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An Abundance of Katherines, Page 13

John Green

Page 13


  At four-thirty, a woman walked in and announced she was the last uninterviewed employee of Gutshot Textiles currently at work. She removed a pair of thick gloves, blew her bangs up into the air with a puff of breath, and said, “They say one of you is a genius. ”

  “I’m not a genius,” Colin said dispassionately.

  “Well, you’re the closest thing I’ve got and I’ve got a question. How come the shower curtain always blows in when the water should be blowing it out?”

  “That,” Hassan acknowledged, “is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the human condition. ”

  “Actually,” Colin said, “I know. ” Colin smiled. It felt good to be useful again.

  “No!” Hassan said. “Seriously?”

  “Yeah. What happens is the water spray creates a vortex, kind of like a hurricane. And the center of the vortex—the eye of the hurricane—is a low-pressure area, which sucks the shower curtain in and up. This guy did a study on it. Honestly. ”

  “Now, that,” Hassan said, “is really interesting. It’s like there’s a little hurricane in every shower?”

  “Exactly. ”

  “Wow,” said the woman. “I’ve been wondering that my whole life. Well, okay. So my name’s Katherine Layne. I’m twenty-two, been working here ten months. ”

  “Wait, how do you spell that?” Hassan asked.

  “K-a-t-h-e-r-i-n-e L-a-y-n-e. ”

  “Uh-oh,” mumbled Hassan. She was quite attractive now that Colin took a look at her. But no. Colin didn’t like Katherine Layne. And it wasn’t the age gap. It was K-19. Colin knew the situation was dire, indeed, when he could sit across from a perfectly nice and attractive (and sexily older!) Katherine without feeling even the smallest hint of enchantment.

  They left after interviewing Katherine Layne. They drove around in Satan’s Hearse for a while, getting good and lost with the windows rolled down, driving down a two-lane highway toward absolutely nothing. They listened to a country radio station turned up so loud that the twangs of steel guitars were distorted in the Hearse’s old speakers. When they could catch on to the chorus, they sang loud and off-key and didn’t give a shit. And it felt so good to sing with those trumped-up, hound-dog country accents. Colin felt sad, but it was an exhilarating and infinite sadness, like it connected him to Hassan and to the ridiculous songs and mostly to her, and Colin was shouting, “Like Strawwwwwberry Wine,” when all of a sudden he turned to Hassan and said, “Wait, stop here. ” Hassan pulled over on the gravel shoulder of the road and Colin hopped out and pulled out his telephone.

  “What are you doing?” asked Hassan from the driver’s seat.

  “I’m going to walk out into that field until I get cell reception and I’m going to call her. ”

  Hassan began pounding his head rhythmically against the steering wheel. Colin turned away. As he walked out into the field, he heard Hassan shout, “Dingleberries!” But Colin kept walking. “Daddy is leaving you here if you take one more step!” Colin took one more step, and behind him, he heard the car start. He didn’t turn around. He heard the tires spinning in the gravel, and then they caught onto the asphalt, and Colin heard the rumble of the eternally struggling engine grow distant. After five minutes of walking, he found a spot where he had okay reception. It was awfully quiet. Chicago only gets this quiet when it snows, he thought. And then he flipped open the phone, pressed the voice button, and said “Katherine. ” He said it softly, reverently.

  Five rings and then her voice mail. Hey, it’s Katherine, he heard, and in the background cars rushed by. They’d been walking home together from the RadioShack54 when she recorded the message. I’m not, uh. And she uhed, he remembered, because he’d goosed her butt as she tried to talk. Uh, at my cell phone, I guess. Leave me a message and I’ll call you back. And he remembered everything about it, and also everything about everything else, and why couldn’t he forget and beep.

  “Hey, it’s Col. I’m standing in a soybean field outside of Gutshot, Tennessee, which is a long story, and it’s hot, K. I’m standing here sweating like I had hyperhidrosis, that disease where you sweat a lot. Crap. That’s not interesting. But anyway, it’s hot, and so I’m thinking about cold to stay cool. And I was remembering walking through the snow coming back from that ridiculous movie. Do you remember that, K? We were on Giddings, and the snow made it so quiet, I couldn’t hear a thing in the world but you. And it was so cold then, and so silent, and I loved you so much. Now it’s hot, and dead quiet again, and I love you still. ”

  Five minutes later, he was trudging back when his phone began vibrating. He raced back to the spot with good reception and, breathless, answered.

