Monica detaches herself from her dear professor.
“Your mother and I have discussed it. We don’t want you to attend school overseas.”
She heard the words and tried to reconcile them with the words she’d just read aloud. Monica tried to respond, but only looked up at him.
“There are schools within three hours of here that have accepted you, that cost less and are considered better than Essex. Now, you’re welcome to follow your sister’s path and go halfway across the country, but not halfway across the world.”
“Then why did you let me apply?!”
“Because you wanted to. Your sister is still in the country and we see her five times a year. If you go to England, how often will you cross an ocean for us? Twice?”
She only applied to Essex on a whim, she had no intention of leaving her dear professor, or her parents. The only other schools to which she’d sent applications were Berkeley, the University of San Francisco, Stanford and San Francisco State.
Her voice grew low, “I don’t need your permission, I can do this on my own.”
Her father was replaced by one of the Shah’s colonels. His happy voice lost all tone, “Do not presume to stand in my house, telling me you will travel the world at my expense, and tell me what you can and cannot do. You are a grown woman, it is true, but I will make the final decision on any choice that I pay for. I cannot hold you here, but I will not be ransomed, to commit actions I do not agree with.”
She hissed the words, barely audible, “I hate you.”
Her father’s eyes started to widen, but he caught them, and his face grew stern. But Monica never saw his supreme self-control, she’d turned away, toward her room. There was nothing there. She left, she walked right past her rather, who said nothing and made no motion to stop her, out the door, to her car and drove.
When Lita opened the door, all Monica said was, “I never kissed anyone before I kissed you,” and hit her, hard, and even though Monica spent all her time in a basement, all her time reading, and even though Lita worked out religiously, anger and desperatation added enough weight to the blow to send Lita sprawling across the room.
“I’ve never!” she said as she ran toward her and began kicking her, “Kissed anyone, but you!” Each syllable was punctuated by a high school, junior varsity, plant and shoot. “I didn’t kiss Ben!” She could hear Lita gasping, “I’ll never kiss James! I’ll never kiss anyone,” she could feel Lita had stopped making any attempt to block her tiny feet, “without thinking, about kissing, you!”
She stopped and finally heard Lita crying, begging her to stop, in a small, painful voice. Monica started crying and half-stumbled away, only to run back and kick her again, and then she started running around the room. She threw Lita’s beautiful Japanese screen against the wall, and threw schoolbooks and papers and little Japanese toys—all on her bookshelf—across the room.
She stopped, surprised to hear her own labored breathing. Then she took Lita’s camera off her desk, and tried to delete the pictures, but couldn’t, until she was so frustrated she threw it against the wall, too, and smashed it under her little DKNY boot. She looked over and saw that Lita was now sitting against the wall, crying, hands on her knees, head on her hands, eyes barely looking up to watch the destruction.
She sat down in front of Lita’s computer, turning just slightly toward Lita to say, “Where are they?”
“Stop it!” was the sobbing reply, “Stop it, I love you! Why are you doing this?”
“Where!” She yelled as she threw the little, day-glo stapler, “Where! Where! Where!” Each word punctuated by another little piece of desktop esoterica.
“They’re all on CD, I’d never leave them where somebody could find them,” Lita pleaded, “They’re all on CD, on the shelf—Monica’s mix.”
“My what?” Monica yelled back.
“Mix,” Lita cried harder, “That’s what it’s called.”
Monica tore through the flimsy, plastic CD tower, scattering cases and disks, until she found the one. She tried to break the whole case, but couldn’t, and that, more than anything else, seemed to be the worst part. Finally she opened it, and bent the CD until it shattered, with a thousand sparkling shards flying everywhere, her finger cut in the sudden destruction.
“I’m sorry,” Lita whispered. Monica didn’t respond, she just left.
“It is an endowment for two years at Oxford, the selected candidate will study under Richard Walbright.”
“And you get to pick who?”
“No, I can only recommend to Richard, and I’m sure he’s asked other schools for candidates, as well.”
“Who did you have in mind?”
“Elizabeth Hu, Jameson Alder and Annabelle Hartsbough. They are the top students in this field, and all three are already accepted to Oxford, so there would be little doubt as to their academic qualifications.”
“Do you think you could put my name on the list?”
“I’m afraid I cannot, in good conscience, recommend you for this endowment, Ms. Ijrah. Perhaps you could ask doctor Munroe.”
“But he didn’t ask any of the other professors, they asked you.”
