The Loneliest Number
by Jace Daniel (b. 1969)
Ten minutes late going on eleven, and he was still stuck at the red light with one block to go. Please don’t call your mother again, he thought.
Pulling up to the curb in front of the school, he saw her, finishing up a good laugh with friends in their pre-teen silliness. Without tapping the horn, he leaned over the empty seat, opening the passenger door.
She threw her backpack at her sneakers and pulled the seatbelt over her growing body, as he had taught her on a yesterday not so long ago.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said, pulling from the curb. “You hungry?”
“We can get a pizza or something if you want.”
“It’s all good,” she said, so grown up. “Let’s just make nachos later.”
“Good enough,” he said, smiling. “So how’d the week go?”
“Great,” she told him with a proud metal grin. “I’m happy to say, I can now run a fifteen-minute mile. Without stopping!”
“Are you serious? Without stopping?”
“I don’t think I can even do a fifteen-minute mile on a bike. Downhill!”
She laughed. The most beautiful sound in the world. If he could make her laugh for the next forty-eight hours straight, he would. It would be the perfect weekend.
“So how was the interview on Wednesday?” she asked. “Did it go good?”
“It went great.”
Distracting himself from the guilt of his white lie, he turned up the radio a notch, tapping his hand on the steering wheel to the classic rock song he’d heard so many times. He adjusted his rear view mirror, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
“You know,” he said, “One really is the loneliest number.”
“Is that the name of this song?”
“Yeah, listen,” he said, singing along quietly. “One is the loneliest number, one is the loneliest number…”
“One’s not the loneliest number,” she said.
“One’s not the loneliest number?” he said, surprised. She was so bright. “If one’s not the loneliest number, then what is?”
He smiled, aching to understand her blossoming sense of logic. “How so?”
“Well,” she said. “Zero is less than one. So zero has to be the loneliest number.”
He laughed, turning the radio volume down. “Zero has to be the loneliest number?”
“Yep,” she said. “One can’t be the loneliest. At least one is something. Zero is nothing. So zero has to be the loneliest.”
They drove in silence. He thought for a few moments, then nodded.
“That’s good logic, Pen,” he said. “But I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. Zero’s not the loneliest number. One is lonelier.”
“How so?” she asked.
“Well, like you said,” he explained, “Zero is nothing.”
“Yes. Zero is nothing.”
He smiled at the obvious.
“If there’s nothing, there can be no loneliness.”
And she never forgot that.
(inspired by a true story; thx, PaGo)