Charlie’s Room: The Calculator

“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.

Isaac’s Adventures Underground: Chapter Six

“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.”

Charlie’s Room: The Birdbath

Isaac looked out the kitchen window as he dried the large stewpot. The crisp winter weather was perfect for stew, and he was happy to have some already packed away for his lunch tomorrow. He smiled and hummed and put the stewpot away. Time to wash the frying pan.

He glanced out the window again. It still surprised him that the rosemary was blooming.   Was there any weather that plant didn’t like? In the summer it had grown in the heat that had wilted the plants around it, even when they’d been watered daily. And now, as the weather began to turn bitter cold, it was blooming.

Perhaps rosemary was an alien plant. Mentally, he added it to the list of odd plants that just didn’t seem to follow the rules. It wasn’t as strange as pineapple though. Or onions. Few things were as strange as onions.

Something small circled the branches of the rosemary plant, hovering over the blooms. It looked like a hummingbird. However, it was December. Could it really be a hummingbird?

Isaac set the pan back into the sink and went to get his coat and scarf. Marianne and Charlie were in the living room reading. “Hi Dad,” Charlie said as Isaac walked past. “Can you check my homework after I finish this? I just have one chapter left.”

“Of course,” Isaac said. “I’m not finished with the dishes yet.” He ducked into the entryway and pulled his coat and scarf out of the closet.

He put them on and walked past the living room again.   “Where are you going?” Marianne asked.

“I think I saw a hummingbird by the rosemary,” Isaac said.

“It’s December,” Marianne said. “You probably saw a leaf blowing around or something.”

“I just want to check,” Isaac said.

Marianne smiled, nodded, and went back to her book.   Isaac went through the kitchen to the back door. The hummingbird was still there. It was definitely a hummingbird. As he walked closer, it flew over the fence into Miss Marta’s yard.

The fence was just low enough that Isaac could watch the hummingbird zoom towards a shallow birdbath at the edge of the yard.   It hovered over the surface of the water, and then it dove into the water. And then the hummingbird disappeared.

There was no splash or sound or flash of light.   The water didn’t even look disturbed.   One moment there was a hummingbird, diving towards the water, and the next it looked like it dove through the water without touching the water at all, and then it was gone.

The birdbath was plain, made from what looked like concrete or gray stone of some sort. The water looked normal too. Isaac looked around Miss Marta’s yard. There were a lot of birds there, even though the weather was too cold to normally see this many birds. He could see a robin, and a widgeon, and was that a pelican? Why was there a pelican here?

Miss Marta came out her back door just then, tossing out handfuls of seed and a few fish. The birds dove at the food, some taking their spoils straight to the birdbath and disappearing inside. Others ate first before leaving. It was amazing.

When the clamor had died down a bit, Miss Marta looked around at her yard. She looked up at Isaac and froze, looking a little worried. Isaac smiled. “Is that a new birdbath?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said and slowly nodded her head. “I bought it this summer.”

“I like it,” Isaac said. “It was a good find.”

“Thank you,” she said, and smiled. The wrinkles around her eyes and mouth seemed to smile too.

Isaac smiled back. “See you later,” he said.

“See you,” she said.

Isaac went inside and finished the dishes. Then he went to find Charlie so he could check his homework. Charlie was waiting in his room, reading. He was already reading the second chapter of a new book.

Isaac looked over the homework. “You only have a few things to fix,” he said. “I marked them with a pencil.”

Charlie put a bookmark in his book and looked over his work. “What did I do wrong?” he asked.

“See if you can figure it out,” Isaac said. “Try redoing the problems.”

Charlie figured out the mistakes. “Thanks, Dad,” he said. He picked up his book again.

“Wait,” Isaac said. “Let’s go to the store and pick up a bird feeder. We can take Mom too. I think we’re going to see a lot of birds in our yard this year.”

“Really?” Charlie asked. “Wow. Let’s go!”

Isaac’s Adventures Underground: Chapter Five

At first, Isaac was mostly worried about getting away from the log house quietly, as far away and as quickly as possible. But after a while of nothing coming crashing out of the undergrowth behind him, he slowed down and realized that he had no idea where he was.

He was lost in the middle of a potted plant forest in a hotel lobby at the bottom of a cave in the middle of the woods next to Jimmy’s house.

When he thought about it like that, it sounded like nonsense. He stopped and looked around.   How could all of this be inside the potted plant? Just then, he heard music. There was a violin playing a cheerful tune somewhere nearby.

Perhaps the musician would be able to give him directions.   Cautiously, Isaac followed the music.   He didn’t want to be too loud, just in case it was the ants again.

He peeked through some bushes into a clearing and was relieved to see that there weren’t any ants there. Instead, a grasshopper was playing a violin and humming, while several fuzzy caterpillars danced in circles and laughed.

The grasshopper stopped playing. “Are you having fun yet?” he asked.

“Yes,” the caterpillars responded in unison.

“Good,” the grasshopper said. “If you’re not having fun, then it’s not worth doing. Next song!” And he started playing again.

The caterpillars started dancing again. It wasn’t an organized sort of dance at all. Each was running around the clearing randomly or spinning in circles or stomping their feet in time with the music.

Two of the caterpillars raced towards each other coming from opposite directions. Both were laughing and neither was looking where they were going. “Watch out,” Isaac yelled.

