Author: Nicola Cavallini (Translation from Italian by Giorgio Anelli)

It was red, irremediably red. Round red and inviting, tremendously inviting. And it stood in the center of a strange, white, somewhat aseptic room. A quiet light filtered through the fuzzy walls, homogeneous and warm, as if it were the inside of an egg.


I had pressed it, that red, irremediably red button, and within a couple of minutes I had found myself fat, irremediably fat. I had read that strange ‘+CH3’ inscription under the button, without understanding it. It looked like a particularly complicated emoji, or poorly typed, however not dangerous. It even had a ‘plus’ at the top that made it look like a chess king. An aura of nobility and sanctity, attuned to the place.

I had then pressed the button, without sensing that anything had happened. Sure enough, as I drew my hand closer to its surface I heard in my head those high-pitched, shrill violins that anticipate the plot twist in horror movies, the ones that suddenly go silent a split second before the decisive action: pressed the button, indeed, silence.

And that alone, inside and outside my head. For ten twenty thirty seconds, one minute, silence. Great plot twist.
A couple of minutes had passed, however, and everything had changed. I had felt a different, unexpected tension growing. I could feel it in my waist, the belt was tightening. I felt heavier, bulkier, and feeling my hips I found myself a little softer. What I did not know was that I had gained about 1 kg of mass. My semi-seasoned chemist’s eye (three-year degree in chemistry a bit off track), now associated the ‘+CH3’ under the button with a possible meaning: addition of a methyl group, see-aych-three. An extra methyl group, some extra mass? Damn. But where? In what position? To whom? Silly question: to me, I said to myself.

I felt the belt getting tighter and tighter on my hips, when suddenly I understood: triglycerides. Their beautiful hydrophobic tails full of carbon and hydrogen, firmly esterified on glycerol, must have stretched out a tiny bit. But where? At the end? But no, you have to move a hydrogen onto a CH2 to put it at the end as a new CH3 or remove the hydrogen to put a CH3 directly. No, maybe it was an internal CH2 after all, easier, but inconsistent with the red button indication. Like a candidate under examination, I searched for the most likely answer, ultimately going silent with myself.

I touched my belly, arms and cheeks, turning my thoughts away from chemistry, searching with my eyes for support in physics: I needed a mirror. However, there was nothing around except—careful!—a human silhouette, blurred in the light that surrounded us.

“Well done, good job!” shouted this one, approaching quickly. It was a woman. She wore a long white beard and was wrapped tightly in a worn white lab coat, from whose holes a faint white light filtered.

“How? What?” I stammered confused.

“Well done, you see a button and you press it, well done,” she continued, gesturing. I didn’t know what to say.
“Excuse me, but who are You?” I probed, with a growing hypothesis in my head.

“The Head of the Universe and Everything”, she replied curtly, now trying to unbutton the top of her lab coat.
“Ah…so you’re, I mean, You are, You would be God, I mean Goddess … Godze?”


“Right, yes.”

“And you played with my controls.”

Now ze stared at me.

“Are You referring to the button?”

“Of course, I am referring to the button. You must have at least figured out what it does,” ze said, shrugging hir shoulders and tugging at a strap of hir coat.

“I guess so, I mean,” I hesitated, “it adds a methyl to the triglyceride chains … right?”

“You’re smart for someone who presses random buttons. Good thing you didn’t run into the gray button that transmutes carbon to lead … and tell me, what did this action of yours just cause us?”

I remained silent. Then, pressed by hir gaze and hir tight coat restlessness, I said, “I feel a little more, shall we say, massive, or at least more voluminous. From this, I deduced that triglycerides were affected.”

“Not bad, but it still passes for praise.”

“You must know about that, right?” I blurted out.

“Don’t try to get smart, you’ve made a mess anyway!”

I realized that the ‘mess’ didn’t just concern me and the rest of ‘Everything’. “But it can’t be so serious to add a methyl here and there …”

“No, of course not. You’ve gifted about 15 kg of fat to the bears – to all the bears in the world – who actually will now be much calmer with hibernation. However, you’ve made life – in every sense – more complicated for a bunch of people struggling with their weight, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I fall into this category”, ze concluded, mistreating a button around the navel area.

“But excuse me, shouldn’t You be ‘pure essence’?”

“Does the phrase ‘in his image and likeness’ mean anything to you? It applies here too, you know?”

Ze alternated between me and the button repeatedly.

“A change in the physical world also reflects here, in the world of ideas. So, even though these are ‘imaginary lipids’, this world has its rules of operation and … I’m gonna burn this lab coat!” ze burst out.

It was at that moment that the stubborn button decided to pop, flying into space and at the same time expanding enormously, sweeping over me like a door slammed by the wind.

The impact was followed by a great light accompanied by a thundering voice: “Broooooo!”

Luca was shaking me, holding me firmly by the shoulders. I was lying on his couch, a little sweaty. Dazed, I felt my body, finding I had not gained, but neither lost weight.

“Wake up, the coffee is ready and Mrs. Fucci is waiting for us for the exam!”—the exam in question, Organic Chemistry II: the cause of divine triglycerides, the cause of some recent nightmares.

“Never again all-you-can-eat polenta …”, I thought.

I felt my stomach again. Nothing unexpected, the usual round belly from lack of real physical activity, typical of a college student away from home. I sat up, pushing aside the blanket and grabbing the cup of coffee that was being offered to me.

“… Or maybe, more than diet, I should completely rethink my academic career.”

Also of Interest

Links to Other Winning Essay And Introduction to Contest


An Electron in the Mirror

Commentary: An Electron in the Mirror

It was a morning in the microcosm of subatomic particles … The essay that won 1st place in the SCI’s 1000xChemistry essay competition




Previous Essay Contests and Winners’ Texts


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2nd Italian Chemical Society’s literary contest gives voice to the young generation during COVID-19






2nd Italian Chemical Society’s literary contest gives voice to the young generation during COVID-19




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