Albert leaned over his notebook so Jennifer couldn’t see that it was blank. He pushed his glasses up his nose and wiped the sweat off his eyes. Behind the one way mirror the couple argued vehemently. Jennifer, Albert’s junior lab partner, jotted down a note in her notebook, her graceful young hands nimbly dancing over the page, getting covered in dark splotchy ink. Black spots squirting over her smooth hands and caking them in a luscious batter. Albert bit his bottom lip thoughtfully and turned back to the couple in the glass box.
“Well I’m sorry if just for one single second I don’t want to hear about some fucking artistic foreign film!” screamed the boyfriend.
“Did you even notice that I lightened my hair?” cried the woman.
"Fucking hell, I can't do anything, anything anything without you jumping down my fucking throat!"
“I did it because you said that blonde woman was so pretty.”
“She was hot because she was thin, not because of her stupid hair, idiot!”
“You never notice me anymore,” she sobbed, snot dripping over her lips and down the crevice of her blouse.
“Of course I don’t notice you anymore! I’m with you about 10 fricking hours a day when I’m awake. There’s nothing to notice about you anymore.”
“Have they been in there long enough?” Jennifer asked.
Albert looked at his watch and mumbled, “Yeah. We should start the next test.”
“Send in test subject C,” Jennifer said clearly into the microphone. They watched as a gentleman in a classy sport coat ushered the fighting couple out of the room.
“So what made you want to study the way love works?” Jennifer asked.
“It just seemed like a fascinating social science. No one’s really dealt with it. Sure it can be explained from an evolutionary level, a societial pressures level, but when you look at this…” he gestured at the retreating backs of the couple. “There’s really no explanation for that kind of raw desperate pain and cruelty in people.”
“What’s the next test?” Jennifer asked.
“Familial love,” Albert said.
A young family with two children, a boy and a girl, were escorted into the room. They nervously sat down in four chairs and waited. Albert watched while the children played quietly together and the parents nervously clenched and unclenched their fists. The parents’ eyes were trained intently on the two little kids, but they weren’t seeing them. The children clambered over each other as the doctor entered. The parents stood and shook his hand.
Albert and Jennifer watched in thick silence. Albert wanted to say something but he felt the uncomfortable clenching in his throat preventing him from reaching out to anyone with communication. Jennifer studiously took down notes.
The doctor told the parents that both the children were terminally ill and that with their resources they could only save one of them and that the parents would have to choose which one.
Albert felt himself sinking farther into his chair, swimming in the melting room. Noises around him blared loud but foreign, berating at him like reality was a smelly toddler shaking it's fat fists. The chairs and desk and wall and everything looked plastic like it had been torn from a child’s cheap dollhouse. Albert sadly let his head fall into his hands. His data about love welled up in his stomach and he heaved quietly without moving. The room around him, even the parts of it that he was physically touching, began to shrink farther away. Albert scanned his memory for friendly faces but they seemed small, distant, and unaware and exclusive of him.
On the walk home he swung into a hardware store. The man behind the counter scowled at him like he was a child out past curfew. He angrily rang up Albert’s products and slipped them mechanically into a plastic sack. Albert watched through wide eyes, terrified and screaming out from the prisoning cage of his skull. The cashier seemed too far away to hand Albert his bag, but somehow he managed to reach it.
Jennifer watched from across the street as Albert left the hadware store and went home. She adjusted her neat ponytail and entered a nearby building.
“How is test subject 1487 doing?” asked a man in a long lab coat holding a clipboard. All of the brilliant scientist eyes in the room turned to Jennifer.
“The same as all the other test subjects.” Jennifer answered quietly. “He didn’t react well to the tests. I don’t think he even said goodbye to me when he left.”
“Peculiar.” said a scientist with frizzy red hair.
“And,” Jennifer added with a sad head shake. “I just saw Albert, I mean 1487, walking into a hardware store…”
“Excellent,” said frizzy hair.
The other scientists nodded and pulled out a chair for Jennifer, indicating that the young scientist join them.
“Don't you guys think this is a really immoral test? Why are we studying how people react when forced to question love? 1486 tests have yielded the same findings,” she said. "It doesn't seem ethical."
“It’s not for us to question who designs these experiments.” Someone handed her a paper plate with a slice of greasy pizza on it.
“Right,” Jennifer said softly, biting into her pizza.
A few miles away Albert let himself into his apartment. He sat the plastic grocery bag on the table. Without turning any of the lights on he made a tomato sandwhich and ate it by himself in the darkness. He rested his spectacles on the counter. He took the rope from the plastic bag, neatly put the bag into a cupboard. The bored cat slinked out from under the table and rubbed against his calves. Albert fed him and let the cat outside into the street. The streetlights smiled up at him, waving superficially past the emptiness through Albert to a person who he wasn't. Albert patiently went back inside, letting the nothingness of the night inside with him. No one in the apartment complex even winced at the heavy sound of the chair clattering to the ground.