My hands are covered in scars, and they smell like dust. The scars are from the things I love; cat claws and plant thorns and spattered cooking oil. A mosquito bite I got while camping and couldn’t stop scratching. A shiny patch on my palm from where I fell off my bike and got road rash. A line across the knuckle of my right middle finger, where my mom’s puppy bit me during his rebellious teenage months. A yellowjacket sting on my wrist from the summer I spent researching bees at a nature preserve. Most of my scars are so faded, only I can tell where they are.
I came to Elsewhere University for a job. I’d burned out at my previous job at a vet’s office, too socially awkward and too trapped by my OCD to be consistently competent. Needing work and desperate to no longer live within my stepmom’s sphere of influence, I applied for the posting at EU as a research assistant for whoever needed one in the biology department. Now I spend my days on my laptop, compiling reference lists and background research for other people’s papers, or in the library, tracking down articles published in obscure journals that only have the abstracts available online. My not-quite-faculty status means I have my own office in the basement, in between the display of stuffed songbirds and the adolescent chimpanzee skeleton.
I’m good at my work, but it’s all dry, dead things. Theses written by students who have no further record in academia. References mentioned in one paper that don’t go anywhere because the original journal no longer exists. Even when I get to work with real things, it’s just drawing small animals’ skeletons for the student who swears he’s found new morphological evidence for how bats evolved powered flight. Everything’s dead, and dusty, and my hands smell like dust.
I’ve heard that you can trade things, and I think I know how. I can find my way into the depths of the library, where the floors don’t match up. More importantly, I can find my way back out, and I’ve learned how to follow the stacks to come out of the door near my office that leads to the greenhouse if I go through it in the other direction. There are always students working at the carrels along that route, but their eyes don’t close and their books aren’t real, and I know they can tell me where to go to make my deal. They know who I can give my scars to as payment for making sure my hands never smell like dust again.