The flies float in the clear plastic dish. I dip my forceps into the 1xPBS (phosphate buffered saline), and suddenly I’m walking down to the lakeshore, the breeze braiding my hair into loose pleats. I hook worms onto my fishing lines and my back arches in a deep yawn as I brace for a long sit.
A fly dangles between my left forceps. 6 hours ago it was dead, conveniently fixed in a milliliter of 4% paraformaldehyde. I am told ancient Egyptians used this “PFA” as embalming fluid for mummies. I look down and imagine my fly in cloth strips. The image doesn’t sit well.
I transfer the fly to the Sylgard dish and wield the paper-thin minutin pin. The pin morphs into a tennis racket and the forceps morph into my calloused hand as I bounce the ball 6 times, eyes trained on the flourish of my hand. It’s state finals and the speakers are blaring and I am serving first. All eyes are fixed on my elegant stance.
I adjust my microscope to put the fly into focus. I pipette 2 squirts of 1xPBS over the soggy fly and when it bobs, I push it under the surface tension. The bubble of PBS jiggles and deflects microscope light into my eyes as my first notes vibrate. I am one with my piano; this is my performance. The keys squeak to life as my freshly oiled fingers slide over marble keys. A volta undresses my flute’s husky accent and my veins threaten to explode with sound!
A snapping sound drops me back to my dish and vanished minutin pin. I hear it clink a meter away; it had shot out from between my forceps and camouflaged with the black lab table. Shi-oot, I mutter. That little bristle costs money! I scrabble to look for another minutin pin in my dissection kit. I release a half-sigh of relief when I find my last one.
With pin poised, I take a stab at the thorax. I smash through my tennis serve. The pin pierces through the middle and now it is all mine.
I grab ahold of the eye seam. I pull, and the entire head rips off. Hissing, I realize I’ve tripped across the stage. Close by, my lab mate echoes me, tapping at his vials. He watches his flies flutter under larvae squirming out of a bacteria-infected landslide.
I finally manage to rip off part of the eye lamina, and red pigment spurts into the PBS. I smile grimly.
The fun has begun.
I dig my forceps into the cuticle and hold my breath as my opponent returns my serve. I slice back the ball as I rip the head open. By this time I’ve switched out my flute for violin, and I’m sashaying across the stage, digging into the heartstrings of my audience. I rip open the rest of the eye. More pigment clouds my view and I reel in my fishing line. A glimpse of the brain reassures me, but too much cuticle and lamina stand in my way.
Then, my forceps tear a weak spot and I’m exposed to a full view of the fly brain. Thrilled, I tear away the cuticle. This fish is a big one, I think, and the closer I reel it in, the better I feel the weight of my catch.
Soon, the lingering cuticle bits and lamina pieces are pulled away, and I’m left with the white gelatinous blob. My notes hop off the hot coals and serenade on a blade of lemon mint. But I still have to take off the trachea. My catch tugs, and the eye strain, back pain, and uncomfortable position are unbearable.
The shimmering trachea laugh in my rigid eyes. As my forceps slip from the strands pinch after pinch, my catch-of-the-day snaps the line. I pinch too hard and tear the brain. The fish swims away with a fishing hook of victory and one of many worms I spent hours digging for in my yard.
I unclench my forceps only when I push myself away from the microscope. I hear my last note resound with a screech as the audience members clutch their dented souls. I lose sight of the blob in specks of innocently floating fly innards.
Sighing, I sneak a glance outside and spot students playing Frisbee on the green. Some spray each other with sinuous hoses and brittle balloons, while others lounge around a picnic table that groans under the weight of chicken wraps, orange Faygo, and fruit salad.
What did I do to earn myself this pain, while they get to have so much fun? I draw my mouth into a tight drawstring. I turn back to my dish of flies. My grimace degenerates into an audible groan, and tired, insipid eyes rest on me.
1 down, 27 more to go.