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Read an extract About the book
  • Published: 5 March 2019
  • ISBN: 9780143772859
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • RRP: $19.99

Invisibly Breathing

Extract

FELIX: SOLITARY MOON

A prime number is divisible only by itself and by one. If I were a prime number, I’d want to be a five. Five is also a Catalan number, which is another sequence of numbers that can be used to solve certain counting problems. Being a Catalan number is perfect, because I like the idea of being part of a solution, but also because that’s my surname.

When I looked up ‘five’ on the net, I learned it was also the first safe prime, the third Sophie Germain prime, and the third Mersenne prime exponent. If I said that out loud at school most people would call me a nerd or try to trip me up or something. But I like the way numbers can have secret superpowers.

 If I were a five, I’d be shaped like a pentagon, with sharp, perfect edges and rules that can’t be changed. A solid two-pronged base, with a pointy roof that reached for the sky.  There’d be magic in my walls, safety in my angles.

I wish I were a five. I wish I wasn’t the weirdest sixteen year-old guy in the universe.

There are one thousand steps between my house and school if I stick to my normal stride. Taking my usual pace, especially if I listen to the right music, I can time it  exactly to arrive at school just before the bell goes. Since I discovered Green Day, the most hard-core punk-rock band in the whole world, I haven’t really listened to anything else.

I can’t sing along when I’m walking to school, though, because I’m too busy counting. Usually I only sing whenI’m alone in my room. I don’t sing in the shower, like my little brother Alfie. I can’t stand listening to the drumming of water and the music at the same time, a riot in my skull. Today is the third week of February, the second week  of the school year. I’m scuffing my shoes through the grass, watching how the sunlight refracts off the dew. I’m so taken with the dew-spheres that I don’t see them until  they’re streaming around me, like tadpoles, or sperm. I flip my headphones off so they’re hanging around my neck, not because I want to hear what they’re saying, but so I can defend myself if I have to.

‘Hey, Catalan,’ Sam Birch drawls. ‘Whatcha listening to? The Wiggles?’

I want to punch his freckly face, but I got in major trouble when I did that last year, so I keep walking.

Henry Teoh, walking two steps behind him, emits a raspy laugh. I stick my headphones back on in a screw-you

 gesture, and let Billie Joe Armstrong sooth me with ‘Give Me Novacaine’.

Sam, Henry and a couple of year-twelve girls are nothing I can’t handle. I start walking faster, knowing they’re calling me ‘Freak-out Felix’ and ‘punk’behind my back.

 Which is so unfair, because I haven’t freaked out since last year.  Punk isn’t an insult anyway. Over summer I dyed my hair black and grew it longer so I could wear it mussed-up and semi-spiky, like Billie Joe from Green Day. His poster hangs on the wall above my bed. Just saying.

I try to start counting again, but I’ve lost track, and my thousand-steps-exactly is ruined. If I arrive at school and I’ve miscounted, my day is doomed to be crappy.

‘Damn it,’ I whisper. I’m going to be late, and there’s nothing I can do about it. After looking left-right-left-right-left, I cross the road and walk back home fast, six hundred and three steps.  When I reach our letterbox, I pause for a moment to look at the creek snaking along the bottom of our property, shiny like tinfoil, then our beige split-level house, the curtains flung open to the morning sun.

I take a deep breath, turn to face the street and start walking again. One. Two. Three. Four. Five . . .

 When I slide into my seat next to Bindi, it’s ten minutes after the second bell. Our physics teacher, Mr Campbell,  barely looks at me before the words ‘Friday detention’ leave his mouth. It’s no more than I expect. Rules are rules, and if everyone just obeyed the same rules all the time, my life would be a whole lot easier. Sometimes I wish someone would tell me what the rules are for talking to people so I can learn them, like lyrics to Green Day songs and physics formulae.