The caterpillars looked in Isaac’s direction and continued running. A second later, they ran into each other and began to cry. “Now look what you’ve done,” the grasshopper said. “The dancing isn’t fun any more. You might as well come out of the bushes and tell us a joke or a story to make up for it.”

Isaac pushed the branches aside and walked into the clearing. “Hi, I’m Isaac,” he began.

“Introductions are boring,” the grasshopper said. “Skip to the joke.”

“After I tell you a joke, would you help me..” Isaac began.

“I’m always very helpful,” the grasshopper interrupted.

“Well that’s good,” Isaac began.

“What is?” the grasshopper asked.

“What is what?”

“What is good?” the grasshopper asked.

“Helping,” Isaac said.

“Of course it is,” the grasshopper said. “If it wasn’t good, it wouldn’t be helping, would it?”

“I don’t think so,” Isaac said, feeling a little confused. “Would you like me to tell a joke now?”

“Yes, pleasure before business,” the grasshopper said.

“Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?” Isaac asked.

“Of course not,” the grasshopper said. “If you work first, you might not have time for play. So you must play first. That’s the good part.”

“But then you might not get your work done,” Isaac said.

“Even better,” the grasshopper said. “It’s like eating your dessert first. If you’re lucky, maybe you can only eat dessert all the time and be too full to eat anything else.”

“I don’t think that’s very healthy,” Isaac said.

“Who wants to be healthy?” the grasshopper asked. “Now tell us a joke.”

“A joke!” “A joke!” “Tell us a joke!” the caterpillars said. They stomped on the ground with their feet until it sounded like thunder.   Isaac cleared his throat and suddenly everything was silent.

And Isaac couldn’t think of any jokes at all. After what felt like a very long time, he remembered one. He smiled. “I think I know one about a zebra with a sunburn. Or was it a penguin? No, I think it was a newspaper.”

“You are terrible at telling jokes,” the grasshopper said. “I will tell a story.”

“First could you tell me…” Isaac began.

But the caterpillars began to chant, “A story!” “A story!” and stomp their feet until Isaac couldn’t even hear himself talk. The grasshopper played a few notes and the caterpillars settled down.

Isaac sighed. He could ask for directions after the story. Surely it wouldn’t take all that long. He wrapped his arms around his legs and put his chin on his knees and waited for the story to begin.

Charlie’s Room: The Rubber Duck

Isaac was at the register at the hardware store when he saw the clear plastic tub of rubber ducks. They seemed so out-of-place next to the screwdrivers and gum and tape measures arranged on the shelves nearby. He shifted the dryer hose and wooden dowels he was carrying so that he could pick one up.

He looked down at the cheerful, smiling yellow duck.   Charlie would love it, and he’d need some cheering up today. He added it to his purchases.

He arrived home just in time for dinner. “Did the new dinosaur book come today?” Charlie asked.

“We didn’t get any packages,” Marianne said.

“Maybe it will come later,” Charlie said.

Isaac sighed. “Actually, I got an email today that said that the book is delayed.”

“What? Why?” Charlie asked. “It was supposed to come out today.”

“There was some sort of printing error and they need to fix it,” Isaac said.

“But when will it come out? Tomorrow?” Charlie asked.

“The email didn’t say. But, look!” Isaac held up the rubber duck. “I got you something else instead. It’s a bath toy. I had one like this when I was younger.”

Marianne frowned. “Bath toys collect mold.”

Charlie shrugged. “I don’t like baths anyway. I like showers better.” He took the duck from Isaac. “He looks happy, doesn’t he?”

“Maybe instead of a bath duck he can be a desk duck,” Isaac said.

“Then he can help me with my homework,” Charlie said.   “Do you think he’s any good at fractions?”

Isaac laughed. “Maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it.”

After dinner, Charlie took the duck to his room.   Isaac helped Marianne load the dishwasher, and then went to check on him. Charlie was sitting at his desk, looking at the rubber duck.

“Are you okay?” Isaac asked.

“Yeah. Just disappointed, I guess,” Charlie said. “My friends and I were going to read the new book at school together tomorrow.   I was really looking forward to it.”

“It’s hard when plans change last minute,” Isaac said.

Charlie sighed. “Yeah.”

Isaac sat on the chair next to the bookshelf. He looked at the shelf of dinosaur books.   “Maybe we could write our own book.”

“But books take a long time to write,” Charlie said.

“Tonight we could just write the first chapter,” Isaac said. “It would give you and your friends something to read together tomorrow. If they like it, maybe we could write more.”

“But what would we write about?” Charlie asked.

Isaac looked down at the rubber duck Charlie was still holding. “The dinosaurs and the rubber duck.”

Charlie laughed. “It would have to be a big rubber duck,” he said.

“Big enough for the baby dinosaurs to ride on when they take baths in the lake,” Dad said.

“And then the aliens beam it aboard their spaceship when they try to kidnap a baby dinosaur,” Charlie said.

“And then they hold it for ransom,” Isaac said.

“I could draw the ransom note,” Charlie said.   “They’d send it with a picture of the rubber duck and say it was a baby dinosaur. It would be funny.”

“Then the detective dinosaur could catch them and put them in jail,” Isaac said.

“I like the detective dinosaur,” Charlie said.

“Me too,” Isaac said. “And the baby dinosaurs can help him find clues.”

“I’ll get some paper out,” Charlie said. “This is going to be fun.” He put the rubber duck on the desk and gave it a pat.   “Don’t worry little duck,” he said.   “The detective dinosaur will save you.”   Then he got out the paper and some pencils and they started writing.