I try to eat. I really do. But the numbers keep jumbling around in my tummy—making their way up my throat and filling my mouth, leaving no room for food. I can barely stomach the math test I’m about to endure, never mind the syrupy oatmeal my mom has been simmering on the stove top for the last half hour.
The sweet smell is what woke me. A deep inhale, one eye open, then the other. What normally would have made me snuggle deeper into the mattress and relish what a lucky kid I was instead made my stomach twist and turn on this particular morning.
I’d stayed up most of the night meaning to study, the flashlight casting a warm glow beneath the covers, right down to my toes. Though it had shed enough light over the pages of my textbook, concentrating had been impossible. The equations consumed me. Each symbol became a joint and each line, a top or bottom jaw. They’d snapped at me amongst the shadows and the sharp edges of their difficulty had left imprints upon the worried creases in my mind.
“Breakfast!” My mother had cheerily called, oblivious to my grief.
Sitting now at the table, trying to not look as miserable as I am, I toy with a small spoonful of thick oats.
“Cream’s on the table,” my mother sing-songs. “You might want to thin it out.”
Her head is buried in the fridge, pen poised over a notepad as she makes a grocery list for her morning shop, but I can tell she’s picking up on something. She’s slowly raising her head and sniffing the air, honing in on my turmoil as only a mother can do.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Grandpa mutters as he shuffles into the kitchen. He’s dressed for his walk in running shoes and track pants, but his sweatshirt is crumpled in his hands in a ball of frustration.
“What’s up, Gramps?” I ask, quite frankly happy for the distraction as my mother’s head ducks back into the fridge.
“The Goddamn string,” he snarls. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” He holds up the long cord that has come loose from inside the seam of his hood. It dangles freely, no longer attached to his sweatshirt in any way.
My mother, clearly wanting to avoid any Grampa drama, turns her back and hums a loud, happy tune and as she opens and closes cupboard drawers, scribbling away.
“Let me see it,” I offer, holding out my hand.
He shoves the soft, grey material at me and sits down in a pout.
“You stay and eat your fruit,” I tell him. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
When I return, he’s concentrating on his getting flimsy pieces of mandarin and slippery chunks of pear from his bowl into his mouth without letting them slip off the fork.
“Good as new!” I announce, knowing this will make his day.
“How did you do this?” He asks, astonished. “I tried for so long…it seemed impossible.”
I take the large safety pin out of my pocket and show him how I’d pierced the string with it and fed it through the long tunnel of fabric, grabbing the pin and pulling it, and the string, further down the line as more fabric bunched up around it and until it popped out at the other end.
My Grandfather’s eyes widened as my mother’s rolled behind him.
“Amazing, just amazing.” But his pleasure is somewhat short-lived as his brain kicks into gear.
“What’s to stop this from happening again? I don’t want to have to do this every time I go for a walk.” His brow furrows as he brings his palms up to his face.
“You won’t have to, Grampa. Look.” I tie a small knot into each side of the drawstring, just at the base of the opening into the hood. “See? It’s not going anywhere now!”
“You’re a genius, my darling! A true genius!” The last part is muffled as he pulls the hoodie over his head, excited to be able to tug it tight.
I finally begin to smile as I watch my Grandfather head off to meet his pals at the park.
And why wouldn’t I? Geniuses after all, don’t fail math tests.