Last week we learned about gravity. Gravity is what makes pieces of matter clump together to form planets, moons and stars. It’s also the force that attracts any objects with non-zero mass. I was hoping we were going to talk  about the theory of relativity, which I read about over summer. Instead Mr Campbell told us about the boring basic stuff, like force equals mass times acceleration.

 Bindi says, ‘How come you were late?’

I glance at her. Bindi Cheung is only about a metre and a half tall, and wears her glossy black hair in a bob.

 She reminds me of the Lego Minifigures lined up on my bookshelf.

 ‘I had to go back for something.’ I don’t say, I went back to find the lost numbers.

Bindi might be my only friend  apart from Coke Anderson, who got sent to private school by his uptight parents this year, but even she isn’t above thinking I’m a nutcase.

‘Fair enough.’ Bindi offers me a stick of gum. ‘How was your weekend?’

I push the gum into my mouth. This is where I’m meant to say, ‘It was good’, just like you say ‘I’m fine’ when

someone asks how you are. But that would be a lie.

 ‘My parents had a really big fight on Saturday night, and didn’t speak to each other for twenty hours.’

‘Oh.’ Bindi pulls the ends of her cardigan over her fingers.

I can see she doesn’t know what to say to that. That’s why I hate small talk. No one really wants to know how you are.  When I look up, Mr Campbell is standing right beside me, wafting his garlic breath all over me.

‘Felix,’ he drawls, stroking his sandy moustache, ‘perhaps you can tell us how you worked this problem out.’ He waves his hand at the whiteboard, where he’s copied one of the questions from our homework assignment. It’s about a stone falling into a well, and how to determine the well’s depth from how long the stone takes to hit the bottom. Everyone in the class turns to look at me. My mouth feels as if all the saliva has been sucked out of it.

‘Didn’t do your homework either, huh?’ Mr Campbell asks. I hear a titter from the front of the room, Sam or one  of his dickhead friends probably. It’s not as if I don’t know the answer to the question, which I could practically do in  my sleep. But I’m scared if I open my mouth my voice will start shaking, that I’ll have another freak-out. Best to pretend I don’t know. I shake my head at him. He sighs, and strides towards the front of the room.

 ‘Can anyone help Felix out? Bailey? Are you able to tell us how deep the well is?’

I let out my breath as the class turns to look at the guy down the end of the bench from me. Bailey Hunter runs

a hand through his chocolate-brown hair, brushing long strands out of his eyes.

 ‘Um,’ he says, his eyes darting towards me. ‘One hundred and f-fourteen metres?’

‘F-fourteen,’ someone whispers. Bailey ducks his head, his cheeks scarlet. He’s new at our school this year, and this is probably only the second time I’ve heard him talk. I shoot red-hot arrows at Sam’s head with my eyes, hoping for it to burst into flames. No such luck.Mr Campbell’s hedge-like eyebrows draw together. ‘Not quite, Mr Hunter.’

I look at the exercise book in front of me, with the scribbled answer to the question, along with all myworkings. I look at Bailey, whose cheeks are still slightly  flushed, his eyes downcast. And I don’t know why, but I slide my book across to him. I stare straight ahead, my heart galloping. What did you do that for? You don’t even know him. Because I want him to see that if he’d multiplied the whole thing by 0.5, like he was supposed to, then he would have got the correct answer.

Mr Campbell spreads his hands. ‘Can anyone else enlighten me? Or did I waste my breath last Friday?’

I wait for Bailey to put his hand up. Of course he doesn’t, but while Jack Kirk stumbles his way to the right answer, Bailey slips my book back under my nose. I can feel Bindi giving me a look, but I don’t look at her, and I don’t look at Bailey. It isn’t until halfway through the lesson that I see the tiny writing in the bottom left-hand corner of the page, so small I have to squint to make out the letters: thanks anyway :)


Invisibly Breathing Eileen Merriman

'Eileen Merriman creates genuine teenage characters' - NZ Books

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