## and counting stars

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Madison loved solving math puzzles along with Uncle John. They didn’t do it often, but whenever they found the time it would unfold like this:

Mommy and Uncle Mer would be working on a theory that served to connect their galaxies. Madison and her parents lived in one and Uncle John and Uncle Mer in another, so connecting them was one of the most important things Madison could think of.

Daddy and, if he was there, Uncle Dave, would look at makeshift whiteboards and post-its and tablets and laptops and seek refuge in the kitchen or in the garden or Daddy’s office. Madison, however, would curl up against Uncle John on the couch and eat apple slices like popcorn. Watching Mommy and Uncle Mer work was one of her and Uncle John’s favorite things.

The Terrible McKays, as Uncle John called them, would have the beginning and the end and the certainty that their hypothesis was going in the right direction but they wouldn’t have the patience right at that moment for the details then and there. Their minds would be thinking too fast. Madison would imagine their thoughts as playing chalk grid-less hopscotch across the entire universe. And so sometimes, sometimes Uncle Mer would shake his head as if there were flies surrounding it and he would give a pad to Uncle John, “Here, Sheppard, you do the math.”

Uncle John would grab a sheet of paper and start copying the numbers. No matter how often it happened, he would always look a little bewildered at the request but he’d always be willing to humor Uncle Mer. Madison would only have to count to ten before he’d frown at what he’d written and see that he actually could work it out.

And so he’d go through the proof step by step and Madison would turn away from the big picture and watch him avidly. She didn’t – yet! – know enough to fully understand the jumps Mommy and Uncle Mer were thinking in. If she concentrated hard enough, however, she could follow Uncle John, who’d write down every step as he went through it. Every step logically followed the previous one. Math had rules and Madison could see them in every line he wrote.

Every time it happened, being a part of it would be so, so wonderful.

If he were working alone, he would reach the end of the proof far less quickly. If he were working alone, he’d be re-reading each line a hundred times. But her Uncle Mer had built a nuclear bomb when he’d been her age and Uncle John would know she’d be watching and would trust her to catch it if he made a mistake. It would be Mommy and Uncle Mer all over the living room and her and Uncle John on the couch and together they would poke at the galactic puzzle and uncover a new side of it.