[by Sharon Kae Reamer]
She stared at her ballpoint pen on the conference table. The hum of voices was insistent, of the men-hammering-in-a-forge variety. She rotated the pen through an ever-widening spiral, picturing the equations defining the spiral in her head and their relation to other equations, other geometries, but always with the basic spiral body plan. Her mind sifted, seeking patterns that suggested beauty and elegance to crowd out the angry throb of her thoughts.
“Lucia, how close are you to finishing your Fibonacci analysis of the market in the weeks leading up to and after the crash?”
Manny’s sledgehammer tone pounded her out of her trance. She looked up, pushing her wire rims further back on her nose.
“They’ll be ready after the weekend, Manny. I need to check on a few periodicities yet.”
Manny clicked his attention back to the other analysts. Lucia listened as they wandered off on one of their usual tangents, discussing manifolds as if they knew what they were talking about, trying to impress their boss. After a few minutes, Manny shook his head. She knew that look. Patient suffering with an arrogant edge. His lean good looks, that could best be described as hungry wolf with a killer smile, took center stage when it was his intelligence that should have been the star.
He was content to let his fledglings bounce ideas around and Lucia suspected he already knew how to solve the problem. Mani Manny she had called him during their student days. It still brought a smile to her face. Not much else did these days.
Lucia leaned back into the leather seats of the steel gray Porsche while Manny guided them home through dark streets overlain by a grid-work of falling rain. Frustrated by her efforts over the past weeks to make sense of the chaos surrounding the latest market dive, the next in a long string according to Manny, Lucia punched off the radio. She closed her eyes and relished the not-so-insistent hum of the motor.
He blinked at her as he shifted gears. “What’s up Luce? Tired?”
Her silence. A reaction. His reaction to her silence was to probe. Her strangeness as of late had infected them both, a two-dimensional Mandelbrot stew that could never escape its bounds. Lucia felt full of lumps, not of the physical variety, but emotional lumps, discontinuities in her consciousness that refused to smooth out. A two dimensional lump? She wasn’t sure what that was. She didn’t really care. They rarely talked any more, not like they used to.
Each semester after final exams were over, they’d celebrated by staying up all night. The first half they’d spend screwing, rodents temporarily let out of their mazes. And the second half talking, imagining what they would do if the world would end tomorrow—it really and truly would—and their words were the ones that had to be said. They had defied the world’s demise by devouring toasted salami sandwiches. Imported baby cow salami. Manny’s tastes were expensive even back then. Everything had seemed so easy, like doing analytical calculus.
Raindrops smashed against the glass creating chaotic patterns of sound. Were they really? There were so few things in the world that truly justified the name. Relationships, maybe. “Just need to get away. Think about things that matter for a change.”
She heard his nervous chuckle. “What could be more important than trying to shed light on economic disaster? Think what heroes we’ll be when we figure it out.”
“Children, for one,” she said. She hadn’t meant to, because the world was not going to end tomorrow, and those words definitely did not need to be said.
She winced. She’d done it again. Lucia opened her eyes just a slit to confirm the existence of his clenched jaw. Manny relaxed his muscles, and shifted into a higher gear, pushing the pedal further to the floor. It was one of their circular arguments. He called it a torus that folded in on itself. She had said that the classical if cliché comparison was a snake eating its own tail. Or worse. Snakes ate their own…no, don’t, Lucia. Not again.
“I thought we’d talked that all through, Luce. Neither one of us has time for kids right now. Not while we’re empire building.”
“Things change, Manny. People change.”
“Let’s go out to the country tomorrow. Stay in a posh hotel and soak in a hot tub. Order in—anything you want—and sleep in late on Sunday. You’ll feel better.”
“I’ve got that analysis to finish. Then I’ll feel better. Forget I said anything.”
Over the next few weeks, Lucia lost the ability to sleep more than a couple of hours. She tried doubling it each time, to make her sleep into a Fibonacci sequence, but it didn’t work. Everything tasted the same. Her appetite waned. Lucia felt the walls of the spiral she slid through, a shiny slippery intestine with nothing to grasp onto. The world didn’t end in fire and ice. The world ended in guts. It wasn’t really her desire for children or her relationship with Manny that propelled her. The sameness, spiraling inwards and downwards and never quite reaching infinity, was what scared her.
