One writer's experiment to tackle any subject his friends come up with.


The Power Of Ignoring


Todd Seifert steps out of the bar’s chaos and into the static hiss of rain on asphalt. It is two in the morning, and the street is a riderless black river.

He has come to respect the purity of these dark, late nights: the absence of distraction, the clean black canvas punctuated by a morse code of lights. The unbroken rain of the last four days provides another layer of purity, muffling everything under a blanket of white noise.

But at times he needs the distraction. The numbers become too strong, and release is needed. Todd came out tonight seeking that distraction, the biomass of the bar crowd, the inane chatter, the dulling effects of alcohol like syrup between his synapses.

Todd exhales, closes his eyes for a moment, then opens them again to take in the dark street. Dozens of stop lights float on invisible strands for a quarter mile in four directions. Several change to red at once. The nearest crosswalk starts ticking.

One, two. A tick for every second. He knows the sound as well as the church’s lonely bells.

Four. Todd’s mind wanders down the street, pondering the reflections of the streetlights in the rain. Each a fuzzy puddle with chaotic edges. Within each drop a perfect reflection of the light and world around, lost in the noise of too much signal.

Eight. Todd can’t help but devote a tiny part of his thoughts to the auditory stimulation, that digital tick rising above the rain’s endless shushing admonition. He knows when the crossing light changes he’ll be able to pull the total number out of that recess. Doubtless he’s counted it before, and chosen to forget. Selective attention is not within Todd’s skillset, but selective memory is natural.

Sixteen. Two to the fourth, Four to the second. Todd wonders whether the number will be a power of two, those perfectly scalable figures of the computer world. Is there a deep correlation between a machine’s efficient numbering system and the intersecting patterns of automobile and pedestrian traffic? Sure, he thinks, with a smirk. All will be revealed to those who possess the power of numbers. There are several dynamic algorithms that could lend accuracy to the crosswalk’s predictions. Walking people are all rhythm and pattern. It’s the talking ones that are masks of confusion.

Thirty-two. A shuttered level of Todd’s mind has prodded him to this location once again. His glance lifts from the street, bisecting the intersection at a forty-five. The city’s new eight-story office tower looms over the two-story corner buildings. Todd knows why he chose this bar tonight, over the others along this block. He knows what his thoughts guide him to, given enough alcohol and free reign. Todd studies the building again. Eight floors, rectangular footprint, roughly 1:1.618 in proportion, a golden mean. Eight windows spaced regularly across the north and south facades, five on the east and west. The same window layout on each floor, an unvaried grid stretching up into the darkness. Todd imagines a chart formed by these long and lat shafts of light. Forty cells on a floor, Three hundred twenty cells in all.

Sixty-four. The crosswalks go long at night when there’s no traffic to manage. Changes are less frequent. But the largest part of Todd’s mind is still on the tower. And most of that part is on the pattern of light to dark, something secret, hidden from everyone but him, a chessboard inviting him to play.

Seventy-three. Do not cross. To hell with it. Todd steps into the street, into the rain, bent on the tower.

The heel of Todd’s worn leather wingtip shatters the reflection of the streetlamp above. Twelve nights ago he’d stood outside another bar on this block and noticed: on the south facade, three windows were lit on the second floor, and nine on the first. Thirty-two ninety-one. Todd’s address from first to third grade. He and his older brother Evan had modified the house number next to the front door of the old split-level, moved the two and one up and penciled in an equals sign, three squared equals nine to the first. Their parents had deemed it still legible and allowed it to stay up.

Todd steps onto the curb opposite the bar, and clears the rain from his eyes. Eight nights ago the east facade had contained odd numbers of lit windows on each floor, those on the south facade had been all even. In late elementary school, Todd and Evan both showed remarkable mechanical and mathematical gifts. Evan had taken the lawnmower apart, and Todd had put it back together, with improvements. Both bright boys, both becoming brilliant. Classmates had given Todd the name “Odd Todd.” Evan, one year Todd’s senior, had taken this in stride and started going by “Even Evan.”

