“What’s he called again?” Mira asked, her nose still pressed up against the window frame so the least amount of her face might be visible from inside. So her warm breath wouldn’t fog up the glass in the cool morning air.
“A scientist,” Nigel whispered back as he adjusted his stance. Mira was just the right height for this adventure, barely rising onto her tiptoes to see through the window. Nigel, however, was several inches taller, though just a few months older, than his neighbor Mira. These extra inches made it so Nigel had to squat awkwardly at the window so just his eyes and the top of his head poked above the window sill.
“A scientist,” Mira tested the word out for herself. “But what does that mean?”
“He makes observations and does experiments to learn about things,” Nigel replied, excitement creeping into his voice.
“You sound like a textbook,” Mira said, her eye roll reflected in her tone.
Nigel started to sigh but quickly caught his breath and stopped as the glass had begun to fog up in front of him. “That’s because I read about it in a textbook. I told you that,” he said.
Nigel’s mind flashed back to the moment he saw the textbook, sitting on the intersection of the sidewalk and the walkway that led to Mr. Shannon’s house - the house they were currently peeping into. The sky was heavy with dark clouds. The book had fallen open and the wind was fluttering through the pages as the cracked spine lay flat on the cement.
Every kid in town quickened their pace when walking past Mr. Shannon’s house. But Nigel saw the book and assumed it belonged to Mr. Shannon. Who else would have such an outdated thing but the neighborhood’s odd man out?
Still Nigel didn’t want the book to get ruined in the rain. He picked it up with the sole intention of placing it on Mr. Shannon’s doorstep where it would be covered by the eave and out of harm’s way. But when he flipped the book closed, the worn and scuffed cover showed a photo of an owl, its round golden eyes staring into Nigel’s, along with the word Science.
Nigel knew about textbooks, of course, even though he’d never held one in his hands. Nearly everything they learned in school was audio or video based - spoken aloud by a teacher or a recording, with or without video to accompany it. Anything written was digital, no paper.
The textbook was thick and heavy. Nigel was slow to read since he had so little need to read, but he sounded it out: science. He wasn’t familiar with it. Nigel looked left and right to be sure no one would spot him holding a book. He assumed there would be consequences, but he didn’t know how severe.
Seeing the coast was clear, he opened to a random page in the book. He looked around once more, then down at the page. It featured a drawing of a rain cloud over a mountain that was situated near a river, the sun also shining to one side, with curved arrows making a rough circle between different parts of the drawings.
“Water cycle,” Nigel whispered as he ran his fingers over the images on the page.
He looked over his shoulders again. He flipped to the beginning of the book now, and starting walking, ever so slowly, toward Mr. Shannon’s door. He turned a few pages until he landed at one that looked like a listing. Table of contents he read. Below that it listed Plants, Animals, Water, Weather, Space, Matter and Energy.
Nigel turned to another page and that’s where he found the definition of science: studying the structure and behavior of the natural and physical world through observation and experimentation.
Then Nigel heard the distinct rumble of a garage door opening. It sounded nearby and was enough to startle him into action. He dropped the book on the doorstep and walked as quickly and yet as nonchalantly as he could back to the sidewalk where he fell into a regular walking pace.
“I don’t know how you talked me into this,” Mira hissed under her breath. But Nigel noticed she hadn’t taken her eyes away from the window, away from their view into Mr. Shannon’s house.
“You know you’re just as curious as I am,” Nigel hissed back. “There’s no way Mr. Shannon has a book like that and isn’t doing something with it.”
“How can you know that? He’s the town weirdo. Maybe he just likes books.”
“I don’t think he’s actually a weirdo,” Nigel wasn’t sure how to broach this subject with Mira. The quick assumption was Mr. Shannon was strange, and Nigel had been in that camp before finding the science textbook.
But then he found sound recordings of Mr. Shannon at town meetings and leading group meetings. Mr. Shannon talked about the past, that everyone used to know about science and accept it as truth because of how it worked. That too much of the world today was based on whoever could talk the loudest and most confidently, but that often wasn’t actually the person who was the smartest or knew the most about what the subject they were talking about.
Nigel had seen that to be true too many times to count. At home, at school - whoever could be loud and get the most people to see their point of view the quickest seemed to win the conversation. Even when their point of view made no sense, or was just clearly wrong.
Nigel actually really liked the points Mr. Shannon was making in all his recordings. So much so that Nigel couldn’t stop watching and listening to them. Any free moment he had, he would seek them out. He’d learned about gravity and outer space and atoms, just in the last few days, all from Mr. Shannon’s recordings. And it all made sense. But the groups Mr. Shannon spoke to were small. And few people every confidently voiced their agreement with him. It was dangerous to take Mr. Shannon’s approach to learning and truth, and everyone knew it.
As Nigel was trying to find a way to explain all this to Mira, he saw a vague reflection in the window.
“Nigel,” Mira elbowed him and they turned around together to find Mr. Shannon standing behind them.
“So, I’ve got a couple of truth seekers on my hands?” Mr. Shannon said with a smile, not a hint of anger in his voice. “C’mon,” he said and turned to walk away. “You’re looking through the wrong window. The science happens in the pool house.”
Nigel watched Mr. Shannon walk towards his yard and the pool house, then looked over at Mira.
“I guess we’re in it now,” she said with the mischievous smile that made Nigel want to be her friend in the first place. Mira grabbed Nigel’s hand and led him into the yard, toward the pool house, where the science happened.