'The Dual'

Carissa Halston

Claire was thirty-two years and nine days old on April seventh. It was that morning, in 1973, that she woke knowing why she hated math.

Her entire life, Claire had shunned fractions and theorems. She took no delight in counting her change or balancing her checkbook or seeing a proof to its conclusion. She held no preference between crossing her sevens—European though it was—or leaving them naked and, thus, unchic. Her life was a tumbling series of what-ifs and maybes and, because of this, mathematics made Claire bristle.

Claire's mother was an accountant and her father a physicist. She'd inherited their gift for numbers, which she was loathe to admit. Claire promised herself early on not to be strapped with such a traditionally digits-based job.

She had a perfectly modern job in finance.

Each Monday through Friday morning, and sometimes Saturdays as well, Claire climbed one hundred sixty-two steps to the ninth floor of sixteen Franklin Street. Hers was the third office on the right. Once there, she would spend her morning mentally calculating the remaining minutes until her sixty-minute lunch break.

In the afternoon, Claire retreated downtown, losing herself in the seemingly infinite number of people milling about.

Claire's live-in boyfriend had two other steady girlfriends, one of whom Claire had known since high school. She hated them both, though not as much as she hated trigonometry.   She once loved her boyfriend for his art. He was world-weary and well read and talented.   But he'd stopped painting after turning thirty. All his finished pieces had been purchased and his remaining canvases—eleven, all told—he left blatantly untouched.

Claire sympathized with his blank canvases.

Claire wished she'd studied art in college instead of business. If she had, she could immerse herself in prints of Rococo and Impressionist images, Byzantine mosaics and high Renaissance triangles that were never perfect, the angles of which no one ever wrote formulas for.

That was real. Untidiness. Broken lines. Unknown, undecipherable variables were the keystones of all life, especially Claire's. The only way to apply math to everyday life was to lie to oneself. She was certain of it.

On that same morning in April of 1973, Claire climbed past the customary ninth floor, all the way to the roof of sixteen Franklin Street. She took twenty-four and a half large steps from the door and sailed past eleven windows before one awning softened her fall against the pavement.

She awoke, twelve days later, in a hospital bed downtown. Her mother looked at her expectantly as Claire's eyes opened.

“She's awake,” Claire's mother murmured to Claire's father. Her father stepped into view.

“You gave us such a scare,” he said.

“You have six broken bones,” said Claire's doctor.

Claire did not respond. All their faces fell.

“Claire?” her mother said. “Honey?”

“It's okay,” Claire's doctor said authoritatively. “We were expecting this.” He leaned rigidly before Claire and spoke loudly and clearly. Holding three digits of his left hand in plain view, he asked, “Claire, how many fingers am I holding up?”

Claire blinked thrice. She inhaled and exhaled four times. When she finally spoke, it was a string of ones and zeros.