Addition and Subtraction

He spoke a different language. Some kind of broken English. Always talked about simple math problems; adding, subtraction. Never talked in the abstract. Just simple two plus two equations. Sometimes he’d add one plus one, or, one minus one, but for the most part he said two plus two equals four over and over. He was like a broken record.

And then he’d count to ten. Real fast. Like he was playing hide and go seek. He thought he was communicating. Speaking in some kind of Esperanto. Nothing could be further from the truth. He just didn’t know any other words. Never learned his alphabet.

When he wasn’t adding, or, subtracting, the boy would be silent. Sitting in a chair watching television with the sound off. Looking at pictures on the screen. Sometimes his mother would bring him a sandwich. He’d count the slices of bread. Then he would take a piece of lunch meat off and subtract. Out loud. His mom would tell him what a good boy he was. And, how smart he was. He’d grin from ear to ear.

One day he got real mad. Frustrated at life. He began counting to ten over and over again. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Just kept repeating himself. This drove his mother crazy. She pleaded with the boy to stop, but, he kept on saying numbers. Mom turned off the television. He began to cry as he counted. It was all like some hypnotic drug he was addicted to. Counting and television. Tension grew. Mother told him to shut-up. Shut-up, she said. I’ve had enough, she screamed. He kept on counting as she began to collect clothes and pack them in a suitcase. I’m leaving, she told him. Done with this, mom declared. And, then she was gone.

The boy sat there in silence. He never counted again.

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