Memorising Pi To 120 Decimal Places
by Gavin Broom

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I don’t need to memorise the part to the left of the decimal point. If I did, I wouldn’t be much use at memorising the rest of it. I tell Mum this while she’s cooking dinner because I think it’s really funny.

“That’s nice, Ben,” she says.

I tell her it wasn’t about being nice but I don’t think she hears me.

The longest sequence I’ve ever memorised before is the alphabet and that’s only twenty-six things. I can cheat with that, though, because I also know the alphabet backwards and if I add the two together, that comes to fifty-two, which is the same as a deck of cards.

Mum said that big tasks are made easier by breaking them down into smaller tasks so that’s what I’ve done. I’ve broken my long number down into groups of ten because ten is my favourite. Mum also said it would be easier if I visualised the numbers, so I’ve decided to do that too and I picture the keypad of a big calculator in my head and it does help. Mum’s full of great ideas. That’s what Dad says, anyway. So I’m going to memorise ten each day on the big calculator in my head and in less than two weeks, I’ll be done.

The first ten are easy and I learn them in about a minute. Seriously. I thought most grown-ups would know the first ten off by heart like me, but when I ask Dad he says he’s too busy, even though he’s just watching TV, and when I ask Mum, she says she doesn’t know.

“Try,” I tell her.

She throws down the dishtowel she was carrying on to the worktop and sighs. “Three point one … four … two?”

When I start to laugh, Mum picks up her towel and pretends to flick me with it.

I explain to her, “After three point, the first ten are … one four one five nine two six five three five.”

“That’s very good,” Mum says.

“Do you want to know how I know?” I ask.

She nods and sighs again. “Go on, then.”

“Well,” I begin. “I picture hitting the buttons on a big calculator in my head, like you said. One is the first number, so that’s easy. Next up is four one five nine and they make a tick on the keypad and I remember that because you said it was a good idea for me to memorise pi to one hundred and twenty decimal places, just before you showed me the website that lists it.”

“Uh-hu.” She looks as though she can’t remember saying that but she definitely did. She said it was good for me to have a project I could do on my own.

“Two six five three five makes a cross and I remember that because Dad said it was a stupid idea for me to memorise pi to one hundred and twenty decimal places.”

“Did he?” she says. She starts rubbing her hands on the towel, even though they’re not wet and she glances toward the living room. “Well, you stick at it, sweetheart. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing. It’s that simple.”

I think she’s right and I think this is worth doing because Lorna Maxwell told me in Maths class today that she’d go out with me if I memorised pi to one hundred and twenty decimal places. I hadn’t even asked her out — I haven’t ever asked anyone out — but Lorna’s really pretty, so that’s what I’m going to do.

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I don’t have Maths today so I don’t get a chance to tell Lorna Maxwell that I’ve started the task she gave me. That’s fine, because when I see her tomorrow, I’ll have twenty numbers to tell her and she’ll be super-impressed.

The next four are eight nine seven nine and on the calculator that looks like Dad when he’s doing his moonwalk. Dad doesn’t have to be dancing to Michael Jackson to do the moonwalk and claims he can moonwalk to the phone ringing and still make it look good. I don’t know what that means.

“See, it’s all in the technique in the balls of your feet,” Dad said when he was demonstrating at Granddad’s birthday party last year.

“Aren’t you supposed to look like you’re walking forwards, though?” Mum asked and I laughed. “You look like you’re pissing yourself.”

Dad went in the huff and got really drunk that night. Actually, he was pretty drunk to begin with.

Three two three is just a smaller, lower down version of the moonwalk, so I think of it as me trying to copy Dad, except I’m not drunk. Eight four six is a little different and on the calculator, I think of that as being a small, English triangle. It’s English because it’s top to bottom, left to right, just like reading.

So far, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. If the next hundred are as easy as this, I probably would be able to memorise it all in one day. But I stick to my plan because that’s what plans are for.

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The house is noisy this morning. I stay in my bed but I can’t get back to sleep and my alarm clock is blinking like there’s been a power cut. It’s daylight outside.

