A Study of Primates a.k.a Men
As a Ph.D. student, naturally I spent Thanksgiving dinner at my mentor’s house. It didn’t even occur to me, two years into my work, sequencing the DNA of African gorillas, why I would spend Thanksgiving anywhere else. That was how much the program had absorbed me - body and soul.
My mentor was Dr. Ramona Alexeev-Weston. Yes. Dr. Alexeev-Weston, the famed scientist who is practically a deity in the field of primate anthropology, but we called her Dr. Alexeev in our lab. We called her that because she’s also the ex-wife of Samuel Weston, the billionaire medical tech producer who supplied computers and electronically supplies to every hospital in the United States.
Dr. Alexeev left the marriage twenty years ago with nothing except her career and her baby daughter. She now lives in a two-bedroom colonial house in the suburbs of Queens, New York. She lives by herself. On Thanksgiving, we - her Ph.D. students - are her only family.
It was a potluck. I made a fruit salad. Everyone hated it. Joey Bose, the post-graduate who I shared an office with, brought Kati rolls, and everyone devoured those like they were laced with crack. I just had a feeling that everyone looked at me and thought to themselves, “that’s why she’s still single; she can’t even cut up fruit.”
My name is Scarlett Rossi because my mom liked Gone with the Wind a little too much. Never call me Scarlett. Ever since I was a kid, I preferred Scar.
In fact, I had a scar on my left thumb in the shape of a curved scratch. I liked to think of it as a smile.
A snapping turtle gave it to me in the Bahamas when I was in high school. That was when I first realized; I loved the conservation of endangered animals. Scars are funny in a way - they exist to remind you of the experiences you had. Even when I forgot the details of that trip, including the exact temperature of the water and the precise feeling of the sunshine on my sandy skin, the scar still existed. It still insisted that these things happened, that the turtle was real, even when the memory slipped away like water.
Joey brought me a glass of apple cider because Dr. Alexeev made it. She insisted we all sip on a cup of it while she recounted a story about her trip to Tokyo during the last conference she attended. She even had a row of Harajuku dolls sitting on her fireplace mantle.
As we listened to her tell yet another story about how quaint Japanese culture was and how much she enjoyed eating cooked sushi, a call came on her cell phone. I expected it to be another one of the other professors, calling to ask for help writing a grant. Either that or a poacher from a rival university who wanted to offer her a generous stipend to come work for them. She got those all the time, and she made sure we knew it. She didn’t need a man in her life to be happy.
She didn’t laugh into the phone as she normally did. This was a serious call. I hoped it wasn’t something one of us did. Did we forget to submit some university paperwork on time? Leave a machine on in the lab? Forget to close the ice bin hatch?
Dr. Alexeev’s knuckles completely drained of color as she nodded into the phone. I just knew it! It must be someone who was calling to tell us we lost our grant because one of the college interns was smoking weed in the computer room again. I had found two half-smoked blunts before the yearly lab safety inspectors came, and I quickly and quietly disposed of them. Who knew how many others there were lying around?
“Is he awake?” Dr. Alexeev asked. “Thank goodness he’s alive.”
There was almost a sarcastic tone to her voice. I can’t imagine who she was talking about. Although Dr. Alexeev did have an estranged daughter, as far as I knew, Dr. Alexeev didn’t have any other relatives she cared about. And all her loved ones, her lab workers, were all in that living room eating Kati Rolls at that minute.
“Brain trauma?” Dr. Alexeev asked. “Well, how long will that go on for? You need me to come to the hospital now? I’m in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner!”
Dr. Alexeev was angry, I could tell. I didn’t know this dinner was so important to her. As she sighed into the phone, I had a feeling she was going to tell us all to go home. Finally, as she promised to head over to wherever the caller needed her, her voice was growing increasingly cold and snippy. Although she kept nodding into the phone, the expression on her face said she was ready to throw one of her many souvenir snow globes across the room. After what seemed like forever, she finally hung up.
