(If you’re here for the first time check out excerpts 1-29 in earlier Blogs )
Maddie had finally sorted out the inheritance of the ozone resistance. It had been a painstaking process, to catalogue all the disease ratings. It was a dominant trait, she was sure of that, because all of the first generation offspring had shown some level of resistance. The bronzing of the leaves, so characteristic of ozone damage, had been very severe in the cultivated parents. Chi-square[i] tests had revealed that the second-generation offspring had segregated in a typical single gene fashion, with three quarters of the offspring showing no damage on the leaves and one quarter showing bronzing. The inheritance couldn’t ha
ve been simpler. It was a single, dominant gene.
So far, she had kept her results to herself. Aside from consulting with Paul Kendal, a fellow graduate student in the group, on how to run Chi-square tests using the new computer software, she hadn’t told anyone except Lisa that she was spending time on this.
“How come?” Lisa had asked.
“How come I haven’t told Dr. Gates?” Maddie swallowed, “I…I don’t know. I guess I wanted to see where it would go before it got scrapped.”
“Why would it get scrapped? I would think he’d be happy that you discovered another source of resistance. Wasn’t that what your project was about in the first place?”
Maddie knew it didn’t make any sense. “I guess I was kind of gun shy. I told you about the toxin stuff.”
“Yeah, but this is different. This isn’t an idea for a basic research project.”
“Oh, I know this is different. I just wanted to see how it would turn out, that’s all.”
“Well, now you know.”
“Yeah, and now I don’t know how I’m going to explain having kept a lid on this for almost six months.”
And then it became inevitable, because she was going crazy with all the other lab work and studying for her prelims, and the pressure Dr. Gates was putting on her for results. Almost before harvest was over he had begun pressing for the yield data on the Rusty Leaf Spot and Bean Lesion Virus lines. He wanted to know if the yields were going to be any good, whether there were any promising lines. Often, when wild genes were transferred into high yielding, cultivated lines, the “garbage genes” that accompanied them lowered the seed yield so much as to make the line practically useless.
Today, she was wrapping up long weeks of seed weighing down in the basement storage rooms and beginning to enter the results in the computer. She had weighed every blessed seed packet herself.
Once again, the sense of expectancy was there, the outcome uncertain. She might have derived several excellent high-yielding lines, only to find that the seed color was unacceptable and that further crosses were needed to eliminate bad traits. “C’mon girl, you know it’s unrealistic to think that you got something good this quick.”
Just as a precaution she had planned to continue to backcross her lines to the cultivated parent, trying to get as close as possible to the original line. But she had to ensure that in that process of backcrossing she didn’t lose the resistance gene. She had to find the highest yielding lines and only cross those. And hence the urgency of getting all the seed cleaned up, weighed, and analyzed.
These days, Maddie got to the department before seven and left after the building was deserted. She had become a shell, no longer hanging out, no longer going to volleyball games, only trying to maintain a desperate balance between her prelim studies and her research. She had even skipped out on the Black Caucus meetings of late, only keeping up with the one girl she was tutoring.
“Maddie, Maddie, I’m gonna shake you!” Lisa complained. “You’re no fun anymore.”
“Lisa, I can’t come to the game tonight. I’ve got too much to do. You got that? You know how it is.”
“I know, I know, but if you don’t get out of here your brain is gonna fry! You need a beer, a lay –” she stopped at the look on Maddie’s face. “Okay, okay, I know you don’t go for that stuff, so at least, at least come to the volleyball game!”
“Uhh! Then come to dinner with me at the dorm.”
“Okay, okay. Half an hour and then I’m back here.”
They bundled up and headed for the cafeteria in Williams Hall. As they crossed the street Maddie pulled up her hood because the wind was bitter. Walking in the direction of the lake always had the hazard of being against the wind.