Eventually, even though no one comes to wake me, I get out of bed and look up the pi website on the PC in my room. When I first see today’s numbers, they look horrid and random and I can’t see anything like ticks or moonwalks anywhere in the sequence.

Downstairs, Dad is stomping about and Mum is talking very loudly, but I can’t make out much of what she says. She mentions something about it not being her fault and not to be so bloody stupid but that’s about all. This must help me because I finally see that two six four is a 180 degree rotation of yesterday’s triangle — a stupid English triangle — and noticing this makes me happy. Three three eight three is odd because it just looks right. Two threes facing each other in the mirror make an eight and what was the number that helped make an eight? Why, three, of course! Thinking of three three eight three this way seems to make perfect sense without trying to force it, so I decide not to. Two seven nine is a bigger, vertical mirror image of the first triangle, so that goes in straight away with no effort at all.

I blank out the noise and the shouting and go over the first thirty in my head. I write them down and I punch them into the number pad on the PC, which is just like a calculator. I get it right every time. The order is:

One, tick, cross, Dad moonwalk, Ben moonwalk, English triangle, stupid English triangle, perfect sense threes and eight and finally the big stupid mirror image English triangle.

Easy.

When it finally goes quiet downstairs, Mum tells me it’s eleven o’clock in the morning and I don’t have to go to school today.

“But I want to go to school,” I explain. “I need to see Lorna Maxwell.” I don’t tell her the first thirty numbers because I don’t feel happy enough.

She warns me that she’s not in the mood for a discussion on the matter or for me to start whining at her and then she goes into the kitchen to make me breakfast, even though it’s nearly lunchtime.

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As we’re waiting outside the Maths room, I tell Lorna Maxwell that I’m thirty numbers into the sequence and so far, it’s a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.

“That’s a quarter of the way,” I say with a smile.

Her friends look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language. I mumble a bit when I get excited so maybe that’s what’s causing the confusion.

“Ah, but thirty isn’t one hundred and twenty,” she tells me, which is an odd thing to say, and besides, I already know that. Thirty does not equal one hundred and twenty. Duh!

After this, she goes into class with her friends. I can’t keep up because another boy draws something on the back of my jacket and by the time I’ve taken it off to find he was only pretending, the rest of my class is already inside and sitting nicely.

I sit in class and look at the small scrap of paper Mum would call a Cheat Sheet. Basically, it’s all twelve sets of ten written down in order using a fibre tipped pen. The first three sets have red ticks next to them.

During the Maths lesson, I see that today’s numbers are better than yesterday. Five oh two reminds me of Dad’s Levi jeans and looks a bit like a backward L on my calculator buttons, eighty-eight is two fat ladies, which makes me smile because Granny loved bingo, four is the number of little circles you need to make two fat ladies and, easiest yet, one nine seven one is the year Mum was born.

I’ve just got this into my memory when Craig Weston, who people call Vinny, tells Mr Watt that I’m reading notes instead of concentrating on the lesson. It’s not fair, because if anyone else was to do that, they’d be called a grass and probably beaten up, but when Vinny does it, everyone laughs.

“Well, Ben,” asks Mr Watt. “Can you tell me what we’ve just been discussing?”

My voice feels trapped behind a big ball in my throat so I can’t answer and I just shake my head.

Mr Watt walks from the whiteboard over to my desk and picks up my Cheat Sheet. He looks angry.

“What’s this, Ben?” he asks, waving the paper at me.

I still can’t talk and there’s nothing else I can do to let Mr Watt know so I don’t do anything.

He screws up his face and reads over the tiny writing. “Is this pi?”

I nod eagerly, relieved that he knows what it is and I haven’t been bad. Pi is maths related. It’s not as though I’ve been drawing rude pictures like Vinny and his friends do.

“You’re studying pi instead of paying attention?” Now he sounds angry.

I nod again, this time with no relief.

“I’m very disappointed. Stay behind at the end of class.”

I never get into trouble and I hate Mr Watt being disappointed with me and even though I know it’s the last thing that anyone should ever do when they’re at school, I feel my eyes burn and I start to cry. When I glance at Lorna Maxwell to see if she’s noticed, she’s looking straight ahead at the whiteboard. Vinny’s laughing.

