Saturday, September 16, 2006


This is math.
By Joey Comeau

The man sits on Rose's couch too easily. He's too used to making
strange living rooms his home. She clears her throat and turns to
the kitchen table.

"In here," she says. She's not going to be intimidated by his
notepad filled with numbers. There's nothing to numbers. It's all one
through ten. She can count, and she knows better than to be
scared of some man who counts for a living.

He gets up and joins her at the table.

"This shouldn't take long," he tells her. "We are just going to go
over your expenses. Do you have your receipts?" He has a degree
in accounting, she guesses, which he probably thinks is math. It
isn't. The word counting is right there, inside it. They all think that
it's math.

Rose has a book of math exercises in the closet, hidden beneath
the porno magazines her old boyfriend left. She hides it under the
smut, because nobody's going to keep digging after they find the
spread open legs and the photos of semen tracing arcs onto hungry
vacant eyes. It's safer, hidden under everyday filth.

She never got higher than a C- in high school math, and that was
good enough for the school boards, and good enough for her. It
wasn't math, either. He probably got an A. The first time she ever
saw math, real math, was in that used bookstore, when she opened
an old book and let her breath catch inside of her. The symbols
were a maze on the page, an incantation. It was a coded message
that sent electricity through her whole body, and she put her own
meaning into it, right there.

She stands up from the table, and motions for him to do the same.

"They're in my closet." she says, and she meets his eyes in a way
she knows looks good.

In the closet, she pulls out the box of receipts, which is right on top.
Then she pulls out the magazines, one by one, setting them beside
the door of the closet. He eyes them, but doesn't say anything. She
moves slower, making her gestures more pronounced,
exaggerated, like the plot points in a dirty movie. When she
reaches the math book, the book of exercises, her fingers brush
against the embossed cover. She turns and makes a pout and in a
small voice, she says "Do you know much about math?"

He smiles.

"I did my graduate studies in number theory," he says. It's
unexpected, and there's suddenly a cold spot in her stomach, but
she makes herself smile. "I like to think I'm pretty good." he says.

Rose pulls the book out, where he can see it.

"Then maybe you can help me," she says. She opens the book to
the middle, and takes a marker from her pocket. She passes it to
him, letting her fingers linger on his, and then pulls her hand away.

She rolls up her sleeve, and there is an equation written there, in
black. It's a series of symbols and numbers. There are Roman and
Greek letters, all together, strung along a line that begins on the
inside of her elbow. It is from a random page in the book. She has
no idea what it means.

"That's not quite what I studied," he says, and she knows that this is
the smile that he considers his charming smile. This is the one he
pulls out in bars, or when he's being introduced to women he
knows are single. She smiles back, and touches the top button of
her blouse with her other hand.

"If you can solve this one, there are more." she says, and he looks
again at the equation. He looks at it more seriously, this time, taking
her hand to hold the arm steady. She knows the answer, symbol
for symbol, but has no idea what it means, either. She knows what
it means to her. It's the first in a series of locks, lines of defences.

This is how it works. He'll struggle with the first question, but solve
it. He'll solve the second and third, too. But they never make it past
the fourth, and she sleeps with them anyway, because she feels
bad. Because she's worried that no one ever will.

He reaches out for the book, but she shakes her head no, and
holds it closer to herself. He has a tight grin on his face.

"It's been a while," he says, and she nods. There are symbols there
that he would never have studied in finance, she's sure, and the
farther beneath her clothes he gets, the less like counting the math
would become. Eventually it would be nothing but magic to him,
and he would give up.

Only, he doesn't give up. He solves the first equation, writing the
answer onto her palm, the soft tip of the marker moving with fast
confidence. She pulls up the other sleeve, and he does it again,
faster this time. He's smiling now, and she undoes the front of her

"I hope you don't think this is going to make me any easier on your
taxes," he laughs.

There are five equations on her chest, all drawn carefully with the
black marker. She doesn't even have to look down to know that
he's writing out the answers properly, symbol for symbol, perfect.
His handwriting is like hers, and he draws the symbols with the
same care.

When he's done, he looks up from where he is knelt before her
belly, and she nods. He undoes the first button of her jeans, and
begins to pull the zipper down.

"Give me the marker," she says, and he does. With both hands
free, he pulls her pants to the ground, and her legs are naked and
unmarked. He reaches for the waistband of her panties but Rose
shakes her head.

She takes the cap off the marker, and she begins to draw symbols
on her legs, down one and up the other. This isn't an equation from
the book, but one that just pours out of her. She's drawing from
instinct, from her heart, and when she's done she passes the marker
to the man. If he can't solve this one, there won't be any pity sex.
She won't send him home with a consolation prize. This isn't
counting anymore, and he can't just turn to his calculator for the
answer. This is math.

The End

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