The idea I gave Harriet was based on experiments done by the Italian scientists Luigi Galvani (1737–1798) and Allesandro Volta (1745–1827). In their separate laboratories, Galvani and Volta demonstrated that electricity could stimulate the muscles of the legs of dead frogs and other creatures.[i]
So Harriet’s experiment was gross—but also effective. She showed how electricity from a large battery could move the parts of various creatures she and Eddie had found dead along the country roads near Franconia—a possum, a raccoon, a woodchuck, some birds. Mr. Gisborne had showed her how to preserve the parts so they wouldn’t … stink. And I’ll have to admit that Harriet’s table was one of the most popular of all: Everyone loved to see the quivering body parts of dead animals. Claws grasping, tails twitching, wings winging.
From her area we could hear, all afternoon, Ewwww, gross! Which, for Harriet, was the happiest human sound there is.
And, to be honest, people also loved to see Harriet, who had gotten so beautiful that even some of the fathers of the other kids hung around her table a little longer than they should have, pretending to be interested in science. She was really becoming a Man Magnet—and she was also becoming quite an expert on getting men and boys to do what she wanted. I loved Harriet; otherwise, I would have hated her.
I said hello to her when I saw her moving behind her table that evening.
“Oh, Vickie,” she said, hurrying over to me, hugging me. “Thanks so much for your help with our project,” she whispered in my ear. She stepped back. “Because of you, I really think we have a chance for a Superior.”
“I hope so.” And I did. I really did hope so. It would be fun to have her along on the trip.
I was not too worried about our own score. With my computer, I’d made great labels for each of the foods we’d let spoil in the refrigerator. Gil and I had made posters with time-lapse photographs of the foods. And—just for extra measure—I’d drawn very realistic enlargements of the molds that had grown on them—based on what they looked like under a microscope.[ii] The drawings were a little too good, though, and that afternoon I’d had a little trouble …
The judge was frowning at me. And I immediately knew why: She thought someone else had done the drawings for us. “Those posters are quite … remarkable,” she said finally.
“Thank you,” said Gil. “Vickie drew them.”
“Oh really?” sniffed the judge. Her glasses were perched on the very end of her very long nose. She looked at me over the tops of the thick lenses. “I don’t remember ever seeing a seventh grader draw so well.”
“I worked on them a long time,” I lied. It had not taken me long at all.
The judge pulled a piece of paper from one of her folders. “I’d love to have a copy of that one,” she said, pointing to one of the molds I’d drawn.
Only an idiot would not know what she was up to. She didn’t really want one of my drawings. She was trying to find out—in a way not so very subtle—if I’d done the drawings myself. This was a test.
“I don’t have my colored pencils with me,” I said, “but I’ll try.”
I took the sheet of paper, grabbed a pencil and a notebook that were lying on the table, sat on a stool, and turned away so that my back was to her.
I sketched quickly—from memory, never once looking back at my subject.
In only a moment or two, I turned back around and handed the sheet to the judge. “I hope that will do,” I said.
The judge was smiling. She could see right away that it wasn’t what she asked for, but when she turned it right side up and saw what it was, she broke into a toothy smile and laughed explosively. “Why, that’s amazing,” she snorted. “Truly amazing.”
“Let me see,” said Gil.
She handed him the paper—and he laughed, too.
Here’s what it showed: The judge, her glasses perched on her nose, leaning over and examining the drawing of a mold on one of my posters. (You could see the mold well—it looked just like the real drawing, only not in color.) I’d drawn the judge’s clipboard at an angle so that you could see her rating sheet. I’d put big check marks next to SUPERIOR for each category.
Gil handed it back to her.
“You’re quite talented, young lady,” said the judge. “Really. Very talented.”
“Thank you,” I said.
She started to move away … then stepped back and leaned over to me. As she whispered, I could smell the cigarettes and coffee on her breath. “I wouldn’t be surprised to learn,” she was saying, “that your drawing is accurate … in every way.” She stood back up, smiled broadly, and moved to the next table.
Gil was staring at me, his pale eyes unblinking.
“What?” I said.
“I didn’t know you could draw so”—he searched for a word—“so … quickly,” he said finally.
“It’s one of my secret talents,” I whispered in a mysterious voice, then laughed.
“I’ll bet it is,” replied Gil seriously. “I’ll just bet it is.”