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Ellen Hinsey, from The Illegal Age

ELEMENTARY LESSON IN DIVISION

File 53291

[Exhibit A]

Start, as once instructed, on the left side of the equation: there you will glimpse the totality of a simple, well-ordered room – lamp on heavy table, sideboard for bread – zero and numeral of cup and utensil; beyond will be the parenthesis of plain carved kitchen chairs, the absolute volume of milk, the infinitesimal decimals of poppy seed and rye – add to this the hallway’s length with boots aligned, the small bedroom with skull and torso washed, and the oak bed with its justice of sleep –

From the sum of this scene, now deduct the darkened parlour, the kitchen in low light, the stairwell with its moon-pierced pane; subtract again until you arrive at the integers of a forced-­open suitcase, woollen jacket, undershirt, comb, fragile photograph, and folded psalm –

Then, reduce this further – distil it into collapsed night, pare it down to the pure number of wagon car and silence – divide again until you arrive at that single digit where all universes converge, all is reduced to one, where only a fraction of the face is left visible, then only a mouth, only a black eye through the bars – before the prison train jolts.