Lower Mathematics by Judy Brackett
published in Commonweal Magazine, January 2021
The little boy shouts "To infinity and beyond!" and asks "Where the heck is infinity?" and "Is a googol bigger than a gazillion?" and "How can there be a biggest number? Doesn't the whole entire world
have room for 1 or 2 or 3 more?" and "How can there be something littler than zero?" She tells him—snowflakes, grains of sand, chess moves, broken promises, teardrops and raindrops, stars and universes, seeds in dandelion puffs
floating in a summer breeze. All jumbled together. He closes his eyes. "I'm trying to see a gazillion gazelles!" She wonders how math people can talk to each other when they can't even agree on whether a billion is a million millions
or a thousand millions. "False friends," they say. She closes her eyes and sees—tears flowing over broken promises, becoming part of the air, drizzling back up into the clouds,
and showering down again next January in a googol's worth of raindrops— plus 1 or 2 or 3. She doesn't know what to tell the boy about zero.