The Party

Tania Hershman

We get to the party. We say hello to our hosts. We take off our coats. The party is crowded. We fight our way through to the kitchen. We load our plates with food. We sit in a corner. There are a lot of people. There are mathematicians and physicists, experimentalists and theoreticians. There is an elderly but still lively Nobel Prize winner. We are not mathematicians, we are not physicists. When someone asks what we do, we swallow our food and we say, biochemists. They are polite, they nod, but they change the subject. They talk about a film they have seen or about the décor of the kitchen. We nod, we talk politely too, even though we have not seen that film.

At a certain point, there is music, quite loud, from the other room. We place our plates on the side and move into the hallway. We see people, dancing: mathematicians, physicists, experimentalists, and theoreticians, and the elderly but still lively Nobel Prize winner. We look at each other and then we sneak up the stairs. We find the room where the coats are kept and we sit on the bed. We hold hands.

We hear someone coming up the stairs. We wonder about hiding. But it is too late. She comes into the room. Here they are! she calls to someone behind her. Come! she says to us. Come! And she takes our hands, pulls us up from the bed. We look at each other, we do not understand, but she gives us no choice. Here they are! she cries as she leads us back down the stairs. I have them! she says as she pushes us gently into the other room, where the music is loud, where everyone is dancing.

Someone turns down the music and everyone is looking at us, swaying and smiling. They open up a space and there we are, in the middle of the room, surrounded by everyone, smiling, swaying. We look at each other. We grip hands. We do not understand.

The woman who has brought us down here, who took us from the coat room and brought us, says, Will you please? Please … give us some? Some of your words! Your biochemistry words! And the others, the mathematicians and the physicists, the experimentalists and the theoreticians, the elderly Nobel Prize winner, they are all nodding, saying, Yes, yes, give us your words! Your words!

We are shy. We are holding hands, in the middle, the music still playing, everyone swaying. We look at each other. We wait. Is this real? we think. Do they really want this?

And then we do it. We begin. We say: DNA.

DNA! They all say. DNA! DNA!

Then we say, lymphocyte.

Ooh! They say, and they repeat the word. Lymphocyte, they say, turning to one another, still swaying. Lymphocyte!

Organelle, we say then, and then: lamellipodia.

Lamellipodia! they cry and someone raises up her arms. The woman who brought us here, who took us from the coat room, claps her hands. Lamellipodia! she cries. We look at each other. We smile a little. We loosen our handhold. Then we say, green fluorescent protein. Oh my! says the elderly Nobel Prize winner, and he does a twirl and then says green fluorescent protein! The words ripple around the room until everyone is whispering them, chanting them. Green fluorescent protein, green fluorescent protein, and the chant becomes louder and louder. Someone turns the music up and then everyone is dancing.

We stand in the middle of the sea of dancing mathematicians and physicists, experimentalists and theoreticians, and the twirling elderly Nobel Prize winner, listening as they murmur green fluorescent protein as they sway and dip. We stand and we smile; we smile and smile. We feel wanted. We feel loved. We feel heard.

Tania Hershman is a writer and poet, the author of two story collections: My Mother Was an Upright Piano: Fictions (Tangent Books, 2012), and The White Road and Other Stories (Salt, 2008). Based in Bristol, U.K., Tania is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing, exploring the intersection between fiction and particle physics. Visit her at

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