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Solving for Theta

By Sihle Senkeh Rzhinni

To say that she was in a rebellious phase was quite an understatement. To say she was hateful was quite an understatement as well, although one would be getting warmer by saying so. No, it was the acid in her voice when she taunted him, the full, stinging force of each word, the dripping venom of each syllable--it was that that made "rebellious" seem such an understatement...

At one time he would have squelched rebellion quite easily if it had reared its brainless head, but this--this he did not know how to deal with. It didn't frighten him, it merely baffled him. Shocked him. Stunned him. But did not scare him.

Now, he would welcome rebellion. Anything else, other than the thick tension that had fallen upon his household, tension so thick one would need a jackhammer to pierce through. And the standstill--Dr. Mentia hated standstills. When it came to his children, he had to win the battle of wills. Absolutely had to, for he would not tolerate anything other than subordinate, docile, tongue-tied children.

And that's what had set her off.

"Yeah, yeah, I know all about you and your control freak problems!" she raged in that devastating tone one day. "I heard you talking to your precious advisee--the pretty one! The one who'd do anything to get her Masters!"

Dr. Mentia had frozen then, unsure of what toxin the girl was about to spew at him before his younger children. But he was a man of steel-spined will; his ignorant teenaged daughter was no match for him.

"I heard you telling her that as long as she wanted you for an adviser, and as long as she wanted a successful college career, she couldn't get married--not even get a boyfriend!"

"And that was logical advice," Dr. Mentia had begun in his calm, superior manner, his cool expression and gentlemanly stance stating that he was the reasonable, experienced human being here, not her. The heads of his younger children swivelled back and forth, fascinated more by the competitors than the competition itself. The tall, aging mathematics professor versus his young, wild-eyed teenaged daughter--and no matter how psychotic she was, she seemed to be putting up a pretty good fight. For when it came to psychological warfare, Dr. Mentia was the guru that had achieved enlightenment in the field.

"It is necessary that a young, pretty woman in college not be swayed by silver-tongued, handsome devils." He maintained his poise.

She sneered, "Really? Tell, me Dr. Mentia--" and that foretold a bombshell, "do all advisers drive their pretty, young advisees to school? Cook them dinner? Ask them to movies? Insist that they stay the night?"

Dr. Mentia's dark skin got much darker as his eyes glared and his nostrils flared. His poise crumbled, as he began to crumble, and he heard himself shout, "Go to your room!"

"What if I don't want to?" Her eyes took on a strange look, as her dark pupils became black holes in space. Her raspy tone contained no humanity whatsoever, for her tongue and teeth combined with her hate to create a sound that mimicked dead leaves rustling through a graveyard.

Satan incarnate. It was a fleeting, rootless thought that, ironically, was nothing short of accurate. Enough alcohol, enough death metal, enough wandering around at night with other crazy kids, and that's what you got. Satan incarnate.

Not that the Mentias were particularly religious.

"So-what-are-you-going-to-do?" Her clipped sing-song hinted her stark madness. Or rather, her frightening sanity. "Ban me from TV? I'll watch it while you're gone. Ground me? I'll leave when I want. And in a few months I'll be eighteen, and still I won't be totally, utterly, completely devoted unto you--like your pathetic little advisees." She resumed her viciousness as she spat, "Especially the pretty ones. The young, innocent, pretty ones."

Dr. Mentia's mind ran through several imaginary lists of things he could do to her to straighten her out. His mouth worked, but he remained speechless.

"That's right, daddy dearest," she murmured in mock soothing, "the only way you could possibly ever win this match would be if you killed me." She took on a serpentine voice as she taunted with her eyes and lips. "And I'd love to see you kill me."

She spun the heels of her military boots, and walked out.

Dr. Mentia sank into his rocking chair. Bedtime, sang the clock, ushering his younger children off to bed. He sighed. Why had she brought up the idea of killing her?

And it was odd how the whole quarrel had started that day. She had brought home a B in Trigonometry, an honors classes. While other parents bestowed hugs and kisses upon their children who got C's in the subject, he demanded nothing but A's. It was insulting for her to get a B--after all, he was a teacher of mathematics, and he did name her Theta, a symbol in the subject.

He seriously did not think he was asking too much of Theta. After all, he was the parent, so he made the demands. His will would be done until she was eighteen, or else...or else...

He faltered, unnerved. Was he really a control freak? He believed in loyalty and firmness with children and students. He demanded undying devotion to the rules he set forth, he wanted his children to turn out exactly the way he intended them to. But lately, he found it impossible.
Dr. Mentia saw his family, right now, as a right triangle, a 30-60-90 triangle, specifically. He was adjacent to the sixty-degree angle. And as the way things were going, he was sine of Theta--opposite her and over the hypotenuse, their clash of wills. That clash was opposite the right angle which, in his mind, represented their home, the house rules, the law that he'd set in stone. The right angle lent stability to the triangle, and therefore, the equations.

So why couldn't it lend stability to Theta?

Because people are not numbers, a voice whispered inside his head. He tried to shut it out. Not because of what it said, but because it was in her voice.

For eternal moments he rocked in that chair, thinking absently of that odd equation, trying to find a simple way to get rid of the theta symbol and retrieve the submissive daughter he once had.

Two o'clock, the clock sang, and in walked Theta.

She was drunk.

Heading for the kitchen, she was probably thirsting for some water. The kitchen was a mess, Dr. Mentia noted distastefully--Theta had been cleaning up after dinner when the quarrel had exploded between them. Crumbs coated the counter, unwashed knives and plates and cutlery sat in the sea of dirt, while wooden spoons rotted in the stinking water of the sink.

"Where have you been?" he asked calmly. She gave him a look.

She snorted, "Like I'm really going to tell you." Dr. Mentia winced. He despised sarcasm. His brothers had always been sarcastic when he told them about the difficult math problems he had solved.

"I demand an answer," he said with more force, more cold, more authority.

"Bite me," she hissed, trying not to fall. Her hot breath carried the offensive smell of liquor to him, and he was repulsed. His father had drunk a lot, and so had Theta's mother, God bless her soul.

Or not...

"Theta, where have you been--and you had better not get smart again." Dr. Mentia mentally congratulated himself. The firmness, the poise, the ice in his voice and the flames in his eyes--he inwardly grinned. He was going to end this once and for all.

"Watching your pretty advisee play tongue twister with a handsome devil," she sneered, swaying in her intoxication. Her voice became conspiratory, "You know, I've played that game with him too, and I know for a fact he's the best." She clucked her tongue. "Poor Dr. Mentia--at least she has good taste. What?" she asked, seeing the rage on his face. "What--did you think you had a chance with her?"

Dr. Mentia snatched a cleaver from the counter and raised it. Right before his eyes, he saw his daughter change. He noticed something he'd never noticed before. Her eyes, her hair--were just like his advisee's!

Theta's nose was more African though, and her lips more full. But still, they looked a lot alike, and soon, mesmerized by this discovery and filled with insane wrath, he could not tell the difference between the two young women in question. One had betrayed him, the other disobeyed him. That was enough to make him want to scream--him! The poised, aging, mathematical professor. The one who had never felt this emotional, nor this furious--not since he'd been picked on in school. But he had learned boxing, right? And when he had graduated, he'd left them in the dust, right? And when two people under this thumb started acting up, he was obliged to remedy the situation, right? He clenched the cleaver tighter.

"Whatever," his daughter snickered at his reluctance. She turned and tried to stagger to her room.
Quite abruptly, with all the strength of a former boxer, Dr. Mentia brought the cleaver down.



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