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Ascendance Of A Bookworm - Chapter 12


Defeated by Ancient Egypt

About when I wasn't sure whether we were done or not with our preparations, winter flitted into the streets, and real, honest snow began to fall. During the winter, the entire neighborhood is locked in by the snow, so we're typically confined in our houses except on unusually clear days.

For me, if I have books to read, I can let myself be shut away forever, so whiling away the long winter months would be no trouble at all. I, however, don't have a single book. Will I be able to manage this long kind of isolation without them?

As the snow kept falling, it frequently turned into a full-blown snowstorm, forcing us to keep the doors and shutters tightly closed, with thick clothes stuffed into the crevices to try to shield us from the drafts just a little more.

’’...Uuuugh, it's dark,’’ I whine.

’’We're in a snowstorm,’’ says Tory, ’’there's nothing we can do about that.’’

The only sources of light in this locked-down apartment are a handful of candles and our stove. It may be daytime, but with our windows sealed so tightly not a single ray of sunlight can get in. This is my first time being in such a gloomy room without a single electric light to brighten it. Even when a hurricane knocked out my power, I had flashlights and the light on my cell phone for illumination, and they got my power restored very quickly. Trapped inside a gloomy room such as this, will I have no choice but to become gloomy myself?

’’Hey, Mommy, is everyone's house dark like this?’’ I ask.

’’Hmm,’’ she says, ’’If someone has a little money, they can have quite a few lamps lighting up their homes. We only have one, though.’’

’’Oh? Let's light ours, then!’’

My mother sighs and shakes her head at me as I try to insist that lighting equipment is meant to be used. ’’We want to be careful with our oil, so we should avoid using it whenever we can. If it stays this cold and if the winter drags on, we'll run out of candles eventually, and that would be a big problem, you know?’’

There's no counterargument to the way she talks about frugality. Come to think of it, my own mother in Japan was always talking about scrimping and saving and coming up with elaborate ways to spend as little as possible. To save electricity, she'd unplug the TV when it wasn't in use, although she'd then fall asleep with it on all the time. She'd brush her teeth the barest minimum of water to save on the water bill, yet she'd leave the faucet running constantly while washing the dishes... I wonder what she would do to lighten up this room, if she were in this situation.

’’Maine, what are you doing?’’ asks my mother.

’’I wonder if this will make the room just a little bit brighter...’’

I've grabbed one of my father's old metal gauntlets from his old wartime days, polished them up a bit, and placed it next to a candle, trying to use its metal surface like a mirror to maybe make it seem a little brighter.

’’Maine, stop that,’’ says my father.

’’I can't see what I'm doing,’’ says Tory.

Two people rejected me at the same time! Unfortunately, these gauntlets aren't straight pieces of metal, and you can't really say that they're anywhere close to being shiny. They caught the flickering candlelight with a strange, irregular reflection, glimmering harshly in our eyes and making it even more difficult to see what we were doing.

’’Ahh, it didn't work... I wonder if there's anything else I can use as a’’mirror’’...’’

’’Please don't do unnecessary things,’’ says my mother.

After being quite clearly asked to stop, I give up on my plans to brighten the room using reflections. It's not like I'm trying to read right now, but I still sigh, lamenting the poor visibility, and go huddle by the warmth of the stove.

Soon after, my mother starts assembling a loom for weaving fabric. This isn't like one of the enormous, mechanical weaver's looms I saw back in Japan. This is much more primitive. I had been wondering how she was planning on weaving cloth in this tiny room, but it looks like we do have something that's just the right size.

’’Tory, your baptism is coming up, so make sure you paying attention to this,’’ says my mother as she carefully instructs Tory on how to work the loom. Tory, with a serious expression on her face, picks up a spool of thread.

’’First, put the spool of thread here, then we prepare the warp. Run the thread straight through, like this...’’

Making clothing starts by first weaving cloth out of the thread that our mother dyed during the autumn. You weave the cloth, then you sew the clothing, then you embroider it. Next year, we're going to spin the thread too out of wool that we'll buy during the spring. The only thing that we actually purchased in this entire process was the raw materials. It doesn't look like you can just buy new clothing at a store, and fabric doesn't seem to be the kind of thing that commoners can afford.

’’That's right, just like that. You're a fast learner, Tory! Maine, do you want to try? If you don't learn how to sew, you'll never be called beautiful, you know?’’

’’Huh? Beautiful?’’

’’That's right! When it comes to making clothing for your family, it's important that they either look good to others or are very practical, you know? If you want to be beautiful, you need to know how to cook and sew.’’

Ahhh, then I shall never be beautiful. ...Wait, those conditions sound about right for being a good wife, but they've got nothing to do with being beautiful, right?

In my mind, clothing is something you buy in a store. When you go to the mall, each shop is overflowing with clothing of all sorts of styles and all sorts of designs. I never really showed much interest in clothing and picked outfits that would be good in more-or-less any situation, but even still my closet was full of choices. I didn't really have more than two or three items that were either mended or hand-me-downs.

Sewing is something that I learned in Home Economics in school, but even then I used an electric sewing machine to do it. The only time I used a needle and thread was when I needed to sew on a button. To be perfectly frank, if it's a woman's job during the winter to spin thread, weave cloth, and sew clothing for her entire family, that's going to be terrible. I have literally zero interest in doing any of that.

Oh, although, if I could maybe use cloth as a substitute for parchment, I'd weave as much as I needed.

’’Maine, don't you want to try?’’ asks Tory, from beside the loom.

’’No, maybe next time.’’

She may have been at the loom, but I don't think she wants to become a weaver. Tory seems to be more interested in becoming a seamstress's apprentice, so she wants our mother to teach her how to do needlework. I, however, am very small, so my hands aren't big enough, and, above all, I want nothing to do with any of that, so trying to teach me is entirely pointless.

’’Okay, Mom, I'm going to go work on weaving baskets. Make me some good clothes!’’

’’Of course, leave it to me. They'll be the most stunning clothes you've ever seen.’’

My mother, confident in her abilities as a seamstress, works with enthusiasm. Every season, all of the children who recently turned seven years old gather at the church for their baptism ceremonies, wearing their nicest clothes. It's the perfect opportunity for a mother to display their skill in preparing the perfect outfit for their child. Perhaps she's thinking of this as some sort of public presentation?

Smiling to herself, she selects a new thread to use as the warp, one that's much thinner than the one Tory had been practicing with.

’’This really is a fine thread,’’ she says, smiling wryly as she thinks about how much time it will take to weave it into cloth. ’’Tory's baptism is in the summer, so she'll be too hot if I use too think of a fabric, right?’’

’’It's still winter, though,’’ I say, ’’Won't Tory have gotten bigger by summertime?’’

In the summer, food is more plentiful and children tend to be healthier and move around a lot more, which I think helps them grow up faster. At least, that's what all of my measurements showed when I was growing up. If these clothes are made to fit now, then they'll be too small by summertime.

’’That's true, but I'll be able to make adjustments so they'll still fit just fine. What I'm more worried about is how small you are compared to your sister! I don't know if Tory's hand-me-downs will fit you for next year. I wonder what we're going to have to do then?’’

That is definitely something to worry about. Good luck, Mother.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, my mother had selected a slender thread that seemed a little more sturdy than one made of wool and started weaving, and Tory has already started working on weaving the baskets she hopes to sell in the springtime. My eyes are starting to adjust, just a little bit, to how gloomy this room is, so it's time for me to take the first step towards my ambitions and start working on making my pseudo-papyrus.

By weaving these grass fibers together, I'm definitely going to be able to make something kind of like a paper. I will never be outdone by the people of ancient Egypt! This is my battle to win!!

I lay out my fibers on top of the table. Back in Japan, I once wove a square coaster in a basket-weaving class. If I use that method, then making a postcard-size sheet will be the first step of my victory. I take my fibers, which are even thinner than the thread my mother's using in her weaving, and start weaving them together into rows and columns, tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

I may lack money, technology, and experience, but I shall fight on with my determination, my determination, and my determination!

Whoa, these are too tiny, I'm really straining my eyes. Ah! I messed up!

Tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

Tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

These fibers are so slender that it's not easy for me to undo any mistakes I make. I have to rip apart huge chunks of it. As I wrestle with these tiny fibers with gritted teeth, Tory puts her basket weaving aside and comes over to take a peek at what I'm doing.

’’Hey, Maine,’’ she says, ’’whatcha doing?’’

’’Hm? I'm making 'pseudo-papyrus'.’’

Tory takes another look at my handiwork, then tilts her head to the side with a puzzled look. It's clear by the expression on her face that she didn't understand anything I just said, nor can she figure out what it is I'm trying to do.

Yeah, it would be hard to figure out just from watching, huh? I haven't even managed to get one square centimeter together, so even I wouldn't be able to tell that this was going to turn into a pseudo-papyrus.

My mother glances over while she weaves her cloth, frowning at the tiny little motions I'm making with my fingers as I'm making my pseudo-papyrus.

Tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

Tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

’’Maine,’’ she scolds, ’’if you have time to play around, go help Tory with her basket-weaving.’’

’’Okay. When I've got some free time, I'll go help her, so please don't raise your voice.’’

I'm absolutely not playing around here, so I absolutely don't have any free time. In fact, this is the busiest I've ever been ever since I was reborn as Maine.

Ah! Another mistake! This is my mother's fault for raising her voice at me. Aaarrrrgh!

Tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

Tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

’’Maine, really, what are you doing?’’ asks Tory.

’’I just said, I'm making 'pseudo-papyrus'!’’

I don't have enough patience left to answer her nicely, so my response comes out a little bit curt as I put all of my attention into weaving things tightly tightly tightly tightly... It's not like I hate doing such fine work, and I'm doing something I actually want to do. I've got no choice but to persevere and keep powering through this.

Tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

Tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

’’Hey, Maine,’’ says Tory. ’’That's not going to be very big when you're done, you know?’’

’’I know!!’’ I snap.

I wasn't really intending to lash out like that, but Tory's observation hit a real sore spot and caused the words to fly out of my mouth before I could think about them. It's already been almost a day, but it's only about as big as my fingertip. I'm very aware of this fact.

Tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

Tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

The next day, I sit myself back down in front of my fibers, reminding myself of my determination, my determination. I'm absolutely not going to let Tory get under my skin today.

’’Hey,’’ she says, ’’what happened to that?’’


I'm not going to let her bug me. I'm not going to let her bug me. What?! It got all loose! Grr! I must still press on, even like this, even if my heart is breaking as I'm forced to make my repairs!

Tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

Tightly tightly tightly tightly tightly...

’’Hey, Maine ’’

’’Argh!’’ I yell, clenching my disintegrating pseudo-papyrus in my fist. ’’This is impossible! I can't do it! I've lost to this 'pseudo-papyrus'!’’

I'm discouraged to the point where I don't know if I'll ever be able to make this into even a postcard-sized sheet. I need to use extremely fine fibers if I want to make something that's dense enough to use as paper, but it is going to take such a ridiculously long time to make even a postcard-sized sheet. I don't think that there's any way I'll ever be able to prepare enough papyrus to make a single book.

Trying to make this postcard-sized papyrus also let me get a feel how the poorly final product would have turned out. The center of the sheet would have been tightly woven, but it would get looser and looser the closer you got to the edges, until it was full of tiny holes. There was no way I'd be able to actually write anything on the entire page.

’’UuuuUUUUUUuuuuugh... I failed... my papyrus plan failed...’’

Whether it's the gathering of raw materials, the difficulty of making it, or the raw time I'd need to spend per-sheet, there's no way I'd be able to mass-produce any of this. Even if I were to figure out how to make a perfect sheet, I couldn't make a book out of it.

’’Be quiet, Maine!’’ says my mother. ’’Stop playing with that grass and go make some baskets!’’

’’You can't make books out of baskets...’’

’’I don't have any idea what you've been talking about, but you failed, didn't you? That's enough of that, work on the baskets!’’

My mother's getting a little angry, so I'll go work on the baskets. After all that time weaving the tiny fibers together for my pseudo-papyrus, basket-weaving will be much simpler.

’’Tory, Mommy... told me to come help you. Gimme some materials.’’

