three by jadamthwaite

28 Feb

“Sometimes I think about what it would be like to live on the ceiling.”


Sam is chopping onions. He crunches clumsily through the moon-white bulbs, shattering small shards against the knife.

Millie is lying on her back in the middle of the floor. Her pink furry slippers are pressed against the back of a kitchen chair and her eyes crawl around the ceiling thoughtfully.

“Sometimes I think about what it would be like to live on the ceiling,” she repeats slowly. “It’s just like the floor but emptier and upside down. There’s no mess… and no school… or homework.”

“But wouldn’t you have to go to school on the school ceiling if you lived up there?”

Millie thinks about this.

“No… Because if you lived on the ceiling you wouldn’t be able to get to school, would you? You’d have to walk through the sky and that’s impossible.”

“It’s quite impossible to walk on the ceiling.”


Sam sweeps the onion into an untidy heap on the edge of the chopping board.

“Speaking of homework…” he says.

Sam scatters the onion into a pan of hot yellow oil and watches as the bubbles flicker and sizzle. His reflection stares back at him from the glass cooker-top, his hair flopping loosely over his forehead, a dirty mix of mouse and grey. Around his eyes, lightning-fork creases stretch out across his skin. Behind him he can see Millie’s pink feet climbing the back of the chair.

She sighs heavily.

“Mum never makes me do my homework on a Friday.”

Sam raises his eyebrows. He’s not being drawn into this one. He gives the spoon three heavy whacks against the side of the pan.

“Have you practiced your tables? What is it this week?”

Millie groans loudly. And then, not sure if Sam’s heard, she groans again. Louder.

Sam waits.

“Threes,” she says eventually through a sulky sigh.

Sam reaches for a lump of salami and grins.

“Threes! The threes are great. I like the threes,” he tells her.

“How can you like the threes?” she huffs.

“Because…” Sam hesitates. He knows she isn’t going to get this. “Because if the sum of a number’s digits is divisible by three then so is the number.” He shrugs. “It’s neat.”

Millie stares at him. He shrugs again and thumps the salami down onto the chopping board.

“One times three is?” he sings at her.


Sam saws the salami with a long knife and thinks about Laura’s insistence that Millie should be a good speller. Well, if she’s going to be a good English student she’s damn well going to be good at maths too. Sam sometimes worries that Millie will become a different person to the one she would have been if he and Laura had stayed together. Maybe she’d have been more enthusiastic about maths for a start…

“Well?” he says firmly, staring at the pink feet in the cooker top.

Millie sighs. “Three. Obviously.”

“Two times three is?”


“Three times three is?”

“Nine. Dad, do we have to do this now?”

Sam pushes the salami off the chopping board and into the pan. He gives it a rough stir with the curry-stained wooden spoon and wonders, briefly, if he’s being unfair. Then he thinks of Laura and her spelling tests. Anyway, a good knowledge of one’s multiplication tables is essential.

“Four times three is?”

Millie flings her legs down and springs up from the floor. She leans moodily against the wallpaper and folds her arms. Sam has been able to see the teenager in her since the day she was born. He’ll be interested to see what the difference will be when she actually does hit adolescence.

“Twelve,” Millie grumbles.

“Five times three is?”


Sam sometimes wonders if he’d prefer to teach maths to kids, if it wouldn’t be more satisfying to lay those early foundations ready for other people to build on rather than climbing all the time, researching, investigating endlessly. One of his students tutors primary children on a Saturday. Maybe he’d consider doing the same if Saturday wasn’t his Millie Day.

“Six times three is?”


“Seven times three is?”

“Ninety eight.”

Sam turns around and looks into his daughter’s eyes. She has them peeled like blue satsumas and they stare at him, unblinking and wide.

“Be serious,” Sam says sternly.

“I am being serious,” Millie retorts. “It’s ninety eight.”

“Seven times three is?” he asks again firmly.

Millie gives in reluctantly. She breathes out slowly.

“Twenty one.”

Sam smiles.

“Good. Eight times three is?”

He turns back to the chopping board and reaches for a pepper.