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I’m in my room, doing my punishment exercise for Mr Watt, when Mum comes in to let me know dinner’s ready. She sees me sitting at my desk, writing out lines so I end up telling her everything that happened yesterday in Maths class before she gets an idea from the words I’m writing out. Even though I skip the bit where I cried, she’s not happy.

During dinner, Mum tells me she doesn’t want me learning pi to one hundred and twenty decimal places anymore. Dad never wanted me to learn it in the first place and he agrees with Mum. They ban me from learning pi and then Mum says to Dad that she thinks this is the first thing they’ve agreed on in months and they both smile as if they’re suddenly feeling shy with each other, which I think is stupid but I choose not to say so.

I decide to ignore their stupid shy smile and I decide to ignore their ban. As Mum said a few days ago, if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing. It’s that simple. So I hide in my room and learn the next ten, which takes me up to fifty.

The first six in the sequence — six nine three nine nine three — rhymes and also features the numbers down the right hand side of the keypad. It’s a bit like Dad’s moonwalk, but not quite, and as I type it out again and again, it reminds me more of the dancers you see in the background in hip-hop videos. I hate hip-hop.

The last two make ten, which is my favourite number so that’s easy to remember, which just leaves seven and five. When I look at them together, blanking out the surrounding numbers, they remind me of Countdown on TV. Seventy-five is Dad’s least favourite of the big numbers that Carol Vorderman reveals during the sums game.

Mum used to wind Dad up about fancying Carol Vorderman, even though I knew it was the woman with the dictionaries that he really liked; Suzy something. She’s my favourite, too, because she’s really quick at spotting words and looking them up and then pointing at them in the dictionary with her little pen that’s really a camera. They, Mum and Dad that is, ended up having an argument about it one night a few weeks ago, and although I thought Mum was only joking, Dad went absolutely mental and I think something got broken in the kitchen.

Anyway, I don’t mind seventy-five and it makes me feel clever when I don’t mind something everyone else hates. So, the last four are Dad’s least favourite number and then my favourite.

I learn the first six numbers much quicker than the last four because I keep mixing up the order of Dad’s least favourite number and my favourite and I begin to think that forty-six is my limit even though I’ve previously memorised fifty-two letters. Once I shorten the three groups to hate-hate-love, it begins to stick and I make it to fifty after all and it still feels like there’s a lot of space left in my head.

No one comes into my room, not even to ask if I want toast and cheese for supper and when it starts to get dark and I go downstairs, I discover that Mum and Dad have already gone to bed.

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Just because it’s a Saturday doesn’t mean I don’t have my ten numbers to learn. I wake up super-early, while it’s still dark and try to memorise today’s lot before Mum and Dad get up and interrupt things. By interrupt, I really mean spoil.

Luckily, it looks nice and easy today, so I’m happy I can get it out of the way and then sit in front of kids’ TV downstairs. That way, my parents won’t be suspicious that I’ve disobeyed them by getting up early to memorise decimal places fifty-one through to sixty. The thought of being halfway there really excites me and I have to cover my mouth to stop a laugh escaping.

Yesterday, the first numbers went down the right column on the keypad and today they go up and down the middle, then they’re topped off like a capital T. I’m given a little problem when I notice that four nine four four could be confused with three three eight three from the first batch of ten, and drawing it out on the keypad doesn’t help. I whisper the last four digits and then something clicks.

Four four reminds me of something Dad once found hugely funny when he was checking off the football results on his coupon. Dad always puts a coupon on the football on a Saturday, even when he has to take money from Mum’s handbag, and he never, ever wins. One time last winter, he used the money Mum had kept to fix our central heating boiler and we ended up having to sit in the kitchen at night with the oven on to keep warm. The kitchen is a really boring place to spend an evening and Mum was so bored she didn’t speak to Dad for ages after that and neither did I. Dad kept saying we wouldn’t be treating him like that if his coupon had come in and he’d won thousands of pounds. I agreed but didn’t say so. Mum didn’t say so either.

