The Nucleus

Illustration by Hannah Stinson, fashion communications ’16.

[I]t had been almost three years since he took his father’s inheritance and sold the downtown condo in Toronto, but Mr. Moorton could only bring himself to take one photo with him to Kansas. It dangled from the funeral home magnet on his fridge like a bucket above an empty well. His father wore his serious face, stitched with crevices.

Mr. Moorton squinted at the fine details of his suit, and he could still smell the dry-cleaned clothes that engulfed him in the backseat of the Chevy Caprice Estate Wagon. The shoes were shiny and the pants were pressed, and his hand was placed on the shoulder of his son. The young Mr. Moorton had his hands gripped to the brand new Lakers basketball his father brought home from California, embracing it with his fingers. Mr. Moorton recognized the grin mapped across` the boy’s face, a happiness that clung to the long trails of exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke and never came back.

The microwave beeped behind him, signalling that the oatmeal was ready. Mr. Moorton snatched a plastic spoon and headed towards the car. The dashboard had become his dining area, and the rearview mirror his vanity. His shirt was wrinkled, and notes for his classes were scattered in the backseat. With a flick of his collar and a final spoonful of the warm cereal, he pulled the car into reverse and continued towards Blue Valley North High School.

“Could anyone describe to me the function of the nucleus?”

Mr. Moorton furrowed his brows, peering at the classroom in front of him. He bobbed his head to-and-fro, but all he saw were hollowed eyes.

“Anyone?” He could hear the tick-tock of his father’s watch that clung to his wrist as he went to wipe the perspiration off his forehead. The empty stare used to dwell only in the few slackers who stuck to the back row, but with each passing year it had spread like an infectious bacteria.

“It’s the control centre of the cell. It determines the cellular functions.” He pointed up at what appeared to be a jawbreaker being projected onto the whiteboard. His finger hung under the innermost layer, an orange sphere with lines running through it. “This is the location of the nucleus.” Behind the monotonous tone of Mr. Moorton’s lecture was a faint snore.

“Can someone wake up mister Hyde?” Saliva was pooling onto the cover of his textbook. The girl beside him nudged his arm until his head lifted out of his arms.

“Do you care to explain to the class what the nucleus is, mister Hyde?”

Max toyed his fingers at his eyelids, speaking between yawns. “Uhm… no.”

“No?”

“As in… I don’t care… to explain.”

“Well maybe you’ll care a bit more in the principal’s office.”

“Whatever.” Max stood up, grabbed his books, and walked out of the classroom with nonchalance.

Mr. Moorton could only shake his head, adjust his tie and continue his speech. “So the nucleus -” The bell had rung, and the students were already rushing through the door frame into the clogged hallways. There was no use in reminding them that they would be resuming cellular anatomy tomorrow, so Mr. Moorton began packing up his briefcase. It was neatly organized by class codes, assignment dates and last names. Before he left the classroom he flicked off the lights and squinted at the clock. As the door clicked behind him he had already forgotten the time.

The hallway congestion only worsened as Mr. Moorton tried to flow through the bodies and crowds blocking his passage to the staffroom. “Excuse me…excuse me.” His briefcase bumped against waists and sides, but no one complained. A few feet away he noticed what appeared to be little uniforms bouncing towards the gym.

When he opened the door, a breeze drifted through the window of the staffroom, laced with the scent of vanilla and freshly-cut grass. Miss Nascerelli curled over her cinnamon bun, roots of blond visible and sprouting out of the top of her head. She looked up with sunflower eyes, and behind her mouthful of sweet pastry was a smile in mid-bloom. Mr. Moorton lifted his crooked lips with the muscles above his jaw and walked over to the fridge to grab his own lunch.

“Sit down with me, Timothy.” Her words sprinkled like the April rain, but Mr. Moorton heard only an outside voice pattering in his ear. He set his brown bag on the far end of the table and sat down with a nod.

“M’Nascerelli.” He focused on the turkey sandwich he had made, talking through crumbs.

“Please Timothy, call me Lily.”

“Fine. Lily.” The bread was a bit stale.

“I love that. Lily.” She tried to mimic the dullness, but her vocality blossomed underneath. “You don’t do first names, do you?”

“Surnames have a history; a past. They’re unchangeable.”

“Unchangeable?” Miss Nascerelli took a sip of soda water.

“Well I guess they’re physically changeable.” He nodded at her left hand. “I’m sure Mr. Nascerelli vouches for that.”

