A man goes to his friend’s house, expecting to engage him in conversation, as he has done many times before.
“Hi Tom 442.” He speaks out just as his friend comes from around a corner. The friend looks up quizzically.
”What’s that mean?” he asks. He only pays half attention since it is not unusual that he says strange things from time to time. He continues walking past him to the driveway where his vehicle is sitting. There are various tools spread around the cement, most with some grease or oil on them.
“I said, “Hi Tom 443.” Tom bends over and sits on the cement, then rolls over onto his back.
“No you didn’t,” Tom corrects him. “You said 442, whatever that means.” He pusheds himself under the car, leaving his legs spread out at odd angles.
“Oh yeah. It’s only a number difference.” The friend says with a very slight chuckle.
Suddenly there’s a bang, and a curse from under the car. Tom slides out from under the car quickly, a distinct frown on his face.
“Now what the hell are you talking about?” he asks as he shakes, then rubs the back of his hand. His friend chuckles despite Tom’s obvious pain.
“Well, Tom 444…” he hesitates to let Tom react to this new number. “I was just saying that 442 and 443 are only a number apart.”
Tom frowns again, but not because of the pain in his hand. “What are you doing, counting sentences now?” he asks because the number has changed once again.
The friend laughs loudly now, annoying his friend greatly.
“I have something to do here, do you mind keeping your mind games to yourself?” he asks and slides himself under the car once again.
After a minute the friend stops and makes another attempt to illuminate Tom.
“No. I’m counting Toms.” He waits a second, but Tom isn’t making any indication that he is once again listening. The friend goes on.
“Since I haven’t seen you for a couple of days, I figure that you aren’t the same Tom that I saw way back then. So when I saw you, I recognized that you were a different Tom. I’m hoping that it’s a better one, but that really isn’t necessary, or important. He heard the sound of a tool grazing the ground, but not falling or being thrown intentionally. Then he heard a loud sigh. Finally Tom spoke from under the engine compartment.
“So every time I see you you’re going to add another number to my name?” he asked while lying there, perturbed instead of working. He waited a few seconds before the voice standing above him was heard again.
“Well, not exactly, that would be pretty easy.” He heard. He still didn’t understand, but that was usual when talking to him anyway. He shook his head to start working again, but instead, he had flung something in his eye. Now he had to get out and sit up so that he could get it out. His friend took it as a sign as encouragement and started talking again. Not to Tom’s pleasure of course.
“As you noticed, I have been adding numbers right along. I started with Tom442, and I’m already up to Tom444.” But rather than let Tom in on what he was babbling about all at once, he waited for Tom to look confused. But Tom was already past being amused by his psychotic-sounding friend.
“I’m really glad that you can count, and that you’ve found a way to practice it, and a way to impress others with it at the same time. But I’ve got to finish this, and you’re making it much harder, Dick444.”
“Aha!” Dick shouted out. He really was somewhat naive, and mistook Tom’s numbering him as a sign he understood. “You get it now!” he told Tom with a smile across his face. “We have to have the same number since we’ve met each other equally.” He said, knowing for sure that Tom would finally understand.
“This is pointless.” Tom finally said, trying to end the senseless functioning of Dick’s mind. “I doesn’t really matter that we’ve seen each other four hundred times, or four million times. After a couple of times, we recognize each other, and that’s enough for us to call each other by our names. We’re that same persons that met a couple of years ago, and we’re going to be the same guys in a couple of years.” He couldn’t help adding a threat. “Except that if you keep bothering me, you’ll have a blacker eye all the way through Dick500.”
Tom jumped up into the air and nearly punched the air in his glee. “Yeah! That’s the point.” He said as he landed and crouched next to Tom’s feet. “We’re not the same. We change every day. Every time we see each other, something has changed since the last time. We are no longer the person’s that we were the last time, and aren’t going to be the same persons the next time either. I’m trying to recognize that you have changed, “improved” since a couple of days ago. I’m giving you credit for improving yourself, even if I don’t necessarily see the change.
Tom sat on the ground, his jaw dropped, and he used both hand to wipe across his face from forehead to chin. He had hoped to wipe Dick’s presence from in front of him, but only succeeded in blackening his face with grease. No only that, but something else had gotten into the same eye as before. He cursed again.
“Dammit, I’m going to stop recognizing you in a minute, and all those numbers you’ve been storing up will be wasted. You’ll have to find someone else to count and annoy!” He tried to slide under the car with a exasperated finality, but he was a little too quick, and sitting up a little too high.
“Bang!” his head went against the thin metal of the car.
“Dammit! You Sesame Street Dropout! Go find someone else to recognize with your numerical stupidity. I’M WORKING!” He ducked low enough this time and was back under the car, and nearly slid out the other side in his haste.
Dick turned away finally, not happy that his friend thought he was a nut. He shuffled off to the side, going around the car and back home. Tom really did like Dick, even as annoying as he was.
“Dick.” He called out. Then he slid out and stood up. Dick stopped and waited for Tom to say something more. “Count me if you want, but let’s keep it to a single time per meeting.” It would be confusing enough if everyone did that. I would have a different number for every person that I ever met. And I don’t think I could remember all the numbers behind all the names of everyone that I knew either. It’s hard enough remembering names most of the time.” By this time Dick was almost bubbling over with thoughts, some of them had to spill out before he exploded.
“But think of the information that would be right there in front of you. If I walked up to you and said Tom 444, everyone would know how good of friends we were, They would also compare his number for you with mine, and figure out how well we knew each other compared to how well he knew you, or me for that matter. Some of the things that we waste time telling each other could be told immediately, and in just a split second.
Or I could say it was at Dick 392 and we’d both know exactly not only what we were talking about, but also when the conservation occurred, and so, all the frames of reference of that particular day would be evident and relative to what we were talking about in the first place.
Tom shook his head, deciding not to think about that one. He crawled silently back under the car, knowing that it would be impossible to fix anything else, but more-or-less was just hiding under there. He heard Dick talking to himself as he wandered off.
“And think of the dating possibilities. If Sharon4 walked up and met John4, everyone would know that they didn’t know each other very well, and they could help them to know each other better, say, up to ten or something, and before they knew it, there would be a new couple going down the street. Soon their numbers would be up into the twenties when they started dating. And if they were seen later and their numbers had changed, everyone would know that they saw each other when no one else was around, and they could ask where they were…”
Tom hoped that Dick wasn’t going to end up with new numbers, those given to him as a patient in the nearby sanitarium. A couple more talks with Dick and he’d end up with a new set of numbers all his own.