Negative One by Mary Lynn Reed
The boy counts to ten, then twenty, then contemplates negative one. His mother tells him not to be negative, but she’s talking about something else. She’s talking about the way his brow furrows when the TV is too loud or how he screams when his sister runs up behind him and throws her arms around his neck. He can’t breathe when she does that but he knows not to hit her. He did that once and it was very bad. He’d never seen his mother that angry and he didn’t want to see it again. Not ever. She makes him look at flowers sometimes, for no reason at all. Right when he’s in the middle of a math problem. Why would you want to count roses — nine, ten, eleven, twelve — when there are negative numbers in the world? If you multiply two negative numbers together you get a positive one. He thinks his mother will be pleased to hear this. He hopes she will smile, but she doesn’t. She puts cookies on a plate, sets them in front of him, and shakes her head.