polite enough to save face without taking. This was dead a half hour ago.

“Hey I’m gonna have to leave pretty soon,” and she and the manager exchange numbers, they talk about exhibiting some of her recent pieces. The manager says something about pointillism. She has a different name for her style of pointillism. Maybe a different technique. 

He keeps issuing silent judgements behind a barred door. She probably is too, along with the manager. All’s fair.

“It was nice meeting you.” She has an early morning, it’s time to head out. He’s a morning person too, but she’s already walking away. The manager only charges them for one drink, taking her full glass as his shift beer. He leaves a 20 and heads.

On the drive home she texts her friend that it was a dud. He doesn’t text anyone, and stops by the liquor store for a pint of Wild Turkey. She lets out her dog. He skips around Donovan’s greatest hits, but listens to “Atlantis” for 2 minutes. 

Lying in bed, he enjoys a feeling of certainty in the night’s transience, confident that all three will forget it. He dreams he is a fish, swimming in an ocean of Gatorade Cool Blue. As he’s carried through currents of electrolyte surplus, he gestures a prayer of thanks at the surface. A series of delfic chirps responds from above, and he swims toward the source, contemplating the decaying litany: “It is what it is.”