Just a Test

May 14, 2008
By Sarah Butzler, Clarkston, MI

He stared at the baby, laying there in a cold and sterile room. Everything that this little girl knew was pure, snow white. She was almost six months old, and had already been in the colorless cell for five. The only color she was exposed to was the color of her skin. She wasn’t even able to see the brilliant green of her eyes, for there were no mirrors or even a reflective surface in the room. That was the purpose. She was a test. They were conducting and experiment to see if this monochromatic environment would have an effect on her behavior.

Peter went back to his desk and started flying through all the paperwork that he was required to turn in a week from then. He finished in just a couple hours. He hated paperwork, but he had always been good at it. In college he was the only one who never had to pull all-nighters to finish term papers because he had finished them weeks earlier. He went back to the window to stare at the little girl who was now trying to stuff an entire corner of her blanket into her mouth. His eyes softened. He wondered how long it would take until that girl could leave that tiny room.

Eric pushed open the door to the building with his small pudgy hand. He waddled into the room attached to the baby’s, he saw Peter looking in the window and said hello. Peter smiled to himself when he turned and saw what Eric was wearing. He was in a pair of khaki shorts and a faded black and brown Hawaiian patterned shirt. While Eric was filing Peter’s paper work he was amazed by the words on the pages. They made no sense to him. Eric loved his job because he got all of the fun, but none of the grueling research. He got to go in the room in a white suit that covered him head to toe, and tend to the big-eyed child’s every need. Well not every need, he wasn’t permitted to play with her. That was the biggest struggle he had to face. He loved children and had to restrain himself to resist making her laugh.

The baby only saw people covered from head to toe in white. Her hair was soft and starting to grow in a white blonde, the way only a baby’s hair can be. Her skin was a milky color, which suited her. She looked like she could be Tinkerbelle’s sister. Her eyes followed the suited figures around the room when they would come in to feed her or change a diaper. She would reach out for them whenever they came in the room. Her gummy smile stole their hearts.

Peter and Eric weren’t the only people assigned to this case. The door was always swinging one way or another with plenty of people doing their part to make this experiment a valid one. A few people, mostly the women, would take a quick glace in the window to watch the subject entertain herself by sticking everything in sight in her mouth, completely unaware that she was missing the rainbow.

On one ordinary day she started crying. Eric went in the room to consol her. He tried to feed her, but she continued crying. He tried burping, changing her diaper, he even tried bathing her. She continued crying. Eric was blinded by love, so he decided to break one of the rules. He picked up her doll and started to play. He made all sorts of coos and squeals to bring a smile that had disappeared back to the open. It worked. She beamed and then tried to get the suited figure to play with her longer. She tried gripping his suit with her tiny fisted hands. It broke his kind, sensitive heart to pull away, but he already broke one rule. He couldn’t risk breaking another.

Later that very week, the baby girl started crying again. Peter and a few other staff members were present. Peter went in and did everything routine to make the baby comfortable. He, like Eric, discovered that the child would not stop crying. He knew that there were other people in the lab, most likely peering through the one-sided window. So he pulled away from the fairy and reported this new behavior to the staff. They started videotaping and typing up a storm. Peter took charge directing the team and snuck a peek into the window, where the little girl huddled in a corner of her crib, still crying.

Eric came into work that night and saw that the child was crying on and off. Softhearted as he was, he tried to play with the child again. He was talking to her in soothing voices, rocking her, singing to her; during this he decided to name her. She was now Abigail. He was completely oblivious to the fact that Peter was in the lab watching his every move.

When Eric emerged from the room that was now glowing with Abigail’s laughter, he found Peter waiting for him with his head in his hands. Eric froze. Peter’s forehead was creased with stress, his mouth tight, and his head was buzzing. The two men just looked at each other.
Finally, Eric’s voice interrupted the silence. “She was crying. I couldn’t just sit there!”

Peter’s voice was calm, “I know,” he paused. “I knew we would end up hurting her. I promised myself that I would remain detached. My goal was to get this experiment over as quickly as possible so we could put an end to whatever suffering she might go through”

Eric nodded. His eyes were wide, his expression helpless. “What are we going to do?” he asked Peter. “We can’t just leave her there all alone and helpless. She’s human. She needs a family, someone to love and care for her the way a baby deserves to be cared for.” Peter let him rant. Eric was growing red and his arms were flailing as he motioned about the room pointing out everything that was unjust about her situation.

Peter ignored the rant and came up with a plan, “It’s time to give her a color. She needs something to spark an imagination. It should keep her entertained and her mind engaged, at least for now.” Eric looked delighted. Then Peter added, “How about if you picked out the color?”

“Green! It has to be green. A green that will match the color of her eyes.” Eric ran to the cabinet where he knew the crayons where stored. He ripped the lid off the box. He quickly pulled out every green., ran to the window, and started holding up the colors next to her eyes to find the one that matched the best. He held up the final two contenders and after a bit of difficulty decided on the color dubbed “Fern”.

Peter told Eric that he could have the honor of giving her the crayon. Eric was overjoyed. He suited up and carefully placed the crayon into Abigail’s hand. Her eyes widened as she fumbled to examine every aspect of the foreign object. She was filled with wonderment as Eric gripped her hand and guided it toward the empty, white wall. With his help she changed her own world. Her infant’s dexterity wasn’t developed enough for much more than lines. This limitation did not stop her from transforming everything she could get her hands on to be infected with green pox.

