POISON PILL • by Linda Simoni-Wastila

You stand before your sycophants, a scarecrow in a field of wheat. I sit in the back row and wait. Cross-sections of schizophrenic mice brains fill the projection screen.

I know this data — it is my work of which you talk.

My mouth dries. I close my eyes so I do not have to see your pale hairy face: Truth is virtue. You cannot steal my qi.

When my eyes open you are small again. I boot-up my laptop. Headlines flash past on the RSS feed.

NASDAC up 9 pts @ market’s open

Afghan prison bomb kills 9

Lockdown @ V-Tech – gunman still at large

The url takes me to Blacksburg, a place I do not know. But I do know this school, this Virginia Tech. Two cousins went there long ago. Now they are faculty in Cali.

“Compound JM23 induces glial cell regeneration,” you say. Your laser highlights the dendrite’s pink-stained branches. “In other words, my compound rebuilds the brain’s hardwiring.”

Our compound.

“The dual efficacy of JM23, so novel among antipsychotic agents, is why the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health have funded my work.”

Three students down

Professor dead in classroom

The silk bow-tie flaps around your fatty neck, gobble-gobble like a turkey. Your hypocrisy at the pillar of truth nauseates me. I imagine you cowering behind your desk, shitting your pants in fear.

“JM23 revolutionizes the treatment of refractory bipolar disorder,” you say. “For, as you can see in this table, it dramatically reduces symptoms of both mania and depression within four weeks.”

Yes, our drug is effective, but Chairman Professor you fail to mention the side effect. And I know you will not. Yes, I have my dissertation with me; I am proud of my work, it is a contribution to the field. In it I identify how JM23 fits like fist in glove with the nicotinic acetylcholinergic receptor. But you decline to sign off. You do not allow me to graduate.

At first I believe you refuse because I am stupid. You think all of us Chinese not so smart because we hesitate before we speak. We know because when you talk to us, your voice gets loud and you enunciate every syllable. We only wish to be precise – it is Chinese nature.

Now I think you refuse because of that night last year. I had worked late, past midnight. We had a grant proposal to submit. You came to the lab from a dinner, surprising me.

“We could be such a team,” you whispered, your liquor breath hot on my neck. I believed your words. You pressed me against the bench. When I resisted, you covered my mouth with your hand. I closed my eyes when you unzipped my pants. You did not forgive me when I cried afterwards.

“We do not air our laundry,” you said before leaving me on the cement floor.

The next day I switched advisors. You did not forgive me that transgression either.

3 professors 13 students dead in engineering hall

Multiple shooters feared

“Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved JM23 for Phase III clinical trials,” you say. “To date, we have enrolled more than 2,000 patients with serious mental illness.”

I scroll to the blog, the one I made in case. It is linked to a sham account no one can trace. The single post holds three pages and many pictures: the log book with the protocol number, my documenting entry, your signature, the photographs of bloodied mice that clawed each other to death. The final safety trial in animals, the data you omitted from grant proposals. You failed to notify authorities. You threatened me if I did.

Cell phones make transferring data so easy.

Now I am finished my work. I should become a Doctor of Philosophy, just like you. But you will not sign the papers. Because of you, I do not graduate, cannot accept the post-doc. Tomorrow my visa expires and I will have to return to Guizhou Province to teach biology to children. All these years, a waste.

Hotness fills my head, behind my eyes. The room glows red. I close the blog and stare at the news.

Gunman shoots self

Shooter identified — sophomore student Cho

Cho. Korean. Stupid, he should know violence is not the path to justice. He gives us Asians a bad name.

You stop talking. The screen whirs as it retracts into the ceiling. Lecture over, your students pack away their computers. You bend over the podium, tap your scattered notes into a neat pile. When everyone leaves but you, I go down the steps to the front, my dissertation held before me. You look up from the podium. Your jaw hardens. Energy dances along the bone.

“Yes?” you say.

“Please Professor, sign off on my thesis,” I say.

You shake your head. “Fatal flaw.”

Hypocrite. You never read my work. You should, it is about our compound. But I will not beg — you fail to read at your peril.

“Data limitation,” I say. “It is good research.”

“We have a level of excellence to maintain,” you say.

You close your book and walk from the room. My breath heaves in my chest. I return to my seat. The heat returns. This time, I let the tears come. When my eyes dry, I click on the blog. It takes one instant to paste the url, a few more to address the link: @FDA, @NSF, @NIH, @reuters, @AP, @googlenews, @Fox.

I tap tweet.

Linda Simoni-Wastila crunches numbers by day and churns words at night. You can find her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction in Tattoo Highway, Six Sentences, The Sun, and Boston Literary Magazine, as well as in several anthologies, including the forthcoming Neuropsychiatry in Poetry. Linda lives and loves in Baltimore, a town where her Northern birthright and Southern upbringing comfortably commingle.

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