the code by jadamthwaite

14 Mar

Adam hunched over. His back was tense, a bolder on the edge of an avalanche. He scratched his pencil frantically against the paper, dark numbers flying across the page like shrapnel.

Millie studied the display about Ancient Egypt on the other side of the hall. The border was slightly skewed and the staples gleamed in occasional flickers of sunlight. She glanced at Adam out the corner of her eye. There was a fine line when he was like this. She needed to stay with him but she couldn’t intrude. She had to let him ride it out, lock himself away from the world until the world was a place he could cope with again.

It always happened after lunch. The playground was busy with footballs and stalked by a flock of dinner ladies in pale yellow tabards. It was the optimum place for disaster. The noise today didn’t help. The council had started strimming the hedges that bordered the school: the first sign of summer. In every classroom distracted eyes were sneaking glances at the bright spring sunshine that bounced playfully into the field and flooded across the tarmac like lemon squash.

Adam had traipsed indoors with his hands over his ears, his face hot and angry as he tried to scrunch out the noise. Millie had seen the war going on behind his eyes and swept him away to their usual spot in the corner of the hall, where they would sit on the raked staging until he could face the classroom again.

Millie had been Adam’s assistant since he’d first come up to the junior school. Just out of university, she’d been intending to train as a teacher after a year, but a year had turned into three and now she didn’t have the heart to leave him. She liked Adam and she enjoyed the challenge of his Asperger’s, the constant search for new ways to help him.

She used to give him patterns in situations like this, thick black swirls waiting for bright colours to fill them. That had worked for a while – it still worked occasionally – but everything had its day. The best thing now was a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. He would add and divide endlessly, occasionally pausing to trace the round, red end of the pencil across his lips until he was relaxed and ready to face the problem.

Millie watched him work. She liked noticing when he relaxed his shoulders and lifted his head, when the frightened-rabbit stare disappeared from his eyes.

Millie heaved herself back against the wall and hugged her knees to her chest. She liked these moments of quiet too. A dark blond flop of fringe fell over Adam’s forehead as he raised his head slightly from the paper.

“Miss,” he said, slowly running the smooth end of the pencil across his bottom lip.

Millie looked at him.


“I just discovered something.”

Millie raised an eyebrow. “Did you?”

Adam smacked his pencil against the paper triumphantly. His voice was quick and eager. “Pick five two-digit numbers next to each other,” he said.

“Er… okay… seventy one, seventy two, seventy three, seventy four and seventy five.”

“Right…” Adam wrote the numbers down in a column and added them carefully.

“Three hundred and sixty five.” He looked up at her for confirmation. She nodded, still totalling the numbers in her head.

“Well, if you find the middle number – so seventy three in this case – and times it by ten – which is seven hundred and thirty – and then divide it by two, you get the same number that you get when you add all five numbers together.”

“Three hundred and sixty five?”

“Yeah.” He showed her the calculation on the paper.

“Wow! So that works for other numbers too?”

Adam nodded excitedly. “Look!” He held up the paper, scattered with tests of his theory.

“That’s pretty cool, Adam,” she told him. “How did you work that out?”

Adam shrugged. “I just… did…”

“What happens if you do it with numbers higher than a hundred?” she asked. He needed more calming time and Millie knew he wouldn’t be able to resist the challenge.

He furrowed his eyebrows and swooped back down to the paper.

Millie traced the pale lines of sunlight as they trickled across the floor from the high windows around the hall. They spotlighted the scuffs and smudges on the polished wood. The tall climbing frames generally referred to as The Apparatus lurked against the wall, these days rarely coaxed out of their furtive stances.

“It doesn’t work,” Adam said, the pencil at his lips again.

“Interesting,” she said. “Maths is funny isn’t it?”

Adam shrugged. “It kind of makes sense though.”

“I suppose it does. Now. Are you ready to tell me what happened outside?”

Adam looked down. “I kicked Jacob. And I hit Kamal.”

Millie waited. Adam tapped a repetitive rhythm on his lips with the pencil and stared, unblinking, at a sliver of sunlight on the Egypt display. His eyes reminded Millie of hazelnuts.

“And I told Amy she was stupid,” he said glumly.

“And what do you think you need to do now?”

“Say sorry?”

Millie nodded. “It’s not as hard as you think. We have to walk past Amy and Jacob when we go back to class. You can tap them on the shoulder and say ‘I’m sorry.’ Okay?”

Adam nodded.

“And then how about I ask Kamal to come into the hall? Then you can say the same thing to him and you can show him the number trick. I’m sure he’ll think it’s really cool.”

Adam grinned. “It is a cool trick.”

She waited a beat; let him steel himself for the next step.


Adam heaved a deep breath and slowly clambered to his feet.

Millie slipped her phone out of her pocket and followed him into the corridor. I get it now, Dad, she texted. I just discovered the beauty of maths.


Links to Three


4 Responses to “the code by jadamthwaite”

  1. ingridfnl March 14, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

    Beautiful story. I loved the unforced connection between the stories. As always, your imagery is fantastic.

    • jadamthwaite March 21, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

      Thank you 🙂 I really enjoyed writing this one (and suddenly I feel like I’ve said this lots of times before… I’m just enjoying the project in general, I think!)

  2. jmforceton March 14, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    Another excellent piece. I’m starting to think you are actually a mathematician in real life. You know before long everybody will be texting.

  3. jadamthwaite March 21, 2010 at 11:34 pm #

    It’s odd – I seem to have found out more exciting things about maths since The Character Project started than I ever learned in maths lessons at school!

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