Tam had never made anyone a Sumerian tablet before, though she was the Math Department’s specialist on the subject. She thought this was a particularly apt medium for telling Ellie that she was pregnant. The clay tablet would be sealed inside a clay oval, like a little word-baby. Ellie would have to break the oval to see the message. It was a symbol. Surely Ellie, being a writer, liked symbols.
She couldn’t just write a letter, because letters were ordinary. Ellie deserved a communiqué that represented effort, sacrifice and creativity. After all, Ellie’s own writing represented all of those qualities. And besides, if you only make an impression once every few years and you wish to retain (or regain) a place of importance, you’d better make a firm one.
Tam owned copies of all Ellie’s books―Twice Upon a Time, Bitterroot Seduction, Women of the Dark Otherworld, and others―and had underlined passages on which she planned to compliment Ellie, when they saw each other again. Perhaps flattering her with “Your paragraphing here is excellent” or “I wish other people could wield adverbs as well as you do” would make Ellie suddenly realize that, perhaps, she wanted Tam in her life forever. But Tam realized she would have to lead up to all this.
Tam and Ellie had last seen each other seven years ago, before Tam whisked herself away to Brown University’s History of Mathematics doctoral program. They had been childhood inseparables, and then they had grown up. Starting to communicate now would be like resetting: going back to the left-most side of the timeline, jumping to zero, where they would have to begin without assumptions. In mathematical terms, there were no lemmas, and Ellie found that lemma-less proofs were the most elegant. You, on your own, would discover everything needed to form a conclusion.
Before Tam took the authentic reed stylus and committed her letter to clay, she wrote many notebook-paper versions, changing the dashes to parentheses and swapping “I” for “me” in an attempt to decrease the formality of it all. She realized however, that it was impossible not to seem formal when your letter has to be heated and hardened before it can be delivered.
She wanted to explain herself in a way that both she and Ellie could understand, and she thought a theorem would be best, since she was a mathematician and Ellie was “a paranormal romance novelist, interested in the connections between worlds”; the Internet had said so. The Internet had also said that Ellie was married, but adults are occasionally friends with each other, and Tam thought a friendship would be acceptable.
Two numbers―A and B―are equal if all numbers that are less than A are the same numbers that are less than B, and if all numbers that are greater than A are the same numbers that are greater than B. I am not equal to you because some things greater than I are still less than you. However, I am doing my best to move up the number line toward you.
Tam baked the tablet and its container inside her kitchen’s oven, where she also baked the frozen dinners, which everyone else in the world microwaved. When the clay hardened, Tam packed it in a nest of corrugated cardboard and biodegradable Styrofoam and walked across town to the UPS store.