By Marva Gregorio De Souza
It was a pointless exercise. Harvard knew it. Sandra knew it. Calvin knew it. They continued in the same vein because hope can often be a hard task master. Gravel; over compliant, moving willingly at the touch of their hands only to be replaced almost instantly by comrades.
“Harv, you should be resting now. “
“I’m not tired.”
“I know but if you at least rest your muscles, then you can make a fresh go at it.”
“Come on Harv, like we agreed. Go and rest!” With that, Calvin turned his back slightly as an additional marker to the end of the conversation. Harvard, went to rest, leaving a longing look to make it clear what he would rather be doing. He found a pile in the furthest corner from where they were working and surprised his fully alert thoughts by falling asleep immediately. Sandra and Calvin continued with the task. Sandra fresh back from her repose. Calvin still to take one.
They worked in an atmosphere shared by the scraping of the pebbles and silence. Both fully aware of the proximity of the other, every move registered and responded to with hidden emotion generated goose bumps. Calvin stopped to stretch his limbs and neck. Hard work taking its fees without remorse. Sandra glanced at him. Tears escaped the confines of her lashes and made an unclean getaway down her cheeks, ending on Calvin’s gentle fingers. Harvard’s snores permitted Calvin to hug her with purpose. Sandra leaned into Calvin as he returned to his knees but now much closer to her. Sandra confessed her fears in gasping whispers. Fear of dying. Fear of the unknown.
“I’m scared too. It will be alright.”
“How can it be alright? We know we’re not getting out of here. There was more gravel than could fill this room. All we’re doing is shortening our time.”
“Don’t think like that. Someone might see the extra movement up there and investigate. You know the gravel’s one of the key measurements.”
“Highly unlikely though.”
“But we have to keep trying.”
“Why? What’s the point?”
“You. You’re the point. For me anyway. When… if we get out I want to start my life with you. We come clean. Put things straight and in order.”
“How? How can we tell Harv the truth? It will kill him.”
“No it won’t. Trust me. It will all be alright. It will. I love you, Sandra. It has to be alright.”
Sandra returned the love, no longer tentative as at the beginning of their secret. Now her love for Calvin was as strong as her love for Harvard. Probably even stronger. She could not imagine doing to Calvin what she was now doing to Harvard, the pretence, the hiding, the deception. It was all wrong and at the moment was the only positive spin she could find for their current predicament. Either way it would all be over.
With the gravel waist high the time for resting was far behind them. They still scooped it through, bringing more and more into the room. A fine cloud of dust, hung in the room, colored their coats, tickled their throats, lined their lungs. They suffered in silence to reduce the dry induced coughing. Sweat, tear streaked faces forlorn. Hope replaced with desperation, producing the same results. Private thoughts raced independently in private cells. Calvin longed for Sandra; for their long desired life together. He thought of when he first came to the laboratory and how seeing her changed every aspect of his being. Being alone was no longer an acceptable option. There was substance outside of work. His prison door now had a key. Once he learned of Sandra’s connection with Harvard, he tried to divert his new found feelings. Dating. Unsuccessful but repeated frequently regardless. Until. Until. Until, dual tension noticed yet unspoken when in Sandra’s presence. Gentle investigations. Careful prompting. Disguised declarations. Love shared, gained, distressed over. From their first kiss they both knew it was just a matter of timing. Calvin fought for their freedom. Sandra mourned over Harvard. He had been good to her, a union based on mutual convenience, a scientific experiment at best. From work situation shared to proposal to loveless respect devoid of a passion Sandra thought unimportant until. Until. Until. But Harvard had been good, and their work key. Too key to throw away on true love, what could and would be deemed as a whim by Harvard. Harvard who had saved her from obscurity. Yet the power of Calvin overwhelmed her and Sandra fought for true life.
Harvard took a mental step back. He fought for his life’s work. His purpose. Everything revolved around the laboratory. Nothing existed outside of it. Harvard fought to remain.
Feet treading gravel. Arms trapped. Mouths raised and gasping for every shred of air. The end came to greet them with serious over and under tones. It was not welcome. Calvin tried to look at Sandra but peripherals could not pick her out. His voice was all that remained to reach out.
“I love you Sandra.”
Sandra’s heart too sad to leap, pushed it’s remaining tears out. “I love you too, Calvin.” No care for Harvard or any confusion. It was their world now. Their precious time. “With all my heart, darling.” Sandra felt the gravel shift beneath her feet and her body followed the new path taking her head under, open mouth filled. Choking.
“Sandra! Sandra! No! SANDRA!” Calvin’s heart broke.
Harvard tried moving across, being physically closer to Sandra at least. His efforts rewarded him with her fate.
The roof opened.
Hands swooped in. Air. Breathing. Kicking. Safe again. Thorough noted checks before returned to cages. Back to their original order. Calvin could only just see Sandra through Harvard’s bars. She lay on the floor, white fur still gravel dirty, panting. After a short while her eyes opened and locked with Calvin. Hopeless patience while Calvin paced, sucked on the water tube sticking through his own bars then back to his scurried pacing. Harvard now between them, relaxed. A good day’s work. The big ones were talking into their machines, words he could not provide a literal translation for but could vaguely understand the meaning of. Harvard was sure they had noticed the team work to promote survival. It was a new behaviour. He was confident.