An Abundance of Katherines, Page 8John Green
“Birdshot,” Lindsey told him.
“Birdshot,” Hollis agreed.
“The bird was shot?” Colin asked, spitting out a tiny metal pellet.
“And I’m eating the bullets?”
Lindsey smiled. “Nope. You’re spitting them out. ”
And so it was that Colin dined that evening primarily on rice and green beans. After everyone had finished, Hollis asked, “So how did it feel to win KranialKidz? I remember on the show you didn’t seem that, uh, excited. ”
“I felt really bad about the other kid losing. She was really nice. The kid I played against—she took it kind of hard. ”
“I was happy enough for the both of us,” said Hassan. “I was the only member of the studio audience dancing a jig. Singleton beat that little fugger like she’d stole something. ”33
KranialKidz reminded Colin of Katherine XIX, and he stared straight ahead and tried hard to think of as little as possible. When Hollis spoke, it seemed to break a long quiet, the way alarm clocks do. “I think y’all should work for me this summer in Gutshot. I’m starting a project, and you’d be perfect for it. ”
Over the years, people had occasionally sought to employ Colin in a manner befitting his talents. But (a) summers were for smart-kid camp so that he could further his learning and (b) a real job would distract him from his real work, which was becoming an ever-larger repository of knowledge, and (c) Colin didn’t really have any marketable skills. One rarely comes across, for instance, the following want ad:
Huge, megalithic corporation seeks a talented, ambitious prodigy to join our exciting, dynamic Prodigy Division for summer job. Requirements include at least fourteen years’ experience as a certified child prodigy, ability to anagram adeptly (and alliterate agilely), fluency in eleven languages. Job duties include reading, remembering encyclopedias, novels, and poetry; and memorizing the first ninety-nine digits of pi. 33
And so every summer Colin went to smart-kid camp and with each passing year it became increasingly clear to him that he wasn’t qualified to do anything , which is what he told Hollis Wells.
“I just need you to be reasonably smart and not from Gutshot, and you both fit the bill. Five hundred dollars a week for both y’all, plus free room and board. You’re hired! Welcome to the Gutshot Textiles family!”
Colin shot a glance at his friend, who held a quail daintily in his hands, his teeth gnawing at the bone in a vain search for a half-decent meal. Hassan placed the quail carefully back on the plate and looked back at Colin.
Hassan nodded subtly; Colin’s lips pursed; Hassan rubbed at his five-o’clock shadow; Colin bit at the inside of his thumb; Hassan smiled; Colin nodded.
“Okay,” said Colin finally. They had decided to stay. Like it or not, Colin thought, road trips have destinations. Or at least his kind of road trip always would. And this seemed a fair end point—sweet, if ceaselessly pink, accommodations; reasonably nice people, one of whom made him feel slightly famous; and the home of his first-ever Eureka. Colin didn’t need the money, but he knew how much Hassan hated begging spending money off his parents. And also, they could both use a job. Neither of them, it occurred to Colin, had ever, technically, worked for money before. Colin’s only worry was the Theorem.
Hassan said, “La ureed an uz’ij rihlatik—wa lakin min ajl khamsu ma’at doolar amreeki fil usbu’, sawfa afa’al. ”34
“La ureed an akhsar kulla wakti min ajl watheefa. Yajib an ashtaghil ala mas’alat al-riyadiat. ”35
“Can we just make sure Singleton has time to doodle?” asked Hassan in English.
“Is that some kind of gibberish?” Lindsey interrupted, incredulous.
Colin ignored her, responding in English to Hassan. “It’s not doodling, which you’d know if you—”
“Went to college, right. God, so predictable,” Hassan said. Then he turned to Lindsey and said, “We are not speaking gibberish. We’re speaking the sacred language of the Qur’an, the language of great calipha and Saladin, the most beautiful and intricate of all human tongues. ”
“Well, it sounds like a raccoon clearing its throat,” Lindsey noted. Colin stopped for a moment to ponder that.
“I need time to do my work,” Colin said, and Hollis just nodded.
“Splendid,” Lindsey said, seemingly genuine. “Splendid. But you can’t have my room. ”
His mouth half-full of rice, Hassan said, “I think we’ll be able to find a place to hunker down somewhere in this house. ”
After awhile Hollis announced, “We should play Scrabble. ” Lindsey groaned.
