Girls Girls Girls

Cady Vishniac
| Fiction

It was stupid to talk down about film studies. Elkie met Brianna because she used to also be a film studies major. They went to the same freshman seminar and had the same work study job in the photo lab, and neither of them were in the Spring Break Service Club because it didn’t exist yet. Brianna founded the Friday Night Documentary Club—it’s still got twice as many members as the Service Club, and Brianna is still its president. Each Friday the club would max out its budget on popcorn, which Elkie would pop and bag. After the documentary was over, the one about legal marijuana for people with chronic pain or the one about the death of American manufacturing or the one about those bubbly drag queens from Texas, they would talk about how they would have done it better. Brianna wouldn’t have taken the chronic pain angle, because she thinks marijuana should be legal for everybody, for any reason. Elkie wouldn’t have made the documentary about manufacturing in the first place, because who cares about manufacturing? The government should just pay people to learn new jobs.

They don’t have these sorts of conversations anymore, not in the several months since Elkie officially switched her major, and she worries that she and Brianna are slowly growing apart. It’s not that Elkie hates the couch, the Bob’s Burgers marathons, not that she doesn’t want to talk about documentaries anymore.

“I have to be realistic,” she told Brianna, when she announced she was quitting the film club. “My mom’s plan is to sit in that apartment with Grandma until we run out of money, and then, I guess, she’ll act surprised the money’s gone.” Meaning Elkie needed to take control. Meaning she could not, cannot follow her heart, find her path, explore possibilities for the future, whatever it is people are supposed to do in college. Following the heart is for children, and Elkie cannot be a child anymore. She has dependents. She has to work hard for the next decade, and maybe then she can catch a movie.

Mondays are her slowest days at the college, not that days matter for Elkie as much as nights. Each period is just another step toward becoming Doctor Clark. Each class exists only in the sense that she can wrest an A and a letter of recommendation from the instructor. She didn’t move from Miami or Beijing to go here and she doesn’t live in a residence hall. She can drive away whenever she wants. She hasn’t noticed how she’s any different from the person who majored in film—or if she is different, that’s Don’s influence. She has not been transformed by spending time in labs, but her whole way of thinking has been rearranged by the way Don emails her his favorite articles—a profile of an MIT mathematician who also plays pro football, essays explaining deep time or slow food.

This morning she has bio lab, a calm two hours during which she streaks eight yeast strains across eight plates using eight sterile toothpicks. Then it’s off to epigenetics, her favorite elective. Don sends her articles about epigenetics from time to time. Most people don’t understand how it works, that a human being’s genetic code is a list of potentialities rearranged by their lived experience, that a person can pass on that experience in their DNA to children and grandchildren. A Holocaust survivor or a slave, for instance, might have a grandchild with a flat affect, someone who makes reckless decisions. It wouldn’t be the grandchild’s fault. It’s also true that not everybody likes to talk about this. Brianna, especially, would be livid at the implication that people who look like her, black people whose ancestors were maybe slaves, have crazy DNA.

Elkie talked with Don about the famous examples, the topic of the lecture her professor gave on the first day of class. For now she’s stuck on eukaryotic methylation, chromatin remodeling. She doesn’t even pay attention to today’s lecture because she’s busy moping. Should she text Brianna? But who goes into a friend’s private stuff like that?

Something has to give, so she digs out the phone and opens up her messages and ignores the several dozen men who are trying to get in touch with Crystal from the ad on BigDoggie. She undeletes the conversation with Don’s wife, moves it back to her inbox. Writes a response.

Cady Vishniac studies Yiddish and Hebrew at the University of Michigan. Her work has won the contests at New Letters, Mid-American Review, Greensboro Review, and Ninth Letter, and is forthcoming in Glimmer Train.

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