Mathematical Expressions

by Bruce Harris

From the top of the dirt pile he watched the search party disbanding. His older brother would have known where to look. To his right, recently constructed foundation framed a dead mouse. He licked olive oil off the inside of his wrist. The last of the rescuers vanished from sight. Too bad his older brother was gone. He turned his attention to the one remaining slice of pizza. It was too wide, funny wide. He pictured the perfect equilateral triangle if the crust side were stretched flat. He regretted not having packed more than one doughnut. He was too hungry to preserve the wide slice, so he found a stick and very carefully made three dark marks on the greased stained waxed paper, one at the point and the other two at the imagined stretched out corners. He planned to stay out another night but changed his mind and ran toward his house with the waxed paper carefully folded in his back pocket. He ran near the oak tree where the old skinny homeless man used to sit propped up, his crooked back leaning against the tree's knobby trunk. His brother said the man was once the school janitor but that he drank too much and then one day he was gone. There was always a golf ball sitting on a tee near the old man's left ankle when he sat under the tree. Everyone joked it was his "The Doctor Is In" sign. He'd take the ball with him when he rode his bicycle. Plastic bags, torn and knotted, filled with dirty clothes and newspapers hung from both sides of his bicycle, which leaned against the backside of the tree when the homeless man rested. A pinwheel was stuck in the rear wheel's spokes and an American flag in the front. All that remained of the old man now was a flattened area of brown grass at the base of the tall oak. From a distance, it appeared to be a shadow. Up close, it was as if police tape had been applied to the ground, forming a body. The boy had seen that many times on television. The old man would sit at the foot of the oak tree and count. Everything. Cars, passersby, ants, leaves, bicyclists, it didn't matter. The boy paused and remembered the old man and pretended that he was still there, golf ball at his ankle, sitting and counting. The boy smiled, thinking that he was the fastest runner the old man would have counted that day. He started up again. Nearing his house, he had forgotten why he was running. Ignoring the police, cameras, trucks, neighbors, friends, and family he hadn't seen in years, he barely noticed his mother or his father. His father was holding hands with a woman with lipstick. He'd seen her somewhere, maybe in school, maybe the math department. Radios cracked. In his bedroom he shouted, "I need a ruler!"

BIO: Bruce Harris is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type, published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box. He enjoys relaxing with a Marxman.