He arranged to meet the girl at a diner he’d never gone to with his wife. Nor was it likely any of his wife’s friends went there, either—sticky tables, torn vinyl, the persistent humidity of hardened grease. He left the house on the presumption that he was meeting a former student for lunch, which he was. But before he could clear the door, his wife reminded him when the boys would be home, when the feeding frenzy would need to begin, what toppings each preferred. He nodded as though taking close mental note.
The girl had already secured them a table, hopped out to hug him when he approached. How could any human being be this small? A third his weight (at best), 37.7% his age (assuming she was old enough to drink legally). He’d been lecturing about the elegance behind functions and algorithms longer than she’d been alive.
Teaching had always held the charm of its reset button—every year, a new crew that hadn’t heard his Fig Newton joke before, who hadn’t yet experienced the way he could collapse seemingly disparate globs of mathematical thought over the centuries into a philosophical sphere. But of late, he’d become aware that the reset button turned back only their clocks—those kids who entered his room for the first time looked more and more like kids.
They nestled into opposite sides of their booth, but held hands the whole way. He marveled at the sparrow proportions of the girl’s hand, despite the buzz in his pocket as his wife texted him about the 2% milk and chunky peanut butter she wanted him to pick up on his way home.
The girl smiled at him every time they met eyes and reacted in superlatives when he showed her some of his latest poems. She gasped when he revealed the numeric codes he’d embedded within the lines (ratios among syllables, stresses, line numbers). She agreed with him with long rises and dips of her chin when he mused upon the shortcomings of the crap found in The New Yorker. She cast no aspersions of incomprehensibility or silent disapproval at his compositions. Her bright, moist smiles at first signaled a new kind of reset button, but when he thought about it, when had his wife ever gazed at him with such admiration? She ordered a small appetizer. He went for an omelette with extra meat on the side.
At the far end of the diner’s parking lot, her breath warm with the smell of greasy meat, he tasted an existence beyond the sphere he’d composed on the board and around himself for more than two decades now. He directed her tiny hands, and she complied, while his wife reminded him the boys were hungry and would he be home soon?
Honey? Are you on your way?