Eventually Eric decided to go home. He had stayed much longer than his allotted shift. A few minutes after Eric left, Peter decided to suit up and play with the little girl. When he walked through the door to her chamber she giggled his way, but he stood and watched her in the corner for awhile marveling at her beauty. He crept closer and picked the girl straight into his arms. He bounced her in his arms and threw her in the air like any courageous dad would do when the anxious mother wasn't looking. He talked to her in a voice only designated for children. He, like Eric before him, found himself giving her a name. In Peter's mind she was Sarah. After playing with the girl for a long time he noticed she was tired so he placed her in her crib and let her take a much deserved nap. Peter trudged home after putting Sarah to bed.

When he returned to work the next morning the team assigned to the case were all there and the air was alive and buzzing. To his horror he saw a video playing on several computer screens showing him playing with Sarah. He instantly knew what was going to happen. One of the supervisors of the company called him into a side room. Peter walked into the room with his eyes on the supervisor. He tried not to look at all the eyes that were following his every step. His heart was slamming on the frame of his chest. He could hear its beat ringing inside of his head. The ringing was so loud that he almost didn't hear his supervisor say, "Take a seat." Peter reluctantly obeyed. He watched the supervisor, whose name Peter could not recall, sit down. He sat with his legs crossed and arms folded. The way cops on TV sit when they are ready to interrogate someone. He looked like he should be a cop. Peter closed his eyes, and took a deep breath before hearing the consequences of his actions. The man turned a monitor toward Peter and started to play the video. The man turned to Peter and said, "See this suited figure playing with the subject?" He continued without leaving room for an answer. "They are clearly breaking procedure set up to insure the integrity of this company and the accuracy of the results. It is entirely too clear who this suited person is because they were the only one in the building at that time. It is quite a blessing that we watched the video to see the subject's reaction to the color, or else we might have never discovered what you had done to jeopardize the outcome of the research. There are no excuses for what you have done. We have no choice but to remove you from this assignment and you are forbidden from setting foot in this building ever again. You may pack up your things and leave. We have already assigned someone else with a backbone to replace you."
Peter simply pulled himself out of the chair and left the room. He cleaned out his drawers, file cabinet and the cupboard where he kept all his personal things. After everything was cleared out, he walked over to the window. He was aware that all eyes in the room were still focused on him. He took one last long look at Sarah. She was sitting with her doll and crayon looking quite content with her situation. He sighed and tore himself away from that beautiful picture. He vowed that this would not be the last time he saw his little girl.

Peter dumped everything that he cleared out of the lab onto his kitchen counter. In his furry he broke a picture frame without noticing. He stumbled into his room shredding clothes along the way. What he needed was a long, blistering, hot bath. He filled the tub with water, watching the steam rise from its surface. Once it was full he carefully slid in, savoring the sensation of the water enclosing his body. He sat and stared at his blank bathroom wall for hours. The water had already begun to cool before his head had cleared enough to think. Peter decided on a few things during this bath. The first was that he had to warn Eric not to play with her again. He needed Eric to still have clearance to the girl in order to achieve what he had planned. The second thing was that he had to do some research and figure out all the things that were taking place in this experiment that were illegal. Peter knew that something so inhuman had to be condemned at least one way by the law. The third was that he needed to find a new place to live. Somewhere far away from here and some place that would make a suitable home.
The first thing he did after his bath was call Eric. He warned him not to play with the girl and then decided to meet Eric at a local café to discus the rest of his plan. Peter then went about his research. He read, typed, highlighted and revised the better part of the night. When he was satisfied he went to bed. He needed rest because he was meeting Eric at ten o'clock the next morning.
When Peter strode toward the café he saw Eric already sitting there waiting for him. He was sitting at a white iron table outside the café. Peter hurried over. His long arms were swinging quickly by his sides.
"How is she?" Peter hadn’t even sat down. He was still fumbling to pull the chair out.
"She’s really upset. Her happiness from the crayon was short lived. It was really hard to take your advice and not play with her last night," Eric answered.
"That's what I feared would happen," Peter replied. "That's why I decided we were going to take her out of there."
"How are we going to do that?" Eric's eyes widened. "Won't we get in serious trouble?"
"We won't get in serious trouble because of this." Peter pulled out the papers that he had been working on all night and showed them to Eric.
"What do they mean?" Eric asked. He was once again amazed by the words on the page.
"They mean that parts of this experiment are illegal. If the owners of the company see these papers they won't try to come after us because they will be afraid that we will release them to the authorities," Peter explained.
"So these papers are blackmail?" Eric’s voice cracked.
"Well, yes," Peter said. "Are you up for it?"
"If we get to rescue Abigail than, yes," Eric said.
Peter looked up and cocked his head. "Abigail? Who is Abigail?"
Eric looked down at the ground and shuffled his feet. "I named her Abigail. I thought she deserved a name."
Peter laughed. "I named her too. I called her Sarah."
"I like that name. We could name her Sarah Abigail. If that's ok with you.”
"That's fine by me." Peter replied. They continued to talk over a few cups of coffee working out the fine details of this plan. They decided to put it into action the following night.

Peter was hiding in his little black car. Eric was inside the building placing the papers and a note telling the company what to expect if they were ever to blow the whistle on Peter or Eric. Eric was also grabbing Sarah Abigail. It was the first time she would have ever seen a human without a suit on. Eric emerged from the building. His short squatty legs were walking as fast as they could carry him. Sarah's fair face was red and covered in tears. She did not know what to make of these fleshy figures. Peter helped Eric fasten Sarah in the car seat. She was fighting them as they struggled to get the safety clips fastened. Peter gave her a bottle to try and stop the flood of tears. It was working, but she would still sob heavily whenever she took a breath. Eric sat in the seat next to her in the back while Peter drove. Sarah calmed down eventually and was busy discovering all of these new objects, color, and loving faces that she could finally see. The three drove through the night crossing three state borders in order to start their lives all over again.

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