The Musing of a Misunderstood Scientific Prodigy, Miss Leila Johanson, 1889-1890

Journal discovered as part of an estate sale

Published by Gerri Leen

Date: February 25th, 1889

Statement of Mother: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Question: Is this true?

Experiment results: After laying out a saucer of honey and a saucer of both malt and balsamic vinegars, it became clear that while ants do gravitate directly to the sweet, the flies that came through the open window flew right to the vinegar – balsamic being the preferred. Clearly the statement is specious and was not rigorously investigated for veracity before being thrown into the vernacular.

Experiment repercussions: Mother was most displeased at the number of ants in the house, and I have spent the last few days spreading borax about the house. It is interesting how fast it kills them; I was experimenting with different configurations of the substance in order to chart kill rates until Father made me stop. Mother has stopped complaining about the flies, as they have all died or escaped, and I do not have the heart to explain the concept of larvae to her. Until I have to.

Date: April 17th, 1889

Statement of Mother: A watched pot never boils.

Question: Is this true?

Experiment results: A watched pot appears to boil in the same amount of time as an unwatched pot, all other variables being equal. An unwatched pot, however, will boil over with more frequency.

Experiment repercussions: Water residue from boiling-over runoff makes floors extremely slippery. Mother's twisted ankle and burns will no doubt heal, but her temper does not show the same resiliency.

Date: July 18th, 1889

Statement of Father: A golden key can open any door.

Question: Is this true?

Experiment results: Some improvisation was required, as we had no golden keys in the house. I was able to dip an existing key in gold that I had melted down from a necklace of Mother's. I tried the gold-plated key in the lock it was designed for and it opened the door. It did not, however, open any other door. I do not believe a solid gold key would have had any more success, but admittedly could not test this assumption. Note – Father said the saying was a way of showing money can get you into places a key will not. I may have to investigate that later.

Experiment repercussions: As it turns out, the necklace of Mother's that I melted down for this experiment was a family heirloom, and the only thing she had of her grandmother's. I wonder why, then, she had it shoved into the back of the bottom drawer of her jewellery chest? Expressing that opinion earned me a night without supper and no singing lessons for a week. As I do not like singing, it is not much of a punishment, but I did miss the fried chicken, which smelled especially delicious.

Date: November 10th, 1889

Statement of Father: All things come to she who waits.

Question: Is this true?

Experiment results: As mother is still vexed with me, I decided to stay out of her way and simply wait in the upstairs parlour to test this truism. A bee buzzed in the window and nearly stung me, Tiger the cat snagged the embroidery on my dress as I held him, and the sound of children playing in the house next door came to me through the open window. Other than that, nothing came to me while I waited. This statement clearly is a sop for those who prefer inaction or lack the intestinal fortitude to make things happen.

Experiment repercussions: Mother did not take well to me sitting and doing nothing when I should have been making up for my inconsiderate behaviour with her necklace. The singing lesson moratorium has been extended a week and again, I am to have no supper. As it is mutton tonight, I can only say huzzah!

Date: January 18th, 1890

Statement of Father: Fight fire with fire.

Question: Is this true?

Experiment results: It is clear that this saying has nothing to do with kitchen fires. The addition of more flames only increased the damage. I have since read that controlled burns are sometimes employed to control wildfires – perhaps this is where I should have started. However, I fear father's fields would have gone up just like the muslin draperies in the kitchen did. It was really quite spectacular.

Experiment repercussions: It turns out Mother's burns after the ‘Watched Pot’ experiment were only first degree. I now know what third degree burns look like. I have been denied further viewings of the healing process and pain management regime she is under as I have been removed from the house. I find my new surroundings acceptable although I am denied access to materials to continue my scientific studies, but at least they have allowed me to keep my journal. My doctor hopes, I believe, that I will write about my feelings. Why ever would I do that? Emotions have no place in scientific study.

Date: March 3rd, 1890

Statement of Doctor Benson: Give a man rope enough and he will hang himself.

Question: Is this true?

Experiment results: It depends on the nature of the person whether or not he will hang himself. Also as this is a facility for women, I must assume if the results are true for a woman, they will be true for a man. Assumption is not my testing method of choice, but the guards show us nothing but disdain, so I did not ask them to participate, and they are the only men on the premises other than the gardener, who is a bit slow and did not seem to understand what I wanted. At any rate, during the experiment, three of my fellow inmates seemed not at all interested in the rope, much less hanging themselves. My roommate, Frederica Nevin, however, did make good use of the rope, once I showed her how to tie the noose correctly, and helped her fasten the rope to the window casing.

