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Fiction

“Where's Mom?”

“Hi, kiddo.”

“You never call me kiddo. Where is she?”

“Hi, Jake!”

“Where’s Mom?”

“I wanted to pick you up today.”

“Why are we walking?”

“Is your backpack too heavy? Do you want me to hold it? Are Dads still holding backpacks these days?”

“Dad, where did you park?”

“I didn’t park anywhere. We’re taking the Blue Line.”

“Why?”

“Because bus conversations are the best.”

“It will take an hour to get home! Blue Line!? What the freak?”

“I used to walk three miles to elementary, in all kinds of weather.”

“Yes, you told me a thousand times. And your shoes were broken...”

“My shoes were broken, and my feet were all wet until Calculus class. But then it didn't matter because I was entranced and time stopped. Hey, don’t roll your eyes!”

“Dad, I’d prefer to walk three miles through rain and snow than ride one station on the Blue Line. We might get stabbed or robbed or killed. Asphyxiated by the smells, for freak’s sake!”

“That’s a new little habit, using the f word in every sentence?”

“It’s freak. It’s benign.”

Benign? I’m impressed by the fancy vocabulary they teach you in the third grade!”

“Dad, I’m in the sixth grade. Mariposa Canyon Middle, see that sign over there?”

“Since when don’t you appreciate a cool Dad joke?”

“Since driving every day with Mom. She’s always serious, you know.”

“Not always, what about when she threw that Partial Derivatives themed party?”

“Dad, Mom never makes jokes, not even lame jokes like you.”

“Let’s pick up the pace, the bus arrives in 3 minutes.”

“How many stations?”

“Century, Pico, La Brea.”

“How long until we get home?”

“We should be home in 45, give or take.”

“What bus are we taking?”

“720, the Big Happy Blue bus. Tell me about it.”

“Dad, not now, the school day is over.”

“Come on, Jake. You like numbers, give your old Dad some arithmetic delight.”

“Ok, 720. Divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9. The product of three consecutive numbers.”

“The product of…hey, nice touch!” 

“Where’s Mom?”

“Look, the bus! Run for it! Give…me…your…backpack…looks…heavy.”

“Dad, I run much, much faster than you.”

“Huh, what a…run. Let’s sit here, under the AC.”

“It smells like sanitizer and a little bit of muck.”

“I love it!”

“Well, we might not die by asphyxiation today, but we might still get knifed to death, I mean look at that red eyed guy there.”

“Jake, are you afraid of the commuters now? It’s just a ride home, bud.”

“How much is a ticket? Ten dollars?”

“$3.75. For both. That’s exactly why we take the bus.”

“Because it’s cheap?”

“No.”

“To huddle with the house cleaners, jobless and homeless?”

“No, even though there’s nothing wrong with any of the categories you mentioned.”

“Who walks around with quarters in their pocket anymore?”

“More people than you think.”

“Why did we take the freakin’...the bus, Dad?”

 “You need to be more aware, Jake. Some people can’t afford a car, some can’t even afford the bus fare.”

“Dad, I don’t want a social studies lesson. School day is over. Puhleeease.”

Next, Century. Century Station. Exchange to Purple Line or Red Line, bus 64. Hope you enjoy the ride!”

“So Mom is home?”

“No, she’s at the car shop. She had some car trouble this morning.” 

“Again?”

“You know Mom’s driving.”

“It’s not her driving that scares me.”

“She scares you?”

“Sometimes.”

“How?”

“Why aren’t we at Century yet? What’s taking so long?”

“How does Mom scare you?”

“She wants me to be like her.”

“A disastrous cook?”

“A prodigy. And I’m not. When she drives me to school every day, out of the blue, she asks me all kinds of weird math questions that I haven’t learnt yet. Like this morning, she asked me what’s an iso-frankenstein something.”

“Isomorphism?”

“Something like that. I didn’t know, and Mom was upset. She said it was hard to get used to me being an average kid.”

“Well, she has the right to be upset, you know? In my time, they taught Advanced Algebra in second grade”

“Dad!”

“Hey Jake, stop that.”

“Stop what?”

“That compulsive thing, with your index finger scratching your thumb.”

“You do it, too.”

“Yes, that’s how I know it hurts horribly, and it gets out of control.”

“Ok, I stopped it.”

“What else does Mom say?” 

“Not much. On the way to school, she plays a podcast about gifted kids of all sorts.”

“Gifts, what kind?”

“The other day, the episode was about a mom who wouldn’t let her kid watch TV before he answered math questions. Difficult ones.”

