Marie Curie can still see right through you

The airport security guard pokes my tub of hair wax with the tip of his fingernail. “This needs to be in a bag.”

‘It’s not a liquid.’ I square my shoulders.

‘All liquids in a bag, Ma’am.’ He’s twenty-something, jaw rough with bristles. Name tag says Darren Jackson. 

I stall, searching for some fact that will convince him. The line behind me hums with irritation. 

 All this for a one-hour flight: queuing for the train, queueing for the shuttle, queueing for passport control, queuing at security. Now queuing in the queue. 

‘Look.’ I reach for my wax. It’s as if I’ve pulled a gun. Sharp intake of breath. People freeze as I remove the lid and tip the tin upside down. ‘See?’ 

The security staff radiate hostility.

‘She’s perfectly correct.’ Marie Curie is at my side. With her frizzy bun, sad eyes and black clothes, she’s an X-ray faded with age. Is she still radioactive, even in the afterlife? ‘Tell him a liquid is a substance that flows freely. It conforms to the shape of the container in which it is placed.’ 

I repeat this to Darren but he shakes a finger at me. ‘Listen lady, whatever you can’t fit goes in there.’ He gestures to the wheely bins behind him. 

I think of my hopes for promotion, crushed by men just like him. My boss, twenty years older but that same dismissive tone. ‘I need to see more hunger, more drive.’ Looking for identikit men to promote. Ignoring my contributions because I don’t shout about them. 

Marie Curie puts a hand on my arm. She feels like a cool wind, a balm to my tripping pulse. ‘What rudeness. And him in a position of service. Allow me.’ 

She marches to the conveyor belt and hops on, tucking in her petticoats with a roguish smile, wedging herself between a glossy red suitcase and a battered plastic tray. 

No one else seems to notice as she slides under the scanner. An alarm bleats and there’s a small pop. Silence. All the screens in the security area darken. 

The passengers groan. The airport staff huddle. 

Marie Curie is back at my side, a frown deepening the groove between her dark eyes. ‘All that work on Becquerel rays. Those years isolating polonium and radium. The ability to see inside the human body. All to use on luggage?’ 

I try to rally her with tales of hospitals and dentistry but she’s not buying it. I chatter about the time my parents didn’t think I’d broken my wrist but the X-ray proved it. ‘You made a huge difference.’

She hands me the wax with a mournful sigh. ‘Luggage.’

Voices clang off the metal scanners, the conveyor belts, the shiny floor: where’s the shift boss, not my station, back-up power. I pocket the wax and begin to thank Marie Curie, but she blips black then white, black then white. ‘I had hoped for better this century.’ Her voice fizzes like static.

‘You and me both, babe.’

The screens flicker back to life.

I head for the departure gate. 

Author: Cole Beauchamp is a copywriter by day and fiction writer by night. Shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award, she has stories in Janus Literary, Ellipsis Zine, Sundial and Free Flash Fiction. She lives in London with her girlfriend, has two children and an exuberant Maltipoo. On Twitter at @nomad_sw18

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