“I am widowed, Timothy.” A bus drove by.

“But your ring.”

“I am surprised you noticed.” She slid her hand back too quickly.

“Why do you wear it?”

“More surprises.” She pressed the corners of her napkin into a smaller square and threw back her head in a mock laughter. “You are curious, today.”

“Well?” The sun filtered through the window, brightening the table.

“You really do not know much about me, do you?”

“This is my facility of work, Misses -I mean- Miss Nascerelli.”

“But the Java Lamp is not.” Her lips were shifting into the shape of a cat’s tail.

“You know the workload continues after hours.”

“Well then I suppose I will be alone tomorrow at 7.” And with that, Miss Nascerelli sprung out of the room in her cherry-red high-heels.

[I]t was the familiar buzzing of an alarm clock that stirred Mr. Moorton. When he closed his eyes he could still see the remnants of his dream. It was always the same: he was tied to the front grill of a train, burning a brilliant gold in the bright sun, and wearing the heavy, embroidered suit in the photo. The train would continue to pick up speed, and the wheels would get louder and as he pulls his head around he sees his father tugging on a string, triggering the screaming whistle, and still the train keeps moving faster and the words of his father keep getting louder…

There was something unusual this time, but Mr. Moorton couldn’t quite picture it. A fog hovered over the ground, and the sky was grey with thunderclouds clapping in the sky.

“Are you okay, Mr. Moorton?” The bell that closed the period had rung, and one of his students was still sitting at a desk.

“Hmm?” Mr. Moorton was used to his classes being a blur, but out of redundancy, not unfamiliarity.

“Nevermind.” The student turned around and flowed into the congestion of her peers. As she left, the next group started to circulate itself into the classroom. What class was this? What had he just taught? Mr. Moorton flicked through his papers.

The bell had rung and the students were sitting idly at their desks. The hollowed eyes blinked back at Mr. Moorton, waiting for him to begin his drone.

“Does anyone remember where we left off yesterday?”

A hand lifted up. “Yes, mister Hyde?”

“Something to do with the nuclear.”

“The nucleus, mister Hyde. If you had read your textbook instead of slept on it, you would know that.”

Max shrugged his shoulders in the same carefree way and positioned his chin on the spine of his textbook, sinking into the tangle of limbs he laid out in front of him. Outside the thunder boomed and rain panged against the window.

“Today we will be focusing on cytoplasm.”

Mr. Moorton flicked off the lights and turned on the projector. The fan raced inside, caught on some sort of mechanism and emitting a constant clicking sound. The diagram appeared on the whiteboard. Once again he dangled his finger under the orange sphere. “As we can recall, this area is the nucleus. The remaining systems within the cell membrane are a part of the cytoplasm.” Another clap of thunder interrupted his speech. Mr. Moorton squinted through the window, but all he could see was fog.

“The cytoplasm’s job is to create reactions within the cell. These reactions are what make the cell function. So the nucleus controls the functions, but the cytoplasm causes them via its organelles.” In front of Mr. Moorton 24 pairs of eyes stared at the diagram, glassy like the transparent marbles he used to flick around in Trinity Bellwoods Park. That was the time his father allotted to sifting through the newspaper on a bench near the edges of the grounds, pretending to look over the ink blots that spelt out intriguing headlines.

The thunder was exploding outside, and the fan continued to click. Mr. Moorton rubbed his temple and sat on the edge of his desk. He peered down at the homework assignment, and then at the empty eyes. “I want you to complete this diagram of the cell. All of the information is in your textbook.” Mr. Moorton turned off the projector, sat down at his desk and proceeded to rub his temple.

The day continued on in clouds of worksheets and textbooks. Outside, the fog was looming. In the staffroom there was only the smell of cut-grass, and the garble of gym coaches rattling on about the start of the soccer season. On his way back to his classroom Mr. Moorton nearly knocked over one of the boys in the little uniforms. Still dazed, he dropped into his pneumatic chair and began to mark the multiple choice section of last week’s quiz: d); c); b); b); a)…

Mr. Moorton awoke suddenly, pen still in hand. He squinted at the clock: it was almost 7. He began to rub his temple. When had I fallen asleep? he thought. He continued to gather his things when he felt the pang of hunger in his stomach.

