The Elegant Balance of a True Friendship

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Hyperboles, a short story

by Sarp Sozdinler

From Electric Lit:

Two mathematicians but they are more friends than colleagues. The older of the two, Henry, teaches to graduate students in Tokyo while Liam, fifteen years his junior, works as a consultant for a private contractor in Madison. Liam makes fun of Henry because his name pentadecimally has more letters than his in correlation with the gap in their ages, but no one but them finds it funny. The two have been sending each other letters every month for the past eighteen years, on the days or weeks of the calendar marked with a prime number as another inside joke.

What did the triangle tell the circle? Henry asks Liam in his last letter before Christmas, postmarked on the twenty-third day of the month.

What? Liam asks in his reply.

You’re pointless, Henry writes back two weeks later.

They have a tradition where they send a pen nib back and forth as part of their snail mail correspondence, to be used for when someone important in their field passes away. The rule is that whoever is in possession of the nib on the day of the news should write a few words after the deceased and reserve a memorial spot in either The Times or The Tribune, the only two international papers distributed to where each lives. They’ve only made use of the nib six times in eighteen years, the last dedicated to Henry’s professor from his doctorate, who had lent him the nib in the first place. As the recipient of the nib, Henry wrote a numerically melodic eulogy for the man, showing his gratitude and appreciation in iambic pentameter. When he later tried to describe the experience to Liam, he used such quaint words as exultant and qualmish, the kind of feelings only the people past a certain age like him would feel.

In one of his more recent letters to Liam, Henry writes, What’s one word that starts with an E and ends with an E and only has one letter in between?

Liam replies: Envelope. He knows this thanks to the video his son shared on Twitter a few months back, which is also probably where Henry saw it.

Two months later, following their longest lapse in communication, Henry asks again in another letter: What’s one word that starts with an E and ends with an E and only has one letter in between?

Envelope, Liam writes at first but then, keeping in mind his friend’s declining health, replaces his paper with new stationery to ask him, What?

You’re pointless, Henry replies.

The next morning, before Liam can make it to the post office, he receives a phone call from Henry’s stepdaughter in Tokyo. Her father has passed away in his sleep.

“Toward the end, he started naming his friends after the months they died in,” she tells him. “So I guess you can start calling him August from now on.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit