By Paul G. Tremblay

** **

**Like
a lot of kids, Tommy hated math. Tommy
really hated it. **

** **

**Evidence:
his D minus minus minus average in sixth grade math. He hated his pencil and clear plastic ruler that had inches and
things called ‘centimeters’ What the heck was a centimeter, anyway? Sounded like a nasty bug etched on both
sides. He hated his notebook, his
workbook with the stupid math-puzzles and math-games, and math textbook where
complex beasts like long division chewed the pages. Tommy hated his teacher and his classmates—they were too smart.**

** **

**So
being a bigger kid than most, he took out his frustrations on them with his
fists. **

** **

**Yup,
all of his problems were because of math. **

** **

**And
they were about to get much worse. **

** **

**On
the two and half mile walk home from school—possibly another reason, besides
math that is, why the kid was always a grump—Tommy cut through the park. A small wooded area with two well-manicured
paths that wound through the greenery.
Right smack in the middle of the park was a collection of black, metal
benches that looked like big dead spiders.
The benches were usually empty as most kids were too scared to sit on
them. **

** **

**But
today there sat a man. **

** **

**There
were quite a few things odd about this stranger. He didn’t look very big.
The man was probably only half a head taller than Tommy. And he sat slumped with his hands mashed
into pasty white cheeks. The man
dressed in black, the same black of the benches. Black pants and a billowy black overcoat and a black hat. Tommy
couldn’t remember the name for that type of hat, but his grandfather wore one
like it. **

** **

**No
matter, Tommy was more interested in the man’s glasses. Scratches filled the lenses; some up and
down, some horizontal, and some diagonal.
But the scratches looked almost fake.
They were too straight, as if someone drew them in with a ruler.**

** **

*Ug*,
he hated rulers!

** **

**And
equally as weird, each lens was shaped like a stop sign**

** **

**“My
glasses intrigue you, little boy, I know it’s true,” the man said.**

** **

**Tommy
nearly yelped with surprise. But it
wasn’t the man’s singsong voice that startled him. No. **

** **

**Tommy
had sat next to the man on the bench without realizing it!**

** **

**Very
strange.**

** **

**Tommy
stood quickly, as if he’d sat on a tack, and stuffed his hands into his
pockets.**

** **

**“Oh,
yeah,” he said and stepped away from the bench.**

** **

**“Octagons,
my friend. Each lens is an
octagon. I thought you should know that
before you’re gone,” the man said.
And he cackled like a crow.**

__ __

*Math!* Jeez, now it was even following Tommy
home. Math, math, math. Everywhere.
Tommy’s anger and hatred for all things math surged. He’d never punched an adult in the
face. God knows he’d hit every
math-geek in the sixth grade. And Tommy
wanted to slam this guy. A grown-up
math-geek. Tommy clenched his fists,
turned, and walked toward the man with octagonal glasses.

** **

**“What
are you, some kind of goof math teacher?”
Tommy’s voice dripped with venom.
He imagined his hard little fist pulverizing those funny-looking
glasses.**

** **

**The
man ignored Tommy’s rude question. **

** **

**“An
octagon, my friend, is a perfect shape, a shape perfect until the end.” The man smiled, displaying chalk-white
teeth.**

** **

**Was
this man making fun of Tommy? Did he
think Tommy was so dumb that he’d never heard of an octagon?**

** **

**“You’re
wrong, mister. My teacher says a circle
is the perfect shape,” he said, satisfied that he was able to remember
something that his teacher had said. **

** **

**Even
if it was only stupid math.**

** **

**“No,
octagons are much more pleasing. From
each point—and a point I’m sure we’ll discuss before your leaving—on my
octagonal shaped glasses, I can draw 5 diagonals! You say diagonalize 7 more times? Why one finds, a total of 19 distinct lines!” The man spoke impossibly fast and without
breathing. He waved his thin talon-like
hands in the air as if performing magic.**

** **

**Tommy
was completely lost. **

__ __

*Diagonals? What the heck were those, anyway?*

** **

**“Whatever. You must’ve been a math-geek as a kid, I
bet. HA! It all means nothing to me, mister,” Tommy said, proud of
himself.**

** **

**The
man groaned as if he’d been punched in the stomach. Tommy turned to see the man’s eyes sharpen to a point and his
wormy lips quivering.**

