Fi­bonacci’s tree


In the Moment - - Take A Moment -

“Here I am!” I jab a nger, one of the few that still works, at the notebook page. “Right at the bot­tom of the tree.”

Tanya is adding too much milk to my tea. She doesn’t think I’m look­ing when she shoves a cus­tard cream into her mouth. It dis­ap­pears whole, like an en­ve­lope pro­pelled through a gap­ing let­ter­box. Crumbs splut­ter across the back of my use­less left hand as she chants, “Teatime, Ellie. Sorry, we’re out of cus­tard creams, but I’ve saved you a Bour­bon. They’re your favourites.”

I can hear the words inside my head.

They are crisp and clear like Mum’s best crys­tal, singing out, per­fectly formed in tone and pitch: “My name is Eleanor and I loathe Bour­bons – they are not proper choco­late bis­cuits.”

“Go on then, you can have two today.” Tanya’s swollen pi­geon bust al­most knocks my glasses o as she bends for­ward to peer at the notebook. “What you draw­ing? Oh, is that your fam­ily tree, Ellie? My brother’s into all that, he’s al­ways on the In­ter­net search­ing those fam­ily his­tory sites you see on the telly.”

I steer my right in­dex nger to the name ad­ja­cent to mine. “Ja­cob, my brother, son of Harold and Kitty, he died a mil­len­nium ago, be­fore the Falk­lands. Back in the day when a soldier dy­ing over­seas didn’t make the news. It was ex­pected – par for the course.”

Re­tract­ing the shak­ing hand to the safety of my lap I stare at the chipped teacup, re­solv­ing to fo­cus on the now and not slip back­wards, out of time. “I’m the last of the line, you see. Eleanor Palmer, the only liv­ing branch of the Palmer tree. The Palmers from Colch­ester, that is.”

Tanya’s greasy nger streaks the white page. “Is that you, Ellie? Eleanor Kather­ine Palmer. Shame no­body uses names like that any­more. That’s what I said to my Tr­ish. I sug­gested Daisy for her new lit­tle one, but she fan­cies Ch­eryl. Your own kids don’t lis­ten, do they?”

Surely the woman can see the tree dies with me? I fell in love too late to sprout a Tr­ish of my own. It was my own fault. I un­der­stood the the­ory of child bear­ing, an­a­lysed the me­chan­ics and read all the man­u­als, even en­joyed the prac­ti­cal work, but found I was long past the use-by date when it came to break­ing eggs. Yes, I may be mix­ing my metaphors, but who cares.

I’m eighty-six years old and can do what the hell I like, as long as it doesn’t in­volve the left-hand side of my body, which has bug­gered o to no-man’s land on a per­ma­nent sab­bat­i­cal. Ex­cept, I can’t do any­thing – even with the work­ing half.

Can’t pull up my own knick­ers with­out fall­ing at on my face. I have tried, but the last at­tempt ended badly with a bro­ken nose and blood on the car­pet. Sadly, I need both arms work­ing to prise open the top oor win­dow. With­out two good legs I doubt I could climb out onto the re escape any­way. Mer­ci­fully, my now sec­ond-rate brain is spared the dilemma of hav­ing to make the next de­ci­sion in the chain: to escape down the re escape, or plum­met head rst to obliv­ion? Most days I would choose obliv­ion.

“The tree is with­ered, old and dy­ing, just like me,” I say loudly. “They’re all dead. Ja­cob. Mummy. Dad. Grand­dad Palmer. Nanna. Aun­tie May. Cousin Tilda. Un­cle Mac. All dead.” A sud­den thought makes me gig­gle. “Death must run in the fam­ily.

I’m the last in the line of corpses, de­scended from the dead!”

“Bed?” Tanya is pick­ing out a choco­late di­ges­tive from the bis­cuit tin. “No, Ellie, it’s teatime not bed­time. Af­ter your cuppa I can push you out­side for an af­ter­noon snooze, would you like that?”