“Like what?”

“Recognize perfect cubes.”

“You mean numbers to the power of three?” 

“Yes.”        

“Like 1, 8, 27, and others like these?”               

“Exactly.”

“And what grade was the kid in question?”  

“Kindergarten.”

“And was he good at reciting perfect cubes?”  

“Yes.”

“And I assume the mother of the perfect–cube–kid was happy, and the kid knew that only those cubes made him worthy of his mom’s affection?”   

“Dad, you mean being a non-prodigy is ok?”    

“Yes.”

“Despite you and Mom being both math wizards?”

“And despite Mom being a much better mathematician.” 

“Really?”

“Yes, even if I hate to admit it.”

“When are we at Pico? Why so slow?”

“Jake, stop that! You are flaying your fingers!”

“Dad, I just thought…how come that you were free in the middle of the day and picked me up when Mrs. Danes could have done it instead?”

“I lost my job, Jake, that is why.”

“Dad!!!”

“I know, the jobless creatures in the bus.”

“You had this job for, wait–how long?

“Three?”

“Weeks–not years, not months–just three weeks!”

“I know, Jake, in only three weeks one gets tired of spending day after day talking to machines, programming them, teaching the machines, well–teaching them humanness.”  

“So that happens to math prodigies, they fail?”

“Sometimes.”

“Dad, it might not be bad after all.”

“No, luckily mom’s university tenure is rock solid.”

“I mean, you are either looking for a job or working late, and you are never around! And Mom is lonely and becomes obsessed with transforming me into a prodigy.” 

“Yes, Jake, it’s not that bad, I will be around more, more bus rides, maybe even trains.”

“Dad, you broke it!”

“Broke what?”

“The rule! The word count–perfect cubes!”

“You mean numbers to the power of three?’ 

“Yes Dad. Since you said that exact phrase, the word count of what each of us says is a perfect cube, either a 1 or an 8 or a 27.”

“But not in base 6!”

“Dad, you can’t trick me. I was counting, and you were counting.”

“There’s always someone counting in our family. And now look who sounds like a prodigy, Jake.”

“So Dad, why were the angles invited to the party?”

“Finally, you’re telling a good joke?”

“Dad you know, or you don’t.”

“Because they were acute? See, you can’t beat me! Do you know the one with the augmented circles?”

“Yes. It’s not appropriate for children.”

La Brea. La Brea station. End of Blue Line. Transfer to Orange Line, bus 83, which—you guessed it—is a prime number. CalTrans hopes you enjoyed the ride!”


February 25, 2023 04:47

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8 comments

Kestrel Baker
22:47 Mar 01, 2023

Hi Alina, I love how the kid points out the perfect cubes word count. I think that is a super interesting part in the story, because it shows how the kid is very smart but still doesn't feel like a prodigy. I also really like the joke at the end of the story, I feel like it ties in to the start when you don't know anything about the characters, while also incorporating the math/prodigy themes that were developed throughout. One part I wasn't sure about was when the dad said that he was impressed with the vocabulary the kid learned 'in the ...

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11:44 Mar 02, 2023

Hi Kestrel, you are right, now that I detach from the story I can see how the 'third grade' line can signal an absent father, or even divorced parents, because it's very close to the beginning. My intention for it was to be a joke, a 'lame Dad' joke like the boy says, a bit naive maybe - but this is the style. Thank you so much for reading my story, I wasn't sure that the 1, 8 and 27 word count dialogue lines were very clear. Can't wait to read yours!

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Wally Schmidt
03:41 Feb 28, 2023

Welcome to Reedsy Alina-your're off to a good start! I really like the relationship between the Dad and his son that you created and the subtext of math running through the dialogue. The son's self-consciousness with the father around others is almost palpable until he realizes the father's plight and softens. Looking forward to reading more of your work

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09:00 Mar 01, 2023

Thank you, Wally, looks like I'm in very good company here on Reedsy!

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Wendy Kaminski
04:30 Feb 27, 2023

Wow, Alina! This was great dialogue, and I loved that you put the math in there, too - though, I felt kinda bad when the kid said "She said it was hard to get used to me being an average kid." DOH. :) I really enjoyed your story, though, and welcome to Reedsy! :)

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18:15 Feb 27, 2023

Thank you for reading, Wendy!

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Max Russell
20:12 Feb 25, 2023

Great story through just dialogue! I liked the the family dynamic and banter. The ending was nice too. It came full circle regarding why the father started conversation with his son.

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02:32 Feb 27, 2023

Thank you for the kind words!

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