As he arrived at his car he looked at the sky, now occupied by clouds of pink and purple. In front of the school sunflowers danced in the yard. As he stepped into the vehicle, he peered at the flower bed, put the car in reverse, and began to drive towards Java Lamp.

 

[J]ava Lamp was located on the other side of town, hidden behind an old storage warehouse. Mr. Moorton was not well acquainted with its location (he had only heard of it yesterday), and it took him twice as long to get there as it should have. He reversed his car into the closest parking space of the almost-full lot and furrowed his brow. Images of the dream were still replaying through his head, and still he could not pluck out what had perturbed him. His stomach grumbled as he flicked off the ignition and hurried into the restaurant.

The room had a smoky atmosphere: the paints were ashy and the lighting was dim. The furniture appeared to be pulled right out of an antique shop. The menu items were written on the black chalkboard that dangled above the counter, where a man with dreadlocks was taking orders. None of the drinks were familiar to Mr. Moorton, and he wondered how anyone could possibly order, never mind dine at a place like this.

As he got in line, Mr. Moorton squinted at the tables. He could not see Miss Nascerelli anywhere amidst the nicotine-chewed cafe. When he reached the counter, he ordered a black coffee and a turkey sandwich.

“You mean the ‘The Tacchino Panino?’”

“No, I mean the turkey sandwich.”

“Coming right up.” The server smiled with his whole face, teeth exposed.

As Mr. Moorton received his order, he heard his name blowing around somewhere in the cafe like a spring breeze slicing through a frosty breath. He blinked through the array of customers until he saw a familiar pair of pumps strolling towards him.

“Timothy!” Her voice had a songbird shrill that forced you to listen. Mr. Moorton stepped over the legs of tables and chairs until they had reached each other.

Miss Nascerelli looked at him with blooming eyes. “I have a table near the stage, Timothy.”

“Stage?” Mr. Moorton did not notice it before, but there was indeed an elevated stage with a single microphone. Her table was near the front on the right-hand side. They sat across from each other, Mr. Moorton’s back facing the stage.

“You are full of surprises lately, Timothy.” Her eyebrows sprouted up in exaggerated wonder. “Even if you are wickedly late.”

“As ar’you, Miss Nascerelli.” Mr. Moorton fumbled with his sandwhich.

Lily. And you could hardly judge that, Timothy. You have known me for just over a day.” Miss Nascerelli caressed her fingers around her vanilla latte and sipped, her lips resting on the curve of the mug the same way the sun curls up on the horizon during dawn.

Behind Mr. Moorton the speakers rattled: “…for our 3rd monthly poetry reading. We’ll be opening with…”

“You never told me why you still wear your ring.”

“Shh, this kid is great.”

The speakers hummed in anticipation, interweaving with the clinks of cups and conversations.

“Hello everyone. I’ll be opening up a bit differently tonight.” -a choir of snapping- “I wanted to begin with a piece I had stumbled upon by Emily Dickinson. I hope you enjoy.”

The crowd snapped and Mr. Moorton swivelled his chair beside Miss Nascerelli, crossing his legs. The lighting dimmed, and the stage was dark.

“Power is a familiar growth” -a spotlight illuminated the silhouette- “Not foreign; not to be” -Mr. Moorton squinted at the face, focusing on the mouth- “Beside us like a bland Abyss, in every company” -he had the voice of a canoe rocking back and forth in the cradles of waves- “Escape it!” -the stage went dark and the crowd gasped- “there is but a chance; When consciousness and clay” -the spotlight faded in near the back of the stage, and the microphone disappeared- “Lean forward for a final glance” -a figure emerged from the hanging beads at the back of the stage- “Disprove that…and you may.”

The crowd snapped and tapped their mugs together. The host thanked the crowd for their participation and informed them that the evening would resume at 8:30.

“Wasn’t he spectacular, Timothy?” Miss Nascerelli raised up her cup in salute, as if it were her who had just performed. “It’s nice to see a student with so much ambition and drive.” Her eyes grew wide, gazing at the stage.

“I’d love to see that kind of ambition and drive in my classroom.” Mr. Moorton gulped down his now-cold coffee and bit at his sandwich.

“Well, it is unfortunate that you aren’t teaching Max Hyde, then.”

“Mister Hyde? What does he have to do with this?”

“Did you not just hear the performance, Timothy?”

Mr. Moorton squinted at the stage. The lights were off and the microphone stand was empty. That was mister Hyde? All he could envision was the pool of saliva accumulating on his biology textbook. “I suppose I did.”