An­other thought seeps into my re­tard­ing brain. The sparse branches of my fam­ily tree set­tle into a pat­tern across and down the page. If I squint out of my right eye I can de­ci­pher a se­quence. Na­ture loves num­bers and if you search long enough you can un­ravel the se­crets of the uni­verse. That’s what Solomon Khan, my tu­tor and lover, taught me.

“God is a math­e­ma­ti­cian, can’t you see that Tanya?” I snap at her then snatch up the pen­cil, still de­li­ciously sharp, and wield it like a joust­ing lance.

She twitches, jump­ing back to clink against the tea trol­ley. “Hey, now watch what you’re do­ing with that, Ellie. You could poke some­one’s eye out.”

“There in the branches of the tree, just like the se­quence of petals in a ower, can’t you see the pat­tern?” The words are tum­bling out like ac­ro­bats, but the woman stares at me, eyes as bulging as her navy blue uni­form.

I laugh as the so­lu­tion ap­pears; it’s beau­ti­ful and el­e­gant like a per­fect equa­tion. “Fi­bonacci num­bers,” I tell her. Isn’t it ob­vi­ous? “I will call this Fi­bonacci’s Tree!”

Tanya nods and smiles. “Yes, pop­pet, it is a tree. Clever girl. Your fam­ily tree.”

I stick the pen­cil on a blank page of the notebook and care­fully print out ‘F-I-B-ON-A-C-C-I’. Un­der­lin­ing the name sev­eral times un­til the pa­per al­most rips.

“The sparse branches of my fam­ily tree set­tle into a pat­tern... Na­ture loves num­bers and if you search long enough you can un­ravel the se­crets of the uni­verse.”

“He has lovely blue eyes, bright and clear like a sum­mer’s day. For a nanosec­ond I al­low my­self to think of Solly.”

A gen­tle voice speaks up from be­hind me, a young, male voice. “Ian won­dered if you needed any help with the teas, Tanya?” Stoop­ing slightly, he dgets self-con­sciously, as if he’s cast him­self as Gul­liver in this strange land of wheel-bound gnomes. His slim, lanky limbs and pal­lid skin are the clas­sic brand­ing of stu­dent liv­ing.

Tanya sni s. “Thinks I need a chap­er­one now, does he?” She slips two Jam­mie Dodgers into her side pocket. “I’ll get round the old bats a lot quicker with­out a boy-scout trip­ping up the trol­ley.” Now she’s whis­per­ing to me again. “Sum­mer stu­dents are a bleed­ing pain, Ellie. This one thinks he’s Ein­stein – a right clever dick.”

“I don’t think Ian would like you re­fer­ring to the–” The poor lad stum­bles, aware that I’m the goose­berry in their con­ver­sa­tion. “In­mates,” I o er.

“Guests,” says Tanya, rel­ish­ing her sneer. “Ian prefers us to treat and think of the old bats as guests, but then he’s as batty as the best of them. Be­sides, Ellie here had a mas­sive stroke and doesn’t un­der­stand a word. She likes to sit and doodle, bur­bling away like a gar­goyle.”

I like Tanya’s im­age of a drib­bling old gar­goyle, it ac­cu­rately de­scribes the out­ward ap­pear­ance of many of my fel­low guests. Quite an imag­i­na­tive turn of phrase for Tanya’s tiny vo­cab­u­lary – she must have over­heard it.

Matt (I read his name badge as he leans to­wards the trol­ley) lets me choose a bis­cuit from the tin. My right hand does a cir­cuit of the tin be­fore dig­ging out the last re­main­ing choco­late Hob­nob. He’ll pay for this kind­ness later with a telling o from Tanya in the sta quar­ters.

“Poor woman,” con­tin­ues Tanya,

“can’t even re­mem­ber her name. Look she’s draw­ing out her fam­ily tree and then scrib­bles ‘Fi­bow’ or some­thing. You won­der what’s go­ing on inside their heads.”

