The Geometry of Loss

By Brendan Todt

Green protractors and rulers on a yellow and gray background.

It hasn’t been easy. Bruce is gone—comfortable if not quite happy—living in the Dunes now, with Katie and Katie’s childless hips. You and Mitch are still here. You and Mitch have persevered. Mitch even brought home an A+ in geometry, his first, and you are so very proud of him. And he knows you are proud, which, in spite of everything, makes the both of you happy. But at the same time, it is a new kind of liability you never could have imagined. Whenever there is a dispute between the two of you, he pulls the geometry card, which is what you’ve begun calling it with your girlfriends at work. 

“Mom, can I spend the night at Amber’s house?”

“Will her parents be there?”

“No.”

“Then no, I’m afraid you can’t.”

“But mom, I got an A+ in geometry. In geometry.”

“I’m sorry Mitch. I love you, I really do, but one thing has nothing to do with the other.” 

Just a couple weeks into the summer it begins to feel unbearable. It’s gone from big things—like Amber’s sleepover—to nearly everything. Now Mitch questions every decision you make from your curfew to your choice of pastas at dinner. “What’s wrong with elbows?” you ask. 

“What’s wrong with elbows?” he spews back at you, as though the question is supposed to answer itself. 

You don’t know what to do. The girls at work don’t know what to do.  They are all younger, most of them prettier. Only one has a child and that child is four. “I remember being sixteen,” one of them tries to console, but it doesn’t help. They all know this. 

You, too, were once sixteen. And you, too, took geometry. Twice in fact. Once as a junior in high school and again as a sophomore in college. You weren’t an A+ student like Mitch, but you remember a thing or two. The way angles complement each other. The terrible things that happen to two dimensional shapes when you translate them onto three dimensional bodies. How the world starts to skew toward the surreal, the way it might in a Dali. You remember taking Advanced Geometry and Art History in the same semester. There was a time when you thought the underlying principles of all things were the same.  But that time, like your marriage, has come and gone. 

By mid-June it’s too much. Mitch works most evenings coning soft serve at the Dairy Queen—thank god—but the next night he does not work, you make dinner and insist that he join you at the table. When he asks what you are fixing for dinner, you tell him farfalle and brownie a la mode. “Really, mom?  Farfalle?  You know that’s Italian for bowties, right? Bowties.” 

You want to tell him it’s not. You want to tell him people call farfalle bowties but that in the original Italian it means butterflies. You know almost nothing of Italian, but you know that. You know even less about bowties except that his father wore one on your wedding day. If you really wanted to devastate Mitch you would tell him that. But you do not. Because this is not about devastation. It is about something, but it is not about that.

Mitch sits down as the pasta is hitting its boil. You serve the farfalle and tomato sauce—canned stuff from the store—and the first thing Mitch does is cut the damned things in half, so that instead of bowties they look like boat paddles or webbed feet. He keeps the two halves separate from each other on the two sides of the plate.  

When both of you have finished, you take your plates and leave them in the sink. Usually you would ask Mitch to help, but you don’t. Not tonight. He gets up, presumably to pull the tray of brownies from the oven where they are warming, but you stop him. 

“I keep thinking about that A+ in geometry,” you say. 

“It’s not like you’re impressed or anything.” 

“I am.” You force yourself to take a breath and smile. “I am impressed. Of course I’m impressed.” You look at him to try to gauge where he is, what he’s thinking about, how he imagines his life and yours would be different if you could cook real pasta. “In fact, I was wondering if you could show off some of your skills.” 

You hand him a Tupperware bowl from the top of the cabinet and he runs his fingers along the edge, calculating—probably—what it would take to cut it, like the bowties, in half. “I want you to measure something for me.” 

“What?” he asks. 

“Some geometry. I want you to do some geometry for me.” 

“Geometry? At home? During the summer? Why?”

“Christ, Mitch, because it’s the summer and we’re at the dinner table and we haven’t got a whole lot else going on, now do we?” You stop yourself before you lose control. “I don’t remember everything about the geometry I took in school,” you say. “Call it nostalgia.  Nostalgia mixed with parental pride.” 

“This is all really weird,” he says. “I have some stuff I need to do.”

“Like what?” you ask. 

“I don’t know. Stuff. My stuff.”

You think for a moment. You hesitate, but the risk might be worth the reward. “If you do this for me, if you take these few minutes, I’ll”—are you really going to do this?—“I’ll give you the car for a weekend.” You have to blurt it out quickly, painfully, like peeling off a band-aid. 

“I already have a car,” he says.

“My car,” you tell him. The silence begins to spread through the house like a gas.

“Really?” he asks. “Like, the whole weekend?”

“Yeah. The whole weekend. You can’t stay out overnight. You and the car have to be home by curfew each day, but you can take it Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday.”

“All for some geometry?” he says. 

“That’s all I’m asking.”

“Then yeah, sure, whatever.” He sets the bowl, right-side-up on the table. You reach across and slowly turn it over. 

Mitch scoots himself up to the table again. You hand him a permanent marker, broad-tipped and black, and tell him to draw a triangle anywhere on the curved portion of the bowl. “It doesn’t matter what kind,” you tell him. “Equilateral, right, isosceles.” You brim as you remember these elementary words. “As long as you’re able to measure each of the interior angles.” At this point you pull out the protractor you bought at Staples during your lunch break. You’re sure Mitch has his own—with an A+ in geometry how could he not?—but you didn’t want to stir the pot any further by being caught snooping around in his stuff. 

