Gertrude Martin sat hunched over her desk, poking at a mess of wires and circuits. “Connect the red wire here, the blue there…”
Her knee knocked the underside of the desk. Wincing, she used a free hand to rub the small welt. Bumps and bruises weren't new to Gertrude. An early growth spurt had made her tall for her age, all knees and elbows. Her light brown hair came down to her shoulders, framing a freckled fair-skinned face. She pursed her lips and blew a strand from in front of her eyes while she studied her current dilemma.
A small plastic night light in the shape of a train engine lay on her desk. Turning it over she studied the mess of multi-colored wires and the small green circuit board tucked neatly behind the plastic locomotive shell. She scrunched up her face and pushed the wires around with her fingers. The simple motion jarred loose memories of her father’s beaming smile—and when he’d first shown her this project.
He’d just finished soldering the wires and had raced to her room to show her. His face lit up when the little train horn sounded at just the right time, and he’d grinned ear to ear watching the ceiling sparkle in beautiful waves of color. Gertrude had cherished that night light long after she’d outgrown it. But ever since her father died, the night light had quit working—no tiny train horns to wake her in the morning, no light to cut through the darkness. Her ceiling held no more rainbows, just shades of blue gray. She didn’t know how it had broken, but she knew someone had thrown it in the trash—and it wasn’t the dog.
A loud voice shouted from downstairs. “Gertrude Olivia Martin, this is your last warning. If you can’t be ready in time I’m going… without you.”
Gertrude, lost in thought, mumbled to herself while she poked at the wires.
“Oh Sammy, I’ve checked the wires, they’re connected to the circuit. Why doesn’t it light up?” Her bare toes rubbed Sammy’s warm and fuzzy fur under the desk. Samuel Martin, an undersized Samoyed, lay sprawled out at her feet. Though bred to be fierce hunters and working dogs of the northern tundra, Sammy was anything but. While he sported the illustrious thick white coat of fur, his motivating instincts extended to food and napping, in that order.
Sammy had been Gerty’s father’s dog, spending his days sleeping under the desk in Dad’s lab, waking only to solicit an ear scratch or tasty peanut butter drop. Gertrude unscrewed the jar of treats and dropped one into her palm. Sammy sprung to life, his tail swishing against the tangle of cords behind her desk. She slipped him the treat, then leaned back in her chair, searching her walls for inspiration.
Where other kids would have plastered posters of rock bands, pop stars and sports heroes, Gertrude had created a shrine to science. The periodic table, complete with element names and symbols covered a space on the wall above her bed. A large diagram of a computer, with different parts highlighted and detailed, hung over her desk.
But Gertrude’s devotion to science and technology didn’t stop with her walls. A few hundred years ago Gertrude’s bookshelf would have been the greatest assortment of knowledge in the scientific world. There were books on how to program; dog-eared with cracked spines from excessive use. There were books on building robots; bookmarks sprouting from their tops like garden weeds. There were books on how computers worked and what to do when they didn’t. And anywhere there weren’t books, science projects in various stages of evolution from plastic block robots to beautiful sugar crystals growing in jars, took up the rest of the space.
But the answers to her current problem would not be found there. This was a custom project that called for more thinking. The neurons in her brain set to work tearing apart the night light in her head. Each wire, connector, and the flow of the circuits all arranged in a sequence in her mind’s eye. Her brain was on a mission and focused on finding the solution.
“Ugh. I don’t get it, Sammy.” She swiped her fingers across her tablet to bring up a similar diagram. “I connected that wire here, and I’ve got the other one over there…”
Mom’s voice rolled up the stairs again, now with the force of a neutron blast. “That’s it. I’m leaving.”
Gertrude sat back in her chair staring hard at the wiring diagram on the tablet. She pulled her hair from her face, looping it in a stray rubber band.
What am I not doing right? Dad would have figured this out. Is there a missing piece?
Like removing the kink from a garden hose, the sudden flood of Mom’s shouts rushed into Gertrude’s head.
We’re leaving for this fun run in twenty minutes.
Ten minutes Gerty, I hope you’re ready.
Time to go, Gerty.
Gertrude Olivia Martin, this is your last warning…
“Oh no, we’ve got to go!” Gertrude jumped up, her feet squeezing Sammy into the wall and blowing the air out of his lungs in a muted honk.
“Sorry, Sammy.” Gertrude pulled the chair away from the desk and gave him room to get out.
The lazy Samoyed stretched and extended his front legs forward while Gertrude made for the closet.
Fourth of July Fun Run.
What do I wear?
Gertrude tore through her clothes. She hated this part. Mismatch the colors and Mom would say something. Shorts too short and she’d hear about it, too long and she’d cook in the humid Florida night. Gertrude’s brain cell team threw in the towel with all things related to clothing, hair, or fashion.
She gave up and pulled on a pair of running shorts. She grabbed the first t-shirt she could find, which just happened to be red, then dove under the bed looking for shoes. Gertrude found one of them upside down, its laces wrapped around a partially dis-assembled radio.
Oh wow, I totally forgot about this.
She shook her head.
The other shoe lay on the far side of the bed, wedged between the wall and one of the posts. Its tongue stuck out to mock her, and she snorted up at least one dust bunny wriggling her way to it.
She emerged from under the bed with her red shirt now white with dog fur, giving the entire outfit a truly patriotic vibe. She sighed and took the stairs two at a time in a desperate attempt to catch up with Mom.