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It’s a dark and stormy night at the numbers mansion, and a whiiiiiirling, swiiiiirling wind
swoops SWISH! around the decimal trees, wolfs OOOOOOOWW! around the curving drive and smacks KNOCK! upon the mansion door. You knock on the door together.
“A tragedy has occurred!” yells a voice from inside. It’s X, master of the numbers mansion, and he opens the door with a grim expression crossed on his wrinkled face.
“A mystery at that,” you reply, as he stands facing you. “Namely one big bite has been taken out of Nine, correct?”
Who did it? That's what X has called you in to figure out.
Fellow comrades, letters numbers and various punctuation marks. I present to you. Who. Ate. Nine?
All of a sudden, you hear from farther in the house, “Seven did not eat Nine! Preposterous!”
Four appears from the backroom, and stands in the doorway panting.
“Why, Nine is alive and well right here!” she proclaims, dragging a sobbing Nine out of the shadows and into the great room with the other Numbers.
“A chunk of my head less well, I’d say!” Nine shrieks! Oh the terrible sounds Nine makes when she gets into a tizzy!
“They’ve taken oh so much of me- I’m practically Three!” she whines.
“Hey!” retorts the quiet Three, his feelings greatly injured.
“Enough!” shouts the world weary X. “A grave and serious crime has been committed today. You there! You’ll solve this mystery for us, won’t you? I won’t have this go down in history that Seven ate Nine without a proper investigation!”
“Me? But what can I possibly do?” you reply.
“What can you possibly do? What can you possibly do?!” Nine screeches, growing quite agitated.
“Now, now Nine we’ve called in just the one for the job,” X consoles her, “You’ve many wondrous talents perfect for solving a mystery such as this!”
You watch as X walks away from where you stand just at the threshold of the Numbers Mansion. He turns back towards you, “Well, aren’t you coming?”
“Here, this is all the evidence we’ve accumulated so far.”
X’s crosses to the back of his study, past bookshelves of all sorts and sizes and around tables of different shapes. He shuffles over to the grand fireplace along the back wall and pulls a secret lever hidden behind one of the books.
With a great cloud of dust and a CREEAAAAAAAAAKKKKKK and a BANG! the fireplace flips up revealing a secret compartment, filled with files of all kinds.
Out of the top most Top Secret drawer X pulls this:
“And the most top secret piece of it all…” X whispers as he places a page from the file into your hands.
“If you can solve that… then there might be some hope. Sadly, no one here has any idea how. I’m just a simple X, but all of the other numbers would rather fight about who’s more important than solve the problem on the note.”
Hmmmmm, you think. I might know just the tools for the job.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
“Oh, this is quite enough excitement for one day, thank you very much! I’ve never felt so off in my life!”
Just as you reach the door, it opens as if pushed by a strong wind. The crowd behind you gasps! Six figures stand in the doorway, aligned in a very particular order.
“You called? PEMDAS here, special service unit. Someone at the mansion said you’ve got a problem to solve?”
“I did! I called!” you exclaim.
“Hello, there friend!”
“We’ve not seen you in a…”
“Geometry told us….
“...that you’d forgotten all about us!”, they say, quite in pieces, Parentheses speaking first as always and the others following suit.
“I know! I’m sorry… but I need your help! There’s a note, and we need to solve it. I just knew you’d come!”
“Anything for you, my dear, now let’s see this note shall we?”
“But who goes first?” shouts Parentheses upon seeing the note.
“Why you of course,” you respond, at which he pushes ahead of the team. “And then Exponent, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction!”
“Me next! Me next!” yells Exponent, grabbing at the note.
“And us!” shout Multiplication and Division in unison, rushing forward to take a look.
“And us as well!” yells Addition, running forward, Subtraction lagging behind her.
“Hey,” you whisper to X, “What’s wrong with Subtraction? He’s looking awful suspicious over there behind Addition. His hands are shaking and he’s positively sweating!”
It’s true. Subtraction looks terrible.
“Alright team we’ve almost solved it out. Who did you say was next?”
“No it isn’t! I didn’t do it!”
“We mean it’s your turn, Subtraction! What’s gotten into you?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing, don’t mind me. I’m a little on edge as of late. I won’t even bother to look I’m sure I’d be of no help,” he muttered back.
X looks to Subtraction with a disappointed grimace, and then turns to you.
“Well, you’ll solve it for me won’t you?”
And from the back corner of the room, the quiet three whispers, “Yeah, you’ll solve it for X, right?”
“Well, I guess so. This can’t be all that hard if I really put my mind to it. Now let’s think, if I have Nine of one thing,” you say, gesturing to Nine to come to the front, still sniffling a bit, “and I take three away,” you say, as meek little three steps up to play his part, “... then the answer is _________!” you exclaim!
The whole room gasps! Six committed the crime?!
“It was not me! It was Seven, I swear! You’ve done the calculation wrong! Ask subtraction, he’ll tell you! Seven’s always been a little odd- so pompous and pretentious because of that one extra number. It wasn’t me! It couldn’t have been me! I’m the smallest perfect number!” Six cries, turning as he does to dash towards Subtraction.
