Can Johnny Kramp Be Saved?


by Robin Verner

ohnny Kramp pulled his right hand from the sand, stared at the unguiscision scars on the backs of his fingers and then plunged it back into the sand until it touched the left hand.

He shuddered with ecstasy, then looked apprehensively around. The noisy surf
made it impossible to hear if anyone approached, though he couldn’t imagine anyone else playing with their fingers in the sand.

But maybe bad people might. The wet sand suddenly seemed to grasp
him, and with a scream Johnny awoke in his bed, his terror undiminished
by reality’s return. The sound of the surf came from outside as he sobbed and groped around in the darkness for his mittens. He had pulled them off in his sleep, and upon waking found the digits actually touching and intertwined.

Without taking time to get his mittens on again, Johnny ran sobbing to
his parents’ door. Bursting in unexpectedly, the scene which greeted him there was even more nightmarish than that from which he was trying to escape.

Johnny’s entire body seemed numb and disconnected from him as
his legs raced him outside, the tears pouring uncontrollably down
his face. As his chest heaved, he began to feel sick, very sick.
He puked, the bitter mix coming up out through his mouth and nostrils,
stinging and choking him.

His own parents! He couldn’t believe it. It was too awful to be
true. He felt betrayed, as if reality itself couldn’t be trusted.
He had seen them, he had seen it with his own eyes.

The sound of his father calling sent him running away again, still without his mittens. Finally
he collapsed on the path leading up to the church, too exhausted to climb it. As he sat there in a stupor, a heavy elderly
woman slowly worked her way down the steep path, wheezing and grunting
with the effort. She stared at her shoes. Down a step with the
right foot, then she would bring the left foot beside it to repeat
the process. In the twilight, she was almost upon Johnny before
she saw his unmittened fingers.

“Yoooh!” screamed the old woman in horror and disgust. Her disgust
was not, of course, in reaction to the ugly unguiscision scars
where his fingernails had once been. It was the fact that he had
his mittens off, his digits hanging out, that horrified her. As
she tried to hurry past the boy, the old woman
slipped and fell, banging her head with an audible crack.

First taken to the jail, Johnny was later transferred to the juvenile
detention center, still without uttering a word. Since it was
obvious that he was severely disturbed, he was kept separate from
the other children, and was assigned to see a counselor. It was
almost noon before one got around to Johnny.

“Where’s the report on this one?” asked Mr. Lloyd of
the attendant as he came to Johnny’s door.

“They haven’t prepared it yet. They just brought him in last
night, in really bad shape. Hasn’t said a word. He was exposing
himself to an old lady, and on the front steps of the church,
no less. She keeled right over from shock when she saw him, and
is in the hospital with a concussion. He’s charged with indecent
exposure and digital assault. We don’t even know his name yet.”

Sitting alone in his cell, Johnny’s thoughts were still on what
he’d seen his parents doing in their bedroom. He had seen their shame; it confirmed the evil of their secrecy. First there had been
the surprised pause as he burst into the room. As Johnny realized
what he was seeing, his father had abruptly pulled the sheet over
his pencil, and his mother moved quickly away. Johnny could see
that they wanted to pretend they weren’t doing anything, but it
was no use. He had seen what they were doing together with his
father’s pencil. Multiplying!

He had heard of it, of course. In secret places, in quiet voices,
the other boys talked of it. Multiplying. They sometimes even
slipped their mittens off and compared digits. One boy even had
a paper with the image of a hand with no mitten on it! Think what
could happen if he were ever caught with such a thing!

But now it was his own father that had been caught, Johnny thought
miserably. Johnny had caught him, had seen him with his own eyes.

Sure, he knew his father had a pencil, but he didn’t know that
he used it. But tonight he’d seen his father’s hand wrapped around
it, manipulating it purposefully, as his mother prepared to sharpen
it. No! He shook with fear. How was it possible that they could
do this?

Johnny’s misery was interrupted by the door opening for the first
time since they had brought his breakfast.

As Mr. Lloyd entered he saw Johnny sitting huddled in the corner
of the small bare room. “Hello, I’m Mr. Lloyd. Could we visit
for a little while?”

