The Value of x in Five Lessons – M M Bedloe

Chapter 10: The Real Number Plane – Pythagoras’ Rule


Exercise 10A

Find the length of the hypotenuse.

The only thing I understood in year 10 Mathematics was angles.

I liked words like ‘hypotenuse’ and I could at least understand straight lines. I was good at figuring out what was contained in the corners of things, and I enjoyed the delicate diagrams of triangles in the pages of my textbook. Graceful, neat, named and labeled, with recipes of italic x and π to explain what those empty spaces actually were. Not triangles at all, but an arcane code that held the key to things I would never use or need.

How many afternoons did I spend in that airless room, adding up the sides of shapes to reveal the value of x?

Mystical, mythical x.

The quest for x, the quest for meaning.

Was the value of x equal to the value of my time? Was it equal to the use of my 15-year old, dreamy mind? Was it equal to all the things I might have done, if I was not compelled to sit in a room with all those triangles and dead eyed girls, all hunting for the value of x?

I haven’t seen those girls in 30 years.

Some of them are dead now.



Exercise 10B

Solve the following:

(Car + car) x collision = (Lily x 0)

Cancer + late diagnosis = Anna–9999999999

All those girls. The ones who have survived are lost to age and time now.

A couple of years ago, someone sent me a 30-year reunion photo and I didn’t recognise a single person. Those baby faces, so transformed by the heaviness of years and bad frights and too much cake and wine that the girl they once represented has disappeared.

What would we have done at 15 if we had known that, at 50, we would be dead, or too big to fit in a plane seat, or that we’d be living alone with the memory of lost husbands and children, or walking through life like a shadow? And what of the girl who liked triangles? Who sat smiling and afraid, trying to get the sums right? Who looked out the window and dreamed, and tasted the life to come, even in the stale air of that maths room. What became of her? Well, here she is, right here. Still convinced of her youth, of her oyster, gleaming and open before her. She is still figuring out what she wants to do and what she wants to be, even as she launches her own children into their lives, sees their dreams rushing to meet them.

She is still dreaming of wonders and adventures and the great, gleaming, opening flower of the world. Of the life that will be so unlike the one she lived then, that she will barely believe it could belong to the same person.

She dreams this each day, as she orders and accounts for all the angles and spaces of her life.



Exercise 10C

Assess your progress in this unit:

Are you meeting expectations?

Rate your understanding.

I’m still stuck in a maths room, most days. Trying to figure things out. Squandering my thoughts on the addition of empty spaces, learning skills and facts I will never need or want.

At school, they said my work was TOO COLOURFUL.

They said my writing was TOO MESSY.


I still have all the reports. Yellow covers, neat teacher writing inside.

That year, I got in trouble. It was the kind of trouble that ends with you waiting outside the Principal’s office, while your mother is on her way. I had written a series of lurid short stories and circulated them to my friends. The nuns did not approve. Nor did they believe that the events of my stories were fiction. Not being believed: a valuable life lesson.

The Sister was starched and clean. Soft, white hands, kneading knuckles. I was thin and pale, with a mind of my own, somewhere beneath all the fear.

My mother was sweaty, but upright.

I was a moral danger. I should consider seeking other opportunities for myself. My mother agreed, lips pursed thin as we walked home, outraged at the arrogance of that old bitch and her slight against my character.

I wrote no more stories that year. I won my freedom. On the last day, my art teacher tried to kiss my neck. My friend took a photo of us. I still have it; his dark smirk, my sparkling anger.

I understood, then.



Exercise 10C

True or false:

1. Some classes should be skipped.

2. Some books may be defaced.

3. Some lessons must be failed.

I think now of that compliant, frightened girl in the maths room, and I want to shout at her through the stale summer air.






I try quite hard to not believe in time, even though it walks by my door every day, nodding at me, carrying the bodies of my friends, my parents, my heroes. I nod back and get on with my day, turn the music up louder, keep trying to find the value of x.

Exercise 10D

Answer the following:

Q: There’s still time?

A. There’s still time.


Contents Drawer Link

mm bedloe lives on the south east coast of Tasmania. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in literary journals and anthologies and she is elbow deep in drafts of her first two novels, respectively entitled Bridge and Almond. By day, she edits things and writes copy for money.


Image: tjevans via pixabay

Comments are closed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: