An Abundance of Katherines

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“Right. Because relationships are so predictable, right? Well, I’m finding a way to predict them. Take any two people, and even if they’ve never met each other, the formula will show who’s going to break up with whom if they ever date, and approximately how long the relationship will last. ”
“Impossible,” Hassan said.
“No, it’s not, because you can see into the future if you have a basic understanding of how people are likely to act. ”
Hassan’s long and slow exhalation broke into a whisper. “Yeah. Okay. That’s interesting. ” Hassan could give Colin no higher compliment.
Lindsey Lee Wells reached down and grabbed the notebook from Hassan. She read it slowly. Finally, she said, “What the hell is K-19?”
Colin put a hand down in the caked-dry earth and pushed himself up. “The what’s a who,” he answered. “Katherine XIX. I’ve dated nineteen girls named Katherine. ”
Lindsey Lee Wells and Colin stared at each other dead in the eye for a very long time, until finally her smile collapsed into a gentle laugh. “What?” Colin asked.
She shook her head but couldn’t stop laughing. “Nothin’,” she said. “Let’s go see the Archduke. ”
“No, tell me,” he said insistently. He didn’t like secrets kept from him. Being on the outside of something annoyed him—more than it should have, really.
“It’s nothing. Just—I’ve only dated one boy. ”
“Why’s that funny?” Colin asked.
“It’s funny,” she explained, “because his name is Colin. ”
The Middle (of the Beginning)
By third grade, his failure to achieve “sociological well-being” had become so obvious to everyone that Colin attended regular school at Kalman only three hours a day. The rest of his day was spent with his lifelong tutor, Keith Carter, who drove a Volvo with the license plate KRAZZZY. Keith was one of those guys who never grew out of his ponytail. He also maintained (or, as the case was, failed to maintain) a thick, broad mustache that extended to his lower lip when his mouth was closed, which was very rarely the case. Keith enjoyed talking, and his favorite audience was Colin Singleton.
Keith was a friend of Colin’s dad and a psychology professor. His interest in Colin wasn’t exactly unselfish—over the years, Keith would publish a number of articles about Colin’s prodigy. Colin liked being so special that scholars would take note of him. And also, Krazy Keith was the closest thing Colin had to a best friend. Every day, Keith drove down into the city and he and Colin went to a broom-closet-of-an-office on the third floor of the Kalman School. Colin pretty much got to read whatever he wanted in silence for the next four hours, with Keith occasionally breaking in to discuss something, and then on Fridays they’d spend the day talking about what Colin had learned. Colin liked it a great deal better than regular school. For one thing, Keith never gave him an Abdominal Snowman.
Krazy Keith had a daughter, Katherine, who was Colin’s year in school but eight months older in actual life. She went to a school north of the city, but every so often Colin’s parents would have Krazy Keith and his wife and Katherine over to dinner to discuss Colin’s “progress” and the like. And then after those dinners, the parents would sit in the living room laughing louder as time passed, Keith shouting that he couldn’t possibly drive home, that he needed a cup of coffee after all that wine—your home is an Alamo for oenophiles, he’d cry.
One night in November of his third-grade year, after it got cold but before his mom put up the holiday decorations, Katherine came over. After a dinner of lemon chicken and brown rice, Colin and Katherine went into the living room, where Colin lay across the couch and studied Latin. He had just recently learned that President Garfield, who was not even particularly noted for his intelligence, had been able to write simultaneously in Latin and Greek—Latin with his left hand and Greek with his right. Colin intended to match this feat. 21 Katherine, a tiny blond with both her father’s ponytail and his fascination with prodigies, sat watching him quietly. Colin was aware of her, but it did not distract him, because people often watched him when he studied, like there was some secret in his approach to academia. The secret, in truth, was that he just spent more time studying, and paid more attention, than everyone else.
“How come you learned Latin already?”
“I study hard,” he answered.
“Why?” she asked, coming over to sit by his feet on the couch.
“I like it. ”
“Why?” she asked.
He paused for a moment. Unfamiliar with the “why game,” he took her questions seriously. “I like it because it makes me different and better. And because I’m quite good at it. ”
“Why?” she asked, her voice singing the monosyllable, almost smiling.
“Your dad says it’s because I remember things better than other people on account of how I pay very close attention and care very much. ”
“Because it is important to know things. For an example, I just recently learned that Roman Emperor Vitellius once ate one thousand oysters in one day, which is a very impressive act of abligurition,”22 he said, using a word he felt sure Katherine wouldn’t know. “And also it is important to know things because it makes you special and you can read books that normal people cannot read, such as Ovid’s Metamorphosis, which is in Latin. ”
“Because he lived in Rome when they spoke and wrote Latin. ”