Anyway, one day, one of the Scottish results began Forfar four. In my head, I make up a little story that goes, the results came in at T time and it was Forfar Nine, Forfar Four, even though that means Forfar were playing themselves. Two numbers from the fifth batch and the last four of the sixth batch are both about what Dad watches on TV so I think that’s good enough for me to remember.

I prove it to myself by writing it all down ten times. That’s six hundred numbers in total. I get it right ten times and after the sixth time, it doesn’t even feel like a challenge anymore.

I’m so excited at remembering pi to sixty decimal places that I forget about not waking Mum and Dad and I laugh as I run downstairs into the living room. I don’t hear anything from their bedroom — no angry shouts from Dad telling me to be quiet and no tired groan from Mum asking me what time it is — so in my excitement, I turn up the TV louder than I normally would but I can’t find my kids’ programmes so I have to watch boring news.

Dad bursts into the room a minute later. His hair is sticking up all over the place and he has bags under his eyes that he only ever seems to get when he’s angry and stressed.

“It’s five o’clock in the morning,” he says and he turns the TV off by using the on/off button instead of the remote. “What the hell are you doing up? Get back to bed.”

“Dad, do you remember who Forfar were playing that time they scored four goals?” I ask.

“Bed. Now.”

“But …”

Dad crouches down and grabs my shoulders. “I need you to be a good boy for a while. Your mother and I …” He pauses for a long, long time and I’m about to ask him about the Forfar result again when he continues. “Your mother and I need you to be a good boy. Okay?”

I wonder if he knows why I’m up so early.

“Yes, Dad,” I say.

He follows me back upstairs, into my room and when I get into my cold bed and look to where he should be standing so I can say goodnight to him again, he’s already gone and closed the door.

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Five nine two three are the last four digits in our old telephone number. Oh seven eight one sounds like the first four digits in a mobile phone number. That just leaves six and four, which is the international dialling code for New Zealand. I’m good at international dialling codes. If I was to dial pi into the phone, I think I’d get someone in The Netherlands. This set of ten is the easiest since the one with the two moonwalks and an English triangle.

Sundays are rubbish. Nothing interesting ever happens on a Sunday and I decide to tell Mum this to see what she thinks.

“You say that every week,” Mum says. “You should try to do something exciting.”

But she doesn’t give me any ideas and because I can’t do what I really want to do — practice my sequence — I just sit next to Dad and watch TV like I usually do. But this Sunday, doing that just makes me feel uneasy and a bit shaky.

Eventually, Mum comes through to the living room and when she sees how I’m shaking, she asks Dad how long I’ve been like that.

“Like what?” Dad asks, while I wonder why Mum isn’t talking directly to me.

Mum says a few bad words and stomps away. Dad and I look at each other. I shrug, but Dad leans closer to me, like he can’t see me properly or something.

“Are you feeling okay, Ben?” he asks.

“I’m bored,” I tell him.

Mum comes back in with a strip of my pills in one hand and a tumbler of water in the other. She waves the pills at Dad and then hands them to me along with the water.

“You forgot to take your medication,” she says, but she’s looking at Dad when she says this and I don’t understand why everyone’s behaving like I’m not really here.

I take my meds and a little while later, after Dad leaves the couch and goes out for something, I start to feel easier and less jumpy. Mum brings through some paper and crayons and asks me to draw her a picture. I start to draw a picture of a house — I always draw pictures of houses — but when I’m colouring in the grass on the lawn, I write lots and lots of numbers instead. Some of them are in pi, but most are just random, like I’m imagining I know pi to a million decimal places. I have to write an awful lot of numbers before it starts to look like grass, but eventually it does. When I take the picture into the kitchen to show Mum, she’s sitting on a stool at the breakfast bar, drinking from my water tumbler and she’s crying. She tells me she’s been chopping onions. Onions always make Mum cry.

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A week ago today, Lorna Maxwell gave me my task. I realise that I haven’t even thought about her or her promise over the weekend, even when I was learning my numbers, and she only comes into my head when I’m packing my Maths stuff into my bag. I can imagine her staring at the whiteboard while I was crying last week and I can imagine Vinny laughing at me.

