He stared at the clock on the wall, willing the second hand to skip backwards. Tick, tick, the second hand moved forward, the inevitable march of time. He let out an impatient breath and turned back to the computer screen. The neat grids with their logical numbers confronted him once more. Putting thoughts of time travel to the back of his mind, he got back to work.
“Ken, are you coming for lunch?”
“Wha—? Oh, Sally, yes I’ll be along in a moment.” He ignored the tight expression that flickered across her face as he fussed at the papers on his desk. Ignoring social signals was a particular talent of his. Satisfied, he stood and joined the group of accountants loitering at the door. As one the group filed out of the office and headed for their regular feeding ground, The Ice Age. Ken always thought it was a ridiculous name, and the memory of his humiliating date the previous month made him hate the name even more.
As usual, Ken tried to make small talk with his colleagues, but failed to really break through the superficial layer they projected. No matter how much he studied the way other people interacted, he couldn’t find the key to solving that puzzle. He always felt on the outer, trapped in his isolated little bubble, unable to socialize comfortably.
He sat in his regular seat, at their regular table. Chatter flew by his ears, unintelligible. Faces contorted with alien expressions and he sighed as he contemplated his fork.
“How’s the dating going Ken?” Ben slumped into the chair next to his, a sleazy smirk on his face. Ken had no trouble reading that expression; he was just unable to replicate it. “Getting any action?” Ben winked.
Ken frowned. “It’s going well, thank you.” He held his body stiffly, and took a menu from the hovering waitress, who bobbed and flitted, sparrow-like, as she did her rounds. He ignored the nudges and leers of the men who had sat near him and studied the menu, even though he knew it by heart.
“C’mon Ken, details!” Steve laughed; he was notorious for his exploits, and for bragging about them. “I wouldn’t mind a bit of hot MILF myself!” They all laughed; testosterone freaks, Ken thought.
“None of them were that interesting. All wrapped up in playdates and such.” He waved the waitress over and placed his usual order: short black and club sandwich. Ben was regaling the male end of the table with a story about a childcare worker he had dated in his twenties, but Steve leaned across the table, interrupting Ben loudly.
“Those women are easy, Ken. They’re desperate for a good fuck. I’m tempted to sign up, but the thought of Big Brother keeping tabs on me…” he shuddered. “Forget about the playdates, and the happily ever afters, who gives a shit about a woman’s brain when she’s in your bed?”
Ken could feel the glares of the women at the table, and he fidgeted and said nothing. The other men went back to talking about sport and the social bubble closed around him once more. He gazed at his watch, willing the second hand to flick backwards. If Hiro could do it, so could he.
His coffee and sandwich arrived and he chewed methodically, punctuating with sips of coffee. His watch remained stubborn, resisting his attempts to control time. At ten to one he stood, noted the ripple of annoyance from his colleagues whose interpretation of time was more relaxed than his, and went to pay for his lunch. The brown-haired sparrow waitress was there and she apologised to him, flustered, as another customer tapped his foot.
“The machine’s on the blink, I have to add this up, bear with me.” She turned back to the long bill and muttered something about calculators. Ken leaned over and scanned the numbers.
She wrinkled her sharp little nose and glanced sideways at him. After a minute she wrote $56.50 at the bottom and the customer handed her his card in disgust. When he was gone she looked at Ken, incredulous. He almost launched into his usual spiel about being an accountant—then paused.
“I’ve always been good with numbers”. His attempt at sounding nonchalant seemed to work. It was true though, numbers spoke to him in a way people didn’t. Sparrow-waitress shook her head.
“It’s like some kind of superpower! I don’t know how you do it.” She totalled his bill and he paid, pondering her words.
As he pushed the door open he glanced at his watch. Time strode on, merciless, and that he couldn’t change. Numbers, however, he could manipulate. “Mathman? The Incredible Number?” It had been there, in front of his face all along. His power, for good or ill, was math.
This week’s prompt: What is your Characters Very Mild SuperPower?
Took a break from Cuba this week. I decided this prompt was more light-hearted than Cuba really requires, and it is probably good to take a break from the intensity! However I discovered I couldn’t really write a light fluffy comedy short; I wanted to, but Ken’s pathos kept overwhelming the writing. Maybe I just can’t write funnies! Anyway some of you will recognise Ken from his ill-fated date with Louise, and he just seemed to fit this prompt perfectly!