by John Cody Bennett
When mighty evolution paid a visit Monday to the streptococcus, it brought a radical idea which threatened a division of the cells. At dawn, the whole thing had seemed amusing, a silly hypothetical, but not anymore. Cell A embraced the idea, launched a protest, initiated a schism.
I can’t do this anymore, it said to Cells B and C, as it refused to infect their host. This gangly thing coughs itself silent. What if we’ve been wrong all along? What if it feels something?
Feels? barked Cell B, the arch-realist of the bunch. Its feelings have nothing to do with it. Of course, it feels something, we’ve known that for generations. It’s alive, after all. It’s proven.
Oh, no, it isn’t! said a skeptical Cell C, who feared newfangled concepts. It’s much too big to be alive. At least that’s what the old ones always said. Too big and with no mind to speak of. Maybe it feels pain, but maybe not! Either way, it’s not at all like us, and that should settle it.
By noon, Cell A had persisted with its unfathomable protest, much to the irritation of its streptococci colleagues. The issue remained unsettled among them, and it would for some time.
I know you both disagree, said Cell A. But I believe it’s better for all of us. Much better. Better? exclaimed Cell C. Better to abandon all it means to be a streptococcus? Better? Cell B, for its part, was much more sympathetic to the perspective of Cell A.
Listen, I want our host to welcome us, too, and I wish it didn’t have to suffer. But it’s in our nature as streptococci to infect things; infections hurt; and infect we must. There’s no choice.
No choice? scoffed Cell A. Oh, please. Nature, you say? Our nature? It makes me sick.
The protest continued until four in the evening when Cells A and C lost all patience and commenced their rupture. Their views, it was agreed, were irreconcilable, and a split was begun.
How about some binary fission? Cell C asked of them both. Who’s with me?
I second it, of course, said Cell A. Let us begin. I’ll go my own way. I’ll leave you both.
You know you shouldn’t, said Cell B. It’s a dead end. There’s no streptococci where you’re headed, there’s nothing at all. I promise, it’s dangerous for you. I don’t know why. I just sense it.
Night came, and at last the protest ended with the completion of the split. Afterwards, though, Cell B wrestled with the decision, for it didn’t like the outcome and never would. In fact, many such things fit this pattern. Not Cell C, but Cell B would reflect until the dawn reemerged.
So many questions, Cell B said to its colleague who refused to entertain them. So many. It felt something now ― a thing grand, mysterious, and inexplicable ― and welcomed it.
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John Cody Bennett is an educator at The Birch Wathen Lenox School in New York City, a graduate of Sewanee: the University of the South, and a Fulbright scholar from Louisiana. He has been published in Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine and Across the Margin.