The Joy of Algebra

(1250 words) James sat at the dining room table. It was after school on Monday and a mathematics tome lay open in front of him. Through the window, he could see the garden and, in the distance, the little pond with the red garden gnome perpetually fishing. The door opened. “James, how are you getting on with your homework?” “Oh, I’m stuck on these quadratic equations.” His stepfather’s thin lips compressed. “Don’t you pay attention in class? Every schoolboy knows the square on the hypothenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Or at least they did when I was your age!” James looked at his stepfather’s bulging eyes, his round red face and his black hair, that looked like it had been painted on. “I’m just no good at maths, dad. Look, let me go out with my friends, you know they’re going to clown school tonight.” John-Henry Schwartz almost exploded. “Clown school! That’s the height of your ambition is it, lad? Look, your mother and I want to see you top of the class in science, and that all starts with maths. So, from today, this is the plan. You get home from school, you have a glass of milk and two cookies, then we want a solid two hours’ study from you before dinner, then after dinner you can do your normal homework.” James looked up, his heart pounding and his palms sweaty. “That’s not fair!” “Mondays, algebra, Tuesdays, geometry, Wednesdays, trigonometry, and Thursdays, calculus.” “Oh, I get Friday off then?” James asked, hopefully. Clown school was Mondays and Fridays. John-Henry glared at his step-son. “No, you don’t. Do you think I got where I am, the CEO of an international company, by going to goddamn clown school? No, Friday is field theory.”