An Abundance of Katherines

Page 16

“I swear. ”
“It’s a textile mill. These days we mostly make, uh, tampon strings. ”
Colin did not laugh. Instead, he thought, Tampons have strings? Why? Of all the major human mysteries—God, the nature of the universe, etc. —he knew the least about tampons. To Colin, tampons were a little bit like grizzly bears: he was aware of their existence, but he’d never seen one in the wild, and didn’t really care to.
In lieu of Colin’s laugh came a period of unbreachable silence. He followed Hollis’s pink truck down a newly paved side street that sloped up precipitously, causing the Hearse’s worn-out engine to rev for its very life. As they climbed the hill, it became clear that the street was actually a long driveway, which dead-ended into the largest single-family residence that Colin had ever personally laid eyes upon. Also, it was glaringly, bubble-gummingly, Pepto-Bismolly pink. He pulled into the driveway. Colin was staring at it somewhat slack-jawed when Lindsey poked him softly on the arm. Lindsey shrugged, as if embarrassed. “It ain’t much,” she said. “But it’s home. ”
A broad staircase led up to a heavily columned front porch. Hollis opened the door and Colin and Hassan walked into a cavernous living room outfitted with a couch long enough for both of them to lie down without touching. “Y’all make yourselves at home. Lindsey and I are going to get dinner ready. ”
“You can probably handle that on your own,” Lindsey said, leaning against the front door.
“I probably could, but I ain’t gonna. ”
Hassan sat down on the couch. “That Hollis is a riot, man. On the way over here she was telling me that she owns a factory that makes tampon strings. ” Colin still did not find this fact particularly hilarious.
“You know,” Colin said, “the movie star Jayne Mansfield lived in a pink mansion. ” He walked around the living room, reading the spines of Holli
s’s books and looking at framed photographs. A picture on the mantel above their fireplace caught Colin’s eye, and he walked over to it. A slightly younger, slightly thinner Hollis was standing in front of Niagara Falls. Beside her stood a girl who looked a little like Lindsey Lee Wells, except the girl wore a black trench coat over a ratty old Blink-182 T-shirt. Her eyeliner was thick and stretched back toward her temples, her black jeans tight and tapered, her Doc Martens well-polished. “Does she have a sister?” asked Colin.
“Lindsey,” Colin elaborated. “Come here and look at this. ”
Hassan came over and briefly appraised the picture before saying, “That’s the most pathetic attempt I’ve ever seen to be goth. Goth kids don’t like Blink-182. God, even I know that. ”
“Um, do you like green beans?” Lindsey asked, and Colin suddenly realized she was behind them.
“Is this your sister?” asked Colin.
“Uh, no,” she said to Colin. “I’m an only child. Can’t you tell by how adorably self-involved I am?”
“He was too busy being adorably self-involved to notice,” Hassan interjected.
“So who is this?” Colin asked Lindsey.
“It’s me in eighth grade. ”
“Oh,” said Colin and Hassan simultaneously, both embarrassed. “Yeah, I like green beans,” Hassan said, trying to change the subject as quickly as possible. Lindsey pulled shut the kitchen door behind her, and Hassan shrugged toward Colin and smirked, then returned to the couch.
“I need to work,” Colin said. He found his way down a pink-wallpapere d hallway and into a room with a huge wooden desk that looked like the kind of place where a president might sign a bill into law. Colin sat down, pulled from his pocket his broken #2 pencil and omnipresent notebook, and began to scribble.
The Theorem rests upon the validity of my long-standing argument that the world contains precisely two kinds of people: Dumpers and Dumpees. Everyone is predisposed to being either one or the other, but of course not all people are COMPLETE Dumpers or Dumpees. Hence the bell curve:
The majority of people fall somewhere close to the vertical dividing line with the occasional statistical outlier (e. g. , me) re p resenting a tiny percentage of overall individuals. The numerical expression of the graph can be something like 5 being extreme Dumper, and 0 being me. Ergo, if the Great One was a 4 and I am a 0, total size of the Dumper/Dumpee differential = -4. (Assuming negative numbers if the guy is more of a Dumpee; positive if the girl is. )
And then he sought a graphable equation that would express his relationship with the Great One (the simplest of all his romances) as it actually was: nasty, brutish, and short.
For some reason, as he discarded equations left and right, the room seemed to grow warmer. Sweat pooled in the gauze bandage over his eyes, so he tore it off. He removed his shirt, wiping still-trickling blood from his face. Naked from the waist up, his vertebrae extruded from his skinny back as he hunched over the desk, working. He felt as he had never felt before—that he was close to an original concept. Plenty of people, Colin included, had noted the Dumper/Dumpee dichotomy before. But no one had ever used it to show the arc of romantic relationships. He doubted anyone had ever even imagined that a single formula could predict the rise and fall of romances universally. He knew it wouldn’t be easy. For one thing, turning concepts into numbers was a sort of anagramming to which he was unaccustomed. But he had confidence. He’d never been all that good at math,31 but he was a goddamned world-famous expert in getting dumped.
He kept at the formula, haunted by the feeling that his head was just about to wrap around something big and important. And when he proved he mattered, she would miss him, he knew. She would see him as she had in the beginning: as a genius.
Within an hour, he had an equation:
which made Katherine I look like this:
That was nearly perfect—an uncomplicated graphical representation of an uncomplicated relationship. It even captured the relationship’s brevity. The graphs didn’t need to represent time accurately; they merely needed to give an idea of length by comparison, i. e. , she’ll date me longer than K-14 but not as long as K-19. 32
But Katherine II came out all wrong—only touching the x-axis once. Clearly, it wasn’t refined enough yet to send out a notice to The Annals of Mathematics or anything, but Colin felt good enough to slink back into his shirt. Happier than he’d been in, well, at least two days, Colin hurried down the hallway and burst into the coolness of the living room, where he saw through a doorway that Lindsey and Hassan and Hollis were seated in the dining room. He walked in and sat down before a plate of rice, green beans, and what appeared to be very small chickens.