Lucia retreated into the comfort of playing with her equations and devised idle games with the patterns in nature. She modeled sunflower seeds in situ with their differing spirals. Galaxies and her old friend, the snail shell, kept her company as she compared them, finding their similarities in the golden ratio. Delicacy and perfection sprang out in sharp relief to the flat shape of her existence. She started to analyze a baby’s fingerprint, but snarled out loud—at herself and her idiocy. Time to snap out of it, Lucia, the world is not going to end because of your ovaries sending you hormone-induced distress signals.
Manny ignored Lucia and her moods and left her alone with her equations as he concentrated on his Grand Sandcastle, one bucket of sand on another. His early morning glow of hubristic glee as they drove to work each day disgusted her as did the symmetry of its reflection on the adoring eager faces that thronged the institute doors.
Manny’s mani’s. Some of their more savvy customers stole her secret name for him and his manifolds after his success in predicting several market downswings. The press fêted him and his intricate topological models that none of them understood. Contracts poured in faster than they could handle them.
Big business. Big science. Noisy, willing bedmates. Manfred had his choice of willing supplicants. Sand piled up on sand. Her feet lithified beneath it. His eagerness spilled out everywhere except onto the bedsheets. Her fault. She was the one with feet of silicone. His were in the clouds, rarefied essential elements.
Lucia missed his touch, felt only the pebbly smooth walls of her labyrinth, pulling her downward. Yes, it was definitely down. What the hell else did she want, anyway? Nothing quite so simple as a topological model that folded in on itself or parabolas that conformed to the beginning curve of a perfect spiral. Those were analytical, pure forms that defied the incursion of error.
Manfred’s star expanded in direct proportion to the heat of midsummer. He abandoned the pretense of keeping regular hours. Lucia got the keys to the Porsche as compensation. She accepted them with a shrug. More smoothness, and the walls constricted a bit more. The volatility of her queen bee status had not escaped the interns of the female variety. They buzzed around Manny flaunting their bright stripes—pumps and designer suits most of them could ill afford. Lucia understood. They considered it an investment. And judging by the attention Manny lavished on them, tolerating their forays into his office any hour, day and night, the investment seemed to be paying off.
The long night hung humid; heat captured and stored in the walls of tall office buildings and city sidewalks leached into her feet as she walked from the parking lot to the office. She retrieved the manuscript she had been studying on cracks, the imperfections of spiral growth and then on her way out, caught them going at it in his office.
One of the eager, hovering interns. Did the name start with a lisp and end with too many vowels? Tracilee, then. Or was it a masculine short-form of a girl’s name? Jon for Jonquil. She couldn’t recall as she watched them from the doorway. Manny leapt up, pulling up his pants. The room smelled of burnt coffee, floral perfume and happily mingled bodily fluids. Tracilee or Jon pulled up her panties and took her time as she pulled down her skirt, a smirk on her face.
Lucia turned and ran for the elevator.
She heard Manny following her. “Luce, wait, please. Lucia!”
After flinging herself into Manny’s Porsche, she pushed the button to open the hood, suffocating in the sticky air that made her suck in breaths, and roared out of the garage. She caught a rear view mirror glimpse of Manny bursting through the stair exit as she accelerated up the ramp.
Heavy evening traffic kept her progress slow, but she wove in and out, not caring whether she came close to the cars beside her. Lucia heard the angry honks but ignored them. Delta spikes on top of the steady traffic background noise. The farther from the city she went, the faster she drove. Her cell phone buzzed on the seat next to her. She ignored it, too.
Lucia also ignored the warning light that she hadn’t buckled herself in. It gave her a giddy sense of freedom. Cut loose. It would only take a heartbeat, and she would be completely free. She tried to imagine the pain but couldn’t. She closed her eyes for a second. Maybe it wouldn’t be bad for long before blessed nothingness. She accelerated, exhilarated, driving on as she pushed back the dull ache in her temples.
Blinking lights behind her, the navy blue Mercedes coming up fast. Lucia stepped on the gas and pulled away. She looked in the rear view mirror as she drove, hoping to lose him.
