‘There’s nothing wrong with my genes. Or Steve’s.’
‘I’m not suggesting there is, Mrs Cobb,’ said Eva. ‘May I call you Sarah?’
Eva was keen to recruit the Cobbs into her research project; cases like theirs didn’t come along often. But, instead of obediently signing the consent form, Sarah was wasting time asking questions.
‘Your daughter reacted badly to her medicine because she can’t metabolise it properly,’ Eva explained. ‘Amy’s what we call a non-converter. We believe she may have inherited an inactive gene from you and Steve. Even if each of you is a normal converter, you can still be a carrier for a recessive inactive gene and then it’s down to chance if your children inherit it. But, don’t worry, Amy will be absolutely fine now we’ve switched her to a different drug.’
‘Is that true?’ said Steve.
He had been silent until now despite Eva’s efforts to engage him.
‘Absolutely. She’ll be discharged…’
‘No. I mean that.’ He pointed at the mug on Eva’s desk. It bore the cheery message, “Happiness Is…In Your Genes!”
‘Oh – this. My colleagues gave it me as a joke after I argued on TV with someone who claimed there was a “happiness gene”, of all things.’
‘And there isn’t?’
Eva suspected that a comprehensive answer would be wasted on Steve.
‘It’s complicated. But it’s highly unlikely that a complex emotion like happiness is controlled by a single gene.’
‘Have I got this right?’ interjected Sarah, keen to get the discussion back on track. ‘You want to do a test on all three of us and see if Amy has inherited a dodgy gene from Steve and me, right?’
‘That’s exactly it,’ said Eva, hiding her amusement at the term “dodgy gene”.
‘Sounds okay to me,’ said Steve.
Eva pushed the consent forms and pen across the desk but Sarah checked her watch.
‘Hadn’t you better move the car, Steve?’
‘Already? We’ve still got…’
‘We don’t want another parking fine, do we, sweetheart?’
With Steve out of the room, Sarah asked, ‘Do we get to know the results?’
‘Certainly. You have the right to know the results. Or not, if you prefer – but it’s not like the information is sensitive in this case. It’s all explained in the consent form…’
‘So Steve will know if he is a carrier for the faulty gene or not?’
‘Frankly, if our theory is right – and I’m pretty sure it is – then the only explanation is that, as Amy’s mother and father, you both carry an inactive gene.’
As she spoke, Eva understood. Sarah figured that Steve would very likely learn he was not a carrier for the defective gene. Even he could work out what that meant. Eva replaced the forms and pocketed her pen.
Sarah stood up, buttoning her coat. ‘Steve’s a good husband. And father. No point hurting him unnecessarily.’
With a wry smile, she nodded at Eva’s mug and its dubious slogan.
‘Like you said – it’s complicated.’
(First published on MashStories.com, April 2016)
Narrated version on Mash Stories podcast: Soundcloud