No response.

“Well, I don’t have long, so let’s get right to the point.
I understand that you were exposing your digits in public, in
front of the church. You’re a big boy, surely you must know better.”

Still there was no response. Johnny didn’t even look up.

“Has anyone explained to you what digits are for?”

Johnny’s eyes turned slowly in Mr. Lloyd’s direction. People were
always hiding their digits, pretending they don’t exist, as if
they would rather be rid of them. This was an odd idea, that they
might have some purpose. Mr. Lloyd saw the question in Johnny’s
eyes.

“Digits are to be used only for multiplying, in private,
by adults. That’s all digits are for — multiplying. Any other
use of them is …well, sort of weird. You don’t want everyone
to think you’re weird, do you?”

Johnny just stared, trying to understand. “If math is okay,
then why would they try to hide it?”

“Well, uh, . . . maybe they . . .hmm. Well anyway, its very
proper, as long as they use it only for multiplying and not for
fun. If people started using math for fun, then they might not
follow the rules. They might do it with whomever they thought
was the most fun, and they might want to add, subtract, or even
divide, which leads to fractions if you aren’t very careful, and
endless things we’ve never even dreamed of. Who knows where it
might lead us?”

Johnny wasn’t sure he’d even heard of all of these perversions,
and found it disturbing that Mr. Lloyd, an adult, would mention
such things in his presence.

When Johnny’s father was notified that his son could be picked
up at the detention center, he was both relieved that Johnny had
been found, and horrified at what had happened.

Would he, as the boy’s father, be blamed for what Johnny had done?
He flushed at the thought of being questioned by the authorities.
What if Johnny had told them about what he had seen in their bedroom? Mr. Kramp hoped desperately that this topic would not come up.

He wondered how it could be that Johnny could have reacted so
strongly to what he had seen them doing. The Kramps had never
told Johnny that he should be afraid of math. Nor had he been
unnecessarily stimulated; his unguiscision at birth had gone smoothly,
and had allowed them to avoid the attention to digits that nail
cleaning requires. In fact, as near as Mr. Kramp could tell, Johnny
hardly even noticed the mathematical aspects of life. He never
even asked questions about it. How then could he have been so
upset?

The only answer had to be that math itself is very damaging
to children. Mr. Kramp had long suspected it and this incident
was certainly proof! Children’s minds are just not ready to be
exposed to the trauma of mathematical experiences, he thought
to himself. We try to protect children from math, but we must
try harder.

When Mr. Kramp got to the detention center, however, he found
that Mr. Lloyd had different ideas.

“Johnny is very mixed up about math and digits,” he
said. You should teach him enough about math to enable him to
understand and accept the rules.”

As he spoke, he tried to size up Johnny’s father. The man was
overweight, sweaty, and visibly nervous. He kept pushing his mittens
up, as if he could hide his insecurity by covering his wrists.
“I only mean that you should give him a book which will explain
these things and guide him to proper conduct. A non-illustrated
book if you wish.”

“Well,” Johnny’s father frowned doubtfully, “I’ll
talk about it with Mrs. Kramp.” But, he thought to himself,
I believe that the best thing is to keep him away from math as
much as possible. It’s just too disturbing to Johnny. We’ve done
our best, but we’ll just have to be more careful. He remembered
the time Johnny had seen a horrible picture of two people holding
hands, fingers intertwined, and had had nightmares for weeks afterward.

“Yes, please do think about it,” said Mr. Lloyd. He
could see Mr. Kramp’s reluctance. “And since Johnny is young
and hasn’t caused any trouble before, the charges will be dropped.
But these are very serious charges on his record, and next time
it won’t be so easy for him. Remember, it is your responsibility
to be sure that Johnny conforms to the rules. If you fail, the
state will find someone who can successfully train him!”

With this final threat, Mr. Lloyd sent Mr. Kramp and Johnny home.
The sound of the surf grew louder as they walked back along the
path. Already Johnny’s face was contorted with pain.

Copyright © 1995 – 2018, Robin Verner


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