Carry the Ones

Submitted into Contest #12 in response to: Write a story about a character with a sidekick.... view prompt

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by Lucy Lehman


           He was almost out the door with his scooter when he heard Julie say, “Can you help me please, Scott?”  Though he was itching to race with his friend Matt who was waiting outside, he stopped at the table where she was sitting. “Can you check my multiplication? I’m not sure I did this problem right.”  As he leaned over her shoulder to look at her worksheet, her blond curls tickled his cheek. 

  “You were multiplying 79 by 22 and got 1,628?” He checked the figures. “No, that’s not right. The correct answer is 1,738. You forgot to carry the ones.  You multiplied two times nine correctly but forgot to carry the digit one from eighteen into the tens and hundred columns. I’ll show you.”   He put the scooter by the door and sat down next to her.

Although Julie was eleven and Scott nine, she’d always had trouble learning, and he understood more in second grade than she did in fourth. He’d heard teachers whisper the words learning disability  when they talked to Mom about her, but  he didn’t understand what that meant. She was just his older sister.  Why should he care that she wasn’t good with schoolwork? She always tried her best. They both knew that their Mexican babysitter, who spoke little English and watched TV most of the day, wasn’t capable of doing much more than fixing lunch. Marta watched them while Mom was working. She was nice but unable to be of help with homework.  Mom wouldn’t get home until seven and was often too tired to help with assignments.

“As usual I screwed up!” Julie said. Her cheeks were damp with tears that she brushed away with the back of her hand.  “Why is this so hard for me?” When he showed her how to add the ones, she whispered, “I always forget to do that. I’m sorry.” She sniffled and said, “Beam me up, Scotty.”  It was Julie” signal she needed reassurance.

“You’re on The Enterprise and in command now, Captain,”  he said. She smiled; the phrase always cheered her up.  “Try the other five problems. I’ll check them later. It’ll get easier now you understand what you did wrong.” He placed the hair clinging to her cheek, still damp with tears, behind her ear. She tried to kiss him, but he ducked and pushed back his chair. Grabbing his scooter,  he ran outside to find Matt waiting on the sidewalk. 

  Scott’s first memories were always of Julie. They’d watched Star Trek reruns most evenings since he was four and she six, and they still cuddled most nights on the couch, his head cradled in her lap, to watch TV.  They’d viewed so many episodes that they knew the dialog by heart and recited the words together with the characters. Sometimes he imagined they were traveling in their own spaceship, discovering new planets and galaxies.  He daydreamed that they could pilot The Enterprise without any assistance if they ever had the chance.  

It was Julie who’d showed Scott how to dunk Oreo cookies in milk when he was just a toddler. He remembered the taste of the butter cream melting between his teeth. It felt like a divine gift. They still ate the cookies when they could, but Mom didn’t like them to have too many sugary foods.  When she did buy them, they would have a picnic in their back yard and munch on them, pretending that they were astronauts visiting a planet where all the inhabitants ate only Oreos.  

Julie had taught him so much, so what was the big deal if he had to help her for a change?  It was to her that Scott ran when he fell off the scooter and cried. When he woke up screaming after a nightmare, it was she who comforted him by singing silly songs, not Mom, who had to get up at five for work. Mom was always tired and often lacked patience when he needed it. Julie herself had endless patience.  

He would check her multiplication later and make sure she didn’t make any more mistakes, but right then he hungered to be outside. He knew she would be waiting patiently at the table when he got home, but he also knew she’d be there if he fell and skinned his knee again. That was enough for him to help carry the ones and face any other equations in life that needed solving. Their spacecraft would protect them.

He liked to pretend that his scooter was a rocket that followed The Enterprise on its journeys. “Let’s race to the outer bounds of the universe,” he yelled to Matt. “First man to the end of the block wins. Ready, set, go!” He braced his left foot on the sidewalk and pushed off, knowing that Julie was waiting patiently and watching him from the window.









October 19, 2019 16:59

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1 comment

Douglas Maxson
17:21 Oct 31, 2019

It is always cute to use an animal as some form of a villain. I didn't suspect it, but I think it's been done many times. I think the story would have been more of a surprise if you led the reader believing the dog did the stealing but ended with a twist of another character.


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