I met Angela for lunch at our old place, across the street from the bio lab where we’d labored so long over ova. Hard to believe a decade had passed since last we’d huddled over those glowing, backlight ghost babies, looking vaguely yolk-like on their slides. We’d been grad students of Jeffries’ then, trying to help him determine the effects of Fukushima’s fall out on human fertility, even as we’d been sizing up our dates’ DNA on the sly. How ironic now, pushing forty–that both Angela and I had managed to claw our way to the top of the reproductive research pile, but had as yet failed to reproduce.
The ownership of the restaurant had changed since our grad school days, but the seating arrangement had somehow remained the same. We were sitting at our old table by the window. Angela ordered the chicken Caesar and inquired as to the chardonnay.
Our server shrugged and said, “It comes from a box.” He looked all of seventeen, but Angela was smiling at him the way grown full-grown women smile at full-grown men.
“How’s Jan? Have you heard from her?” she asked me. Watching him, somewhat creepily, as he walked away.
“Not since she had her last kid. What is it, the third?”
“And your senior researcher position?”
“Passed over for Patrick.”
Why, I wondered, was she even bothering with this miniscule biz? We knew it all already through Facebook and Linkedin and the SheGeek WannabeMommies affinity group, and yet had felt no need (at least as far as I was concerned) to actually contact one another in years. Why had she messaged me this morning, and flagged it as urgent?
“Bailey,” she said, finally. As if my very name, the fact of it, was adorable. “I have something to show you.” She pulled a vial of vile-looking green liquid from her purse. Her voice segued to a whisper. “This,” she said, “is the answer to our prayers.”
“I’m an atheist,” I reminded her.
“This,” she continued, “is the answer to every woman’s prayers.” Sounding very much like a 50s-era ad for a washing machine as she cupped it in her palm. “The alpha and omega of female desire. The killer app. The evolutionary game changer.”
“All right,” I said, “but it looks kind of gross.” Like the mother of some sort of bacterial colony trapped in a vial of pond water.
“Watch,” Angela hissed. She popped a little button at the top of the glass tube and shook it, then dabbed whatever was in it on her wrists and behind her ears. It smelled like a mix of mint and caraway. Both of which, it occurred to me, contain mirror molecules of carvone.
“What is that stuff, exactly?” When I reached for the vial, she snatched it away, as if I were attempting to palm her latest high-dollar wrinkle serum.
“On a scale of one to ten,” she said, “how would you rate our server’s current level of sexual interest in me?”
Our server was busy chatting up the busty little busser refilling ketchup bottles at the wait station. “Can we use negative numbers?”
Angela favored me with a withering glare. Or, at least, a withering glance. “Now,” she said, “watch.” And turned to our server’s back.
It was if she’d blown a dog whistle. The kid turned around and looked directly at her. Angela favored him with her best come-hither, and in forty seconds flat, he was refilling her water glass.
“Ladies,” said the kid, “I’m sorry your order is taking so long. May I interest you in some complimentary bruschetta?”
I checked my wristphone. It had been no more than ten minutes since we ordered, tops.
“Sure,” Angela practically purred. “That would be lovely.”
The kid smiled at her chest, clutched the water pitcher at waist level, and sauntered back to the kitchen. With, I might add, some serious swag. Now it was my turn to lean across the table. “Ang,” I whispered, “what is that stuff?”
She smiled. Like the cat that caught the canary. Sat back, one Crossfit leg crossed atop the other. “You’re the one who came up with it.”
I had no choice but to greet this with a blank stare. I had no idea what in the hell she was talking about.
Angela popped the top of the vial, in and out. One could say a bit obsessively. “Marshall’s? Late night take out? Bull sesh #369? You said the person who developed the tech that would allow a woman to be attractive to only the man she wants to be attractive to would one day rule the world.”
“You seriously took notes on that?”
Angela looked at me like I was stupid. “Imagination can’t be taught. Crichton’s class, remember?”
“All right, but—”
She lifted her hands, as if all of this should have been obvious by now. “Bailey,” she said, again, in a way I really don’t like. “You have imagination. I don’t. You know this.”
“Sure,” I say. “I mean, sort of. I know you always had trouble visualizing things, and understanding metaphors. I guess I just didn’t realize you were keeping notes on every single drunken late night discussion we had in grad school.”
Angela waved this away, even as I got to wondering, what the hell else did I say under the influence of Marshall’s $3 margaritas that this woman had on file somewhere? It had been noted that Angela Edgers had a mind like a steel trap, and I was starting to worry I was going to have to gnaw off my own leg or something.
“Just try it,” she said.
Cautiously, I took the vial in hand and popped in the little button on its little green stopper, then dabbed a little of this exotic substance (the semen of the psychedelic bufo toad, for all I know) on my inner wrists.
“Now,” Angela told me, her voice pitched low, “pick a man.”
The only Y chromosome in the joint besides our server, as far as I could see, was a dignified older dude who appeared to be dining with his wife. “Any man?” I asked.
“Any man. Just imagine having sex with him.”
I nearly choked on my box wine. At the image of this old man and his old dong, going to town. It was enough to put me off the rather delicious bruschetta that had recently arrived.
“Bailey,” Angela exhaled sharply.
But it came, unbidden—the profoundly disturbing image of this grandfatherly fellow pumping away on top of me, his wrinkly old pot pressed up against my belly. When I looked up, he was staring at me over his wife’s shoulder, smiling unsteadily, nodding in that way of elderly people who have lost the power to hold their heads still, and then slowly dabbed his mouth with his napkin. Deliberately displaying, I realized, a high-end Omega wristphone that probably cost as much as my car.
“Jesus,” I said.