  “Did you listen to the message?” he asked immediately.

  “I don’t think I need to,” she answered. “I’m sorry, Col. But I think we made a really good decision. ” And he didn’t even care to point out that they hadn’t made a decision, because the sound of her voice felt so good—well, not good exactly. It felt like the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the fear and the fascination. The great and terrible awe.

  “Did you tell your mom?” he asked, because her mom had loved him. All moms loved him.

  “Yeah. She was sad. But she said you always wanted to be attached to my hip, which wasn’t healthy. ”

  “A better fate than this,” he said mostly to himself.

  He could hear her eyes rolling as she said, “You are probably the only person I’ve ever known who wants to be a Siamese twin. ”

  “Conjoined twin,” Colin corrected. “Did you know that there is a word for a person who is not a conjoined twin?” he asked her.

  “No. What is it? Normal person?”

  “Singleton,” he said. “The word is Singleton. ” And she said, “That’s funny, Col. Listen, I really have to go. I’ve got to pack for camp. Maybe we shouldn’t talk till I get back. Just some time away from it would be good for you, I think. ” And even though he wanted to say, We’re supposed to be FRIENDS, remember? And What is it? New boyfriend? And I love you entirely , he just mumbled, “Just please listen to the message,” and then she said, “Okay. Bye,” and he didn’t say anything because he wasn’t going to be the person who ended the conversation or hung up, and then he heard the deadness in his ear and it was over. Colin lay down on the dry, orange dirt and let the tall grass swallow him up, making him invisible. The sweat pouring down his face was indistinguishable from his tears. He was finally—finally—crying. He remembered their arms entangled, their stupid little inside jokes, the way he felt when he would come over to her house after school and see her reading through the window. He missed it all. He thought of being with her in college, having the freedom to sleep over whenever they wanted, both of them at Northwestern together. He missed that, too, and it hadn’t even happened. He missed his imagined future.

  You can love someone so much, he thought. But you can never love people as much as you can miss them.

  He waited on the side of the road for twenty minutes before Hassan came by, with Lindsey riding shotgun.

  “You were right,” Colin said. “Not a good idea. ”

  “Daddy’s sorry,” Hassan said. “It’s a shitty situation. Maybe you had to call her. ”

  Lindsey turned around in her seat. “You really love this girl, huh?”

  And then Colin started crying again, and Lindsey crawled into the backseat and put her arm around him, and Colin’s head was up against the side of her head. He tried not to sob much, because the plain fact of the matter is that boy-sobbing is exceedingly unattractive. Lindsey said, “Let it out, let it out,” and then Colin said, “But I can’t, because if I let it out it’ll sound like a bullfrog’s mating call,” and everyone, including Colin, laughed.

  He worked on the Theorem from the time they got home until 11 P. M. Lindsey brought him some kind of chicken taco salad from Taco Hell, but Colin only ate a few bites. Generally, he didn’t think all that highly of eating, particularly when he
was working. But his work that night came to naught. He couldn’t make the Theorem work, and he realized that his Eureka moment had been a false alarm. Imagining the Theorem only required a prodigy, but actually completing it would take a genius. Proving the Theorem, in short, required more mattering than Colin brought to the table.

  “I’m going to burn you,” he said out loud to the notebook. “I’m going to throw you in the fire. ” Which was a fine idea—only there was no fire. There don’t tend to be a lot of crackling fireplaces during the Tennesse summer, and Colin didn’t smoke, so no matches were on hand. He rousted about the empty drawers of his adopted desk for matches or a lighter, but he could find nothing. He was hell-bent on burning that goddamned notebook with all his Theoremizing, though. So he walke d through the bathroom and cracked open the door to Hassan’s darkened room.

  “Dude, do you have a match?” Colin asked, failing at whispering.

  “Your daddy is sleeping. ”

  “I know, but do you have a lighter or a match or something?”

  “Daddy is trying really fugging hard to think of a not-terrifying reason why you’d wake Daddy up in the middle of the night to ask that fugging question. But no. No. Daddy does not have a match or a lighter. And, okay, enough of the Daddy shit. Anyway, you’ll just have to wait till morning to douse yourself in gasoline and self-annimilate. ”

  “Self-immolate,” Colin corrected, and then pulled the door shut.

  He walked downstairs and shuffled past Hollis Wells, who was too distracted by all the papers around her and the blaring Home Shopping Network to notice him. Down a hallway, he came to what he believed to be Lindsey’s room. He’d never technically seen it, but he’d seen her enter the living room from this approximate side of the house. Also, a light was on. He knocked softly.

  “Yeah,” she said. Lindsey was seated in a plush armchair beneath a giant wall-length bulletin board, on which she’d thumbtacked pictures of herself and Katrina, herself and TOC, herself in camouflage. It was like every single picture of Lindsey Lee Wells ever taken—except Colin noticed immediately that they were all from the last couple of years. No baby pictures, no kid pictures, and no emo-alternative-gothy-screamo-punk synthesis pictures. A four-poster queen-size bed jutted up against the wall opposite the bulletin board. Notably, the room lacked pink.

  “It’s not so pink in here,” Colin commented.

  “It’s the only refuge in the entire house,” she said.

  “Do you have a match?”

  “Sure, I got a shitload of ’em,” Lindsey answered without looking up. “Why?”

  “I want to burn this,” he said, holding it up. “I can’t finish my Theorem, and so I want to burn it. ”

  Lindsey stood up, darted toward Colin, and snatched the notebook from his hand. She paged through it for a while. “Can’t you just throw it away?”

  Colin sighed. Clearly, she didn’t get it. “Well, yeah, I could. But look, if I can’t be a genius—and clearly I can’t be—I can at least burn my work like one. Look at all the geniuses who either successfully or unsuccessfully tried to burn their papers. ”

  “Yes,” Lindsey said absentmindedly, still reading from the notebook. “Just look at all of them. ”

  “Carlyle, Kafka, Virgil. It’s hard to imagine better company, really. ”

  “Yes. Hey, explain this to me,” she said, sitting down on the bed and motioning for him to sit next to her. She was reading from a page with an early version of the formula and several inaccurate graphs.

  “The idea is that you take two people and figure out if they’re Dumpers or Dumpees. You use a scale that goes from -5 for a strong Dumpee to +5 for a strong Dumper. The difference between those numbers gives you the variable, D, and then by putting D into the formula, you get a graph that predicts the relationship. Only—” he paused, trying to think of a way to put his failure poetically. “Uh, it doesn’t really work. ”

  She didn’t look up at him; just closed the notebook. “You can burn it,” she said, “but not tonight. I want it for a couple days. ”

  “Uh, okay,” Colin said, and then he waited for Lindsey to say something more. Finally, she added, “It’s just a cool-ass way to tell stories. I mean, I hate math. But this is cool. ”

  “Okay. But soon, we burn it!” Colin said, his finger in the air, mock emphatic.

  “For sure, yo. Now go to bed before your day gets any worse. ”


  On their fifth night in Gutshot, Hassan and Colin split up. Hassan went out with Lindsey to go “cruising,” an activity that apparently involved driving in Hollis’s pink truck from the Gutshot General Store to the gas station/ Taco Hell and then back to the General Store, and then back to the gas station /Taco Hell, ad infinitum.

  “You should come out,” Hassan told him. He was standing beside Lindsey in the living room. She wore dangly blue earrings and quite a bit of rouge, which made her look flushed.

  “I’m behind on my reading,” Colin explained.

  “Behind on your reading? All you do is read,” Lindsey said.

  “I’ve been way behind because I’ve worked so hard on the Theorem and because of oral historianing. I try to read four hundred pages a day—ever since I was seven. ”

  “Even on weekends?”

  “Particularly on weekends, because then I can really focus on pleasure reading. ”

  Hassan shook his head. “Dude, you’re such a geek. And that’s coming from an overweight Star Trek fan who scored a 5 on the AP Calculus test. So you know your condition is grave. ” He rubbed Colin’s Jew-fro as if for luck, and then turned away.