“I’ve never played,” Colin said.
“A genius who’s never played Scrabble?” Lindsey asked.
“I’m not a genius. ”
“Okay. A smartypants?”
Colin laughed. It suited him. No longer a prodigy, not yet a genius—but still a smartypants. “I don’t play games,” Colin said. “I don’t really play much. ”
“Well, you should. Playing is fun. Although Scrabble isn’t really the A#1 way of doing it,” Lindsey said.
After he called his parents and told them he was in a town called Gutshot but failed to mention he was boarding with strangers, Colin stayed up late working on the Theorem in his new bedroom on the second floor, which featured a nice oak desk with empty drawers. Colin, for whatever reason, had always loved desks with empty drawers. But the Theorem didn’t go well; he was beginning to worry that he might lack the math expertise for the job when he glanced up to see the bedroom door opening. Lindsey Lee Wells was wearing paisley pajamas.
“How’s the head?” she asked, sitting down on his bed.
He closed his right eye, then opened it, and then pressed a finger against his cut. “It hurts,” he responded. “Thanks for your treatment, though. ”
She folded her legs beneath her, smiled, and sang, “That’s what friends are for. ” But then she turned serious, almost shy. “Listen, I wonder if I can just tell you something. ” She bit at the inside of her thumb.
“Hey IDo That,” Colin said, pointing.
“Oh, weird. It’s like the poor man’s thumb sucking, isn’t it? Anyway, I only do it in private,” Lindsey said, and it occurred to Colin that being around him was not really “private,” but he didn’t pursue it. “Right so anyway. This will sound retarded, but can I just tell you about that picture so you don’t think I’m an absolute asshole? Because I’ve been lying in bed thinking about what an asshole you probably think I am, and how you and Hassan are probably talking about what an asshole I am and everything. ”
“Um, okay,” he said, although frankly he and Hassan had plenty of other things to talk about.
“So I was ugly. I was never fat, really, and I never wore headgear or had zits or anything. But I was ugly. I don’t even know how ugly and pretty get decided—maybe there’s like a secret cabal of boys who meet in the locker room and decide who’s ugly and who’s hot, because as far as I can remember, there was no such thing as a hot fourth-grader. ”
“Clearly, you never met Katherine I,” interrupted Colin.
“Rule 1 of stories: no interrupting. But, ha ha. Perv. Anyway, I was ugly. I got picked on a lot. I’m not going to bore you with stories about how bad it was, but it was pretty bad. I was miserable. And so in eighth grade I went all alternative. Hollis and I drove to Memphis and bought me a whole new wardrobe, and I got me a Zelda haircut and dyed it black and stopped going outside in the sun, and I was like half-emo and half-goth and half-punk and half-nerd chic. Basically, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but it didn’t matter because the middle school in Milan, Tennessee, had never seen emo or goth or punk or nerd chic. I was different, that was all. And I hated all of them, and they hated all of me fo
r an entire year. And then high school started, and I decided to make them like me. I just decided. It was so easy, dude. It was so, so easy. I just became it. If it walks like a cool kid and talks like a cool kid and dresses like a cool kid and has the right mix of naughtyandnastyandnice like a cool kid, it becomes a cool kid. But I’m not an asshole to people. There’s not even really popularity at my school. ”
“That,” Colin said emphatically, “is a sentence that has only ever been spoken by popular people. ”
“Well, okay. But I’m not just some former ugly girl who sold her soul to date hotties and go to the finest keg parties the Greater Gutshot Area has to offer. ” She repeated it, almost defensively. “I didn’t sell my soul. ”
“Um, okay. I wouldn’t care if you did,” Colin acknowledged. “Nerds always say they don’t give a shit about popularity; but—not having friends sucks. I never liked quote unquote cool kids, personally—I thought they were all dumb little shits. But I’m probably like them in some ways. Like, the other day, I told Hassan I wanted to matter—like, be remembered. And he said, ‘famous is the new popular. ’ Maybe he’s right, and maybe I just want to be famous. I was thinking about this tonight, actually, that maybe I want strangers to think I’m cool since people who actually know me don’t. I was at the zoo once when I was ten on a class trip and I really needed to pee, right? I actually had repeated urges to urinate that day, probably due to overhydration. Incidentally, did you know that the whole eight glasses a day thing is complete bullshit and has no scientific basis? So many things are like that. Everyone just assumes they’re true, because people are basically lazy and incurious, which incidentally is one of those words that sounds like it wouldn’t be a word but is. ”36
