Green Is the Color of Love
The scientist said, “Sometimes fragile things can resist the most pain,” while stabbing at her salad in the university cafeteria. And that, she explained later, was when the idea first hit her, when she pierced a grape tomato’s thin skin and the juice squirted out. That was the moment she knew that it was time to grow a heart that could withstand even the sharpest attacks.
The colleague to whom she’d spoken that lunch hour wasn’t privy to her idea at first because she didn’t trust him anymore. What if he stole her research or laughed at her? For months she worked alone, after hours in the lab with a riot of fruits and vegetables surrounding her. All of her failures went into a compost bin for the chemically treated—orange peels, lemon segments, artichokes, and yes, tomatoes—before the chambers of the spinach leaf caught her attention. They were somewhat reminiscent of the chambers of a real heart. But the bracing shock of it, when in its sterile box the spinach heart began to beat, made her recoil. She stared and cried and cheered in the midnight silence. She thought that if broken hearts could be fixed with a mere leaf, people would rename green the color of love in no time. Triumphant, she announced her success the very next day, to her colleague’s predictable joke, “But is it transplantable? Get it, plant?” He chuckled as she backed out of the lab. He didn’t take anything seriously, and he never had: not this heart and certainly not hers, which he’d tested past its limits. This tendency to joke, this lack of proper care would hinder his career, his life, she’d tried to tell him. But so far it hadn’t seemed to hamper anything.
Except her project: although it could beat, the spinach heart began to do unexpected things. It turned a sickly salmon color, all the deep juicy green leaching away the longer it proved its ability to function. Then it thinned out, growing brittle as a sheet of filo dough. She had to continuously mist it with water in a bid to keep it from flaking apart. Most disturbingly, when inserted into the chest of a mouse, it disintegrated like it was being digested. Each subsequent test added to the growing collection of tiny corpses. What good was this spinach heart anyway, she thought. His stupid pun had cursed it.
However, everyone remained impressed with her work. After all, no one else had ever turned any kind of food into a working heart. All she had to do was obscure her bad track record with the mice a little longer, until she figured out what it was that was making the hearts fall apart. She was sure she’d be able to fix it eventually. So when her colleague began poking around, gradually changing the tone of his comments from teasing to wheedling, suddenly she saw the solution: clearly, he wanted the heart for himself, and she would give it to him. It was a doomed endeavor – the trials hadn’t worked with rabbits, either – so he might as well have it. He’d be too greedy for the chance at brilliance, for a cut of her glory, to look deeply at the offer, and he’d try to put the heart in something larger and flashier, a monkey perhaps, and it couldn’t be done, and that would be it, his shot at tenure over. No one’s career could withstand the tragic low of their prize project killing its host body when said body was bigger, more human than a rodent.
So she brought him on to the project. They worked together side by side, as they used to, with an easy camaraderie that was false only on her side. She reflected that he’d never learned to see below the surface, to read the room, but he did have some clever ideas after all, and they got the transplant to work at last in a mouse, in a rabbit. Some of her initial excitement returned before she realized that the original problem was not gone, that they’d transformed it instead to one of scale. The spinach heart remained sadly limited in its ability to pump in a larger body. But he insisted they’d make it happen, and so he planned a transplant that would prove they could do it. As predicted, he got a sickly monkey. “It’s human enough,” he said, “to show everyone what we can one day do!” She disagreed, once aloud to absolve herself of guilt and thereafter in silence, as she so often had.
They met at what used to be their favorite coffee shop for an afternoon dose of caffeine the day that he leaked the upcoming transplant to the scientific press, the day before that poor animal got and lost his new lease on life, and he said to her, face twitching in excitement and terror, “Isn’t it funny how the world looks the same when it’s about to change forever?” She nodded and smiled, noncommittal, and then, of course, the world stayed exactly the same as it always had been: disappointing, beautiful, utterly unmoved by success and failure, and all the other whims and attempts of humankind.
Katie DePasquale enjoys telling a good story and making sure it's correctly punctuated. Her writing has appeared in The Worcester Review, Paper Darts, and Tin House online, among other publications, and is forthcoming in Milk Candy Review and Grist Online. A Pushcart Prize nominee for fiction, she has an M.A. in writing and publishing from Emerson College and works as an editor at Berklee College of Music.