“I don’t like green peppers,” she moans, peering round his shoulder.

“If you like red pepper then you like green pepper,” Sam says, but he swaps it for a red one all the same.


“Well what?”

“Eight times three…”

“Oh. Twenty four.”

“Nine times three is?”

Sam slices the pepper quickly. He doesn’t really miss Laura. But Millie… God, he’d almost have stayed with Laura just to be there every night: to say goodnight… to read her stories… to cook her dinner… He wonders if he’s had enough input, if there’d have been more of him inside her if the three of them could have stuck together.

“Twenty eight.”


“Twenty eigh… twenty seven.”

Sam nods.

“And ten times three is?”


Sam spins around and points the knife across the kitchen at Millie.

“Thirty divided by ten?”

Millie rolls her eyes.

“Stop now!”

She stares at her father. He stares back, his knife held in the air like a conductor’s baton. His eyes are wide and his scruffy eyebrows arch like hairy bridges.

Millie sighs, the smallest hint of a smile twitching at the corner of her mouth.


13 Responses to “three by jadamthwaite”

  1. juleshg March 1, 2010 at 2:38 am #

    “if the sum of a number’s digits is divisible by three then so is the number” — is that really true?? I had never heard that before. Math is NOT my strong suit but for some reason I find this just fascinating!

    • jadamthwaite March 1, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

      I hadn’t heard this either until I was looking for a good reason for Sam to like the three times table! But once I found out, I tried it and it does indeed seem to be true. I’m not much with maths either, but I have to say, I love this fact!

    • Lydia Jayne March 1, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

      It’s definitely true — and the only way I managed to learn my nine times tables. For example,
      to solve 4 x 9 =
      4-1=3, 3+6=9, 4×9=36

      I just wish there were these sorts of tricks for the rest of them!

      • jadamthwaite March 1, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

        Maybe I’d have been better at maths if I’d known this earlier!

  2. jmforceton March 1, 2010 at 3:35 am #

    I liked your story. The food prep breaking up the dialog, I thought, worked very well. I started to get hungry. What was he cooking?

    Recently, I attended a talk by Jocelyn Bell, a Scot astrophysicist. She liked to talk about “maths” too.

    • jadamthwaite March 1, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

      I think ‘maths’ is an English thing 🙂

      Sam’s cooking a salami pasta sauce, mostly because that’s what I was cooking the day I wrote the bulk of this! Also, I kind of imagined Millie liking salami…

  3. Lydia Jayne March 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm #

    I love Millie and Sam’s relationship and Millie’s ‘subtlety’:

    “Millie groans loudly. And then, not sure if Sam’s heard, she groans again. Louder.”

    I like, too, the hints we get about Sam’s relationship with Laura.

    • jadamthwaite March 1, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

      Thank you. I struggled so much with this story (and Sam and Millie changed a lot along the way!) so I’m very pleased to hear this!

  4. ingridfnl March 1, 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    I love everything about this story. I adore Millie and her imagining life on the ceiling. The cooking details are wonderful and you set up the scenario beautifully. It’s fantastic. 🙂

    • jadamthwaite March 1, 2010 at 11:34 pm #

      Thank you, Ingrid. Secret: Millie’s ceiling fantasy – that’s really mine 😉

  5. phoenix.writing March 7, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    This was lovely. I’ve always been a fan of that “if it adds up to something divisible by three” rule. Don’t get why it works, just like that it does. 😀 One day, I’m sure Sam will be able to explain it to Millie.

    I enjoyed their relationship with its little details like switching out the bell pepper; it really feels like he’ll maybe convince her of the value of math after all–or at least make sure she doesn’t suffer unduly at school by refusing to do any of it, lol.

    I used to think about living on the ceiling as a kid, too. 😀

    • jadamthwaite March 7, 2010 at 10:34 pm #


      I love the three rule too. I wish I’d known about it years ago! 🙂

      And I’m glad I’m not the only one to have thought about living on the ceiling!


  1. the code by jadamthwaite « the character project - March 14, 2010

    […] Links to Three […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: