Usually on Thursdays I join in the 500 Club game at The Parking Lot Confessional. The prompt today didn’t get posted in time for me to play along. So I did the exercise on my own, choosing numbers as my theme, as that’s what I’m teaching my kiddo right now. It’s quick and dirty, but I hope you enjoy it.
One Hundred Sixty-Two
Don had long counted days and nights, counted pencils and paperclips. Counted the times he clicked the light switch on the left wall as opposed to the right. Counted the steps to the john. Counted eyelashes, sweater pills, dried leaves and bottles abandoned by the side of the road.
At the cafe, he sipped his cappu — only one-quarter foam — and scanned the day’s paper. One hundred sixty-two words with the letter O. He sipped the hot liquid, careful to avoid his thirty-first tooth, the back molar sensitive to heat.
The barista behind the bar, the one with the short hair and electric smile, set a cup on the counter and called out, “Double shot mocha latte for Abbey.” Don counted the seconds of her smile and wished to hear her say his name instead. Double shot mocha latte for Don. Five O’s, not four.
When he finished his coffee he returned to the counter– seven steps — and ordered ice water because he didn’t have money for tea. The barista handed him his order. She smiled but said nothing, and Don returned to his paper, disappointed.
He pounded the straw on the table — one, two, three — and wormed it free of the wrapper. The straw squeaked against the crosshairs of the lid. He sipped for a count of two, set the drink down and smoothed the wrapper out, spreading it wide across the table top. The sensation of the paper under his fingers reminded him of his mother, how she’d brush the wrinkles from the shoulders of his shirts. Don folded the wrapper in half and tore it at the crease. One became two. He lined the two up, folded them in half and tore them at the crease. Four. So on he went. Eight. Sixteen. Thirty-two. Until the pieces got too tiny to count. Then he scooped them into an empty Splenda packet and folded the top over, closed.
Fifty-six full-on sips to the bottom of the cup. Water done, Don folded his paper and walked fourteen steps to the front door.
Three grackles pranced beneath a tipu tree, its yellow blooms spent and crusting on the ground. Their random pattern made Don uneasy.
He took four steps toward the parking lot, avoiding the cracks in the paving stones, and stopped. He took a step half the distance of the last. And another half the distance of that. And another. A thought stuck lodged in his head and he struggled after it like a popcorn skin in his teeth.
Time had two parts, forward and backward, and the two parts made it whole. But he, right there at the cafe with the birds and sunshine and barista smile, could only exist in half of time. Only forward. A half-dimension. He inched forward, each step smaller as the number in his head incremented bigger. Creeping along, he understood the cruel joke no one else seemed to know. A half can never be whole.