Mary Yakuri Waters, "Mirror Studies"

An aging scientist with heart problems contemplates his own fragility and humanity’s place in nature.

(from Best American Short Stories 2004)

I’m a sucker for science slipping into a story like a ninja through an airduct. I like recognizing that the science lesson has already happened, instead of as it’s happening. Look at all the bodies, the stars sticking out of closet doors, the windows once closed now gaping in the night air — a ninja has been here.
“Mirror Studies” — with its myriad primatology lessons — is not covert in its metaphors. And why should it be? The notion of people being or not being like confused monkeys is not a new one, so why waste time trying to bury the concept?
With well-chosen words and a sharp eye for detail, Waters lays bare the weakness of science, the weakness of humanity, the silliness of civilization. At times, it’s satire except it’s only the context that makes it so. Nothing has been exaggerated or reduced to heighten the senses. It’s a vivid reflection.

I read this story a mere four days after knocking the book into the toilet. I was shaving. My mind was already two hours north of here. My elbows were closer by, but not close enough. Down it went, no backboard. There was nothing but cold clear water and millions of swimming, possibly self-aware little microbes in the toilet at the time. I swiftly plucked the book out, wrapped it neatly in a bath towel and placed it on the living room radiator, which was on, because it’s always on, because the lady on the first floor controls the heat. I open my windows a lot. I placed my iron — Still boxed. Why did I buy that? For this, maybe? — on top of the swaddled book. And waited. Today I am happy to report that the book is only slightly warped, its pages only a bit crispy. Now the microbes will have to face me on my turf. Bring it.

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