Matt stands close be­side me and reads from the notebook. His spiked up hair smells of co­conut. “A lot is still go­ing on inside Pro­fes­sor Palmer’s head.” He pauses to smile at Tanya, a sweet boy­ish smile, which says so much more than his words.

“The name is Fi­bonacci. He was an Ital­ian math­e­ma­ti­cian work­ing in the thir­teenth cen­tury. De­vised a nu­meric se­quence, also known as Fi­bonacci num­bers or Fi­bonacci’s Se­ries. The se­quence is found through­out na­ture in the ar­range­ment of ower petals, or leaves on a tree or–”

Tanya holds up her hand. “Yeah, that’s great Matt, but I get enough gib­ber­ish from this lot with­out you join­ing in.” She wag­gles her wrist­watch at him. “Time for my break. You can nish up here. And don’t let them

put their sticky mitts in the tin – you choose the bis­cuits.”

Once Tanya has slalomed through the sleep­ing guests in the con­ser­va­tory and squeezed out into the walled gar­den, Matt pulls up a chair. “Hob­nobs are my favourites too.” This time his smile is gen­uine. He has lovely blue eyes, bright and clear like a sum­mer’s day. For a nanosec­ond I al­low my­self to think of Solly.

“I’ve read all your books and pa­pers, Pro­fes­sor Palmer. But I’m still strug­gling with your proof of Solomon’s The­o­rem. I know it took you a life­time to de­ci­pher and I’ve only been work­ing on it for a year…”

“Ah yes, but then I knew the in­ner work­ings of his mind. Solomon Khan was a great friend, you see.” I hes­i­tate as his sum­mer eyes be­gin to cloud. Not even the golden haired boy can un­der­stand my gar­goyle gur­gles, no­body can.

“I’m sorry,” he mur­murs, “I didn’t catch all of that. Per­haps you could use your pen­cil. It’s just… may I ask you a ques­tion, Pro­fes­sor Palmer?” I nod, but also print out ‘O-K’ on a new page of the notebook. “I want to ref­er­ence your proof in my dis­ser­ta­tion… it would great if you could look it over – the dis­ser­ta­tion I mean. Would you do that for me?”

A sliver of spit­tle is trick­ling down to­wards my dim­ple; I try to swipe it away with my hand. Matt takes out a hand­ker­chief, a proper one with his ini­tials, and cleans my chin quickly. “Thank you,” I say.

“There you go. Don’t worry, Pro­fes­sor,

I’m a ter­ri­ble drib­bler too. My girl­friend’s al­ways teas­ing that she can read the lunch menu from the stains on my shirt.”

I want to take his hand, but I know the care as­sis­tants are not en­cour­aged to touch the guests and I’ve got him into enough trouble al­ready. The notebook is slip­ping from my lap and I prop it up with the work­ing knee. A pile of pa­pers will be a dis­as­ter, I won’t cope with his printed dis­ser­ta­tion and I want to help him. I may never go to the loo on my own again, but I can tap on a key­board and com­ment on Matt’s work. I can be use­ful. Clutch­ing the pen­cil I write ‘L-A-P-T-O-P’?

“Would that help you?”

I nod and one side of my mouth is smil­ing. “You can have my old lap­top, Pro­fes­sor. I’ll copy over my dis­ser­ta­tion and bring it in to­mor­row.”

Matt laughs as I give him the thumbs up, just the one. My lazy thoughts are whirring back to life. The lap­top would be a com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool; I could be­come the Stephen Hawk­ing of Sunny Days Res­i­den­tial Home. I can tell Tanya to keep her thiev­ing hands o the cus­tard creams.

He re­turns to the trol­ley and un­hooks the brake. Like a lit­tle boy, Matt whis­pers from be­hind his hand, “You must let me know if there’s any­thing else I can do for you, Pro­fes­sor Palmer.”

I scrib­ble one last mes­sage: ‘CALL ME ELEANOR’.

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