Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment (10 page)

BOOK: Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment
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“Yeah, she's loud and talkative, all right,” I said.

Mom's lips pulled down as if she disapproved, but I could tell she was only half serious. “Are you excited about setting up your experiment?”

Morgan would be arriving soon with the things she'd agreed to bring: a scale, disposable gloves like they wear in doctors' offices, and sixteen round latex balloons. She also said she could contribute at least eight two-liters. We needed sixteen of them, as well—fifteen for holding the manure mixtures, and one that we'd leave empty as a control.

“I guess.”

“That sounded less than enthusiastic.”

“It's just … I like to work on my own.”

“Hmmm.” Mom bit into her sandwich.

The doorbell rang.

“Well, I'm sure you'll make a great team,” Mom said. “Let me know if you need anything.”

Yeah, like being saved from getting talked to death
, I thought. I took my dishes to the kitchen and headed down the stairs. It had been my idea to keep the experiment at my house. I wanted to be the one to do the twice-daily measurements. Fortunately, Morgan hadn't fought me about it. “It was mainly your idea, after all,” she'd said. Plus, she had pets that roamed freely at her house, whereas mine was confined to his tank.

As I turned the doorknob, my stomach squeezed. Was I nervous? No way. Why would I be nervous?

Morgan held up two plastic bags of two-liters. “Washed and ready to go.” She stepped inside. “And here's the other stuff.” She handed me another bag.

Why was she staring at my mouth?

“Were you eating lunch?” she asked.

“Yeah, but we're done.”

She pointed at my face. I pulled back. “You've got some peanut butter—”

I swiped at my lips and wiped the sticky stuff on my sweats.

“I like crunchy, too.” Morgan flashed her glittery smile.

“I—I mean, we—we should get started.” I turned quickly and headed toward the basement.

“Oh, can I
meet Einstein first?”

I stopped halfway down the stairs. We had a lot of work to do and not much time to do it, but I kind of liked the idea of showing off my lizard. “All right.” I came back to the landing. “He's in my room.”

Morgan grinned.

“We can leave the bags here.” We leaned over at the same time to set our bags down, and I caught a whiff of her hair. It smelled kind of good. Like green apple Jolly Ranchers. Not that I cared. It was just an observation.

We headed upstairs.

“Hi, Morgan.” Mom poked her head out from the kitchen.

“Hi, Mrs. Buckley. Brendan's introducing me to Einstein.”

Mom smiled. “Great.”

I kept walking before they could start up a conversation. We had work to do. Plus, the last thing I needed was a girl from school getting too friendly with my mom.

We went down the hall to my bedroom. Einstein was on his rock, taking in the heat. Morgan moved slowly and whispered as if she knew he might flee at any loud sounds. “Ohhh, what a cute little guy! May I hold him?”

She wanted to
him? “Anoles don't like to be
handled too much.” I didn't want her to know that I hadn't yet held my own lizard, mostly because the guy at the pet store had said that for little guys, they can bite pretty good. As a scientist, I usually like to observe things directly, but that wasn't something I felt the need to experience firsthand.

“Who told you that?”

“The guy at the pet store.” I crossed my arms. “And the reptile vet.” Was she going to start being a know-it-all again? If only I could do this experiment on my own. “Besides, we don't have time.” I glanced at my watch with the built-in altimeter. My room was still 119 feet above sea level, but it was no longer one o'clock—the time we were supposed to get started. It was 1:17 already.

“If you're worried about him getting away …”

I was, actually. The pet store guy had said anoles are master escape artists.

“He won't. I know exactly what to do. Dad and I caught anoles all the time in Florida.”

“You caught them?”

“Yeah. In our backyard.”

“In your
?” I felt my eyebrows pop up.

“Of course. They were all over the place. We even had one living in our house for a while—Twiggy. Dad and I loved to observe his behavior. Once Twiggy was used to us, we held him all the time.”

“Wow.” I couldn't imagine doing something like that with my dad. He isn't exactly an Animal Planet kind of
guy. And he still wasn't crazy about me having Einstein. Just the other night he'd asked if I was sure I didn't want a dog instead.

“So, can I? It'll make me feel like I'm back home.” Morgan's brown eyes gazed at me hopefully. I'd never thought about the fact that she might miss living in Florida.

I glanced at the tank. If she really was as experienced as she said she was, maybe this was my chance to learn how to pick up Einstein and hold him, too. I'd been putting off changing the substrate in his tank because I wasn't sure how to capture him and put him in the small cage we'd gotten for that purpose.

I closed my bedroom door. “Okay.”

She clasped her hands together. “Awesome!” She started to take off the tank's lid.

“I'll do it,” I said, annoyed. Maybe she had more experience with anoles than me, but this was still
anole. And
terrarium. I slid the lid just enough so that Morgan could get her hand into the tank. I spoke calmly and quietly. “It's okay, Einstein. Don't be afraid.”

Einstein darted around behind the plastic hanging vines. Morgan held her hand steady. With one grab Einstein was in her cupped palms. It happened so quickly I didn't even get to see how she did it.

She kept him from wriggling away by keeping her thumb on the back of his neck. “I won't hurt you, little
guy.” She watched him intently. “Sometimes they poop on you in self-defense, but it's so tiny it's no big deal.”

My eyes widened. She liked the idea of experimenting on cow manure, she wanted to hold my lizard,
she didn't mind getting pooped on? Morgan was unlike any girl
ever met. She held up Einstein and let his long nose tickle the bottom of her ear.

“What are you doing?” My voice rose in concern. I reached out to protect my lizard just as he opened his mouth and chomped down on her earlobe.