They put their backpacks down on a table when they entered, and proceeded to pick up trays and stand in the line. Although most people complained of cafeteria food Maddie always found plenty to eat. She didn’t mind it, perhaps because she constructed her meals in an unorthodox manner, staying away from all the fried stuff and making salads with pasta or chicken on it, or opting for the soup. She saw abundance all around her, and an awful lot of waste. It burned her, because of the hunger she had seen in some places in Africa. Children who could have eaten for a week on what an American college student threw away at one meal.
Carrying their trays into the dining room, Maddie spotted Savannah and Jean at a corner table and asked Lisa if she wanted to join them.
“Nah,” Lisa shook her head, “let’s sit over here.”
Maddie didn’t inquire why. Savannah was in the same research group as Lisa; maybe they saw enough of each other in the office.
“So, what’s going on in your group, how’s your research?” Maddie asked.
“Well, I’ll tell you, it’s no picnic. Politics enough to drown a person, and also a little bit of stabbing in the back.”
Maddie looked at her compassionately. “That bad, huh?”
“Lisa, I admire you so much. The way you handle things, you’re so tough.”
“What the hell you talking about?” Lisa’s fork paused halfway to her mouth.
“The way you have your eyes wide open. I never see it, never understand what’s going on.”
“That’s because you only see the good in people. You never imagine the worst.”
“Oh, come on, I’m not that naïve. Am I?”
“Yes, you are. You’re like a newborn baby.”
Maddie swatted at her friend and they both laughed. It was nice to get out of the department, even if they were only a block away. But she had to finish her data crunching tonight, so that she would have something to show at the research group meeting tomorrow.
“Are you gonna have desert?” Lisa asked.
“No, you go on.”
“Nothing gourmet enough for you?
“Yeah, you know me, I’m kind of picky about my deserts.” She made a motion towards one side of the room, “I’m gonna hit the restroom.”
She walked into the bathroom and recognized Savannah’s voice coming from one of the stalls. “I haven’t been able to get him interested, no matter what I do!”
“Maybe he’s going with somebody you don’t know about.” That was Jean’s voice.
Maddie walked into one of the stalls, wondering whom they were talking about.
“Like who?” Savannah asked.
She heard one of the toilets flush, and then was startled by the next words.
“I’ve seen him a lot with…with Maddie.”
Maddie heard a scoffing laugh and held her breath. “Jean, don’t be stupid! Maddie Hawkins and John Pitts? She’s Black!!!”
Another toilet flushing, and the sound of running water in the sink. “Honey, I want to know if I have any real competition. Please!”
Maddie could feel her face heating up, both at the content of the conversation and the undignified eavesdropping she found herself caught in. Then she smelled cigarette smoke. As they shuffled out of the bathroom they left behind a cloud of smoke that made her gag.
“Great! Now my hair’s gonna stink!” she vented, as she opened a faucet with a vicious turn. She looked at her face in the mirror and saw angry eyes. “She’s Black!” she mimicked, and then said, “I’ll have you know missy, that if I wanted to, I could give you a run for your money!”
She suddenly realized what she was saying. Of course, she wasn’t going after John Pitts, but it irked her to be considered as no competition at all—just because of the color of her skin. That Savannah deserved a little set down!
And then, she remembered the way Teandra treated her and considered her a threat where Craig was concerned, just because she was Black! She had wanted to tell the woman a few times that she had nothing to fear from herself, that she wasn’t after Craig. But her meanness had kept Maddie from doing it. Let her stew in her own juices, she thought. Her misery was of her own making.
In a way, Savannah and Teandra were like little cameos of opposite colors, both boxed in by their racial way of looking at things. Savannah was after John, and she thought Maddie was no threat simply because she wasn’t white. Teandra was jealous of her and thought she was a threat because she was Black. There was something delicious about the fact that they were equally wrong. She left the bathroom smiling at the irony of it.
As she said goodbye to Lisa she thought about going to the Vet. Sci. lot to pick up her car, but then decided she’d take the bus later. If she walked down in that direction with Lisa now she might be tempted to go to the volleyball game instead of going to the lab.
[i] Chi-square tests – Don’t worry about what it means.
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DISCUSSION QUESTION 30: Are we trapped by our racial assumptions?
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