Julius let Mehret use his netbook computer on Friday, she had almost forgotten how useful a computer could be. The internet was amazing, she had never used a high bandwidth connection before. Poppa didn’t mean to stop her from using his computer, but he was working on it so much himself that she had lost the habit since she had started school. He had collected all her classwork for the week from school on Thursday afternoon, so she was working through all the things she had missed. She printed out her Geography work after half an hour, it was so much easier without the distractions of a room full of people doing their best to avoid any contact with education.
The Mathematics was all geometry, areas and volumes. Not what you would call exciting, it took about twenty-five minutes to complete. Mehret looked up as she finished the last calculation to see Julius had been following her progress.
‘You’re good at that,’ Julius seemed impressed.
‘I kind of got Mathematics, Summer last year. I was hopeless before that.’
‘Kind of got Mathematics?’
Mehret had to hold back a laugh at the face Julius made as he asked the question. ‘Yeah, kind of. I don’t mean that I understand it, I just learned to accept that it works if you do it right.’
‘Works if you do it right.’ Julius shook his head, ‘is there more to it than that?’
Mehret though for a bit, it was hard to explain. ‘Well, I wanted to understand the why of it; how come numbers work, what it all means. I'm sure there’s more to it than just going through the motions. There must be something real, something true, that makes it all work. But I don't know what it is. I feel like I’ve given up now, I’m just closing my eyes and running the numbers through their paces without knowing what I’m doing. It’s like microwave meals.’
Mehret felt embarrassed, she had thought the analogy was a good one, but the look on Julius’ face told her different. ‘You know, when you understand cooking, you get all the ingredients together and you make something, you know what will come out of the pot. I feel like I’m taking numbers out of the freezer and putting them in the microwave. It isn’t satisfying, and I’m certain there has to be more to it than that.’
Oh dear, what was that word Sylene used? Nerd. That was it. I sound like a nerd. Not just a Mathematics nerd but a food nerd as well. Mehret closed her eyes and felt herself flush to the tips of her ears. Dr Ambrose was right, I want to analyse everything, I want to conquer the mysteries of the universe by the sheer force of my, what is it? intellect? I don’t ask much, do I? Who do I think I am Einstein? Isn’t it enough sometimes that if you do it right, it works?
‘Point and shoot cameras.’
‘What?’ Did he really say that? Mehret couldn’t quite believe her ears.
‘What? This is what.’Julius held up a little digital camera. ‘People used to have to know about film and f stops and all sorts. Nobody thinks about it any more, except for my father. He likes the chemicals and the mystery, and I think he likes to be able to shut himself away in a room for a while where no-one can disturb him. Now you just press a button and it works.’
Okay, so maybe he doesn’t think I’m crazy. Mehret smiled.
Julius pressed a button, nothing happened. ‘Well, maybe if I charge the battery. But isn’t the picture you take the important thing?’
‘What, like being able to eat, or make change? I guess.’ Mehret bit her lip, there was more to it than that, wasn’t there?
‘How come you don’t go to school then?’ Mehret was puzzled. ‘You don’t seem to have much of a problem.’
‘Much of a problem?’ Julius raised his eyes as if asking for patience. ‘Imagine a compulsion to repeat what people say, when there are thirty children in the room, some of them quite inventive.’
Mehret imagined, she nodded her head. She imagined some more and couldn’t help laughing.
After a long moment, Julius joined in. ‘Even I can find it funny, now. But it was awful, really. I was always getting into trouble, and my father was so embarrassed. This is much better, though, I’m lucky Mom mostly works from home. Oh, I’m sorry.’
Julius fiddled with some wires. ‘Why? Uh, well, you don’t have a mother, and...’
Mehret felt herself stiffen, ‘I do so have a mother.’ Does he think I sprang from a rock?
‘Mother, uh. Mom said, um...’
‘I just don’t know where she is.’
Julius sat down by his computer. ‘Don’t know where... Oh. She’s not, er, she’s um, not...’
‘Dead?’ Mehret wanted to say no, but she couldn’t. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Don’t know. I’m sorry.’
‘Why? It’s not your fault.’
‘Fault. No. What shall we do now?’
‘I don’t know.’ Mehret was trying to remember her mother, it got harder with the passing years. She could recapture scents and fragments of song, but she could no longer hold her mother in her minds eye.
‘Mom says your father is writing a book.’
‘Huh.’ Mehret felt a need to kick something. ‘He’s written it twice already.’
‘Twice already? The same book? Why?’
‘The publishers wanted it changed.’
‘Changed. Isn’t that normal?’
‘It may be, but it’s not fair. He hardly has time to cook.’
‘Cook.’ Julius grinned knowingly, ‘I see.’
‘And he sees far too much of this Charlotte woman, his editor.’
‘His editor, his editor. Is she a case for the red pencil?’
‘What?’ Julius shrugged his shoulders. ‘You know, a mistake, in need of correction. What is she like?’
‘She seems okay, but there’s something about her.’
‘Something about her?’
‘I don’t know what it is, but the hairs on the back of my neck rise when I think about her.’
‘Think about her. Maybe she’s a psycho.’ Julius tapped at his computer. ‘Let’s see. What’s her name?’
‘I don’t know her surname.’
‘Don’t know her surname? We’ll look on the publishers website.’
‘I don’t know, it feels like spying.’
‘Spying? If they didn’t want you to know, they wouldn’t put it there.’
Mehret sucked her cheeks in, as if she had bitten on a lime, she had a bad feeling about this.
‘Who’s the publisher?’ Julius had the bit between his teeth.
‘Come on, what harm can it do.’ Julius tapped away.
‘It doesn’t feel right.’
‘It doesn’t feel right? It’s the internet. Come on, you don’t have to be stubborn about everything.’
‘I’m not stubborn.’
‘Not stubborn?’ Julius turned to face Mehret, he raised his eyebrows.
‘I just know my own mind.’
‘Own mind. Own mind. Here she is, look, the only Charlotte in the office. She has a Masters Degree in Mediaeval history, and here, the last couple of books she edited were books on witches. Big coffee table books, with some interesting pictures. Hmm. I like Circe.’
‘Witches, yeah. Glossy things, Hallowe’en treats for wannabe witches. What’s she doing editing your father’s book? My mother says it’s pretty heavy stuff.’
‘I can’t imagine.’