A shout jumped out of my mouth before I could stop it.

Morgan let go.

Einstein dangled from her ear like an earring!

“My friend Beth and I used to do this all the time. It doesn't hurt, if that's what you're worried about.”

I wasn't. I was worried about my pet.

“Their teeth are so small it just feels like someone pinching you with their fingernails.”

“Take him off!” I didn't want to frighten Einstein, but I couldn't keep my voice calm and quiet this time. “Take him
.” I sure hoped he'd poop on her now. It would serve her right. “He's turning brown!”

She grasped his thin body and he let go.

“Put him back,” I said firmly.

Morgan set Einstein in the tank and he scrambled under his tree bark. “It doesn't hurt them,” she said.

My hands shook as I secured the tank. A lizard hanging from an earlobe just wasn't right. The sight had made me woozy. Not that I would ever admit to that. “He's not a piece of jewelry.” I knew I sounded mad, but I didn't care.

I blew out my breath, trying to regain my
guk gi
—self-control. Einstein would be all right, but this girl was crazier than I'd thought. My doubts about working with her boiled and bubbled like the baking soda–vinegar experiment I'd tried once. “Let's go,” I said. If we were going to win this contest, I would have to take charge.

We collected the things we'd left near the front door, then continued on to the basement and into the garage, where I'd already gathered everything else we needed: more two-liters; duct tape; small, precut squares of waxed paper; a funnel; distilled water; mashed bananas; vegetable peels from last night's stir-fry; and of course, the manure.

Morgan set up the scale on Dad's workbench, which I'd covered with a plastic tarp in case anything spilled. If we left even a trace of cow in this garage, Dad would
a cow.

Morgan and I had decided to do three tests, and five trials of each test. Five bottles would hold only manure—another control test; five bottles would hold cow manure plus mashed banana; five bottles would hold cow manure plus vegetable peelings; and one bottle would be empty to show whether there was any change
in the volume of the air due to differences in temperature or barometric pressure from beginning to end. Sixteen bottles. We labeled the two-liters with a permanent marker on masking tape. So far, so good.

Next, we put on our gloves. “I'll measure,” I said. “You can put the biomass in the bottles.”

“Can I measure? I'm very exact.”

“So am I.” I crossed my arms.

“I'm kind of clumsy when it comes to pouring. I'm always spilling stuff.”

seen her wiping up her drink at lunch more than once. “All right.”

Morgan put a square of waxed paper on the scale. She scooped some of the cow manure with a plastic spoon and put it on the paper. She could have been scooping ice cream, the way she was grinning.

I dropped my arms and moved in to watch. The smell wasn't as bad as being in the cow barn, but it was still pretty gross. I breathed through my mouth.

After she'd finished measuring three samples, she handed me the spoon. “I guess we could both take a turn.”

I smiled. “Thanks.” I didn't care what Khalfani thought. Measuring poop was fun.

After I had carefully weighed a few, I handed the spoon back to Morgan. Without needing to say much at all, we fell into an assembly-line rhythm: me handing Morgan a waxed paper square, her weighing the sample,
me taking it and poking it into a two-liter. I held the funnel while she poured the filtered water, we both screwed on lids and gave each bottle a good shake; then she held the bottles while I taped the balloons to their mouths. We worked together like the gears on a well-oiled bike. I had to admit, we were a pretty good team.

We had worked quickly, not wanting to let the first bottles we finished have too much of a head start on the others, which could affect our results. Morgan had stayed quiet the whole time, completely focused on the job. I was surprised—and impressed.

When we were done, we washed our hands in the downstairs bathroom, then carefully carried the bottles into our basement rec room, where I usually practiced Tae Kwon Do and Khal and I sometimes sparred. We lined up the bottles against the back wall and along one side, as well—they took up more space than I expected—and I opened the small window for ventilation. Mr. H had strongly warned us that our bottles needed to be placed in a well-ventilated area and couldn't be anywhere near an open flame or sparks of electricity, since—assuming everything went as it should in the anaerobic conditions inside the bottles—bacteria in the poop would soon start producing methane, a highly flammable gas. The gas would inflate the balloons, and I'd measure their circumference twice a day to compare production.

The most important variable for us to control was
room temperature. Mr. H had said we'd have the best luck at methane creation if we kept the temperature as close to thirty-five degrees Celsius as possible. Even though Dad wasn't too happy about it at first because of how it would impact our electricity bill, he eventually agreed to let me keep a portable heater on in the room over the course of our experiment. I was glad he didn't ask how hot thirty-five degrees Celsius is. I didn't want to have to tell him our basement was going to feel like summertime in Tucson, Arizona, for the next two weeks.

We made sure the humming heater was as equidistant from the bottles as possible, checked and recorded the barometric pressure using the barometer Grandpa Ed had loaned me, and went back to the garage to clean up.

I didn't look at my watch again until Morgan was climbing into her dad's car in our driveway: 4:28.

The three hours had flown by.

“The ones with bananas are going gangbusters!” I told Morgan as we put our stuff in our lockers before school. I didn't really like for the guys to see me with her, but over the past three days, walking to homeroom had become our time to check in about the experiment's progress.

“Interesting.” Morgan's eyes narrowed and her lips pooched. “I wonder if it could have anything to do with the bananas' high sugar content.”

I nodded. It was a solid hypothesis. We closed our lockers and started walking.

“Thanks for keeping the bottles at your house and for doing all the measuring. Our cat, Tee, is supercurious, and Rex, our retriever, is ultrahyper. They'd have knocked the bottles over and popped the balloons by now.”

BOOK: Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment
11.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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