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An Abundance of Katherines, Page 23

John Green

Page 23


  Mabel Bartrand lived in an assisted living facility about fifteen miles outside of Gutshot, one exit south of the Hardee’s. Lindsey knew the way, so she drove the Hearse. On the drive, no one talked. There was too much to discuss. And anyway, Colin’s whole body felt like pure, undiluted crap. But his life had finally calmed down enough to return to the troubling question of Katherine III, and the failure of his memory. His head, however, hurt too much to make any sense of it.

  A male nurse met them at reception and guided them to Mabel’s room. This place was significantly more depressing than Sunset Acres. Here the only sound was the whirring of machines, and the halls were mostly empty of people. A TV blaring the Weather Channel in the common room went unwatched; the doors were mostly closed; the few people seated in the common room looked confused or blank or—worst of all—scared.

  “Ms. Mabel,” the nurse said singsongily, condescendingly. “You have some visitors. ” Colin turned on the minirecorder. He was using the same tape from the day before, taping over TOC’s confession.

  “Hello,” Mabel said. She was seated in a leather recliner in what looked like a dorm room, with one twin bed, one chair, a long-ignored wooden desk, and a minifridge. Her thinning, curly white hair was styled into a kind of old lady Jew-fro. She hunched forward, and she smelled old, vaguely like formaldehyde. Lindsey leaned forward, her arms around Ms. Mabel, and kissed her cheek. Colin and Hassan introduced themselves, and Ms. Mabel smiled but didn’t speak.

  Belatedly, Mabel asked, “Is that Lindsey Wells?”

  “Yes’m,” said Lindsey, sitting down next to her.

  “Oh, Lindsey darling, I ain’t seen you in so long. It’s been years, hasn’t it? Oh, but Lord it’s good to see you. ”

  “You too, Mabel. ”

  “I’ve thought about you so much and wished on you visitin’, but you never did. Don’t you look so good and grown-up. No more blue hair for you, uh-uh. How’ve you been, baby?”

  “I’ve been good, Mabel. How about yourself?”

  “I’m ninety-four! How you think I’m doing?” Mabel laughed, and so did Colin. “What’s your name?” she asked Colin, and he told her.

  “Hollis,” she said to Lindsey. “Is that Dr. Dinzanfar’s son-in-law?” Ms. Mabel leaned forward and pointed a finger that would not straighten in Hassan’s direction.

  “No, Ms. Mabel. I’m Hollis’s daughter, Lindsey. Dr. Dinzanfar’s daughter, Grace, was my grandma, and Corville Wells was my grandpa. This is Hassan, a friend of mine who wants to talk to you about the old days in Gutshot. ”

  “Oh, well that’s fine,” Ms. Mabel said. “I get confused sometimes,” she explained.

  “That’s okay,” said Lindsey. “It’s awful good to see you. ”

  “And you, Lindsey. I can’t get over how pretty you look. You right grew into that face, didn’t you?” Lindsey smiled, and now Colin noticed that Lindsey had tears in her eyes.

  “Tell us a story about the old days in Gutshot,” Lindsey said, and it became clear to Colin that this was not an occasion to be asking Hollis’s four questions.

  “I’ve been thinking on Dr. Dinzanfar. Before he started that tactilery, he owned the General Store. I was just a little thing, knee-high to a bird dog. And he’s only got one eye, you know. Fought in the first War. Well one day, we was at the store and daddy gave me one red penny and I ran up to the counter there and I said, ‘Doctor Dinzanfar, do you have any penny candy?’ And he looked down at me, and he said, ‘I’m sorry, Mabel. We don’t have any penny candy in Gutshot. All we got is free candy. ’” Mabel closed her eyes as they all let the story sink in a bit. She seemed almost asleep, her breathing slow and rhythmic, but then her eyes snapped open and she said, “Lindsey, I sure missed seeing you. I missed holding this hand. ”

  And then Lindsey began crying in earnest. “Ms. Mabel, we gotta go, but I’m-a gonna come back later this week and see you again, I promise. I’m s—I’m sorry I haven’t visited in so long. ”

  “Well that’s fine, sweetie. Don’t you go gettin’ upset about it. Next time you come, show up ’tween twelve-thirty and one and I’ll give you my Jell-O. Sugar free, but it ain’t bad. ” Mabel finally let go of Lindsey’s hand, and Lindsey blew a kiss and left.