Experiment repercussions: If my three fellow inmates had kept quiet about my interest in ropes, I might have slipped by without being blamed for Frederica's death. As it was, it took some time and a great deal of tearful wailing to convince them that while I did bring her the rope, I had no idea what she would do with it. How was I to know her stated desire to hold a grand tug-o-war game with two wings competing was spurious?

Date: May 29th, 1890

Statement of Doctor Benson: It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Question: Is this true?

Experiment results: It appears that it depends on the location of the lighting of the candle as to whether this holds true. After stealing a half dozen candles over the course of several weeks, I lit them in various places during the sleeping period. When I illuminated two of my fellow patients in a rather compromising position, I believe I heard more cursing of my light than ever they'd give the darkness. Additionally, one should mind the location of the draperies when walking at night with lit candles. 

Experiment repercussions: The fire was not so bad as the one in our house, and no one was injured, but now I'm afraid I've been labeled a pyromaniac. Can they not appreciate science at work?

Date: June 15th, 1890

Statement of Doctor Benson: Laughter is the best medicine.

Question: Is this true?

Experiment results: Doctor Benson said this early in my stay here, but it has taken me some time to find a suitable subject for my experiment. My new roommate, Cecilia Jackson, appears to be the perfect candidate. Every night, as she is rather consumptive, an aromatic paste is spread on her neck and upper chest. Once lights out is called, I wipe the paste off her and then wake her to talk and tickle her until she laughs uproariously, which generally leads to coughing. As the nights progress, her coughing has increased, even worsening during the day. 

Experiment repercussions: Cecilia has been moved. I have been told I will not be sharing my room with anyone for the foreseeable future. I believe Doctor Benson has read this journal. If you have, sir, you are a most horrible man. Do not dare to steal my work!

Date: October 8th, 1890

Statement of Father: Physician, heal thyself.

Question: Is this true?

Experiment results: As I have grown quite vexed with Doctor Benson, I recalled this statement of my father's, and decided to test it. During the latest of our twice weekly meetings, I was quite verbose, telling Doctor Benson how I felt about my ‘stay’ in his facility, something I have not done before. As he was so pleased to finally know how I felt, he was lulled enough for me to lean quickly across his desk, grab his pen, and jam it into his throat – it pays to have studied anatomy. As it turns out, physicians are no better at healing a mortal wound then anyone else. 

Experiment repercussions: Doctor Benson bled out quite quickly, too busy clutching at his throat to call out. His huge ring of keys lay on the desk. I grabbed them and made my way out of the asylum, sure that at each turn of the hall I would be apprehended. I tried to keep this fear off my face, tried to look as scientific as possible. Eventually I found the room where they put our clothing after entombing us in this place, our regular garb being exchanged for these formless blue gowns. I slipped on my old clothes and fled the building. 

Date: October 11th, 1890

Statement of Doctor Benson: The way to a man's heart is through his stomach.

Question: Is this true?

Experiment results: Father was less than overjoyed to see me home. It was disappointing in some ways but did give me leave to test this truism. As it turns out, it could be said to be true, but I think the surest way to a man's heart would be a direct thrust into the chest, not attempting to cut one's way through the stomach and then spleen to silence the still-beating organ.

Experiment repercussions: There is the most vile smell filling Father's study. I did not notice such a smell in Doctor Benson's office after I stabbed him, so I can only assume that a direct thrust is not only more efficient but also less distasteful in the aftermath. Two cases, though, hardly make a study. I will continue to examine this as opportunities arise.

Date: October 11th, 1890

Statement of Doctor Benson: Home is where the heart is.

Question: Is this true?

Experiment results: Mother's burns healed up nicely. Her disposition, on the other hand, remained surly. She screamed when she saw me, but that may have been due to the state of my clothing and hands – Father had bled quite copiously – rather than fear of me. Home is, indeed, where the heart is, and as I suspected, a direct stab to said organ resulted in less odour than my attempts to reach Father's heart through his belly, so I consider this a success on two fronts.

Experiment repercussions: I have rolled Father and Mother up in the rugs – ruined now because of the blood and other bits – and have pulled their bodies outside with no little effort. Both had obviously fed well during my absence. I will bury them later tonight. In the meantime, science awaits. If I can just catch Tiger, I will begin testing whether there really is more than one way to skin a cat.

Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. She has work appearing or accepted by Nature, Flame Tree Press’s Murder Mayhem and Dystopia Utopia anthologies, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, Grimdark and others. She recently got the editing bug and is finalising her third anthology for an independent press.

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