By Kaitlyn Emery
The ornate front door of The Inventor’s house had a glass knob and engravings of vines crawling over the edges. I didn’t knock—there was no need. The Inventor wouldn’t answer, anyways. Mother had tried to convince him he needed an assistant to run the house, but The Inventor wouldn’t have it. I’d also heard Mother tell him he was antisocial, which was just a grown-up word for not liking people, but that couldn’t be true because he and I got along splendidly!
I stepped into the foyer and took off my amethyst jacket, switching it for the pair of patchwork coveralls hanging on the coat rack. The Inventor insisted I wear them so I didn’t ruin the frocks Mother always sent me in. He’d tried to convince her to let me come in old boy’s coveralls, but Mother said she wouldn’t have her daughter running around town looking like a guttersnipe.
The house boasted a huge staircase. I hopped onto its gleaming banister, humming happy birthday to me all the way down. The Inventor always said the banister needed a good seat polishing; I was delighted to oblige when Mother wasn’t around to scold.
What had The Inventor created for my birthday? He’d said it was a big surprise—a girl only turns eight once in her life and must be celebrated in a grand way, according to him. I hoped he remembered what day today is.
The house smelled of oil and rust, much like the museums in Copper Square, except The Inventor’s house was more interesting than the stuffy old exhibits where the clockwork pieces no longer worked. The Inventor always said that when people grew tired of scientific marvels, they allowed them to fall into decay. The Inventor never grew tired.
As I headed toward the sound of clanking metal, Iron Paws, The Inventor’s mechanical cat, came to rub against my legs, mewling for food. I’d suggested the Inventor make Iron Paws purple striped like the Cheshire Cat in the old Alice in Wonderland book I loved. Purple was my favorite color, but he would always tell me machines were not supposed to be purple.
The Inventor must have been working on something extraordinary if he hadn’t fed Iron Paws yet. I grabbed her some milk—or so The Inventor called it, but it smelled more like grease and oil— from the storeroom before descending into the basement.
After weaving in and out of the work tables and cupboards piled high with spare parts and halfway-constructed oddities, I found The Inventor hunched over a workbench.
The Inventor was a kindly-looking man with wild hair and a mouth that seemed forever screwed up to one side of his face, as if he were trying to loosen a stubborn bolt, and he smelled of gaslight and peppermint.
I could tell he was deep in thought because of the way he kept running his hands over his hair, as if that would tame it. While I waited for him to notice me, my eyes strayed around the room. To my right, I noticed butterflies fluttering under a bell-shaped jar on a table.
“Take a closer look, Nellie girl,” The Inventor spoke up.
I didn’t need any more encouragement.
Wing sketches covered in strange mathematical writing were strewn across the table. I leaned in closer to the jar, surprised to see delicate gears spinning in the butterflies’ thoraxes.
“I thought we could add them to our garden house collection.”
I pressed my face to the glass, watching their wings glitter like tinsel.
“How did you make the wings?” Mother said I knew far too much about mechanics for a child my age, but The Inventor heartily disagreed and would tut-tut, telling her not to ruin me.
“I pieced together mica flakes and overlapped them,” The Inventor responded. I turned around to see him adjust the glasses over his nose, focusing on the small oval lens suspended over his current creation. He picked up a tiny mallet from the table and continued working. “They are similar to the dragonflies and bumblebees I made.”
“That’s brilliant!” I praised, even if I didn’t quite know why it was brilliant.
With a smile, The Inventor pushed his spectacles onto his head and turned towards me. “Yes, well, as I understand, today is your birthday, is it not?”
I nodded in excitement, my curls bouncing. “I knew you wouldn’t forget!”
“’Course not! Now, should you like to have a look at my newest invention?” he asked, motioning towards the project he had just finished. “I think you will find it carries a little bit of both our genius in it.”
I scrambled over to him and climbed into his lap, my eyes eagerly searching the table. There, standing before me at just six inches tall, was a figurine. He had a crowbar in his hands and wore a baggy pair of plum-colored trousers, like mine, which were tucked into copper-plated boots. White sleeves billowed around his thin arms and were clasped with gear-like buttons that matched those on his black-and-grey striped vest. A pair of metal plated gloves, with missing fingertips, covered his hands, and purple-tinted goggles were pushed into his messy white hair, just like the Inventor’s.
“It’s purple, Grandfather!” I cried, elated, my fingers caressing the cool metal features. Even his mechanical eyes were purple. I leaned closer to examine the little figure, my arms propped on the worktable to support me.
“For you, my love,” The Inventor whispered in my ear. “May you never forget you are the inspiration behind my work.”
I threw my arms around his neck and kissed his cheek, indulging in the familiar scent of peppermint and gaslight that clung to his violet-embroidered black vest. “Thank you, Grandfather!”
His embrace warmed me. “Happy birthday, my Little Inventor. I call him Penelope’s Purple Pleasure.”