“It’s very weird to watch your brain work,” Lindsey said, and Colin sighed. He knew he couldn’t tell stories, that he always included extraneous details and tangents that interested only him. “Anyway, the end of that story is that I came relatively close to having a lion bite off my penis. And my point was that shit like that never happens to popular people. Ever. ”
Lindsey laughed. “That sounds like a hell of a good story if only you knew how to tell it. ” She bit at her thumb again. Her private habit. From behind her hand she said, “Well, I think you’re cool, and I want you to think I’m cool, and that’s all popular is. ”
The End (of the Beginning)
After their first kiss, Colin and Katherine I sat in silence for perhaps two minutes. Katherine watched Colin carefully, and he tried to continue translating Ovid. But he found himself with an unprecedented problem. Colin couldn’t focus. He kept glancing up at her. Her big blue eyes, too big for her young face really, stared unceasingly at him. He figured he was in love. Finally, she spoke.
“Colin,” she said.
“I’m breaking up with you. ”
At the time, of course, Colin did not fully understand the significance of the moment. He immersed himself in Ovid, grieving his loss in silence, and she continued to watch him for the next half hour until her parents came into the living room to take her home. But it only took a few more Katherines for him to look back nostalgically upon The Great One as the perfect spokesperson for the Katherine Phenomenon. Their three-minute relationship was the thing itself in its most unadulterated form. It was the immutable tango between the Dumper and the Dumpee: the coming and the seeing and the conquering and the returning home.
When you spend your entire life in and around the city of Chicago, as it turns out, you fail to fully apprehend certain facets of rural life. Take, for example, the troubling case of the rooster. To Colin’s mind, the rooster crowing at dawn was nothing more than a literary and cinematic trope. When an author wanted a character to be awoken at dawn, Colin figured the author just used the literary tradition of the crowing rooster to make it happen. It was, he thought, just like how authors always wrote things in ways other than how they actually happened. Authors never included the whole story; they just got to the point. Colin thought the truth should matter as much as the point, and he figured that was why he couldn’t tell good stories.
That morning, he learned that roosters really don’t start crowing at dawn. They start well before dawn—around 5 A. M. Colin rolled over in the foreign bed, and for a few slow seconds, as he squinted into the darkness, he felt good. Tired, and annoyed with the rooster. But good. And then he remembered that she’d dumped him, and he thought of her in her big fluffy bed asleep, not dreaming of him. He rolled over and looked at his cell phone. No missed calls.
The rooster crowed again. “Cock-a-doodle-don’t, motherfugger,” Colin mumbled. But the rooster cock-a-doodle-did, and by dawn, the crowing created a kind of weird dissonant symphony when mingled with the muffled sounds of a Muslim’s morning prayers. Those hours of unsleepthroughable loudness allowed him ample time to wonder about everything from when Katherine last thought of him to the number of grammatically correct anagrams of rooster. 37
Around 7 A. M. , as the rooster (or perhaps there was more than one—perhaps they crowed in shifts) entered its third hour of shrieking cries, Colin stumbled into the bathroom, which also connected to Hassan’s bedroom. Hassan was already in the shower. For all its luxury, their bathroom contained no bathtub.
“Morning, Hass. ”
“Hey. ” Hassan shouted over the water. “Dude, Hollis is asleep in the living room watching the Home Shopping Network. She’s got a billion-dollar house and she sleeps on the couch. ”
“Bees feefle are weird,” Colin said, pulling out his toothbrush mid-sentence.
“Whatever—Hollis loves me. She thinks I hung the moon. And that you’re a genius. And at five hundred dollars a week, I’ll never have to work again. Five hundred dollars can last me five months at home, dude. I can survive on this summer till I’m, like, thirty. ”