“You’re a very bright student, Monica,” Pacha said, and somehow managed to make her first name sound even more formal than her surname, “but every year you perform less and less. I do not give my opinion lightly, and if I were to mention you for this, I would feel required to voice my concern about your work ethic.”
“Isn’t there anything I can do to change your mind?” What was she offering, she thought to herself.
“Of course not, if there was, I would have said so.”
“Please”, she said, her voice too low and desperate, “Anything.”
“You cannot make up for long-term choices,” he said, standing up and walking out, leaving her alone in his office, “with short-term fixes.”
She spent the rest of the day thinking of ways to compromise him, to get something against him, to make him select her. She didn’t know how, but she had to, now. She kept wondering what his voice, always stoic, would sound like if she had power over him.
“Monica, what are you doing,” he said, and it took a few seconds before she realized it wasn’t imagined, it was Dr. Pacha, standing directly behind her.
“Nothing!” She fell off the bench, and and looked up at him, on the verge of tears—guilt, she was sure, written all over her face.
“Nothing!” He bellowed, she’d never heard him like this, people were staring. “You call this nothing?”
She couldn’t even move, couldn’t even stand up from her scared, half-curled, half-crouched state. Her face felt cold, and everything around her grew crisp. She felt small, and shrinking, she could feel the looks of people around her. It was a beautiful, hot, near-summer day, and they were wondering why she was ruining it. Pacha wasn’t even looking at her now, he was moving, floating, around the bench, toward the table.
Everyone turned away. No one cared. It was all growing so big, and she felt like she was drowning. Pacha was laughing now.
“Why didn’t you just say so.” He looked over at her, seeming not to care that she was still sprawled on the ground. “I’ve always told you, leave humility to those that can’t achieve. Grown-ups have no use for it.” He stopped talking, mouth still open, shaking his head, “How did you ever get a handle on the system of notation?”
“It wasn’t easy,” the words sort of slipped out of her, “But there were articles, theories on why he did what he did. His sigma makes sense once you understand that he already assumes these shifts in scale. I think,” she paused, but Pacha said nothing, “I think he was trying to create his own physics.”
She went on, answering each of his questions in turn, she always studied up on the theories in her notebooks, she didn’t want to sound like she didn’t know what she was talking about if someone challenged her. But something happened, the more questions Pacha asked, the more talking Monica did, until she noticed he hadn’t said a word for minutes. She closed her mouth, abruptly.
“You may be right,” he responded to whatever she’d said. “I don’t know, though, I just don’t know, Ms. Ijrah.” He looked off into the distance, glanced back at her notebook, and then at her, a smirk on his face. The smirk disappeared, replaced with a quizzical look. “Why are you sitting on the ground?”
He called Oxford fifteen minutes later, pointedly letting Monica listen in as he spoke to his old roommate, the renowned Richard Walbright. It was four o’clock in the morning in London, but Pacha had firsthand experience with Walbright’s acclaimed sleeping habits, or lack thereof, more precisely.
“Richard, it’s Ahmed. I bumped into your student on my way to lunch.”
“Right, who’s that, then, I didn’t even know one of my boys was at your little school.”
“She’s your future pupil, you haven’t met her, yet.”
“Well that’s spectacular, Ahmed. I’m sure in between my television interviews, my copious social commitments, Janice, the dogs and advising the prime minister, I’ll have more than enough time to give each of your little fish a personal tour of the grounds. Hell, I’ll tuck each of them into bed every night, and read them a story, and feed them biscuits. Just like I did for you.”
Pacha smiled. “No, Richard, I found your student.”
“They’ll get due consideration. Old waterhead wants me to take one of his boys, and Wang has some genius from Norway. I’ll have them fight it out in a pit, with swords, and slide rules, and I’ll throw some lions in, for that classical feel.”
“Richard, she’s been spending the last three years working on Reishlach,” Pacha began flipping through Monica’s notebook, “And Uri, and Kammermand and Jarvis,” with the last name he looked over at Monica, eyebrows high, smiling and nodding at her in respect.
The pause from the other end of the line lasted well beyond the two second delay. Monica grew uncomfortable, but Pacha only stood there, smiling, waiting.
Finally, the Scottish accent shot out of the speakerphone, “Bullshit.”
“I’m afraid not,” Pacha responded.
“Raven or writing desk?”
Another long pause.
“Alright, I’ll take her.”
She called her father at work and for the next three weeks, not a day went by that he didn’t mention his brilliant daughter and her upcoming attendance to that fine institution.