The Law of Small Numbers by Mary Grimm

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Elinor’s daughter Geni was in the other room playing pretend. She was pretending to be a bartender with a cardboard box standing in for the bar. Elinor didn’t know where she’d gotten the idea, and she thought that maybe she ought to go in and distract her or forbid her to play bartender or at least tell her not to do it when her grandparents visited, if that ever happened again, but instead she continued to lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling.

The ceiling had no cracks and no visible marks of any kind to relieve its whiteness but there were shadows in the corners and a streak of sun that was steadily moving across it like a clock. When it got to the other end and dripped down the wall it would be time to get up and do something. She was supposed to be going over Geni’s worksheets: math, reading, nature and science, but wasn’t it OK to take a day off? School was so relentless, she’d always thought. The everydayness of it had oppressed her when she was a child. Geni had seemed to like it, but now, at home, she always had an excuse.

Elinor had been reading a book about amnesia, and she wished that this was something that was contagious, that you could catch it from someone walking by or from a casually contaminated surface. She thought a lot now about contagion. But she would only want to catch it if it could be shared with Geni, so that they both could stop knowing or remembering. Didn’t everyone want a fresh start?

In the other room, Geni was talking to her customers, asking if they wanted some chocolate on the rocks. They seemed to be interested and there was the clink of plastic cups which Geni would have gotten out of the cupboard. She had long ago learned to push a stool up to the counter so she could reach. Elinor sometimes reproached herself for Geni’s independence. But if they had lived in the nineteenth century, a seven-year-old might already have been doing womanly chores, stirring stew over the fire and washing clothes in a tub or some such. It wasn’t so bad that Geni made her own breakfast occasionally, or so Elinor would tell her mother, if her mother ever found out. The bartender game would be harder to explain.

“Are you going to tell me your life story?” she heard Geni say. Elinor raised her head so that she could see into the dining room. Geni was looking at her doll Macy and the stuffed hippo whose name Elinor couldn’t remember. It was difficult to say which of them she was talking to. Macy probably would have more to say – she had a particularly knowing air, and a purse whose handle fitted into her curved plastic hand. Always ready to go somewhere, Macy was. What did the idea of a life story mean to a seven-year-old?

Elinor felt that her life story was boring in the extreme. She didn’t want to give it even a sentence of summary. Her life was here, in this house, on this couch, with Geni in the other room. She was nailed into it.

“You told me that last week,” Geni said. “I don’t want to hear about it again.”


Mary Grimm

Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left toThemselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection). Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Mississippi Review,  Helen, The Citron Review, Tiferet, and elsewhere. Currently, she is working on a dystopian novel about oldsters. She teachesfiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.



Other Works

Back Then —
Before All This –
In the Bathroom —

Image by PublicDomainPictures


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