“Oh, I can’t take it anymore!” yelps Subtraction. “It was us! Six and I! Six plotted it and I did it- he’s never liked the bigger numbers and I just love taking pieces of things away. O forgive us! Forgive us!” he shouts, falling to his knees. Six jumps away, and runs towards the door as fast as his little legs can carry him.
“Get Six!” X shouts, and you leap into action, barreling towards the door and cutting Six off just in time.
“Why, Subtraction... it was you all along?! But… but how could you?” stutters Addition.
“O, please forgive me, dear Addition. You are my greatest friend, but it’s in my nature! Oh, now I regret it terribly! I do wish there was something I could do,” Subtraction sighs.
“Let’s think, friends. We can sort this out,” you say. “Six! Give nine back her missing piece!”
“It wasn’t me! This isn’t fair! This isn’t even!” yells Six in return, scrambling in your hold.
“Quick, Subtraction, take it away!” you cry out. Hearing your words, Subtraction jumps into action, grabbing back from Six the piece he’d stolen.
“Nice work, Subtraction!” sings the very generous Addition, forgiving her friend for his mistake. “Give it here!....Almost done…There!” shouts Addition, “It’s perfect!”
“Oh, oh it’s just divine!” shrieks Nine, “That Subtraction, I never doubted him for a second, just like his father, I knew him well… Linus the Minus… grand old fellow...,” Nine’s shrill voice fades out as she heads off further into the house, congratulated by fellow numbers as she passes them.
You look back from Nine’s newly patched and retreating head to see X standing before you, a large grin upon his wrinkled face.
“Well done! Well done! Positively splendid work! See, I knew you could do it! I just knew it!”
“Well, I did have a bit of help...” you reply, shrugging your shoulders and raising your eyebrows.
“Even more the better!” X exclaims! “Asking for help is an entirely wonderful way to solve a problem-- it’s how I found you, after all! PEMDAS and you have done excellent work here, detective, and by the power vested in me as ruler of the Numbers Mansion, I grant you your official detective’s license!”
“Wow,” you reply, “I don’t even know what to say,”
“Ah!” X murmurs with a warm smile, “Sometimes, my friend, just sometimes.... words aren’t even necessary.”
I’ve always hated math.
To me, there was always that nagging lack of creativity in arithmetic.
Why must I find X? Someone’s already done it.
But there it is- that’s the process; that’s the equation. (You) give (me) a (question). One that you already know the answer to. One that’s already been solved so many million bajillions of times that it’s worn out on the page in the workbook. It’s tired. I’m tired. But still (I) give (you) an (answer). And once I find it (or don’t), I’m either right, and move on away from it, or I’m wrong, and you look at your page, and then back at mine, and make a big red X with your pen in that last fatal stroke of irony. So now I’ve found X.
But I’ll admit it, at that, the dirty little secret of most students- I’ve always mostly just cared about the grade. That process that had so encouraged me to cut and snip problems down to the bare essentials- to the final answer, a number- left me caring about products in an entirely different manner than intended. Namely, those products of mine, those numbers or letters in a column on a black and white sheet. My grades. First to second to third grade, from problem set to pop quiz, from ELA to CTP, SAT, ACT- let’s be honest here- I was not taking calculus to stretch the mental capacities of my mind; I was doing it to get into college. And when I sat in my second column third row desk of Mrs. Knight’s class and answered “Of course,” to her question of “Aren’t integrals exciting?”, there was nothing there save the simple solving for a predetermined X.
But let’s give the numbers a chance here- let’s set up an equation. Here’s the formula: ask a person--anyone--what their favorite book as a child was. We could even put it in a table if you’d like. F of X = Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. You will receive snaps and sighs and well-remembered smiles, dusted off.
In my mind, there was never any equivalent function to this for memories of arithmetic. There exist superstitions, of course; there are favorite numbers, lucky numbers, the fear of six or the love of seven or three. But those in search of a nostalgic grin--of a memory of warmth and body--might seek forever in the land of numbers for what a mere mention of words might evoke.
So that leaves me in a bit of a rut with math--with numbers--conditioned as I am to hold them so far outside of myself, and with cautiously protected fingers at that. The subject gives me anxiety. And I can very easily see that for the tragedy it is without emotionally being able to reconcile it within my mind. Math problems, to me, were never an exercise in problem solving but rather a rigidly defined solution to a problem, predetermined and hidden most expertly by all those who’d previously found it. The world’s worst treasure hunt.
For me, this piece has given back a bit of the reconciliation I’ve been searching for. The idea that there can be creativity, fun, interactiveness in math is something still new and foreign to me. I’d love very much for that patience and eagerness for problem solving to be planted quite firmly into the mind of every child. To have them encounter math for the first time thinking that 9 is a bit over-dramatic, or that 3 is meek yet proud. To give a shape and a face and a human form to these numbers that simply quantify how our brains shape and face and form the world around us.
This piece is intended to be a weaving of these worlds of literacy and math, a warming of the analytical, an attempt not to forcibly inject creativity but instead to reveal it where it already exists. There is an entire world of possibilities waiting between the 0 and the 9, in the crook of addition’s cross, in the evening out of one side to the other. There is proof to be found in proofs.
Go find X. And tell me all about it.
is an aspiring writer of some unknown sort -- she'd prefer to let her stories choose that for her. She writes to appreciate a bit of fancy in the everyday.