Andrea looked up from her computer screen, scowling. “You mean to tell me that your father and I saved for eighteen years so that you could pursue a degree in English”
William swallowed. Croaked out a yes that was more a question than response. He tried on a grin. “It’s your fault, yours and Dad’s. For naming me.”
Andrea shook her head. “That was your grandfather’s doing.”
“Grandfather Pauling? You never told me that.”
Andrea rolled her eyes and took a sip of the coffee on her desk, grown cold, she noticed. How long had she been working on this design? “I wanted to forget it.”
Another grin. “What happened?”
“I was nine months pregnant with you. He was very ill; not expected to live. He begged your father and me to let him name you. Of course we agreed. He was sick, after all. And we thought he’d name you something sensible. Something to carry on the family name.”
William laughed. “William Shakespeare wasn’t what you’d counted on?”
“That’s the thing, William. You can’t count on words. Words are just…invention. Science. Math. Now those are worthy majors.”
“Numbers make sense. Numbers add up to something. Always. See…” Andrea pointed her mouse over the drawing on her screen and clicked. “Without numbers we wouldn’t be able to build walls or roofs or ceilings.”
William rolled his eyes. He’d heard it all before. What with his father, the nuclear physicist and his mother the architect, he’d been surrounded by numbers as long as he could remember.
“Mom, words are beautiful. Language is beautiful.”
“Mathematics is the universal language. Who said that?” She tipped her head, trying to remember. “Doesn’t matter,” she continued. “Your words can be split like the atom into ever smaller pieces. Your books can be broken down into paragraphs, which can be broken down into sentences, which can be further broken down into individual words. And then, guess what William?”
“I can represent each of those letters with two numbers.” She held up two fingers; gestured to emphasize her point. “Two! Zero and one. I can take an entire book and reduce it to numbers. Numbers can explain the universe. Try that with your words.” She sat back, triumphant and crossed her arms.
William sat in silence for a moment. Words weren’t as simple as his mother thought. Numbers, well, numbers behaved, if you knew how to tame them, which he did not. But words—words were unreliable. Words were a surprise. You could string words together in entirely new ways and come up with something entirely different. And words…"Mom?"
By now, Andrea had returned to her universe of numbers. “Yeah?” She didn’t bother to look up from her screen.
“Words can be used to explain the soul.”
She glanced at him from over her reading glasses. Clicked her mouse. “Well, there is that,” she conceded, before turning back to the design on her computer screen.
For the Scriptic
prompt exchange this week, Michael Webb
gave me this prompt from Hemmingway Cutthroat: A Mystery by Michael Atkinson: "Words add up, too, but not meaningfully unless you think they should. They won't line up like bricks do, creating a strength of wall due to their essential shape and integrity. Words each have a hundred shapes and natures, and you have to see, almost like God what's going to come of it before you even begin."
The quote continues as follows: What grows between the words. "If there's a gift to this, that's it--the knack of seeing the algebra of a story before it's written."
I gave Jester Queen
this prompt: Beneath the surface.
Labels: Fiction, scriptic.org