An Abundance of Katherines

Page 26

“He went to bed. I asked you if you wanted to play, but I don’t think you heard me, so I figured I’d just play against myself for a while. I’m beating me pretty handily. ”
Colin stood up and sniffed. “I think I’m allergic to this house. ”
“It could be Princess,” Lindsey said. “This is actually Princess’s room. Shh. She’s sleeping. ” Colin followed Lindsey to the pool table and knelt down beside her. Beneath the table, a large sphere that initially seemed to be a ball of shaggy carpet grew and then shrunk rhythmically, breathing. “She’s always sleeping. ”
“I’m allergic to pet dander,” Colin announced.
She smirked. “Yeah, well, Princess lived here first. ” She sat back down with him, her legs tucked beneath her so that she seemed taller than Colin. “Hassan told me you’re good at anagramming,” she said.
“Yeah,” Colin answered. “Good at anagramming—dragon maggot mania. ”
Lindsey’s hand (she’d painted her fingernails an electric blue since yesterday) was suddenly against his forearm, and Colin tensed up from surprise. When he turned his head to look at her, she placed her hand back in her lap. “So,” she went on, “you’re a genius at making words out of other words, but you can’t make new words out of thin air. ”
And yes, again, that was it exactly. A retyper and not a writer. A prodigy and not a genius. It was so quiet then that he could hear Princess breathing, and he felt the missing piece inside him. “I just want to do something that matters. Or be something that matters. I just want to matter. ”
Lindsey didn’t answer right away, but she leaned in toward Colin and he could smell her fruity perfume, and then she lay down next to him on her back, the crown of her head just brushing against his shorts. “I think we’re opposites, you and me,” she said finally. “Because personally I think mattering is a piss-poor idea. I just want to fly under the radar, because when you start to make yourself into a big deal, that’s when you get shot down. The bigger a deal you are, the worse your life is. Look at, like, the miserable lives of famous people. ”
“Is that why you read Celebrity Living?”
Lindsey nodded. “Yeah. Totally—there’s a word in German for it. God, it’s on the tip of—a . . . ”
“Schadenfreude,” Colin said. Finding pleasure in others’ pain.
“Right! So, anyway,” Lindsey went on, “take staying here. Hollis always tells me that nothing really good will ever happen to me if I stay in Gutshot; and maybe that’s true. But nothing really bad will ever happen, either, and I’ll take that bargain any day. ”
Colin didn’t answer, but he was thinking that Lindsey Lee Wells, for all her coolness and whatever, was a bit of a wimp. But before he could figure a way to say so, Lindsey sat up, animated by a new topic.
“Okay,” she said. “Here’s the thing about storytelling: you need a beginning, and a middle, and an end. Your stories have no plots. They’re like, here’s something I was thinking and then the next thing I was thinking and then et cetera. You can’t get away with rambling. You’re Colin Singleton, Beginning Storyteller, so you’ve got to stick to a straight plot.
“And you need a good, strong moral. Or a theme or whatever. And the other thing is romance and adventure. You’ve got to put some of those in. If it’s a story about peeing into a lion cage, give yourself a girlfriend who notices how gigantic your winky is and then saves you from the lion at the last second by tackling you, because she’s desperate to save that gorgeous, ginormous winky. ” Colin blushed, but Lindsey kept going. “In the beginning, you need to pee; in the middle, you do; in the end, through romance and adventure, your winky is saved from the jaws of a hungry lion by the pluck of a young girl motivated by her abiding love for giant winkies. And the moral of the story is that a heroic girlfriend, combined with a giant winky, will save you from even the most desperate situations. ”
When Colin finished laughing, he placed his hand on top of Lindsey’s. It stayed there for a moment, and he could feel the worn place on her thumb where she nibbled at it. He pulled his hand away after a moment and said, “My Theorem will tell the story. Each graph with a beginning and a middle and an end. ”
“There’s no romance in geometry,” Lindsey answered.
“Just you wait. ”
The Beginning (of the Middle)
He never thought much about Katherine I. He only felt upset about the breakup because that’s what you’re supposed to feel. Little kids play house; they play war; they play relationships. I want to go with you; you dumped me; I’m sad. But none of it was really real.
Because Katherine’s dad was Colin’s tutor, Colin and Katherine continued to see each other periodically over the next several years. They got along well—but it’s not like he burned with longing for her. He didn’t miss her enough to become obsessed with her name, to date her namesakes over and over and over and over52 again.
And yet, that’s what happened. It didn’t seem willful at first—it was just a series of odd coincidences. It just kept happening: he’d meet a Katherine, and like her. She’d like him back. And then it would end. And then, after it ceased being mere coincidence, it just became two streaks—one (dating Katherines) he wished to keep, and one (getting dumped by them) he wished to break. But it proved impossible to divorce one cycle from the other. It just kept happening to him, and after a while it felt almost routine. Each time, he’d cycle through feelings of anger, regret, longing, hope, despair, longing, anger, regret. The thing about getting dumped generally, and getting dumped by Katherines in particular, was how utterly monotonous it was.
That’s why people grow weary of listening to Dumpees obsess over their troubles: getting dumped is predictable, repetitive, and boring. They want to stay friends; they feel smothered; it’s always them and it’s never you; and afterward, you’re devastated and they’re relieved; it’s over for them and just starting for you. And to Colin’s mind, at least, there was a deeper repetition: each time, Katherines dumped him because they just didn’t like him. They each came to precisely the same conclusion about him. He wasn’t cool enough or good-looking enough or as smart as they’d hoped—in short, he didn’t matter enough. And so it happened to him again and again, until it was boring. But monotony doesn’t make for painlessness. In the first century CE, Roman authorities punished St. Apollonia by crushing her teeth one by one with pliers. Colin often thought about this in relationship to the monotony of dumping: we have thirty-two teeth. After a while, having each tooth individually destroyed probably gets repetitive, even dull. But it never stops hurting.
The next morning, Colin felt tired enough to sleep through the rooster’s squawking until eight. When he made his way downstairs, he found Hollis wearing a hot pink muumuu, passed out on the couch with papers strewn across her chest and the floor. Colin walked softly past her, and thought to add “muumuu” to his mental list of unanagrammable words.
Hassan sat in the kitchen, eating oatmeal and scrambled eggs. Without speaking, he handed Colin a note written on stationery embossed with the words HOLLIS P. WELLS / CEO & PRESIDENT, GUTSHOT TEXTILE:
I’m probably sleeping, but hopefully y’all got up on time. You need to be down at the factory by 9. Ask for Zeke. I listened to your interview with Starnes—it’s good work, but I’ve changed my mind about some things. At six hours per person, we’ll never get through the whole town. I’d like you only to ask the following four questions: Where would you live if you could live anywhere? What would you do for a living if you didn’t work for the factory? When did your people come to the country? and What do you think makes Gutshot special? I think that’ll move things along nicely. They’re expecting you at the factory. Lindsey will accompany you.
See you tonight. Hollis.