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.