“Is this for real?” he asks. 

“It’s for real,” you say. “Humor your mother and just draw the thing.” 

So he does. He moves the uncapped pen through the air above the bowl like a magician trying to summon some otherworldly power. Eventually, Mitch presses it down and begins to draw. The Tupperware, as old as Mitch, is now aptly ruined. 

It’s hard for him to keep his hand steady, the line straight, but he does it. The triangle looks like any triangle. “Good,” you tell him. “Excellent.” 

Now that he’s finished, you hand him the protractor. You sit at the table with a piece of paper and a pen in your hand. “Now measure the angles.” 

“You know this is so stupid, right?”

“I’m your mother, of course it’s stupid. But think of the car. Think of what Amber will think. Friday, Saturday, Sunday.”

Mitch shakes his head and slaps the protractor against the palm of his other hand. “You have got to be the weirdest person I’ve ever met.” 

“We’re doing an experiment,” you say. 

“No, we’re not,” he points out. He sets the protractor down and puts on his serious look, the look you imagine he wears as he sits in class and plows through his geometry exams, proof after proof, interior angle after interior angle. His voice gets loud and in parts—though only in parts—does he sound like Bruce. Not the Bruce you divorced. The Bruce you once loved.

“An experiment is something you do when you don’t know the outcome,” Mitch says. “Mr. Waters gets really pissed when the book calls our exercises experiments. He says they’re not experiments because we already know the results we’re going to get.” 

“And what results are those?”

“It’s a triangle. I don’t know what each angle is exactly—I can’t eyeball it—but they’re all going to add up to 180 degrees. It’s geometry. If you haven’t forgotten, I got an A in geometry. Oh wait,” he says, “no I didn’t.  I got an A+.”

“180 degrees,” you say.  “I think you’re right.  I think I read that somewhere.”

“Of course you read it somewhere. It’s like the most basic thing you learn in geometry. It’s like day one.  That’s the kind of stuff even the kids who cheat remember. But for you, mom, we can perform this little experiment.” 

“Thank you.” 

You congratulate yourself for staying as calm as you have. When Mitch begins reciting the angles, you write each measurement down for him like you’re his servant or scribe; this is, after all, what he thinks you do for a living anyway. When you get the last of the three measurements, you ask him if he’s sure, if he’d like to remeasure them. “No,” he says.  “I think I can handle a protractor.” 

You tally them up, first by hand, then on a calculator, and finally on your phone. 

You consider in your head but don’t read the results out loud. You ponder them. You look at Mitch’s face.  Then you stand and inspect the bowl for its many imperfections, and then sit back down again. You put a finger to your nose and then tug on your ear. You try not to overdramatize it, but it’s important that you appear stumped. Because really, you are. You find the whole idea ridiculous, miraculous, bizarre, even now. 

“93 + 75 + 66 = —Wait a second.  93 + 75 + 66 = —That can’t be right.  93 + 75 + 66= —Huh.  I must have screwed something up,” you say. “Try it again.” 

And he does, drawing a new triangle, this time in red, feeling for the first time in eighteen months that maybe, finally, he’s got the upper hand on you. 

“85 + 62 + 79.”  You look at him.  “85 + 62 + 79.”

“Mitch,” you eventually ask, apparently defeated, “would you mind adding these up? I just can’t get them to come out right.” 

He takes the pencil from your hand, and though you offer to get out of the chair so that he can use it himself, he folds himself over your shoulder, pinning you there, summing the three numbers quickly, effortlessly, staring at them the way he stared at you when you told him he would be the only boy not attending the sleepover at Amber’s house. 

And that’s when it happens. He straightens himself up, turns you around in your chair, and demands, “What did you do?” He gets down, nose-to-nose with you and shakes his finger in your face. “Seriously, mother, what did you do?”

You want to smile. Oh god, do you want to smile. It’s as though asking him to draw a triangle whose interior angles do not add up to 180 degrees—like not allowing him to sleep on a blanket in Amber’s second-floor bedroom—has suddenly ruined his life. 

“You didn’t write them down right,” he says. “You didn’t.” He stands there looking at them. At you. At the Tupperware and the Tupperware’s failed curves. 

“You did this on purpose, didn’t you? You did. You did. You’ve always been jealous of me,” he says.  “Always. It’s not my fault you’re a secretary and dad left and Dylan’s mom makes a better pork roast than you do. Yeah, mom, it’s true, she does. She can add, and cook. She has a real job and she doesn’t make her son draw shapes on her stupid Tupperware.” 

Although it seems odd that he is most upset at this word, Tupperware, all of these things are true. Dylan’s mother, Trudy, is a shift manager at the plant across town. It is not a glamorous job, but she is well-paid and respected. And yes, friends always ask you to bring pop and potato chips to cookouts because everyone knows you can’t cook. Bruce knew, even before you were married. And though there’s not all that much about the split that leaves you bitter, you hate to think that one of the few things he remembers about you—if he thinks about you at all—is how you can’t cook: never could, and never will. The way no three interior angles of a triangle drawn on a curved surface will ever add up to 180 degrees. Never. Not ever. Impossible. Painful. Hard to believe. And, sadly, true.

Category: Featured, Fiction