Prose, Grades 7 – 9: Honorable Mention
(Editor’s note: The ungendered pronoun “they” in the story refers to Jan.)
Count On It — Shira Hanovich
Jan was bored. They had already counted all of the stairs in the building. Twice. Just to be sure. There were 208. Eight flights of stairs scattered across the building, with 26 individual steps in each. They hated waiting. They absolutely despised it. Especially when they weren’t being told what was happening. Their dad had suddenly scooped them up into the car, and they drove to the hospital in a mad frenzy, only to have their dad deposit them on an ugly green chair and scramble off in another direction. Jan had no clue what was happening, and the nurse who they assumed was supposed to be supervising them, but A: wasn’t, and B: refused to tell them what was happening.
So that left Jan to their own devices. Which is why they were counting stairs. And also why they knew that there were 208 stairs and that there were exactly 36 semi-comfortable ways to sit in one of the waiting room’s 24 chairs. They had also counted the tiles in the ceiling (98), counted the tiles in the floor (127), and they had tried counting the lines between the tiles on the floor, but they had failed because there simply too many. Jan also knew that their dad had now left them alone for precisely 2 hours and 29 minutes, although it felt like much longer. They were running out of things to count when their dad came running down the hallway and turned into the waiting room.
He waved frantically at the nurse, then practically dragged Jan out of the chair and down the hallway. Jan was even more confused than before, but their dad didn’t seem prepared to answer any questions. He looked sweaty and disheveled, and two of the buttons on his shirt had come undone. Suddenly Jan’s dad made a sharp left and arrived at room 114. He cautiously opened the door and nudged Jan inside. Inside, Jan saw her grandma, grandpa, great-grandma, and uncle all crowded around a bed.
“Go on, Jan,” urged their father.
Jan nervously shuffled towards the bed, and tried to see what was going on, but their 4’5” (134.62cm) frame limited their ability to see anything but their relatives’ backs. They turned back to their dad who only nodded in an attempt to urge them forward. They leaned in and squirmed their way around their family members’ legs, and managed to catch a glimpse of the bed. On it was their mom (Jan’s dad was divorced), holding what looked and sounded like a wailing potato. After a few seconds of thought, they realized that it was a baby. Jan nodded at it, then shuffled back to their dad.
“What’s wrong Jan? Don’t you want to meet the baby?”
They rolled their eyes.
“It’s just a baby. There are around 360,000 of those born every day, around 250 per minute worldwide.”
Jan’s father sighed.
“Jan, this is a very special baby.”
“This baby is your new step-brother.”
Jan froze. They were shocked. They shouldn’t have been, they probably should’ve seen this coming, but they hadn’t. A baby just seemed, well, unexpected. It was random, unpredictable, completely out of the blue.
“Huh.” They nodded. Their father, clearly getting irritated with them, rolled his eyes and grumbled out an ultimatum.
“If you’re going to be a grump about this, you can just go back to the waiting room.”
So they did. Jan turned on their heel and walked out of the room, ignoring their father’s shocked expression. They trudged the 83 steps back to the waiting room and sat down in one of the chairs (the one farthest from the door). They counted the light fixtures on the ceiling. As basic as it was, they found the numbers soothing, the way that they always went in a certain order, following specific patterns. Numbers were a constant. And that was something they could count on.