“Mommy, What’s F times F?” Darryl asked from the back seat. He was working on his homework while we waited in the car for John Anderson. I was preoccupied with a letter from Bobo Lornifar, and didn’t answer Darryl’s question right away.
“I don’t know off hand,” I apologized, and folded up the letter. I really didn’t know! After all, I grew up with the decimal system. The we didn’t learn the hexadecimal system in primary school. I’m so glad that Bobo has switched to writing me in Thorgelfaynese, because I love the way ‘Melissa Lahtissimon’ looks in Fjarnian script. Well, maybe I’m just vain about my married name!
“Never mind, I figured it out,” Darryl said. “The answer is E1; two hundred twenty-five.”
“That’s nice, dear,” I said, somewhat distracted. The car was getting stuffy. I had no right to complain, since John was nice enough to drive us to Darryl’s doctor—and it was my idea to wait in the car while John took care of his errand.
“Boy, the F times table is really easy,” Darryl gushed. “The sum of the digits in the answer just has to add up to fifteen. F times F is E1, and E plus 1 is F!”
“Did you have a good time with the doctor?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Yeah, it was okay,” Darryl sighed. “Except she said they can’t fix my left ear.” He put his schoolwork down on the seat next to him and gestured with his fingers.
“Get your finger out of your ear,” I advised gently. My neck was beginning to hurt, so I twisted around in the seat. “They told you back on the Moon that they couldn’t fix that ear.”
“Yeah, I know,” Darryl said, resuming his schoolwork with a shrug. “I just kind of hoped, you know?”
Darryl shuffled through his papers. “Hey Mommy,” he said, “could you help me with the rest of my homework?”
“I’ll try!” I volunteered. It gave me a deliciously warm thrill when he asked. I had eagerly anticipated this moment for months! I felt positively maternal!
“Okay, when was the war of the Fayne?” Darryl inquired.
I had to admit I couldn’t recall at the moment, and I explained to Darryl that we didn’t have Thorgelfaynese History in school back on Earth where I grew up. He giggled as he looked up the answer in his book. The war of the Fayne was fought in 388F, as it turns out, and I was ashamed that I had forgotten such an important date.
“Here’s a science question,” he announced, “Can you do that?”
“I was a star pupil in science,” I bragged. Science is the same on any planet, right? “Fire away!” I said enthusiastically.
“First Moon and Second Moon go through phases, but Third Moon doesn’t,” Darryl read from his book, “Explain why.” He looked up at me, “Why is that?”
“Probably because it is too little and too far away,” I guessed. “When it’s in the sky, it’s never more than a vague dot.”
Darryl scribbled on his paper. “That sounds right.”
I beamed with pride. I was helping my son with his homework!
“How far away from the sun is Homeland?” he asked, tapping his pencil on the edge of his writing pad.
“Honey, I don’t know,” I confessed. “I know how far Earth is from Sol, if that’ll help.”
“Nope!” he declared. “We don’t study alien star systems until next year. Anyway, what’s Sol?”
“Sol is the name of Earth’s sun, just as astronomers call our sun Tau Ceti,” I blushed self-consciously as I heard myself refer to Tau Ceti as ‘our sun’!
“Do you know the boiling point of water?” He looked at me quizzically for a moment, then slapped his forehead. “How could I forget? It’s so simple! It’s two hundred fifty-six degrees Halakanian!”
I confessed that two hundred fifty-six did not seem to be a very simple number to me, and then I had to endure Darryl’s patient explanation (as one politely explains the obvious to an idiot) that two hundred fifty-six is written the equivalent of “100” in Halakanian nummerals; and that this is a very simple and natural number to use. I vowed to bite my tongue in the future whenever I feel the urge to discuss numbers with him.
Darryl had a whole list of homework questions that I couldn’t answer. The questions were actually quite simple, but my alien upbringing didn’t equip me to answer them. Who was the first Homelander to fly in outer space? In what year was oxygen discovered? Things like that. Even if I do know the answers, my answers are only valid for Earth. You really feel like an imbecile when you have to admit to a nine-year-old boy that you don’t know how many continents there are! The longer it lasted, the dumber I felt. I was grateful when John finally emerged from the building and got into the car.
“Sorry that took so long,” he apologized as he slammed the door shut, “but even in Thorgelfayne some things take time.” John started the engine and pulled out slowly into traffic. “Did you two manage to keep yourselves busy while I was gone?”
“Yes,” I volunteered as I turned to face forward again, “we worked on Darryl’s homework.” After a brief pause, I added, “The Hapdorn provincial school system is fantastic! You wouldn’t believe how smart Darryl is!”
John looked up at the rear view mirror to get a good view of Darryl’s proud grin. “Was your mother able to help you much?”
“Only on one question!” Darryl answered, exposing the embarrassing truth.
“That’s not entirely your mother’s fault,” John explained. “All her schooling was back on Earth.” He paused to steer us around a curve in the road. Then to my great surprise, John actually switched to English, and asked Darryl if he could remember his school back on Earth. Darryl seemed to change the subject, speaking only Thorgelfaynese.
Finally we came to a halt at the traffic light near the public library. Darryl loudly pointed it out and told us all about the last time he was there.
“I know this is hard to believe,” John said to me quietly in English, “but I do believe that the boy has completely forgotten his native language!”
“Are you sure he’s not just ignoring it? I wouldn’t be surprised,” I whispered. “English is not a very useful language here, and it would only serve to remind him of his past.”
“You have a point,” John conceded. The light changed to blue, so we started off. “But I am certain that he’s forgotten it. Last week I offered to take him ice-skating on Sixthday, and he didn’t even flinch!”
“That’s an offer he wouldn’t ignore, so you must be right.” I turned to check on Darryl in the back seat. He was absorbed in the passing scenery. “Darryl will turn out to be a true Thorgelfaynese trapped in a human biology!” I predicted.
I sighed wistfully.
“Some people have all the luck,” John muttered.
I nodded agreement.