The child’s face puckers,
little raisin face boy, he is mad at algebra
and mad at me for teaching it to him.

On the floor there are balled socks, broken toys
a sweatshirt that looks like someone has spit up on it
a layer of eraser crumbs and crumpled sheets of paper.

I feel uncomfortably forceful, as if I am violating this child
forcing abstract mathematical concepts into his unwilling mind.

On the page there are six scribbled out problems
and one, half scribbled,
but otherwise completed and correct.

x + 5 = 7
    - 5   -5
x       =      2

Yes. I affirm. I do aver and attest that in this instance
x equals 2.
The child is limp with relief.
“Are we done?”

We are only now getting to the difficult part.
x does not equal 2 forever and all times.
The value of x changes with each equation.

There is nothing fair about this, except
I have some prizes in my bag,
little plastic toys and things I have collected.
I dole them out in moments of epiphany and despair.

The only reward for solving for x is solving for x again.
The problems will grow progressively more complex and thus
more difficult to solve.

x will eventually equal an irrational number,
reeling out to infinity, far, far beyond the horizon of human understanding.
The value of x might even be an imaginary number instead of a real one.
There is no rule against that.

Everyone you love is mortal, little man.
Your own wellbeing hangs by a thread as fine as the finest spider web.

You are going to learn algebra
because that is all I can do for you.

Cassandra-Halleh Delaney is a member of the Delmar Writer’s Group. She has as an MA in Counseling from New Mexico State University. She currently resides in upstate NY with her husband and two curmudgeonly cats.