Mr. Moorton pulled up his father’s watch to his face, listening to the consistent tick-tock of its hands. It was nearly half past 8.

“Well I really must be going. I will be seeing you tomorrow, Timothy?” Miss Nascerelli’s voice raised at the end of her sentence like the hook of a flower basket.

“Your ring.” But Mr. Moorton’s words sputtered out too late, clicking away with the cherry-red high-heels.

 

When Mr. Moorton awoke he could still hear his father’s voice screeching with the whistle. But it was the patter of rain on the roof that had risen him out of bed before his alarm. He stared into his reflection in the bathroom mirror, looking at the crevices engraved in his face. In the shower he let the drops sprinkle on every pore. By the time he reversed out of the driveway it was almost 8, and he could still feel the ropes tugging his limbs back onto the golden-plated grill of the train.

 

Mr. Moorton’s review classes were today, which gave him time to mark the quizzes. But throughout first period all he could do was rub his temple in hopes of curing his splitting headache.

As the second period class spilled in, he handed out the review sheets. After the first half hour of class had rolled by, Max was sitting idly at his desk.

This was no surprise to Mr. Moorton. “Why aren’t you working, mister Hyde?”

“I’m done.” His voice was cool as an evening zephyr.

“Excuse me?”

Max began his casual saunter towards Mr. Moorton, paper in hand.

“See?” He pressed his finger on top of the orange sphere. “This is the nucleus, and it controls the functions of the cell” -he spun his finger in circles around the cell- “and this is the cytoplasm, and its organs, causing reactions within the cells…” He continued to list off the separate organelles of the cell, but Mr. Moorton was back in his dream. He was caught in between the moment where he turns his head around towards his father conducting the locomotive. Fields of sunflowers blanketed the sides of the tracks. Further in the distance were rings of peach trees, the orange spheres dangling from the branches’ arms. But the whistle continued to shout, the tone still just as piercing.

In the background, Max continued to deliver his speech: “…and the mitochondria provides the energy-”

“I see.”

The moment was still; like two loons on a southern lake.

“If you would like, you can grab a book from your locker, mister -I mean- Max.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“It’s Mr. Moorton.”

“Sure thing, Mr. Moorton.” And with that, Max Hyde slipped out of the classroom.

 

Miss Nascerelli had left a note on his brown paper bag: “Meet me in the Gym.” When he got there, little uniforms were running around chaotically. Max Hyde was sitting in the far corner of the bleachers, reading ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. Along the front of the stands, parents, teachers and students were all watching the children chase after the basketball. The action of the court was racing towards Mr. Moorton as he stared at the bleachers. Miss Nascerelli sprouted out of her seat, her arms waving like branches in the wind.

Mr. Moorton strolled towards her, walking along the tightrope boundaries of the court. Miss Nascerelli patted down the spot beside her and he sat down. Her blond hair tumbled down the back of her lavender blouse. She let her jeans rustle against the khakis of Mr. Moorton and pointed towards the basketball court.

“That’s why I wear the ring, Timothy.” The raindrops struck against the window, plummeting and crashing against the first surface it could reach.

“Because of basketball?”

“Because of him.” A boy with blond, curly hair ran past, wearing the number 8 on the back of his yellow jersey.

The yells from the crowd echoed the screams of his father. “But your husband has past, Miss Nascerelli.”

“He’s still here, Timothy. He’s with me everyday.” Her sunflower eyes were in full bloom. “I can’t change the train schedule, or the tracks it travelled on. I can’t change his mind about walking home from work that day. I can’t change that he had not heard it speeding towards him at a million miles an hour.” The rain pounded harder against the glass. “But I can change tomorrow. I can change, Mr. Moorton.”

They sat in silence, watching the boys chase the orange sphere around the court. There appeared to be no sense of restraint as the jerseys collided and clashed for the ball. When it bounced near the sidelines, the children would rush towards it before it hit the crowd, and the parents would hold out their hands.

Mr. Moorton closed his eyes and looked at the fields before him. The sunflowers were dancing, and the peach trees stood idle in the distance. Further ahead was the glow of a setting sun.

He opened his eyes wide and he was alone, the orange sphere staring at him from centre court. He sauntered towards it with nonchalance, picked it up, and dribbled it towards the net. His heels clicked on the gym floor, and as he entered the key, he sprung up towards the basket.

Two points for Timothy Moorton.