  Colin and Hassan lingered behind to say good-bye, and when they got into the common room, they found Lindsey sobbing—death-cry-of-a-hyena sobbing. She disappeared into a bathroom, and Colin followed Hassan out the door. Hassan sat down on the curb. “I can’t handle that place,” he said. “We’re never going back in there. ”

  “What’s wrong with it?”

  “It’s sad, and not in a funny way,” Hassan said. “It’s not the least bit fugging funny. And it’s really getting to me. ”

  “Why does everything have to be funny to you?” asked Colin. “So you don’t have to ever really care about anything?”

  “Dingleberries, Dr. Freud. I’m actually just going to issue a blanket dingleberries on all attempts to psychoanalyze me. ”

  “Aye, aye, Cap’n Funnypants. ”

  Lindsey showed up outside then, seeming to be fully recovered. “I’m fine and don’t need to talk about it,” she said, unprompted.

  That night he finished the Theorem. It proved relatively easy, actually, because for the first time in several days, he had no distractions. Lindsey was locked in her room. Hollis was downstairs, so entranced in her work/TV that she never so much as said a word about Hassan’s blue-black eye or the fist-shaped bruise on Colin’s jaw. Hassan was off somewhere, too. A lot of people could lose themselves in the Pink Mansion, and that night, a lot of people did.

  It proved almost unfairly easy to finish it—now that he knew about his time as a Dumper, the formula as he had it was very close to accurate. He needed only to tweak a radical to finalize the formula.

  Everyone came out looking correct, which is to say that Katherine Mutsenberger looked like so:

  A perfect graph for a fourth-grade love story.

  Upon putting down his pencil, he held up his hands, fists clenched tight. Like a marathoner winning a race. Like the hare, coming from behind and screwing up the story by beating the tortoise.

  He went looking for Lindsey and Hassan, and eventually found them in the Game Room. “I finished our Theorem,” he told Lindsey, who was seated on the pink felt of the pool table, her brown eyes still puffy. Hassan was ensconced in the green leather couch.

  “Really?” asked Lindsey.

  “Yeah. It took like eight seconds. I actually almost finished it like two weeks ago; I just didn’t realize it worked. ”

  “Kafir,” said Hassan, “that is such good news that I almost want to get off the couch and shake your hand. But God, it’s comfortable. So now can you use it for, like, anything? Like for any two people?”

  “Yeah, I think so. ”

  “Are you going to use it to predict the future?”

  “Sure,” offered Colin. “Who are you looking to date?”

  “Uh-uh, dude. I tried it your way with the dating and the girls and the kissing and the drama, and man, I didn’t like it. Plus, my best friend is a walking cautionary tale of what happens to you when romantic relationships don’t involve marriage. Like you always say, kafir, everything ends in breakup, divorce, or death. I want to narrow my misery options to divorce or death—that’s all. That said, you could do it for me and Lindsay Lohan. I wouldn’t mind converting her to Islam, if you catch my drift. ”

  Colin laughed but otherwise ignored the diatribe.

  “Do me and Colin,” Lindsey said softly, her eyes staring down at her bare, tan knees. “The other Colin, I mean,” she added.

  And so Colin did. He sat down and balanced a book on his knees, then pulled out his notebook and pencil. As he filled in the variables, he said, “Now just so you know, getting cheated on counts as getting dumped. I don’ t want you to get pissed off about it; that’s just the way the Theorem works. ”

  “Fair,” Lindsey
said curtly. Colin had played with the Theorem so much that he knew from the numbers what it would look like, but he still went through the motions of plotting each point.

  When he showed it to her, she said, “Wait, what’s that?”

  “That’s TOC dumping you,” answered Colin.

  “So it works,” she said, her voice empty of emotion. “It’s weird—I feel sad, but not about him. All I feel about breaking up is—I’m just relieved. ”

  “Relief is a Dumper emotion,” Colin noted with some concern.

  Lindsey hopped off the pool table and plopped down on the couch beside Colin. “I think I just realized that I don’t actually want to date an asshole I’m not even attracted to. Those are two separate revelations: I don’t want to date assholes, and I’m not actually turned on by big muscles. Although I did cry like a two-year-old in the nursing home, so the relief is possibly temporary. ”

  Hassan grabbed the notebook from Colin. “It really fugging seems to work. ”

  “Yeah, I know. ”

  “Well, although, not to poop on your party, but you proved what I already knew—that guys who play football know how to play the mother-fugging field, and that Katherines dump Colins like Hassans eat Monster Thickburgers: voraciously, passionately, and often. ”

  “Well, the real test is whether it can predict the arc of a relationship,” Colin acknowledged.