’’Sure,’’ she says, smiling. ’’Let me show you how to do it.’’

With a rustle, she gathers up some materials to hand to me. As I take them, I shake my head distinctly.

’’No thanks, I already know how.’’


Tory blinks, curiously, at me. I put her out of my sight and get to work. The grain of the wood is long and straight, like bamboo. I carefully join everything together, tightly enough that no gaps will be able to form. My plan is to make something like a simple tote bag. I pour all of my efforts into my craft, still fuming about the failure of my pseudo-papyrus. Once I finish tightly weaving the bottom panel, I take a moment to calculate how I'm going to pattern the sides of the bag before I start weaving. I design handles into it as well so that it will be easy to carry without hurting yourself.

Where it would have taken me more than five days to finish a postcard-sized sheet of papyrus, it took me just one to make a tote bag. For something made by an unskilled child, it actually looks pretty decent.

’’Amazing, Maine!’’ says my mother. ’’I didn't know you were so talented at this. Perhaps you should be a craftswoman's apprentice in the future, hm?’’

’’Eh? That's, um...’’

My mother's eyes are twinkling with pleasure to see her basically good-for-nothing child display this sort of talent (?). I don't, however, have any plans to become a craftswoman. I have already decided that I am either going to be a librarian or work at a bookstore. Libraries and bookstores don't really exist in a world without books, though, so those jobs don't really exist either, but that's just one small problem.

’’Ooooh,’’ whines Tory, ’’Maine, how are you so good at this?’’

Tory compares the basket she made with the one that I did, a dejected look on her face as she sees the difference in quality.

’’Tory,’’ I say, ’’don't worry. If you weave it really tightly and use a pattern like this one, it'll turn out okay!’’

Because, really, the difference here is actually a difference of experience. I used to take the advertising inserts out of newspapers, roll them up, and use them as raw materials to make little junk-art boxes in my spare time. I never would have thought that it would ever come in handy, though.

’’Oooooooh... why's Maine better than meeee...’’

Uh oh. I've made a mess of her pride as an older sister. Even though it's much easier for me if Tory treats me like her protege than her rival, I still messed it up.

’’Um, uhhhh... oh!! Old lady Gerda taught me how to do it when I was left at her place. I'm always doing it over there when you're in the forest, so I guess I'm getting pretty good. But when I'm making baskets, you're doing other things, so you're good at a lot of things that I'm not, right?’’

I have never had to cheer up a crying child before, so I'm in a little bit of a panic right now. I'm trying very hard to explain things to her, hoping to cheer her up myself, but, honestly, I don't really even know what I'm talking about.

’’...I guess you're right.’’

I don't know how much of that story she's bought, but she cheered up a little bit when I reminded her that there's things she's better at than I am.

’’Right!’’ she says, ’’I'm going to make a lot of them this winter, and I'm going to get better than you!’’

’’Okay! Do your best, Tory!’’

I breathe a sigh of relief now that Tory's mood has swung back around. Living like this is hard enough already, and doing so without Tory's help would be even worse. If she always just told me to do it myself, I'd be in serious trouble. I am very glad that I got her to cheer back up.

’’Ah, Tory! If you use pull a little bit harder here, you can straighten things out and make it look a lot neater.’’

I may be good at basket weaving, but I'm still so empty inside. All I really want is a book.

I'm sitting next to Tory as she weaves her basket and explaining some of the tricks. I keep staring at my failed pseudo-papyrus, though. Papyrus isn't going to work, so what is my next step going to be? Through the winter, as I help Tory make baskets, I contemplate my future options.

Egypt has failed me. The difficulty level is far too high for a child like me.

If Egypt is no good, then what's my next idea? Mesopotamia!

Inventors of cuneiform! Bakers of clay tablets! Three cheers for Mesopotamian civilization!

Sure, they were ravaged by war and by fire, but their clay tablets survived. I'll make clay tablets, carve my writing into them, and bake them in the stove. This can work! Plus, since I'll be kneading clay to form it into these tablets, I can easily pass it off to the adults as just a child playing with clay.

I've decided! Come springtime, when the snow melts, I'll make clay tablets!!


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