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Chapter 3
Alternate Relationships

Seeing Red for the Last Time

by FREDERICA VON McTOAST-HYPHEN, Alternate Reality News Service People Writer

When I got to the viewing area across the street from the subject’s nest, the first thing the two researchers instructed me to do was keep my head down and my conversation hushed. “She can be a little skittish,” sociobiological Thanatosist Gandalf Jarmusch explained. “We need to be as inconspicuous as possible.”

The second thing they did was hand me a pair of binoculars and a beer. The binoculars were for spotting the subject when she appeared. The beer was to break the tedium. “We have been observing this subject for several years,” theoretical geneticist Michael Monsantone told me, “and we pretty much understand its migratory habits. It will get off the 37 bus at approximately 5:34 pm and reach the front door of the nest at approximately 5:37 pm. That’s three hours from now.”

“The beer takes the edge off,” Jarmusch added.

While waiting for the subject – which the team had whimsically named Anita – Jarmusch and Monsantone busied themselves mapping the data they had collected over the seven years of their research project into various charts and graphs and speculating on their subject. “We know she’s a waitress of some kind,” Monsantone stated, “because one day two and a half years ago she left home late in her uniform. However, where is a matter of some conjecture.”

Before Monsantone could conjecture, Jarmusch waved his hand and urgently whispered, “There she is! There she is! Subject spotted at…5:36 pm!”

Sure enough, a woman was walking down the street. She was undistinguished save for the mane of blood red hair that fell past her shoulders. “Look at her plumage,” Jarmusch admiringly commented. “Have you ever seen anything so exquisite?”

“And, it’s perfectly as nature intended,” Monsantane assured me.

The woman – whose name is actually Monique McFelderhoff, as a brief session with the Glasgow telephone book taught me – is the last of her species: a natural redhead.

There is some debate about the decline in the number of fiery haired people in the world. The production of red hair involves a recessive gene, meaning both parents must have it to have redheaded children. Some researchers have pointed out that as redheads procreated with the general population, they diluted the gene pool, to the point where they are now teetering on the brink of extinction.

Jarmusch and Monsantone took a different, more poetic approach to the problem in an article they contributed to The Journal Of Redhead Studies D. “We did not worship redheads as they deserved,” the two researchers wrote, “and, as a result, they abandoned us.”

When I interviewed her, McFelderhoff claimed not to know anything about being the subject of academic research. “Middle aged men watching me through binoculars from a house across the street?” she mused. “That’s kind of creepy, don’t you think?”

When I pointed out that, as the last of her species, McFelderhoff should expect to be studied so that the lessons of her extinction could be passed on to future generations, she angrily replied, “Hey! Just because I’m a natural redhead doesn’t mean I’m into the kinky stuff! You tell those perverts that if they come near me, I’m calling the cops!”

It wasn’t quite the spirit of enquiry that one might hope for, but at least her response was, unlike most academic writing, clear and to the point.

Some argue that redheads, while perhaps fewer in number than at any time in human history, are not going extinct. Stylist to the stars and amateur sociobotanical optometrist Jie Matar pointed out that because the gene was recessive, it could skip generations, meaning that somebody with red hair could be born 20 or 40 years from now. “Besides,” Matar added, “I know it’s a heretical thought, but there’s always hair dye.”

“Sacrilege!” Monsantone shouted. “It’s like shaving a regular eagle to make a bald eagle! Sociobiological Thanatosism doesn’t work that way!”

Spirits were high on my last day with the researchers, who had just been awarded a substantial grant from the Edinburgh Academy of Ephemera which would have allowed their research to continue for another three years. That came to an abrupt end when Officer Fleugal MacDougal appeared, telling them that there had been a complaint and asking them what their business in the neighbourhood was.

Officer MacDougal seemed unimpressed with their explanations, even when they offered to show him their degrees. He was a little more impressed with the pie charts and graphs that they had been developing, but not enough to keep him from asking them to accompany him to the station for “routine questioning.”

On his way to police cruiser, Monsantone shrugged. “The things we do for science,” he commented.

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