  “Oh, hey,” Lindsey said, seeming to remember something. “Ask Hassan what he was doing in the Game Room about twenty minutes before you showed up. ”

  “What were you doing in the Game Room about twenty min—”

  “God, don’t take her so literally,” said Hassan. “I was on the Internet. ”

  “Why were you on the Internet?”

  Hassan stood up, smiling through his busted lip. He rubbed the Jew-fro as he walked by, and then paused at the doorway and said, “Me and Thunderstick decided to take our show to college,” Hassan said, and Colin opened his mouth to talk, but Hassan said, “I only registered for two classes in the fall, so don’t start creaming yourself. I’ve got to ease my way into it. Don’t tell me how fugging happy you are. I know. ”78


  Colin slept through the rooster that Thursday morning but not through Lindsey jumping onto his bed and saying, “Get up. We’re going to Memphis. ”

  She gracefully jumped down, her butt landing on the bed, and sang, “Memphis. Memphis. We’re skipping work and going to Memphis. To spy on Hollis and find out why she was filling the swear jar. ”

  “Mm-hmm,” Colin mumbled as if he were sleepy, but he wasn’t. Her presence made him shoot immediately awake.

  When Colin got downstairs, Hassan was up and dressed and fed. With a few days of healing, his face had returned mostly to normal. He was searching through a mess of papers. “Kafir,” he said loudly, “help me find the warehouse’s address. I’m lost in a sea of spreadsheets. ”

  It took Colin about thirty seconds to find the address of the warehouse in Memphis. He found it at the top of a business letter addressed to Gutshot Textiles, Inc.

  Hassan shouted, “MapQuest 2246 Trial Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee 37501,” and Lindsey Lee Wells shouted back, “Awesome! Good work, Hassan!”

  “Well, technically, it was my work,” Colin noted.

  “Let me take the credit. I’ve had a tough week. ” Hassan said as he collapsed, dramatically, on the couch. “Hey, how do you like that, Singleton? You’re the only nonrecent Dumpee in this house. ”

  This was true. But Hassan seemed to get over Katrina immediately, and Lindsey had just burst into Colin’s room in song, so he still felt he could lay claim to the Household’s Most Devastated Dumpee, even if he had to admit that he didn’t exactly want K-19 back anymore. He wanted her to call; he wanted her to miss him; but as it turned out, he was okay. He’d never found single life so interesting before.

  Hassan called driving and Lindsey called shotgun, so even though it was his car, Colin was relegated to the backseat, where he curled up against the window and read J. D. Salinger’s Seymour: An Introduction. He finished it just as the Memphis skyline came into view. It was no Chicago, but Colin had missed skyscrapers.

  They drove through downtown and then got off the interstate in a part of the city that seemed to be comprised entirely of low-lying buildings with few windows and even fewer signs informing visitors of their function. A few blocks from the exit, Lindsey motioned to one, and Hassan pulled into a four-car parking lot, which was empty.

  “You’re sure this is it?”

  “It’s the address you found,” Lindsey answered.

  They walked into a small office with a receptionist’s desk, which contained no receptionist, so then they left and made their way around the side of the warehouse.

  It was a hot day but windy enough to feel mild. Colin heard a rumbling, looked up, and saw a bulldozer out in a dirt field behind the warehouse. The only two guys in sight were the guy driving the bulldozer and the fellow behind him, who was driving a forklift. The forklift contained three massive cardboard boxes. Colin frowned.

  “D’you see Hollis anywhere?” Lindsey whispered.

  “No. ”

  “Go ask those guys if they’ve ever heard of Gutshot Textiles,” Lindsey said. Colin didn’t particularly enjoy talking to strangers driving forklifts, but he silently started to walk out into the field.

  The bulldozer hauled up a final mound of dirt and then puttered away to make room for the forklift. And as it approached the hole, Colin did too. He was spitting distance79 from the hole when the forklift came to a stop and the guy came around, reached up, and toppled the first box into the ground. It landed with a thud. Colin kept walking.