** **

**“It’s
elementary! Well, don’t you see? 5 and 19 are primes. Primes that excite me every time! Why, 5 plus 19 is…” The man paused and wrote his equation in the
air with a finger as long as a snake.
“…24! And what rhymes with that
number?” The man looked to Tommy as if
waiting to hear the greatest words ever spoken. **

** **

**Tommy
fiddled with his sagging backpack, frustration rising again. Oh man, I shouldn’t have to answer math
questions on the walk home, he thought.**

** **

**“Um…err…um…4?”
he said.**

** **

**The
man whooped and clapped. **

** **

**“Excellent! I could not have asked for a more prudent student. Now, this isn’t the best of my tricks, but
24 divided by 4 is 6.”**

** **

**Tommy,
unimpressed, said nothing. **

** **

**“No
time for slumber, because 6 is a perfect number. Take your fingers and count 1-2-3, you see, they each divide 6
without a doubt, 1-2-3 strikes your out!
Add them together, 1 plus 2 plus 3, and you’re back to six easily.”**

** **

**“What’s
up with the rhyming? What are you, a
poet or a math-geek?” asked **

** **

**Tommy. Beat him up, he thought. He’s not that big. When the other kids in school hear that I
even beat up an adult math-geek, I’ll rule the school!**

** **

**“Neither
and both, both and neither. Mathematics
is poetry and poetry is mathematics.
The patterns and rhythms of poetry are as dependent on numbers, as say,
geometry. You see, numbers are code for
life, the language of chaos and reason, they describe simple equations and the
complexity of seasons. So, while not my
profession, numbers are my passion.” **

** **

**The
man stood from his bench and was bigger than Tommy had originally thought. Black coat swirled in a suddenly howling
wind.**

** **

**As
much as he wanted to mash the stranger, Tommy secretly wished the man with
octagonal glasses was his math teacher.
Oh he’d never admit it, but Tommy knew that this guy would be more
exciting than old Ms. Sliderule. **

** **

**The
early spring sun was setting behind the park’s trees, throwing pink and orange
on the new leaves. It was getting
late. Tommy unclenched his fists, as he
probably couldn’t beat the man up anyway, even though he was a math-geek. And Tommy didn’t want to miss the last
afternoon cartoons for math in the park.**

** **

**The
man spoke as though he was reading Tommy’s mind. “Wait! There is so much
more to confide,” the man said while walking toward Tommy. “An octagon, my friend, has 8 sides. Here it is, now, the key to everything that
you wanted to know about everything that you wanted to know!” The man threw his arms into the air as if
signaling touchdown. “Push 8 onto its
side and you have…YOU HAVE! Sweet
infinity! Every number, large and
small, positive and negative, containing, yes even containing the Divinity…oh,
the simple looping symbol of infinity.”**

** **

**Confused,
Tommy said, “I don’t get your point.”
Tommy knew that infinity meant never ending numbers, counting and
counting forever. But was this guy
saying that numbers were divine?**

** **

**The
man smiled and now talked in a hushed tone.
“And there’s the crux, the beginning of it all, there is nothing so
small, a point. In fact, a point has no
size at all! A point is just a position
or place, yet without the point, there is no octagon, circle, sphere, or even
space.” The man’s voice grew louder
again. “Not even a simple line can
exist nor persist without an infinite string of points, and that’s the amazing
thing, because a string of points is an infinite string of NOTHING!**

** **

**“You
see, Divinity is turning a bunch of nothing, into infinity…” The man closed eyes and breathed deep. “That is what I want. I need an infinite amount of points to
create what I want. **

** **

**“And
all I want are lines, and my lines are Divine.” **

** **

**Tommy
looked at the scratches on the man’s glasses.
**

** **

**Except
they weren’t scratches. **

** **

**They
were lines. **

** **

**The
man took off his glasses and his blue eyes danced in his sockets. A smile bared his chalk-white teeth again,
only it wasn’t very friendly.**

** **

**“You’re
crazy,” Tommy said, staring at the engraved lines that were now glowing on the
lenses. And he was very afraid**

** **

**“And,
my friend, I’m sorry to say that I’ll be taking your point today.”**

** **

**The
man reached for Tommy.**

** **

**Tommy
saw bright light pouring from the glasses, then the long black-cloaked arm, but
felt nothing. **

** **

**And
then, Tommy was nothing. **

** **

**Nothing
but a point. **

** **

**A
point on a line on one of the lenses of the man’s octagonal glasses.**

** **

**The
man carefully traced that one line of the particular lens with a long
fingernail, and said, “My line, how divine.” **