Lucia’s nerves crackled with doubt. Manny loved her. She loved him. He had come for her. Distracted by watching Manny, the delivery truck in front of her came up too fast. She felt a surge of blood.
Time expanded. Enough time to provide her with the numbers. Distance, forces, the crunch of contact and the collision. A few breaths slid out of her. Faint sighs convolved with Manny’s frantic honking—echoes of life—she mashed on the brakes, one foot pressed painfully on top of the other one.
Time contracted. Caught up with her, grabbed her by both shoulders and slammed her into the seat. She narrowly avoided ramming the truck. Manny didn’t avoid anything and crashed into the Porsche. Lucia went airborne.
Time confined. The parabola of her flight pushed her out of her downward spiral. Flesh and blood screamed along the bowels of her life before she emerged from the shriveling tunnel and accelerated to penultimate apex and final descent. Lucia imagined the corresponding Fibonacci curve to extend her flight, calculated her trajectory and its solution before the next heartbeat, before time hurled her away into forever.
Her thoughts preceded her and simultaneously arced backwards through the curve of her existence, the whorl folding in on itself, ever diminishing, right back to the beginning, the journey instantaneous.
Lucia viewed the segmented chambers of her past, each one a small part of the spiral, all the golden days and the not-so-golden. A flash of insight—the moments that mattered—the ones that were the most beautiful—were the cracks in her life’s spiral. Lucia and Manny having an orgasm almost-but-not-quite-in-synch. An equation Lucia had gotten wrong, seen later—only after publication—but that no one else had caught. The Sunday roast Manny and Lucia had pooled their meager student allowances to buy that Lucia had burnt to an inedible crust, reducing them both to shrieking laughter.
Glorious imperfections. The places occupied in idle moments. The places where she most wanted to live. Lucia embraced the error function of life.
She wanted to live.
It was too late for regrets. She scrunched her eyes tight.
Manny suffered multiple fractures of his right foot and ankle and contusions from the seat belt. He was laid up for a week in his hospital bed armed with a laptop and cell phone the nurses tried to take away from him. He had more time to think than he needed.
That made Lucia smile.
She brought Manny homemade soup and Belgian chocolates. She sat on a chair by the bed and watched him carefully as she handed him the plastic container and a soupspoon.
He peeled back the top and sniffed before glancing sidelong at her. She allowed no clues to escape. He would have to create his own geometry out of the raw space that sat between them. He took a spoonful. Lucia knew it tasted awful and also knew that was exactly what he’d been afraid of. She suspected even the hospital food tasted better.
“Um, is this vegetable?”
“It has an indefinable flavor, is there cauliflower in there?”
She saw him struggle, could almost picture the horns puncturing his backside. And then his facial muscles relaxed, an expression of surrender. The time for deception between them was long past.
“It’s positively dreadful, Luce.”
A hint of a smile crossed her lips.
“And it’s the best soup I’ve ever eaten.”
She pushed the box of chocolates at him. “These are better.” She laid her apartment key and the keys to the Porsche on top of the box.
“You’re leaving me, then.” He looked pathetically helpless there in his pajamas.
She shook her head. “No, Manny. But I need to learn how to live in the cracks again. You can come visit me. When you’re up to it. Maybe the cracks are big enough for two.”
They stared each other down. Manfred blinked first. Lucia opened the chocolates and held out the box to him with her good arm.
Lucia’s casualties from the accident had been a broken wrist, a clean break, and a sprained ankle. And the loss of her glasses. They had been torn from her face during her parabolic flight into the arms of a leafy tree by the side of the road. An eyewitness had reported—had sworn—he had seen her alter her flight like a bird changing course in mid-air. He said it looked just like she had spiraled her body into the tree, as if gliding in for a landing.
Police recovered her glasses while cleaning up the scene after the accident. One of the rims had embedded itself into a vacated snail’s house. It was too much, really. She would keep them forever.
Her gift from Fibonacci.
Sharon Kae Reamer is a speculative fiction writer, American expat, and senior scientist at the University of Cologne, working mostly on archeoseismology projects. She lives on the outskirts of Cologne with her husband, son, and two tuxedo cats, Loki and Finn MacCool. Primary Fault is the first novel in her complete five-book Schattenreich fantasy-suspense series. She’s now in the throes of completing her first SF novel.