Dad’s already left for work when I go downstairs for my breakfast and Mum’s still in her dressing gown. She smiles with her mouth but her eyes are sad and I start to wonder about the onions last night. When I ask her if she’s okay, she laughs a bit and ruffles my hair. I hate it when people do that but today I let Mum off and don’t mump and moan about it.

“Come on, Tiger,” she says. “Let’s get you ready.”

Mum’s never called me Tiger before.

On the bus to school, I sit in my usual seat, right down the front so I can watch what the driver does. For some reason, everyone else sits as far away from the driver as possible, either at the back of the lower deck or on the upper deck, so my usual seat is always free, except one time when it was snowing and I had to stand. Today, though, instead of watching the driver, I have a look at the ten numbers I’ve written neatly on a square of paper.

Oh six two eight six two is another rhyming sextet and the common numbers — six and two — makes sixty-two, which are two fewer than the last two of the previous set of ten. Also, this set — the eighth set — is the first to start with a zero. There are so many eights and zeros and twos that I think I’m in danger of jumbling them all up in my head. I try it with letters and get ObLBbL, which reminds be of two things; bubble and the l’Oreal shampoo Mum uses. I go with bubble and think of the first O as a big Bubble blown, which also helps me remember the number of 6s and 8s.

Oh eight nine nine are next, which creates a picture of a New York address in my head; a hotel, maybe, or a fashion boutique on Fifth Avenue like I’ve seen on that TV programme Mum likes. It also reminds me of one bubble, two bubbles, two balloons on a string so I think of them bouncing and floating along on the New York street.

From behind, someone snatches my piece of paper out of my hand and when I face the person, I see it’s Vinny and my stomach sinks and that ball comes back into my throat.

“What’s this, Benjy?” he asks, sneering at the paper down his long nose. “This your girlfriend’s telephone number?”

That just strikes me as stupid because there aren’t enough digits in it to be a telephone number and anyway, there are no telephone numbers that begin oh six and anyway, I don’t have a girlfriend. I can’t tell him any of this because of the ball in my throat. Lorna Maxwell pushes her way by Vinny and she’s gone before I can find my voice to update her with my progress.

“Weirdo,” he mutters and he walks off the bus, taking the paper with him.

It’s only at this point that I realise we’ve arrived at school and everyone’s got off the bus except me.

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I have to look hard at the first three numbers for a while, because I’m worried that I’ve copied them down wrong. And if I’ve copied them down wrong, maybe I’ve copied the rest down wrong and rather than spend a week memorising pi to seventy decimal places, maybe I’ve been memorising nothing.

Frantically, I check on the website Mum told me about and as the PC finishes booting, I realise I’m holding my breath. I’m still holding my breath when I check the seventy-first, seventy-second and seventy-third digits of pi on the internet.

Eight six two.

I can breath again. To be sure, I check the rest and they’re all correct too. So the first three digits today really are the same as the fourth, fifth and sixth digits yesterday. That should be easy to remember, but it takes a while to isolate these numbers from the others so that when I warn myself of the repeat, I can imagine the right ones.

When I look ahead to eight oh three, I start to panic a little, because there’s been far too many eights and zeros recently and while I’ve got them all pinned to a board in my head in their little batches, making up this long, long number, the nails are starting to wobble themselves loose and the board itself feels like it could fall on the floor and then they’re replaced by a line of spinning plates and there are seventy-six of them and I can’t run up and down the line quick enough to keep them all spinning and some of them are slowing so much, they dip and soar lazily on their stick, like horses on a fairground ride and I see Lorna and Vinny on the fairground ride and their weight is just making things slower and heavier and now it feels like the horses are moving through treacle or a clear jelly and there’s nothing I can do, no amount of plates I can spin, that will speed things up again.

