The Number 4
Randall was done with being Randall. He turned out his nightlight and lay face down on his bed. If not Randall, then what? A chunk of boxite? An apple pop-tart? A brilliant flash in the mind of a forgotten poet? An iron pot, the nest of hair in his parents’ shower drain? Love American Style, an electron searching for its mate, a kitchen table, the number four?
At the thought of becoming an even number, the soft blond down on Randall’s arms stiffened. He’d always envied the number four with its symmetry and its squatty complaisance. It had no deviant whims or passions. It was as innocent as a yoga tree pose, and even a kid could count to it.
Yet he’d be merely a number, wouldn’t he? He’d be stripped. Handless, eyeless, mouthless and manless. He’d be a stumpy hunk of fourteen-year-oldlessness—in effect Randalllessness. Then there was the problem of forever being stunted and boxy. Squatty, however, was better than spindly any day. He’d had enough of spindly.
Yet—Randall turned his pillow to the cool side—four-letter words and four-eyed geeks had sullied 4’s reputation. There was always that pop-tart and the forgotten poet’s forgotten thought. But all these options had a use-by date, except maybe Love American Style in syndication. (Would he be the whole series or just one show?) No, the number four was his best bet: it had longevity.
“Or that electron,” he whispered, “searching for its mate. A mate would be nice.”
“Randy?” his mother was calling.
He held his breath. The number four probably wouldn’t reply to a mother it probably wouldn’t have and especially not one who criticized the way he dressed and the “sassy” way he talked and the way he sang Blondie songs with a hairbrush mic.
“Randy?” She was standing at his bedroom door.
The number four would be so easy to understand. For one thing, it would have no gender to question. It would be solid and would never think of ending itself. It wouldn’t even think of thinking! Yet neither would the iron pot or the kitchen table. But did he really want to be in the kitchen that much, scrubbed and scoured by his mother? No, the number four it was. After all, who’s ever told the number four, “You think too much” or “You walk like a girl” or “There’s something not quite right with you”?
“Randall Mason Black!” She was pounding on the door now.
A lipless smile spread over the world where Randall Mason Black no longer lived, where Randall Mason Black no longer fielded feral questions, where Randall Mason Black would never again sing harmonies with Blondie or feel odd in any way. The number four didn’t need to feel anything but boxy, solid and even.
[Published in: Pure Slush. Photo: The American Girl, Marilyn Monroe by Milton Greene, 1954.]