Science Camp

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Mark Cal­lanan

Armed with tongue de­pres­sors, news­pa­pers, card­board, twine, they built pro­to­types to break an egg’s fall from on high; launched home­made rock­ets and watched them crash, en­tan­gled in the para­chutes that failed to land them safely in the field, their wax-form nose cones blunted on im­pact; kept vigil while their model boats were tossed upon the wave tank’s scaled-down crests and troughs; and other­wise en­dured physics’s lessons: how ev­ery­thing re­turns to earth, gets wrecked on the shoals of the uni­verse. We were failed ex­per­i­ments our­selves, teenagers fall­ing down drunk in wooded parks where glass shards, sloughed off con­doms, charred lum­ber scraps had washed up from the wreck­age of past evenings, talk­ing crap about the fir­ma­ment, the­o­riz­ing life on other plan­ets. Ab­sence of proof is not proof of ab­sence, we re­peated, down­ing drinks and only half be­liev­ing it. Now ju­nior coun­sel­lors, we babysat the chil­dren of par­ents ob­sessed by the no­tion that sum­mers spent in idle­ness are sum­mers wasted. On the fi­nal day, we took them to the med school. It pissed down rain, and they got wet, a pack of sod­den an­i­mals drip­ping pud­dles in the foyer, eas­ily led into a lab where steel trays served do­nated or­gans: lungs but­ter­flied like chicken breasts, a hand that made a fist when with a fist you tugged the ten­dons like a bell pull; pumps and sock­ets, fuses, pipes: all the pieces you might use to build a bet­ter pro­to­type. I don’t know what we learned that day, but some­thing in my cir­cuits changed, be­came rerouted or plain burnt out by the thought of us all trudg­ing back through heavy rain, hav­ing seen a man split open to re­veal the things of which a man is made, his head and hands and feet co­cooned in orange plas­tic bags like au­tumn leaves, his pe­nis shriv­eled to a stump. A boy gig­gled at the sight of it. I scowled at him but felt like laugh­ing too, when faced with what was fac­ing us, and that’s the truth.

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