The rest of us were silent. We were waiting to hear what the gossip was about.
“My ex-husband’s son, Max, was in a racing accident. That dumb kid,” Dr. Alexeev said coldly. “He’s at a hospital uptown. They need me to see him because they found my number in his contacts. I’m so sorry. The turkey was really good this year.”
“We’ll finish carving the turkey, Dr. Alexeev,” Andy said from the kitchen. “We’ll even pack it in Tupperware containers for you! You go ahead and take care of him.”
Ah, Andrew Wang, always the suck-up. No wonder he got three publications since September. He was a gunner, or rather a knifer. He was already standing posed over the oven with a carving knife in each hand.
Dr. Alexeev took off her apron and went to her room to get her coat. Joey’s eyes widened as he took me aside to gossip.
“Maxwell WESTON?” Joey asked in a low voice. “He’s like the heir of al of Weston industries! The kid is a bloody billionaire. And he almost died? Wow, if he kicks the bucket, the Dow Jones might fall!”
“Never heard of him,” I said. “He’s related to Dr. Alexeev?”
“Nah, he’s the love child of her ex-husband and his mistress. You know, Samuel Weston and his second wife, Brenda Weston, who died in an airplane accident on Christmas Day four years ago?”
“Oh yeah, of course, I heard of that,” I said. That was big news. We knew never to mention the name Samuel Weston in front of Dr. Alexeev if we valued our place in the graduate program. Dr. Alexeev hated her ex-husband with a passion. She went as far as to make a Christmas display in her office using Weston branded office products as a backdrop to remind us all of how Santa rewarded the dutiful wife by striking down her cheating husband and his whore in a flaming wreck on Christmas Day.
Even though she had divorced from Mr. Weston for decades, she still referred to his second wife as the filthy whore. We all rolled our eyes whenever she went into a tirade about how marriage is for idiots, and all men cheat. All men, except the men in her program, of course. Whenever she came to her senses, she would reassure Andrew and Joey men who had the generosity of spirit to study anthropology would never do such a thing. Men, any man, who resembled her sell-out, corporate jerks of an ex-husband, Samuel Weston would absolutely use a marriage certificate to wipe his ass.
“Scarlett,” Dr. Alexeev said as she approached us wearing a bright purple coat with a yellow Coach handbag. It looked very festive for a woman who was about to visit a relative who had nearly died. “Can you drive me to the hospital? It’s raining out, and my eyes are poor at night. Also, I heard your car has four-wheel drive.”
“Of course,” I said eagerly. I didn’t feel especially eager about driving her all the way to Manhattan to see some relative that she clearly hated. But, at this point, two years into being at her constant beck and call, I answered all her requests with a cheerful smile. She did, after all, control how much longer I would be trapped in this program before I would be allowed to graduate.
Pretty soon, it was goodbye to any hope of having any turkey. It was just me and Dr. Alexeev sitting inside my Jeep, venturing out into the deserted streets of Jamaica, Queens.
“This is a nice car,” Dr. Alexeev commented, rubbing her cold knobby hands together as we pulled out of the driveway. “It’s weird that a girl drives a manly car like this.”
That was Dr. Alexeev. She was direct and blunt, as always. I knew by now that she meant no harm. She was Eastern European, Joey had explained to me when we first met, and she told me never to wear chinos again because I looked like a clown. The women from that country, they say what they mean.
“It’s a good safe car,” I replied and patted my bare dashboard. “I don’t really care about how it looks. It’s not like I have a boyfriend to impress.”
She laughed at that. I think she was impressed by my refusal to date. My job was my whole world.
“You are a smart girl,” Dr. Alexeev said and sighed as the street lights went by. “You’re too smart for most boys. I wish I were as smart as you back when I was your age.”
As the silence settled between us, I wondered if she was talking about her late husband Samuel or about Maxwell - the billionaire heir.