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(A short story of 3175 words)

End Date


by Peter Jump

Choosing when to die can be a tricky business for all concerned.

The boy yawned loudly then started energetically picking his nose as the middle-aged man in the tweed jacket sat close to him.

“So can you tell me what five x plus two x would be?” asked the man, Donald, pointing with his fountain pen at the mathematical expression he'd just written in a notepad. Tall and thin, he had to fold himself up like an origami bird to fit next to the 15-year-old, Freddy, at the small desk in the corner of the bedroom.

After a minute of head scratching and further nose picking, along with long sighs and low groans, Freddy replied, “Seven x?”

“No need to be so unsure. Yes it is seven x. Well done.”

It had only been a few days since the last tutorial, when they'd spent two hours going over the basics of algebra, which Freddie appeared to have picked up quite easily. So that the simple task he'd just completed shouldn't really have presented any kind of difficulty, with no sighs or groans required. Donald then wrote another expression – three x times eight x – and asked Freddy to simplify it, quietly praying he would give the correct answer of twenty-four x squared.

“Eleven x,” he immediately said.

Donald's lower right eyelid twitched for several seconds. It was obvious he would have to go through the basics of algebra with Freddy once again, watch him pick them up with surprising ease once again, and desperately hope it wasn't all gone from his mind the following week.

“Good try,” Donald said with the calmness of a Hindu holy man. “But this time we are multiplying, which will give us an x-squared term. Remember we covered that last time, and the time before that?”

"Did we?" Freddy replied, with an expression that hovered between puzzlement and indignation.

Donald had been tutoring in maths and science for four years, and had proved quite adept at it, with students achieving far higher grades than their parents and school teachers ever expected. But even so, he hated the work and couldn't wait to quit it permanently…


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