Todd crosses the small office park in front of the tower, his mind set on edge at ignoring the regular paths afforded by the Victorian garden layout. Four nights ago the tower’s south facade had been alight with two, seven, one, and eight windows, descending from the top floor. Todd had started calling Evan “e,” or “2.718” in high school. Evan had groaned that Todd lived solely within his own head, ignoring the feedback he often got from others. Todd had become overwhelmed by the confusion and randomness of inter-personal dynamics, been left adrift by Evan, and started feeling he was unequipped to deal with society as a whole.

Todd stands at the foot of the tower’s east entrance, his face grim. Looking up, he sees raindrops lit by the tower, icy arrows sent to penetrate him. He thinks of college, where certain factions of people followed more discernible rules, and his scholarship had enabled him to settle comfortably into a world of verifiable truths. He thinks of Evan, distant during this time, but happy to work with Todd on his economic models. Evan, who finally shunned him. Evan, who fled with millions as his business went public, disappearing in a mystery of disgrace.

Tonight, the east facade of the new tower that the Property Valuator tells him is owned by the Enterprise Ventures Network shows a near perfect fibonacci sequence. Near perfect, because the third light on the seventh floor is off instead of on, and the seventh light on the first is on instead of off. Three-seven, seven-one, Thirty-seven seventy-one, Seventy-three seventeen – all primes. Except for “one,” which is a unit, not a prime. It’s typical of Evan’s sloppy work that the damned fool can’t even remember that a prime is divisible only by itself and the number one.

Seething, Todd digs up a decorative geode from the office park’s rock garden. His fingers slip and scratch at the smooth wet stone. Once released from the earth, Todd hoists it to his shoulderand hurls it at the offending window. Its mass is substantial, but its acceleration is not. Todd watches the geode squish deeply into wet earth, three feet from the tower. He stares, enraged and stupefied.

Immediately to the right of the entrance a light flicks on, and Todd backs away, taking shelter behind a wrought iron bench. The entrance light also comes on, and Todd hears keys scratching at the door. The door opens, and a young woman in overalls exits, wheeling a vacuum cleaner and humming idly to the tune on her headphones. An older woman follows behind her, pushing a mop bucket. Todd watches, mystified, from behind his bench. The young woman rolls her vacuum to a nearby van and is loading it as the older woman goes to lock the door. The older woman sighs and goes back in to turn off the light in the entrance.

The younger woman laughs. “What are you bothering with that for? You ever looked up at this place when we leave?”

The older woman looks as directed and snorts. “Guess I haven’t. Who could keep all them damn switches straight, anyway.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. Not like anybody notices.”


Copyright Cole Bennett, all rights reserved.



10 Comments to “4/25/11-ANONYMOUS”

  1. Pat Bennett says:

    Your brain is so advanced! How did this happen? I love the story, especially the ending.

  2. ANONYMOUS says:

    You’ve done a man’s job, sir.

  3. Rona Roberts says:

    On first reading, what stands out: contrasts of interior and exterior worlds, both clearly rendered; contrast of head work (Todd) and body work (women); clarity of the portrayal of Todd’s thought processes, made accessible and credible; sharpness of the portrayal of place. Beautiful piece, Cole. Thank you for writing it.

    • Cole Bennett says:

      Thanks so much, Rona. There was so much I cut from this one in the way of ambiance and character traits, just because it didn’t flow. Killing my darlings…

  4. Joseph Anthony says:

    Somedays the walk from my car to my office is 227 steps; sometimes a few less. Sometimes the strokes of my arms is 24 exact across the UK lap poor. But if I stroke faster, I stroke more: up to 27.

    The numbing of numbers, the idea of their ordering the randomness of life. You captured that obsession quality. I loved the way the brother is dropped in and out with no clear explanation—an expuslsion from the compulsion.

    Good job. Joe

    • Cole Bennett says:

      Thanks, Joe. How weird is it that I didn’t even recall, the entire time writing this, that I went through a period in elementary school where I counted everything, every step I took, and if I tapped my left leg, I had to tap my right, to keep a balance. It wasn’t too far-fetched for me to imagine Odd Todd; it may have been autobiographical. But I could say that about all of them… :)

  5. Adam Gillett says:

    42. Done.

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