The Elephant in the Room

Elizabeth Daghfal

“It wasn’t my fault, Officer.” Always a great way to start a conversation. And a Monday morning. So much for getting to class early. Lani pushed her hair out of her face but only managed to smear blue foam in her curls.

“No?” Flashing his name badge, Officer Reardon glanced around the lab, then waded in toward her. “And yet you’re the only one here. Surrounded by fifty gallons of elephant toothpaste.”

Yes, it did look suspicious. All Lani could think of was Humpty Dumpty. And how stupid he must have felt in front of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. Or in this case, a cute policeman. She sighed. “I needed to see how much the experiment made.” 

The officer shook his head. “Because…?”

Somehow it felt important to make him understand. And not just because he could fine her for the mess to college property. She pasted on her brightest smile and wiped her hands on her lab coat. Or rather Mark’s. Great. Wouldn’t he just love this! “It’s an object lesson for my students.”

“Ah.” The cop’s stance lost some of its starch, and the corners of his mouth twitched. 

She knew it! He wanted to laugh. 

He laid his ticket pad on the stool behind him, the only safe spot from bubbles, and put his pen away. “You’re a chemistry professor.”

“Close. English.”

He picked back up the pad. 

Shoot! Talk fast, Lani! “I’m teaching the elements of a story.”

His raised eyebrows clearly weren’t following. Neither were they helping her think. Did he practice that smolder? 

Focus. Parts of a narrative.

She searched through the mounds of fluff covering her workbench and unearthed the bottles of hydrogen peroxide and potassium chloride. “Chemistry affects plot.” She squeegeed the counter with her arm and plunked the bottles back on the table, then did the same with the dish soap and food coloring. 

“A few small ingredients, the characters, seem harmless in themselves. But—” she excavated the large plastic flask— “when mixed together in the right container, i.e., the scene, those characters make quite an explosion.” She waved at the mess around the room.

“What are you? A Miss Frizzle?” Totally deadpanned. Was he intrigued? Or annoyed?

“Well, I’ve never taken my class to the moon or shrunken them for a trip through blood vessels.” She smirked. “And I drive a Subaru.”

“No magic school bus.” 

“Not yet.” She winked. Goodness, Lani. Stop flirting. “But I do like to teach creatively. Gets my students fired up.”

He did a three-sixty, waving at the foam surrounding them, pointing at the conical flask where it still oozed. “Looks like you’re trying to extinguish a fire.”

If she laughed, would that disarm him? Or signify she had a problem with authority? Oh, well. In for a penny, in for a lab full of elephant toothpaste. She settled for a chuckle. “No, this stuff wouldn’t extinguish anything. With all the oxygen trapped in the bubbles, it would probably help spread one.”

He shook his head, reached over the desk, and brushed foam from her shoulder. A blue stain remained. “I was speaking of dousing lab rooms. And maybe teaching careers.”

Her stomach clenched, and she glanced at the clock. “Shoot. I’ve got to get this cleaned up. I’ll be so late for class. And Mark’s gonna kill me.”

“Mark?” Was that a touch of jealousy in his voice?

“My brother. He said I could use his lab to prep.”

“And prep you did.” There was the grin.

But Lani didn’t have time for it now. Class was in two hours. Throwing open cabinet drawers, she scrounged for garbage bags. Paper towels. Newspapers. Anything to sop this stuff up. Fast.

“So, I’m assuming when you wanted to figure out how much you’d make, you didn’t intend to drown your students.”

She couldn’t waste moments glaring at him, but neither could she hide her grimace. “I told you, it’s not my fault.” Ah, black garbage bags. She whipped out a handful, thwacked one open, then scooped it through the froth, capturing as much as possible in the plastic. Worked better than expected. Just like the elephant toothpaste. Ugh.

Lani waved toward her offending “characters” now sitting so innocently on the bench. “My TA ordered the materials. I asked for forty-volume hydrogen peroxide. She told me she could only find thirty-five. No big deal, right? Just won’t make as big of a spectacle.”

Officer Reardon snorted. Not very professional. 

She kept shoveling. “What I didn’t realize—until after I mixed them and just before you walked in—is the TA confused volume and percentage. She bought thirty-five percent.” 

One bag full. She cinched it shut and thwacked another open. At least the bubbles weren’t heavy.

She stole a look at her solo audience. “Any idea what volume thirty-five percent equals? One. Hundred. Thirty-Three.” She waved her arms around the room. “Voila! Forty-volume would have been twelve percent.”

“Common pour-on-a-cut peroxide?” 

Lani dropped her arms and sagged against the desk. “Three percent. Yes, I could have used that. But I wanted to make a point.”

His giggle started deep and bubbled out a chortle. Definitely not professional. But the sound dropped the weight from her shoulders. 

Officer Reardon took the bag from her and swept bubbles into it, swiping off what stuck to his arms. She would need to pay for his dry cleaning. Along with her fine.

“I’m actually off-duty. Just stopped by the school after my night shift to see a friend, but came to investigate when I heard your commotion.”

“A friend?” Now who sounded jealous?

“A buddy from church.” He grinned again like he could see her thoughts. “As I said, I’m off-duty. I can help you clean.” He snatched another bag but slowed to lift the blue foam from her hair. “If I can take you to lunch after class.”

Lani smiled. She knew this chemistry experiment was a good idea. “It’d be a pleasure, Officer.”

Elizabeth Daghfal
Elizabeth Daghfal, writer, speaker, teacher, and Diet Coke aficionado, believes nothing beats a great story. She never seems to run out of ideas for pen and paper, and her students can’t wait to see what crazy, over-the-top object lesson or science experiment she’ll create for class this time.

When she takes a breath from writing and teaching, this mother of five and wife to “Tall-dark-and-handsome” also loves reading, singing, playing with her golden retrievers, wearing flip-flops, and just trying to stay ahead of the ideas in her brain.

You can find her online at her website, and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.