Monday 7 January 2008

The Secret Mathematic - Chapter Two

The Secret Mathematic is a science-fiction novelette told in an indefinite number of chapters, posted serially by me, the host most often prescribed by three out of four physicians, Cheeseburger Brown.

Chapters: 1|2|...

Related reading: Three Face Flip, Stubborn Town, The Long Man, The Extra Cars

And now, our tale continues:


It's 1960. You can tell because everyone's hair looks funny.

"Mother of Hell," groans Fleuve. Her hair is long and straight and black, clumped into ropes by smears of vomit that steams in the winter morning air. Her knees shudder and then buckle. She hits the pavement and retches into the slush-clogged gutter.

The passersby give Fleuve wide berth. Nobody offers her help. They avert their eyes. They assume she's drunk.

When she's recovered her breath she steadies herself against a newspaper box, then checks herself in a shop window reflection. The other girls have loaned her their best, so she almost looks as if she belongs in this part of the city: overcoat, stohl, scarf, fur-trim boots, matching purse. She looks respectable, except for the stringy bile freezing into her hair. And, of course, except for her race.

She unfolds a scrap of paper, glances at it for the tenth time. She searches for the address through the haze of swirling snow, the bustle of rumbling trolleys and fin-tailed cars, the sparkling screen of tear-clung lashes. She feels like all the people who refuse to look at her are staring...

The doctor's office is so clean it looks like a movie set. The people waiting there look like actors from breakfast cereal commercials, rosy-cheeked kids fussing at the hem of mother's skirt. The nurse at the desk looks up and offers Fleueve a sort of mock-apologetic half-smile. "I think you're looking for..." she starts airily.

"Doctor Fleischer," Fleuve finishes.

"I'm sorry, we're not taking new patients at this time."

"I have an appointment. A quarter after nine. It's arranged."

The nurse purses her lips dubiously. "Is that so?"

It is, and soon enough Fleuve is pinioned in one of the waiting room's cruel wooden chairs, staring down blankly at a copy of the National Geographic Journal on her lap. There's a great white shark on the cover, roiling out of the surf, its mouth stained by prey. A new wave of nausea tugs at Fleuve's throat. She coughs tightly, eyes winced shut.

She's called. The nurse escorts her to a cold examination room. "Get undressed," she says, tossing a cotton gown on the table. She pauses on her way out, lingering half-turned at the jamb. "Everything in this room is accounted for, naturally. We'll notice if anything goes missing."

"Thank you," Fleuve whispers, then burps behind her hand.

The doctor doesn't speak during the examination except to give orders: breathe in, breathe out, turn over, unclench. His voice is crisp and expressionless. His hands are firm and dry, his instruments frigid metal. Fleuve swallows back bile as her stomach bucks. She does her best to comply quickly, and to gasp quietly or bite her lip when need be. She stares at the ceiling tiles, counting the holes.

In his office Doctor Fleischer sits behind a wide desk and studies his own notes. Fleuve sits opposite him, legs crossed and eyes down. He flips a page in her thin file. "Your breed tends to obesity," he says abruptly. "Considering that fact of your physiology you're far too skinny. You're eating for two now, and that means doubling up on protein. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Doctor Fleischer."

"Do you know what protein is? I'm talking about meat."

"Yessir. I try to eat, sir, but I get sick."

"Do you smoke?" he asks, taking out an ivory and pearl cigarette case.

"No thank you."

He chuckles, then lights his cigarette with a match. "I wasn't offering you anything, Miss Mississauga, I was asking a medical question."

"I'm sorry, Doctor Fleischer."


"Nossir, I don't smoke no cigarettes."

He makes a note. The back of his hand is hairy. Fleuve takes quick stock of where she will direct her vomit if she's overcome. She decides on a tin trash can beside the desk. The doctor breathes out a long, thin stream of smoke and then puts his pen aside and folds his hands on his blotter. "I won't be surprised if your bloodwork comes back showing malnutrition. You simply must make the attempt to rise up, Miss Mississauga, and take care of yourself properly. I know the disposition of your race doesn't make that easy, but this is Dean Willoughby's concern as well as your own."

"Yessir. I'm really grateful to Dean for arranging this here with you."

"You should be grateful to Dean for more than that. I understand he's putting you up, and seeing to your groceries? I've advised him, medically, on the correct course of action but as I'm sure you know he takes his Catholicism very seriously and therefore will not listen. Thus, it is up to us -- up to you in particular, Miss Mississauga -- to look after this situation in a way we can be proud of. Don't you agree?"

"Of course, Doctor Fleischer. I never wanted end it."

