Triangular Numbers

Micro-fiction by Jack A. Urquhart ©2012 (742 words)

Triangular numbers

“You’ll need more than five minutes tonight,” you say to your wife, leading her to your customary table.  “The numbers are off.”

Effortlessly beautiful, easily bored, she is as quickly dismissive.  “You think too much of numbers,” she scoffs, turning to survey the few patrons in the café.

It is true, of course.

“Because numbers are constant,” is your explanation.  “The only things infinitely dependable.”

“So you keep telling me,” she sighs.

Once again, you see that you have blundered.

“Consider the number 512 there,” you expound, indicating the address gilded onto the café window.  “The sum of 5+1+2 is always 8,” you say fighting a sudden terminal exhaustion.  “Likewise, 8 cubed consistently yields 512.”

A mathematician, you find such tallies inscrutable, axiomatic.

Like the countdown from life unto death.

“Difficult to say,” is your physician’s calculation.  “Curtail treatment now, in stage four,” he’s explained, “and you might have five months, perhaps one or two more; eight if you’re fortunate.  I advise you put your affairs in order.”

Plain talk being the order of the day, you’d summoned your own there in the examination room: “Perhaps you’ll want to leave me now?” you’d queried your wife.

Surprising—how sharply she’d replied:  “Weren’t you listening?” she snapped.  “We’ve affairs to settle!”

And so you have—an unimaginable nine months it has been.  To the day.

“So much for numerical certainties,” your wife remarked pointedly just this evening while applying her makeup.

Even so, you continue your calculated outings.

Several nights a week you bring her to troll the nightspots.

“Extended summation,” you dub these nocturnal prowlings.

Dressed to the nines, you begin early—Café 512 South, your point zero.

“Only five minutes,” you recall while waiting for business to perk.  “That’s all it took to capture me all those years ago.  I’ll wager it’ll take you six tonight,” you say, setting your watch, thinking how fitting that 6 is triangular. “Consider this practice,” you add. “For my inevitable if somewhat delayed exit.”

Your wife, of course, will have the last word.

“Nonsense and theatrics, your silly games,” she demurs.  “Don’t expect me to play pretty.”

She is as good as her word.

When the opportunity presents, she leaves you, moves across the room to intercept the rough trade when he slinks into the café—a choice she knows will chafe.

Such men are not her type, you fret, quaffing another drink.  This specimen is bedraggled, hungry—an endangered species near unto extinction.  What a banquet of silver-satin effulgence she must appear to him—draping herself into the chair, leaning across the table to smile.

Forty-five seconds and she has his rapt attention.

But, there is yourself to be accounted for.

“Get a load of Mister Curiosity over there giving us the eye,” her James Dean speaks up at a minute thirty.  “He belong to you?  I don’t do threesomes.”

Clever, this player—and with a little tidying, passably handsome.  What chilblains he must feel when she laughs, answers, cool as mentholated smoke.

“Pity.  My husband adores triangles,” you hear her say.

Who could resist the face she presents, the feline deceptive softness of her painted mouth?

“Never mind,” she purrs.  “He’s only keeping tally.”

Oh, she can play a scene all right: at two minutes comes the shtick of shoulder-sliding fur, the cupped chin, face tilted to the light.  A minute more and she tosses her head, sighs heavily.  At four-ten when she touches his hand, lets him caress her bare arm, you feel ill.  How far will she go this time, you begin to wonder?

The pitch starts at four-forty-five:

“Let’s split,” her co-star growls.  “Who needs hubby?”

Who indeed, you wonder, counting consecutive integers, running the math that tallies in her silence: 1+2 is 3; 3+3 is 6; 6+4 is 10.  You tick them off—building equilateral triangles in your head as she lets you sweat.

At last—she stands, gathers her props, digs in her bag for the bill she always leaves behind.

“Sorry, show’s over,” she says to her stunned bit-player, lingering long enough to touch his cheek.

“You lose,” your wife gloats, returning to you.  “That was less than six minutes.”

On the street, you offer your arm.  “I’d counted on…” you begin.

But, of course, she interrupts:  “Another miscalculation?” she queries.

You concede the possibility—wondering how far back the error runs, and if there is still time for correction.

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About jaurquhart

Jack Andrew Urquhart was born in the American South. Following undergraduate work at the University of Florida, Gainesville, he taught in Florida's public schools. He earned a Master of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was the winner of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Award for Fiction (1991). His work has appeared online at Clapboard House Literary Journal, Crazyhorse Literary Journal, and Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies. He is the author of So They Say, a collection of self-contained, inter-connected stories and the short story, They Say You Can Stop Yourself Breathing. Formerly a writing instructor at the University of Colorado’s Writing Program, Mr. Urquhart was, until 2010, a senior analyst for the Judicial Branch of California. He resides in southern California.
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5 Responses to Triangular Numbers

  1. Bathsheba says:

    Reminded me of John Banville’s ‘Mefisto’? And Aimee Bender’s ‘An Invisible Sign of My Own’. Probably just because they’re also mathematically obsessed. Interesting slant.

  2. Simon K. says:

    Great piece with a brilliant final line. Thank you.

    • jaurquhart says:

      Very kind of you, Simon. Thanks. As I replied to Jessica, I wrote the story for a local writing contest. Entries were to be “inspired” by a painting (again, by a local artist) featuring a rather disaffected couple (or so it seemed to me) in a café setting. The title of the painting: “512 South”. Crazy, but it was that number–512–that most interested me (perhaps the reason I didn’t win?). LOL.

  3. mrydpierce says:

    Leave it to you to be brilliant with BOTH words and numbers! Wonderful piece of writing.

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