There’s a part of you that’s always thinking about her.
You wonder what she’s thinking of, as she talks about dresses with her mother. You underline and mark your books to remember to talk to her about what you’re reading, just to hear her opinions on things like mathematics and religion and love. Trivial things, like how she likes her eggs (scrambled) or her favorite color (light blue) take up space in your head that should be saved for numbers and theorems and science.
That’s how you make a living after all; it’s not like anyone will pay you to teach them about her.
You find yourself thinking that they should be.
They move around the same rooms, years apart from each other. They smile, they laugh, they study. Sometimes they are polite, and make themselves appear less smart than they actually are. When the mood strikes them they speak up, they confide in a select few about the whirlwind that is their minds, full of new ideas, full of wonder.
One of them used to speak her mind but they have glared it out of her by the time she’s thirteen, the silences of her mother, that boy that told her that she was too much to deal with, her friends who never quite got her. Hers was a new world, this is a brave new world, and it had slapped her down just as soon as she raised her head. She keeps her thoughts to herself now, dresses in pink like armor, pretends to be what everyone sees when they look at her.
The other had grown up earlier, and knew already when to close her mouth, to only let a sliver of her mind escape her thoughts. Just enough to be witty, just enough to be acceptable in her mother’s world. She had been born to be clever, and she had taught herself to be adaptable. In a society that pushed the women to their knees she had learned to slither like a snake.
The first lesson is: if they don’t know what you can do, they can’t stop you doing it.
You have noticed that you develop a sixth sense when you’re around her. Her every step, her every word is something that you pay attention to above all else, just to be sure.
It’s not that you don’t trust her to be careful, you do. But she is too young and her heart is too soft. She doesn’t know what you know, for all her brilliance. So you watch over her, because you have to, because that’s what it means to be an adult. She knows you do this, and sometimes she resents it, but most of the time she smiles at you and you know that she feels safe, and loved, and that’s all you ever wanted.
In retrospect, you should have worried about your own soft heart more.
In another world they would be able to move mountains with a thought, calculate the answer to every question of the universe while curling their hair, learn all there is to know and change the universe.
In this world they watch, they hide. They break the rules unnoticed, they change the world unnoticed.
They pretend it’s enough.
You watch her reading poetry.
You watch her reading poetry.
She looks up and smiles at you and you smile back, and don’t tell her that she should be studying now. You ask her to read to you.
She looks up and smiles at you and starts reading aloud and you take your eyes away from the mess of numbers and listen to her voice rising and falling with every syllable.
You don’t remember what the poem was about, but you read it again, later, after everything, and you think of her.
You aren’t paying attention to the poem, but the jangle of numbers in front of you starts making sense as she reads, and you smile at her again.
If we could bring the two images together, past and future, we’d see them sitting side by side, reading by the same book, although they prefer different poems.
Two men are watching them, sitting in the same chair, two hundred years away from each other.
“I might have thought of something no one else has thought of before, I think,” they say, across centuries.
Valentine listens, and Chloe shares another carefully concealed part of herself.
Septimus listens, and Thomasina reveals another of her deep secret thoughts.
You look at her like he looked at her, but we learn from the past, and so you know already what took him too long to find out.
If something happens to her there will be no more waltzes.