It was curious, Dr Harold felt, that he should have been working on his Fibonacci paper that December.
As a rule, he tried not to notice workplace festive japes. The explanation he felt most comfortable giving himself was that it was all too distracting, too inconsiderate of academic deadlines. He would take shelter in his office, with the door shut and the blinds down, and forge through a month of productivity while the others partied, unconsciously setting themselves up for rush and stress in January. Each year, it seemed that the festivities started earlier, and each year he couldn’t help feeling a pang at how calmly the ringleaders apologised afterwards for having forgotten to invite him.
It was curious, then, and certainly convenient, that the year his last amenable colleague left for pastures new, he had the wonderful Signor Fibonacci’s ideas to turn to for solace. If it had been his Pi period, or his Fermat interlude, he probably would have plodded through the maths without the least thought of its being relevant to the tensions swirling around him. But that year, he was thinking about sequences, about consequences, about things being the sum of what has come before. Everything is the sum of what has come before. 1+1=2. 1+2=3. 2+3=5. 3+5=8. 5+8=13…
On 1st December, he marched out of his office and, to everybody’s surprise, placed an advent calendar on the table by the coffee machine. “Anyone can open it,” he muttered, and then strode off again.
They did open it, and inside they found a printed letter E where the chocolate should have been.
On the second day, they found an N.
An O appeared on day 3, and the rumblings of puzzlement grew.
On day 4, there was finally a chocolate, which all present felt was safest consigned to the bin, as they were uncertain of the quiet mathematician’s sense of humour. On day 5, a U, then two chocolates, then a G on day 8. By this point, everyone suspected that the word being spelt was ENOUGH.
They waited for an H on day 9, day 10 and day 11, but it did not come. A lively colleague provided mirth on day 12 by gingerly nibbling his way through the day’s chocolate and shrieking, “I survived!” upon finishing. One of the slats in the blinds of Dr Harold’s office twitched up and down.
On the thirteenth day, Dr Harold did not come into work. He wandered through the local shopping centre’s Winter Wonderland, decorations twinkling all around him, people jostling, chattering and heaving bags brimming with gifts. He thought of the intellectual fulfilment he had imagined before starting the job and what the experience had actually added up to. The sum was complete. He could not go back. An unexpected wave of mirth flooded through him as he pictured his colleagues revealing the surprise he had in store for day 13.
Nothing. No H, ever. The mathematical sequence broken, to start afresh elsewhere. He was sure Signor Fibonacci would understand.
From now on, Dr Harold’s colleagues would open empty slot after empty slot, while he walked away, away, following the flickering star of hope to pastures new.
Jessica Woodward is a writer and librarian from Oxford, UK. Some of her short stories have been published in Double-Decker (Oxford: Bombus Books, 2016). She came second in the SaveAs Writers International Short Story Competition 2017 and has been shortlisted in several other competitions. As well as writing, she loves to knit, play the piano, and endlessly re-read Jane Austen’s novels.