Marissa’s young face furrowed in concentration as she stood, holding the musty book. She propped elbows against hips to support its great bulk.
“The Spell of Knowledge,” she intoned, mimicking Ada’s stern recitations. But she spared a glance out the wide window, which flooded the cramped library room with late morning sun. It was springtime, outside.
Marissa shifted uncomfortably as she bore the book’s weight. Why did all these spells have to be bound in a single heavy volume? Shouldn’t there be a better way to organize them?
“First invocation,” Ada commanded. She studied Marissa intently from the dim corner where she sat, plump hands folded on her russet robe. Marissa’s own coarse sleeves itched at her wrists, but she knew better than to try and scratch.
“H, T, T, P,” she pronounced. “Colon!” Now she raised her left arm and chopped the air twice, quickly, so as not to drop the spellbook. “Slash, slash!”
Her gestures were sloppy, she knew, but Ada said only, “Second invocation.”
Marissa hesitated. “It says ‘Optional,’ Madam.”
“You will know the long forms as well as the short.”
“Yes, Madam.” It was a brief line anyway. “Double-U, double-U, double-U.” She stabbed the air. “Dot!”
Sternly now, drawing out the two syllables of the word of power. “GOO-gle.”
“And the coda.”
“Dot co. Dot U, K.”
“You may sit.”
Marissa sat down more quickly than was proper, resting the book on her lap and rubbing the fire from her biceps. “How was that?” She nearly added, Can I go outside now? but thought better of it.
Ada sighed. “Dearest Marissa,” she said. “I love you like my own daughter, but I worry what will become of a girl who cannot focus her mind on these crucial tasks. You know we are the only tome-readers left in this village. Your brother is out toiling in the corn field, sweating under the sun. Without the proper daily recitations, for Fortune and Increase and even Knowledge, the crops will die and his hard work will be for nothing. Mind, I said proper recitations, with purpose and a full heart, and a focused spirit.”
Marissa slumped in disappointment. There would be no escape this morning. “Did I not read the passage correctly, Madam?”
“Correctly? Hmph! Do you suppose correctness is all a spell requires? It isn’t just the words, child. You must mean it from your toes to your scalp. But you would rather be out there, playing in the yard with your…your strange toys…”
“They aren’t toys!” Arguing never worked, but she couldn’t help herself. “They’re the pieces of an old transistor radio, from before the Worldfire. If I could just put them together right, I know I could…well, I don’t know what, but those old machines have to do something!”
Ada rose. “Do you know the story of your name, Marissa?”
“Yes, Madam.” If she was getting the name lecture, there was definitely no escape this morning.
“Your namesake was Marissa Mayer, the great sorceress. She, too, lived before the Worldfire. She helped write the Google spells, and she led the wizards of Yahoo. She had a purpose, child. A passion for her work, for her magic. Do you think she wasted her time on these, these…what did you call them? Transistors?”
Marissa bowed her head, though not with humility. She was hiding the rebellion in her eyes. But she stayed silent.
“Study the tomes, child,” said Ada. “There will be time enough later for games.”