I’m panicking more now but the good thing is, I know I’m panicking. Mum always said that so long as I can recognise something’s happening, I can do something about it. It’s when things take us by surprise, she said, that’s when we’ve got cause to worry. So I don’t worry and I take deep breaths and suddenly, amazingly, I get it. Suddenly I can picture the buttons on my big calculator and I see the numbers eight six two eight oh three four eight two five and they pitch and drop just like the horses moving through the jelly. It’s there. It’s in my head. It works. I realise right now, right at this minute, how much I love Mum and it swells inside me so much that I have to leave my room and run downstairs to find her and to tell her.

Mum’s asleep on the couch, lying where Dad and I sit when we watch TV. My tumbler is on the floor next to her. I give her shoulders a little shake but she doesn’t wake up and when I look at my watch I see that it’s nine o’clock in the evening. Mum’s usually awake at nine o’clock in the evening. I wonder if Dad’s still at work and I try to remember if it was this morning that I saw him or if it was yesterday. If it was yesterday, I’m not sure he can still be at work and if that’s the case, I have no idea where he’s got to. I wonder if Mum knows.

With a sudden snort, she shuffles on to her other side but she doesn’t wake up. Taking a spare cushion from the couch, I stretch out on the floor and try to fall asleep, ignoring the rumble in my stomach and hoping it’s not loud enough to disturb Mum.

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Mr Watt smiles when I explain my working on a trigonometry problem, so I know he isn’t in a bad mood with me anymore. I’ve learned my lesson from my punishment exercise last week and I keep my Cheat Sheet in my pocket until I’m in a class without Vinny, which doesn’t happen until final period and I’m in Miss Dandy’s History class. I’ve noticed people falling asleep in Miss Dandy’s History class before, so I know I can look at the numbers without having to worry about being caught.

In a way, I’m glad I have to wait to the end of the day because these numbers will take me to one hundred, which is a big milestone and deserves to be savoured. When I look at them, I wish there was a hard way to remember them. Maybe not as hard as yesterday which is horrible when I think about it, but harder than it turns out to be.

Three four two one isn’t quite four three two one. The rest is 17 June 79. I don’t know anyone who was born on 17 June 1979, and 17 June in general isn’t a special day. I mean, it’ll be special to someone, but to me, it’s just a day in summer. Something about it just sticks, though. That’s a hundred numbers. One hundred. I cough loudly, but I’m really cheering and giggling.

On the bus going home, I’m sitting in my usual seat when Lorna Maxwell gets on with her friends and they all head by me on their way up the back.

“I’ve done one hundred,” I say to her. “Twenty to go.”

Two of her friends stop and look at me. One of them reacts to my big smile with a snigger. Lorna looks stunned and eventually nods then she leads her friends to their usual seat, leaving me in mine.

Mum’s tumbler is just about empty when I get home and she’s swearing a lot as she makes dinner. At first, I thought she had somehow found out I’d memorised one hundred digits because she’s making SupaNoodles, on their own, with no vegetables and that’s my favourite dinner. Maybe she wants to celebrate.

“Bloody pot’s burning dinner,” she says, more to the pot than to me.

“Do you want some help, Mum?” I ask.

She doesn’t answer.

“Is Dad coming home for dinner tonight?”

She doesn’t answer me and starts stirring the noodles so quickly that some of them appear over the top of the pot, like they’re worms trying to escape. That thought kinda puts me off them.

Mum runs her hands through her hair and then finishes her drink from the tumbler. Her cheeks have gone red like they do when she hangs out washing in the winter.

“I’m going to have to cook something else,” she says, which secretly pleases me. “Why don’t you go play in your room for a little while?”

Upstairs, I decide to check 17 June 1979 on Wikipedia. It’s not that I need something to help me remember — I can type in the date into the search box without referring to my Cheat Sheet — but I’m interested in finding out.

Nothing happened on 17 June 1979. On 20 April 1979, though, someone called Jimmy Carter was chased by something called a swamp rabbit. I don’t know what that means, but it makes me laugh.

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I feel really weak when I get up this morning and when I tell Mum, she says she feels the same way. She tells me Dad’s already left for work, but he told her to say hello to me from him and he looks forward to seeing me soon.

