Irma Splinkbottom loosened the back string of her apron as she shuffled over to the sliding glass door in her kitchen. The temperature on the gauge outside made her hesitate. She knew Fall brought cooler temperatures to the small town of Sapulpa, Oklahoma, but 68 degrees at 2:13 PM. It rankled her to think she’d need to wear a light sweater to go out and pinch the spent blooms on her petunias.
She looked around the kitchen and sighed. With the corn bread in the oven, beef stew simmering on the stove, and forty-seven minutes to go before her husband, Ernest, woke up from his nap, she had nothing to do. Then inspiration hit.
Irma remembered an interview they had with some know-it-all scientist on the Today Show that morning. They talked about cold fusion. Silly terms were used, like ‘electrolysis,’ which her friend Rose said hurt like the dickens, and ‘heavy water,’ which didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense. The scientist said cold fusion could never really work.
Irma shook her head. “Young folks,” she said to herself. “They’re always giving up on things.” They never seemed to go in the right direction either. Of course fusion wouldn’t work if you kept things cold. As an experienced baker, she knew if you wanted to mix things up and make something else, a little heat went a long way. Imagine putting together a pie and not baking it? That wouldn’t do. Cold fusion was a dead end. Warm fusion would work much better. And it didn’t take a bunch of fancy college degrees for her to figure that one out. She decided to give warm fusion a whirl.
At eighty-one years of age, Irma knew someone might think she was a kook for trying. But growing up she had done quite well in science class, chemistry in particular. That’s because she understood the need for precision. She always measured things with utmost care. If the experiment called for ten milligrams of sodium nitrate, that’s just what she’d put in. Not nine milligrams or eleven, but ten. That’s why when the end result was supposed to be light green or the consistency of cream, hers always did — precisely.
That precision carried over to Irma’s kitchen, too. She made sure to only use glass bowls and metal measuring spoons. Things could stick to plastic. If her spaghetti sauce had a quarter teaspoon more oregano than her recipe called for it wouldn’t taste quite right. Ernest would tell her so. “Irma, this sauce just isn’t quite right,” he’d say. Ernest had a discriminating palate.
Irma went over to her microwave, which she considered the number one most important invention over the last fifty years. She relished all the different buttons and had read the manual carefully to make sure she knew how everything worked. Irma was no fool, though. When she bought hers it came with a metal rack inside. With her scientific background she knew you couldn’t put metal in a microwave. That would burn it up. She figured the manufacturer probably put it in there so unsuspecting souls would be conned into buying another one. But not Irma. Her metal rack was resting nicely in a 9×13 inch Pyrex pan in the cabinet next to the dishwasher, out of harm’s way.
She thought a moment, then pulled out the necessary ingredients. First up, of course, was water. Irma had gathered that much from the interview. She opened the upper cabinet and pulled out her measuring cup.
Next up was baking powder. Now even with her scientific mind, Irma couldn’t help but think of baking powder as pure magic. How else could it make bread rise three times the size it should? Baking powder had to be involved, that she knew for certain.
Irma got the salt, too. Back in 1976 she had visited her cousin, Betty, in San Bernadino, California. They drove to the ocean, and Irma remembered how easily she could float compared to swimming in Lake Sahoma. The salt water seemed heavier, and she felt lighter. When the scientist talked about ‘heavy water’ in the interview, that’s probably what he meant.
Irma knew it was all about precision anyway, just like in science class. Fusion might not come from a half a cup water, one sixteenth of a teaspoon salt, and an eighth of a teaspoon baking powder microwaved at forty percent power for two minutes and twenty five seconds. But what about half a cup water, one sixteenth of a teaspoon salt, and one quarter of a teaspoon baking powder on thirty percent power for two minutes and fifty-two seconds? The possibilities were endless. One combination might just be the ticket.
Irma’s first attempt bore limited results, but by her eighth try she actually heard a little pop go off in her microwave. By her eleventh try, the glass bowl she used actually broke into chunks. Irma was getting somewhere.
As for her twelfth try? Irma was no fool. If it meant fusion, the microwave door might just blow clean off. She decided to hustle into the laundry room. It was just off the kitchen, and she could throw in a load of socks while she was at it.
Irma popped in her ingredients then scooted over to the washer, listening to the microwave’s gentle hum as she measured exactly three-quarters of a cup of Tide. Then it occurred to her. “I bet there’s money in this if I get it right.” Irma leaned on the washer and envisioned a trip to Branson, Missouri, even though seeing Kenny Rogers wouldn’t be the same after his botched plastic surgery.
That was Irma’s last thought.
The crater from the blast was 22.3 feet deep and .87 miles wide. The authorities suspected terrorism, but no one could figure out who would consider consider Shady Oaks Retirement Village a threat. They never did discover it was Irma Splinkbottom’s recipe for cold — strike that — warm fusion.
Janene Murphy lives in Bettendorf, Iowa with her husband and three rambunctious children. Though presently a stay-at-mom who volunteers way too much, she has never had the pleasure of Calgon taking her away. Instead, she writes. Young adult, science fiction, and a combination thereof are her favorite forms of escape. She has written two full length novels and is working toward their publication. Though she knows she’ll be published…someday, if you cross your fingers, toes and eyes for her, she’ll surely appreciate it. Seriously. Please. Do it right now.
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