Today, we’re learning about integers, he said over supper.

I had a mouthful of hamburger, so I just nodded.

It’s really swell, he said. You take a number and subtract it by a bigger number and have a negative number. Like ten minus eleven equals minus one. We’re only just starting, but it’s really

Swell, I said.

Uh huh. Do you know about integers, Daddy?

I thought about all the negative numbers I got back from the bank, but shook my head slowly, then shrugged. A little, I said.

I’m still don’t know how negative numbers are helpful, he said. But we’re only just starting.

Ain’t you a bit young to be learning about such things? I asked. At his age, I was barely getting through my multiplication tables. But I was a slow learner.

Missus Cornell, she said me and Amy Prescott were ahead of everyone else, so she’s teaching us separate. He grinned. She didn’t say so in front of the rest of the class, she called us aside day before last, and asked us if we wanted to learn ahead. Said we were too smart for simple fractions. That’s what she called them: simple fractions.

I don’t remember fractions being so simple, I said. I cut up some potato and pushed it to the side of my plate. They were a bit under-cooked, as usual.

They’re easy, Daddy. You just have to pay attention to the denominator.

Guess you’re way too smart to do up these dishes tonight then? I said.

He grinned again. He was always easy with a grin, and I loved him for it. He didn’t yet know how numbers could weigh on a man.

You wash, I’ll dry, I said. Then you could teach your old daddy what an integer is.

He brushed the full mop of hair from his eyes and pushed his chair away from the table. The chair legs scraped against the floor and tore some of the weathered yellow linoleum. There were at least a dozen holes just like it in the kitchen. The place was fading fast. But my boy was still grinning. That’s what mattered.


Excerpt from Ordinary Handsome. Available at

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4 thoughts on “Integers

  1. cat9984 May 27, 2015 / 7:27 am

    At last! Something cheerful. 🙂 (I like the rest of it too.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steven Baird May 27, 2015 / 10:27 am

    Thank you. My work does tend to be dark, doesn’t it? 🙂


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