“I miss Dad,” I tell her and I do. I miss sitting on the couch with him when we watch TV together.

“Do you think he misses you?” she asks. “Ben, you have to realise that people can be very selfish and cruel to each other. Even people who claim to love each other can do everything in their power to hurt one and other. Does that make sense? Do you understand?”

I nod, but I don’t really understand at all because when people love each other, that’s it.

“If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing,” I say. “It’s that simple.”

Mum smiles. “Do you want to stay home today? Make some cakes?”

I’ve got numbers to learn but Mum mustn’t find out about that so I agree. Besides, making cakes with Mum is better than gym class.

I learn my numbers when Mum is in the bath. Eight two one four, on my big calculator, makes a J. Eight oh eight makes an I. Six five one makes a lower case R. That spells JIr. I look it up on an online dictionary and find that the word doesn’t exist anywhere except on my big calculator. It’s not a word. It doesn’t mean a thing.

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Mum shouts on me to wake up.

“We’ve slept in,” she yells.

“I need to go to school today,” I tell her when I think she’s going to tell me I can have another day off.

“But you’re too late. You’ve missed the bus. And Mum has to go into town today to see her solicitor.”

Mum hasn’t called herself Mum since I was a little boy and it doesn’t suit her now.

“I need to go to school today,” I tell her again.

“Ben, you’ll stay home today. You’ll take your medication … you’ve been skipping it again … and you’ll sit nice and watch TV until Mum gets back from town. Then we’ll see about you going to school in the afternoon. How does that sound?”

It sounds rubbish and stupid and I hate the idea, but I don’t say anything. Instead, I wait for her to leave to see the person she needs to see in town and then I leave by the back door and walk as quickly as I can to school, even running some of the way, following the route the bus takes. I watch the driver every day so I’m good at finding my way.

When I get to school, Maths is about to start, so I’m just in time.

“You’ve just made it,” Mr Watt says to me but I don’t answer.

Instead, I walk up to Lorna Maxwell’s desk. As I’m walking there, I think about the triangles and the dialling codes and the moonwalks and the hip-hop dancers and the bubbles and the fairground horses and everything else. When I get to her desk, she looks up. Everyone else is looking at me, so I focus on the wall at the back of the room and take a breath so deep I think my lungs are going to pop.

“Three point one four one five nine two six five three five eight nine seven nine three two three eight four six two six four three three eight three two seven nine five oh two eight eight four one nine seven one six nine three nine nine three seven five one oh five eight two oh nine seven four nine four four five nine two three oh seven eight one six four oh six two eight six two oh eight nine nine eight six two eight oh three four eight two five three four two one one nine oh six seven nine eight two one four eight oh eight six five one. And the last ten are three two eight two three, which is a palindromic L shape and then oh six six four seven which reminds me of jelly. I’m not sure why.”

No one says anything for what feels like an hour.

“That’s pi to one hundred and twenty decimal places,” I say, just in case anyone was wondering.

“Fair’s fair,” Lorna says in a whisper. “Tonight. Seven o’clock. Outside the video shop,”

Then Mr Watt takes me out of class and although I know I’m in trouble, I can’t stop myself laughing. I’ve completed my task and won my prize.

When Mum comes to pick me up from the Headmaster’s office, she doesn’t say a word to me until we get home and even then she just tells me to go to my room. I hear her cry downstairs and wonder if her meeting in town didn’t go very well. I hope Dad will come home soon to help.

Some time later, when I’m hungry and bored now I don’t have a project, I creep downstairs. Mum’s not crying anymore, but she’s sitting in darkness in the lounge and doesn’t even have the TV on. I sit down next to her, expecting her to shout at me, but she doesn’t.

“Dad’s gone, isn’t he?” I ask, because no one spends that much time at work.

Mum nods.

“Is he going to come back?”

She shrugs.

“What’ll we do?”

She doesn’t answer. She doesn’t move.

We sit quietly on the couch and after a while, Mum puts her arm around me and we cuddle for ages. The clock on the video says one nine oh two, which doesn’t come anywhere in the first one hundred and twenty decimal places of pi.