Scientist Mad
By S. Craig Renfroe, Jr., Oct 25, 2008

He left his gloves in the lab, and the damned paperboy had thrown the tightly rolled paper into the roses again, right in the middle, so he’d have to wade into the thorns. If it wasn’t the roses, it was shucking the Sumerville Gazette from its plastic bag and leaving it in the rain. Havern’s voice mail complaints to the newspaper went unanswered. And when he finally got a real live voice, it assured him his delivery person Chad Slipman would be asked to be more careful. And Chad was, making each throw seem random, each missing section seem accidental, each late delivery a different day. With every complaint, Havern knew he seemed more and more irrational—the grumpy old man caricature instead of the righteously angry old man he was.

He had worked on the Manhattan Project, for godsake. Married a local woman who worked in the Oak Ridge office pool and eventually moved from Tennessee to North Carolina twenty years ago into this neighborhood of the mediocre, full of people working to die. He built his lab in the full basement. Though officially retired, continued his work on using atomized gold for cleaning.

And his life had been reduced to a daily war with Chad Slipman, paperboy. But not any paperboy. Son of George Slipman, who Havern had easily discovered was managing editor of the Sumerville Gazette. No wonder his complaints failed to incite action. But he was done simply reacting to some wild progeny rebelling against a father figure.

Ella opened the door. “Quit kicking the rosebushes.”

“The paperboy. Again.”

“Quit fixating on that boy.”

Havern took to his lab. He spent the rest of the morning putting away his gold research and setting up his new project. The chemicals had arrived only yesterday. As he was putting his hands through the covered arms of the glove box, Ella called him to lunch. A tuna salad sandwich and several sweet pickles later, he was back, and by the early evening, begging off dinner, he had the mixture in a lead spray bottle.

The next morning, sitting slumped down in his car parked on the street, he watched Chad Slipman pedal by, stop and toss the paper in a high arch that landed on the edge of the rain gutter and stick there. He pumped his arm up and down and rode off to the next house. Havern let him get several blocks away, until he was almost out of sight before following slowly, stopping far enough away. He felt like a detective, a hardboiled P.I. After a couple hours of cat and mouse, the mouse finally pulled up to a Shake Shack and chained his bike outside.

Havern walked quickly not bothering at nonchalance, knowing the invisibility of age. At the bike, he opened the nozzle of his lead bottle and sprayed the bike’s seat and crossbar. Several good blasts. From his pocket, he took a safety bag in which he placed the spray bottle. And back to his car. He actually giggled driving away. The radiation would most likely not give Chad Slipman cancer, but it would certainly sterilize him. Havern marveled at how he continued to work for the public good.

S. Craig Renfroe, Jr. is the author of the short story collection You Should Get That Looked At. Also, his work has appeared at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Pedestal Magazine, Monkeybicycle, The Potomac, and others. He teaches writing at Queens University of Charlotte and blogs at I Don’t Know What I’m Talking About.