“Is this right… ?”
The girl, about thirteen, put her filing aside and watched as Mariah turned the barrel.
“Go slower,” she said. “Go real slow. Annie said that it can catch just from mixing it if you’re not real careful. I’ve never seen it happen, though.”
Mariah nodded, and slowed at the crank, barely meeting a rotation every five seconds, and the other girl nodded and smiled.
“What does it do?” Mariah asked.
“It burns,” said the other. “Burns real hot. Annie showed us once. We had to do it outside, and stand way back. But even from way back we felt it. It was like even the air was burning. It was the scariest thing ever.”
Mariah stopped and wiped her brow, looking dissatisfied. “The color doesn’t look right. I think I need more Ugly.”
“Ugly. From the bin over there,” she said, pointing to the huge bin of reddish filings.
The other girl was confused. “Why do you call it ‘ugly’?”
“That’s what it says on the bin. I had a friend who speaks Spanish; she told me ‘feo’ means ‘ugly’.”
The other girl shook her head, puzzled, and looked again at the big bin labeled FeO. Then the lights came on and she started laughing.
“It doesn’t say ‘feo’,” she said, trying to catch her breath. “It’s just F-e-O. It means rust, but I don’t know why they don’t just put that. At least the aluminum bin makes sense. Paul told me about the ‘FeO’ thing.”
Mariah pouted. “Paul said he’d visit.”
“He will. Every few days, he comes. He likes to bring books and stuff. Sometimes he stays for a while and talks about history, or tells stories to the younger ones.”
“I like stories,” Mariah perked. “What kind?”
“Mostly little-kid stories, but he tells them really well. His favorite was something called Puss in Boots. That one was fun; he really got into it.”
Mariah grinned and resumed turning the drum, slowly. “Maybe he’ll tell it again next time he comes to see Annie and the sisters.” Then she looked up. “Are we really sisters?”
The other girl smiled. “I think so. Why not? Wait here; I’ll go get you some more Ugly.”