“What’s that?” Marianne asked as Isaac walked into the kitchen.
“It’s a calculator. I took Cousin Reginald out to lunch, and he gave it to me,” Isaac said.
Marianne turned back to the stove and turned down the heat. “Where did you go? Was it somewhere weird?”
“We went to a food truck,” Isaac said. “Cousin Reginald says that they’re at the forefront of the entrepreneurial movement.”
“That’s surprisingly normal. Is he planning on being an entrepreneur then?” Marianne asked. “What kind of business is he going to start?”
“He says that mobile motels are the next big thing,” Isaac said.
“Do you think he’s serious?” Marianne asked.
“I’m never quite sure what he’s really thinking,” Isaac said.
Isaac set the calculator on the counter and gathered the silverware they’d need out of the drawer. Then he helped Charlie finish setting the table. “Thanks, Dad,” Charlie said. He glanced at the counter. “Hey, it’s one of those fancy calculators, isn’t it? The kind with all the extra buttons?” Charlie asked. “Can I borrow it to check my homework after dinner?”
“Sure,” Isaac said.
Dinner was great. Charlie hurried off to his room with the calculator when he was done eating. Isaac checked on him after helping Marianne load the dishwasher. Charlie was sitting at his desk, scowling at the calculator.
“What’s wrong?” Isaac asked.
“I think it’s broken,” Charlie said. “It keeps giving me the wrong answer. Try it and see.” He handed Isaac the calculator.
Isaac entered 1 + 1 and pressed enter. The calculator said 805012016. “I see what you mean,” he said.
“It keeps saying that,” Charlie said. “Can you check my homework the regular way?”
“Of course,” Isaac said. And he checked Charlie’s work.
After Charlie fixed his mistakes, he left to put his homework in his backpack and practice origami with Marianne. Isaac took the calculator to his desk. “What is wrong with you?” he asked.
He entered 1 + 1 again and pressed enter. The calculator said 20.90180504. “That’s a different answer, but it’s not right either,” Isaac said. “I wish you could tell me what’s wrong.”
He tried 1 + 1 again. This time the calculator said 20.180250901407
“Yet another answer.” Isaac looked at the calculator. What if it was trying to communicate? How would a calculator tell him what was wrong?
It couldn’t say anything out loud or write words. It just had numbers. “I guess if you could talk, you’d talk in code, right?” Isaac said. He pressed 1 + 1 and enter. The calculator said 2505019.
“I hope that if this is a code, it’s a simple one,” Isaac said. He pulled out a pencil and tried substituting letters for the numbers. “I think this is it,” he said. “Did you just say yes?”
He typed in 1 + 1. The calculator said 2505019.
“Great, now we’re getting somewhere,” Isaac said. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
1 + 1 and enter. The calculator said 20.90180504 again.
“You’re tired?” Isaac asked. “What do you need?” Did it want a little bed in the corner of the living room and daily math exercises?
1 + 1 and enter. The calculator said 1601502305018.
“Power?” He thought for a moment. “Do you need new batteries?”
1 + 1 and enter. 2505019.
“I can do that,” Isaac said. He opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out his screwdriver. It only took five minutes to change the batteries. “Is that better?” he asked.
1 + 1 enter. 2505019.
“Great. Let me know if I can help you with anything else,” Isaac said.
1 + 1 and enter. The calculator said 20.801014011019.
“You’re welcome,” Isaac said.
1 + 1 and enter. The calculator said 2.
What did that mean? It took Isaac a moment to realize the calculator was giving him the correct answer to the equation this time. He tried it again.
1 + 1 enter. 2.
Isaac set the calculator on his desk. “Well, I’ll let you rest here,” he said. It was time to go read to Charlie.
“Listen, children,” the grasshopper said. “I will tell you the story of the musician and the evil critics.”
“Oooooooh,” the caterpillars said together, as though they’d just seen a particularly amazing firework. There weren’t any fireworks, though. Isaac looked up, just to check.
“Once, there was a remarkably brilliant musician. He spent all his time practicing and performing, so you know he had to be quite good. He was also handsome and intelligent, but that goes without saying.” The grasshopper paused. “You’re supposed to ask if the story is about me,” he said.
“Is the story about you?” a caterpillar asked.
“Maybe,” the grasshopper said. He paused again.
“Is the story about you?” another caterpillar asked.
“Well, all right, it is. I shouldn’t have included the handsome and intelligent part. I knew that would give it away,” the grasshopper said. He smoothed back an antenna and winked.
“Tell us more!” a caterpillar said. “I want to hear the story,” another said.
“Very well, very well,” the grasshopper said. “It is a tragic story, but don’t worry, the hero will be just fine. The good guys always win, you know.”
The caterpillars cheered.
“Thank you, thank you. So, where was I? Oh yes. The musician had finally selected a venue for a series of concerts. It was large and flat and filled with free vegetables, sure to draw a crowd. The musician settled in for a sound check. Acoustics are important, and he needed to be certain that everything was just right.”
“And was it?” a caterpillar asked.
“It was. Unfortunately, this is when our hero first met the evil critics. They came crawling out of a hole in the ground, and started at once with the complaining. They blabbered away about unimportant things like playing loudly in the middle of the night and trespassing in their gardens, and it was all so tiresome.” The grasshopper sighed sadly.
“Awwwww,” the caterpillars said.
The grasshopper shook his head. “I know. So, the musician reminded them that he was bigger and they were smaller and really they were lucky to have such good seats for the concerts. Unfortunately, they couldn’t see their good fortune. They insisted on chasing the musician away and telling him he’d do better spending his time growing and storing food for winter. As though he had time for that!”
“What did you do?” a small caterpillar asked.
“I, er, he found somewhere else to play,” the grasshopper said. “My summer concerts were quite a success, of course. Even the birds swooped down close to listen in.”
“Birds?” a caterpillar asked nervously. Everyone looked up.
“Yes, well, it was just the once, and I’m sure the audience member died happy. The musician dedicated the next concert to him,” the grasshopper said. “Things were great until the weather turned a little nippy. It was time to find a new venue. Somewhere warmer, with more food. He remembered those critics and their hole in the ground and vegetable garden.”
“That sounds perfect,” a caterpillar squealed.
“I thought so, too. I mean, the musician thought so. So, he offered to play for them for room and board, and those critics said they had their own musicians and didn’t really want to hear the musician play at all hours.”
The caterpillars gasped.
The grasshopper nodded. “They only let the musician stay with them when he promised to help with their garden in the spring to pay them back for his room and board.”
“Was working in the garden terrible?” a caterpillar asked.
“I didn’t do it, of course. The barbarians! I need the time to practice and perform. Besides, I put up with them all winter telling me to not play at night and stop trying to drown out the other musicians at their parties. They just went on and on. The first chance I got, I was out of there. I mean, the musician was. And he lived happily ever after. The end.”
The caterpillars cheered. Just then, the bushes rustled and a mob of ants rushed into the clearing. Isaac stayed curled up and hoped they wouldn’t recognize him. They didn’t even look in his direction.
They surrounded the grasshopper and dragged him away. “Unhand me, you ruffians, you ants, you music critics,” he yelled. His voice grew fainter as he got further away, until Isaac couldn’t understand the words any more.
“Let’s go home,” one of the caterpillars said. And they all wandered away, until Isaac was the only one left in the clearing.
“Now where do I go?” he asked. “He didn’t give me any directions at all.”