FALL FICTION WINNER! We’re so pleased to introduce “Animalizing” by Marisela Navarro, the third place winner in our Fall Fiction Contest judged by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. In “Animalizing,” our narrator starts walking a friend’s dog and suspects it sees something dark inside her. As she works with the sea urchins in her lab and develops a bond with the dog, she begins to think differently about the creatures in her care.
A sea urchin embryo is a beautiful sight. It grows like a kaleidoscope. With the aid of a scanning electron microscope, I see everything: the cells are transparent, impartial. They are ready for my eye and my ideas about animalizing. I’d go into more detail, but I don’t like to talk about sea urchin embryos. I jot down notes about them in my composition book. I like to observe them and think about them and not be asked questions. If my research is ever published, only other marine scientists will nuzzle into the genomes. My treasure at home is a purple sea urchin shell. This sea urchin was born in my lab; it grew and died there and was transported by car to my bedside table.
I can talk about a different animal: the dog. There is a particular dog named Shawnson I’d like to talk about. He belonged to my friend Shawn. I knew Shawn from the university. Every year the Department of Cell Biology held an outdoor conference in front of the student emporium—an effort to raise on-campus awareness of the progressive research our labs were conducting. Shawn, at the time a stranger, stopped to view my poster on his way to class. He wore mirrored aviator sunglasses, so as we spoke I appeared to myself as a funnel, lacquered and swathed with hair. He maintained an idle smile as though anticipating me to make his smile fuller. He pointed at one of my SEM images and said, “What am I looking at?”
“This is a sea urchin embryo in the blastula stage of development. The least interesting stage,” I said. Shawn became my friend somewhat aimlessly as the weeks passed. We didn’t spend time with each other on purpose. We had no commonalities. He was in the cinema program. Our friendship was very much like coming upon a puddle.