“Negative Side Effects May Include” (Flash Fiction)
Dr. Siegfried Cerber had a problem. His wife was sleeping with their chubby-chasing doorman—about whom she once quipped over her third muchos-mocha latte of the day, “I love a man in uniform.” But that was far from his mind as he peered at the dog, panting blithely on the examination table.
“Aww,” said Muenster. Her soft spot for lab animals had more than once gotten her into hot water. Literally. She was once caught giving a rat a bath after offering it cake from Han’s birthday party. How was she to know the poor thing was blind? Or that it would burrow heedlessly into pink and yellow icing?
Cerber folded his arms. “This is no time for sentiment. Marketing will be here soon and we must have the negatives.”
“But, Dr. Cerber, the dog’s not presenting any,” said Norbert, whom Muenster referred to as Newbie though he had worked there for three years.
“Science is the art of patient observation,” she chided.
Wholly unconcerned, the dog blinked at them.
Cerber looked at Norbert. “Is this behavior typical?”
“I don’t know, Dr.”
In fact, there were two other significant things that Richard “the Newbie” Norbert, Ph.D. did not know. First, he was sorely mistaken when he attributed Muenster’s pejorative nicknaming of him more to alliterative coincidence than malice. Second, of all the scientific genius in that room, he would be the one to receive untold adoration by stumbling onto the Rosetta Stone of the pets division of non-essential pharmaceuticals—a pill that would eliminate barking in dogs without any of the usual side effects such as death, permanent muteness, excessive whining, and/or explosive flatulence.
However, all that was many years and one very calm dog with no negative side effects away.
“This won’t do,” said Cerber exhaling into his fist. “This just won’t do.”
Muenster risked the obvious. “Why can’t we just say the pill does exactly what it’s supposed to? It calms hyper dogs with no negative side effects.”
Cerber slammed his fist on the table. With the tranquility of a Siamese, the German Shepherd circled and nestled back down.
“If there are no negative side effects,” Cerber said through his teeth, “the company will cut our funding.”
“Lethargy,” said Muenster.
Han frowned. “Too close to the cure.”
“Supine posture,” Norbert offered.
“Hmmm,” Cerber said. “What else?”
Han tapped his stylus. “What about rickets?”
“Rickets?” Muenster was exasperated.
“Now you’re talking,” Cerber said.
Norbert protested: “But we can’t add anything—”
“I don’t mean adding anything,” said Han. “I mean claiming that it may cause rickets, or discharge, or itching—what have you. It’s in the abstract. A matter of mathematical probability, don’t you see? If we have to report a negative symptom, why not just pick one and phrase it in terms of extreme improbability?”
Norbert pointed. “That’s good.”
Cerber was exhaling into his fist again and Muenster was about to say something when three men in expensive suits and gratuitous smiles walked into the lab.
“Knock knock science?” sang the tallest with the whitest smile. “So what d’ya got for us?”
Cerber cleared his throat. “The formula appears to be remarkably effective for dogs that are—”
“High strung,” said the suit. “We’ve settled on that term. But nothing sells a pill like bad news. So let’s hear it.”
Cerber was mentioning something about anal discharge when the dog moved and let out a strange yawn, sounding almost like “O what now?” or “gun powder.”
“There’s also… eerie vocalization,” said Cerber triumphantly.
“Eerie vocalization?” The suits exchanged looks. Another said, “Hot damn that’s good.”
On his way home the happy scientist bought a carafe of sweetened coffee product and deliberately chose not to change out of his lab coat, which he wore—with little else—well into the wee hours of the night.
. . . <originally published in Hobo Pancakes 12> . . .