Silverwood: Chapter 5

According to the family stories, Helen’s grandmother possessed a superhuman ability to make just about anything out of the parts of just about anything else. She tinkered the way other people would sit around and knit. It was said that she could make a sewing machine out of bicycle parts. Or a lamp out of a television. Or a hot air balloon out of a load of laundry. Or a waterproof shelter out of practically any materials at all. Some of that was far-fetched, sure. But Helen could relate because Helen had the same impulse for taking stuff apart and re-configuring it. A love of popping off covers and pulling out wires and tinkering around with inner workings. This was why it was a good idea if you lived with Helen to ask if anything had been recently altered, before, say, trying to make dinner or coffee.

This talent/nuisance was a lens on the world. Helen saw a living web of connections between people and objects and circuitry and electricity and energy. Her world was a big humming and living and tangled thing sending power and information flowing and jumping around in every direction. A light switch was more than something to turn on the lights. It was a conduit into an unseen world inside the walls.

On the inside of every machine there were parts. And those parts did things. And Helen wanted to see what they were doing. The device in question could be mechanical or electronic or big or small and it didn’t matter. Helen befriended circuit boards and springs and batteries and silicon chips and power supplies as easily as gears or plugs or levers made of metal or plastic or with little parallel lines or wires snaking all over the place whether they were functional or broken. Helen would follow the internal shapes and components and connections within machinery as if running around in a tiny maze. There was always something new to discover or uncover or hack into.

And, the sounds. Every type of machinery made some kind of a sound. The whirring of a drive, the ping of a signal, the buzz of a charge. Machines spoke a language, and if you were paying attention, you could hear it. You could tell what something was made of. Or if it was powered down. Or working correctly. Or about to malfunction.

To find out how something operated, the first challenge was defeating the outer casing. This was often a plastic shell snapped on there in order to obscure the real workings within and make the thing look modern or friendly or expensive. It might be a panel or a lid or a box like the shiny metal shell of a toaster or the carrying case for a record player. That first layer was the least interesting thing. Helen made quick work of prying off the outer stuff by pulling it apart at the seams to get to the inner stuff.

When Helen was small she assumed other kids saw things the way she did. When she got older she found out that they did not. It turned out that most people just want things to work when they push the button, like when they just want to make coffee, and why is the coffee maker emitting that noise and spilling hot water on the counter and why can’t things just be simple and just function the way they are supposed to because I am tired and I just want it to work.

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