I could tell before she's said a word that things weren't going as she had planned.
She looked exasperated, and the house was more of a wreck than usual, which is what I had planned. After all, I've seen her cook. I've witnessed how she opens packages after reading the printed directions. I've seen her skip steps and improvise … So when she said she was doing a project for the science fair, I just imagined cereal everywhere and a resealable bag that has no way to reseal.
I couldn't help myself.
But let's not rub NaCl into the proverbial wound. Science requires some restraint and the opportunity to be wrong.
As it happened, the project she decided to undertake was already in process. She hovered over four gummy bears, soaking in individual tartlet Petrie dishes on our kitchen counter.
She was quite a site as she stood there in a pool of overspilled fluid, a flexible purple measuring stick in one hand and a fork in the other.
“What's the project again?” asked her brother.
“I'm trying to find out what makes gelatin grow.”
“What's with the fork? You're going to eat them,” he asked and answered. “I'd like to see you eat the one soaked in vin-a-gar.”
“No, doofus. I'm not eating them. That would be gross.”
“Couldn't you just make a volcano? That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to make a volcano as big as our couch!”
“You can't even make volcanos in science fair anymore. It's been done to death,” she replied, not too kindly either.
He just shrugged and looked around. “Looks like you should be doing your project on earthquakes.”
I had to agree. But I didn't want to set off a chain reaction. The conversation between siblings was explosive enough.
The kitchen was littered with discarded dishware, half-filled measuring cups and opened containers of spice. Posters, markers and stencils littered the floor as if there'd been a ticker-tape parade with office supplies through the den. The cat was chewing on the corner of her display board. A make-shift photo studio set up on the living room coffee table kept crashing down each time the dog passed by and wagged her tail.
“You spelled vinegar wrong,” I tried to say nonchalantly, as I reached for the coffee pot and refilled my cup. “It should have an “E” – “Vin-E-Gar.”
But nothing I say is nonchalant. She started to growl, and I backed off. It was going to be a long night.
I flipped through the guidebook – a packet of questions stapled together with a lot of blank space. “Aren't you supposed to fill this out?”
Her eyes narrowed. She started to answer. A run-on protest of grievances: “Every experiment is different” … “I'm figuring it all out” … and “I know what I'm doing” … tumbled out along with “When I need your help, I'll ask for it.”
“Thank you. Now please go.”
And can you please take the dog?
And the cat?
And the annoying commentary of the little brother?
And the little brother?
And the coffee?
And get all of them away from me?
I don't care what you do with them so long as they stop bugging me.
I can't work like this.
I can do that.
“See?” I muttered, catching a glimpse of my puffy-eyed self in the surface sheen of my coffee, now coming perilously close to breaching the rim of my cup as I corral the errant “control-freak group” upstairs where we will watch Netflix. “She still needs an assistant.”
“You realize that makes you Igor, right?”
NaCl? Meet wound.