The Mathematician

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Mr. Johnston was always dressed to the nines. His shirts were crisp and tucked in, and his round glasses sat perfectly against the bridge of his nose. Mr. Johnston had been an accountant for most of his life, and he still believed that he had to go to work each day.

“When are we working on payroll?” he asked one afternoon, walking casually into my office and sitting down. It surprised me, because Mr. Johnston had never previously entered the office. Knowing that he was an accountant, I jumped into character. “Well, it’s going to be late this time around,” I said. “I’ll get something to you tomorrow,” I added.

The next day I looked up spreadsheets online and printed out some example pages. I found a calculator and a pencil and brought the materials to Mr. Johnston, who was seated quietly on a couch in the community’s hallway.

“Here you go,” I said, offering Mr. Johnston the materials. “Could you help me with this payroll?” He looked up at me and cocked his head. “It’s almost 4:00 PM!” he said, clearly irritated. “How am I supposed to get this done on time? Why wouldn’t you bring this to me earlier today?”

I was stunned, but played along. “I’m sorry, Mr. Johnston. They just didn’t get everything together in time, I’ll be sure to get you everything you need much sooner next week,” I smiled.

He sighed and shook his head. “I can take this all back to my office,” he said, walking to his room. 

A couple hours later, he emerged, smiling. “I’ve finished payroll,” he said, proudly, handing me the spreadsheet.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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