"That's fortunate considering Dean's stance," the doctor concedes. "The point is that we need to get you eating again. Now I'll tell you candidly that nine times out of ten the main culprit in morning sickness is simple feminine hysteria, but in extreme cases science does have some options."

"Like what, Doctor Fleischer?"

"Drug therapy. Have you ever heard of Kevadon? Of course you haven't. It's based on thalidomide, a very powerful relaxation agent developed in Germany. The prescription isn't inexpensive, however, but the results can't be argued. I'm going to recommend Dean get you on it as soon as possible. If I know him at all he'll meet you at the pharmacy with his chequebook if you want to call him now."

The doctor pushes his black telephone forward on the desk, but as Fleuve leans in to take the receiver he blocks her hand. "Dean Willoughby has been my patient for twenty years. His wife is my patient. His kids are my patients. So before we do this I need to know something, Miss Mississauga: I need to know, honest to Christ, whether this baby belongs to him."

"Sure," says Fleuve. "Sure it's his. It could only be his, sir. I swear."

The doctor looks her in the eye, hesitates, and then draws away from the black telephone and sits back in his chair. "Go ahead," he says, gesturing at the receiver with the short end of his cigarette. "I'll begin the paperwork."

She dials in the numbers. The line clicks and whirs.

"Hello? Dean? It's me," whispers Fleuve. "Is it alright to...? Alright. Yes, yes I'm here with him now. I'm in his office." She pauses, cocking her head as she listens. She lets herself smile when she tells him: "Doctor Fleischer says he might have a drug that can help me. Ain't that swell?"

She twirls her long hair, unconsciously flicking aside flakes of dried bile as she smooths out the knots.


Teddy said...

Thalidomide poisoning. Damn.

This doctor is a real prick. This chapter reminds me of a book I read in high school about a caucasian journalist who managed to change his skin pigmentation so he looked african-american and lived in the south for a while in the '60s so he could better understand racism for an article. Persistently dealing with...I'll use the word jerks...and pandering to them too, because you need them.

Very interesting to see such a these two particular plotlines in the same story.


Dan said...

The origin of Uncle Miss! "the sparkling screen of tear-clung lashes" - wonderfully painted visual CBB. That is on par with my favorite Pink Floyd Line - "Through the fish-eyed lense of tear stained eyes"

THE Danimal

Mark said...

Loved the backstory on Mr. Miss, and this would make a great chapter even for the uninitiated. We think, "Oh, so that's how it happened," and they think, "Oh, no, he has no idea what will probably happen."

Nicely done, CBB. You're creating quite the Burgerverse.

Simon said...

I have counted the holes in the ceiling tiles sooo many times. Very clinching moment there, for me. One of Mark's "Tic Tac moments". Not, obviously, under the same circumstances as Miss Mississauga's, but I could picture it quite clearly.

And so begin's Sky. Very cool!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just wow.

You're going to pull ALL the threads together in this one, aren't you? You've even included The Long Man in related reading...

So Sky is an illegitimate child (possibly named because his mother was expecting/hoping for a girl?), which explains some more of his troubled past and unpleasant memories at the hands of erstwhile protectors who are less than interested in his actual well-being...

His mother's name seems quite French. Is that just because her line was assimilated into Canadian culture?

This is going to be one mammoth of a piece.

Orick of Toronto said...


SaintPeter said...

Another great story bit. As soon as I read "Thalidomide" I thought "So, that's what a freight train coming down the tracks looks like".

At that part of the story I also took a moment to learn more about Thalidomide (my wife happens to be pregnant right now). There is, of course, a good write up on Wikipedia:

As always, can't wait for the next installment!

Moksha Gren said...

Both the chapters to this story have been incredible character portraits, CBB. Not that much is happening just yet, but the images are cystaline and anticipation is truly wonderful.

Sheik - It is great to see previously unrelated stories being drawn together into the Related Reading list. It's got me excited.

Anonymous said...

Burgerverse- Love it!!!

Anonymous said...

I think I may have seen that cover of National Geographic and unless there's some temporal chicanery going on Fleuve can't have been reading it.
I'm quite surprised that NatGeo doesn't have an online photgraphic archive that goes back further than 1997, they're missing a trick there.

Looking forward to this one and have been since it was first mooted Mr. Brown. You have me on tenterhooks.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

I hope you're enjoying this as much as I am! Who knew where Mr. Mississauga came from? Neat-o mosquit-o. Myself I'm having the time of my life on my commuting drives spinning out the next chapters in my befogged little brain.

The musical accompaniment I promised you is coming. My brother and I are still getting used to this unusual method of collaboration, and he's doing he's best to accomodate my random demands. At this point we expect to make the overture available to download as an MP3 next Monday.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

Also, I should point out how wonderful it is that you all keep coming back, and keeping track, and let yourself get embroiled in this fantasy fluff. It's one of the sparkles of my days, like my kids and my wife and crisp apples or cold beer.

Winging this story without a complete chaptered structure is really exciting to me, and I hope some of that excitement is transmitted. In this story I want to reward you, the loyal reader, with a tale that delivers real answers to the teasing questions you've endured.

I've just got off the phone with my brother who, since he's making the music, is in the unique position of having some idea what's going to happen before I've written the actual chapters. He gets excited by the twists, and that excitement keeps me going. It reminds me that there are other people out there sitting on the edges of their seats, and THAT, in turn, reminds me why I should continue to give a damn.

We're all in this story hole together, you all and I.

Ten years ago I was drinking beers on my cruddy apartment balcony, watching the sun set and enjoying these adventures all alone. I felt guilty and anxious that I was frittering away good time in this world thinking up dreams that didn't even have the benefit of being transmitted -- there were just puffs in my mind, doing no good for anybody anywhere.

I became quite depressed.

I started seeing a therapist. He had a little ginger beard. He said that given my character a certain amount of alienation was inevitable, and that I should probably eat pills to make me happier.

Instead, I chose to start writing my day-dreams down into stories and posting them on the Internet. I figured that I could harness my chronic fantasizing for good instead of evil, by making something tangible out of it that other people could enjoy.

In some ways it's very weird now, to have the things I imagined on that balcony with a forgotten beer in my hand typed out. It's weird to hear melodies I hummed to myself then played back to me in sample MP3s from my brother, like messages out of another life -- before I was married and lived in a house, before I had children, before I worked like a dog and slept like a cog. Ghostly transmissions from my extended adolescence: ping!

Are my children asleep? I cock my head and listen. Is it safe to go pick up my wife from work, or are they going to wake up and come downstairs and freak out because they're alone and then Children's Aid will come and bust my balls? Shit. I'd ask their grandparents to watch them but my wife's parents are all pissed at her for some reason I'm not privy to so asking favours isn't kosher.

Okay, you -- the Internet -- you watch my kids while I pick up my wife, okay? It's not my fault. We blew a tire on the Volvo this morning and we just paid all the bills, so we can't afford a new tire today. Maybe next week. Ask me later.

(I hate cars. It hurts to say it because of my pockets of love for all things automotive, but honestly: fuck them. Fuck them right in the ass.)

We would've had the repair money but I blew it buying an iPod Touch for Christmas for my wife, because I'm a sucker for cleavage and fortitude. It's neat-o mosquit-o. I'm stupid at Christmas and probably shouldn't be let near credit cards of any kind. (You can squish the pictures with your finger and they get smaller -- yes master!)

If I had money, should I buy a hypothetical MacBook Mini for my new Cheeseburger Brown writing machine? I need a unit that is highly portable yet robust enough for me to do my illustrations with. My old 12" 2003 laptop is making me sad because it crashes whenever you unplug it, and it has less RAM than Tom Cruise.

(Don't tell it I said that.)

Okay, on to wife fetchery!

Cheeseburger Brown

Tolomea said...

Out of curiosity do you know what sort of page hits you get on the blog?

Simon said...

I'm just uber-happy that the asperger decided to become a cheeseburger and put his time to efficacious use rather than peeing it. We're all better for it. Payoffs are great and all, especially after having been along for a ride like this for as long as some of us have been. Some may say, instead, being strung along, but there's always been a grander vision made evident in all the tall tales, a higher Purpose begging to ripen. I can't wait to be there when it's plucked!

And, as a gentle reminder to other readers, there's that "donate" button high up on the sidebar for anyone who wants to chip in for the Cheeseburger tire fund.


Tolomea said...

also the pictures in the favorite stories section could use the black border

Teddy said...

I faintly remember reading an interesting form of blog and eagerly awaiting the next, checking in sometimes multiple times per day just to see. Star Wars has always been an extremely important trilogy to me (there are only three, I swear it) and this odd blog I found completely changed my perspective of my favorite villain of all time.

And then there was Simon. I couldn't help myself, I was drawn in. It was the incredible story, the wonderful characters, the amazing descriptions, and the community feeling of the readers. The same handles kept coming up and they weren't just commenters, they were like friends, like cohorts. A sort of cameraderie was even developed, like people all stuck on the same airplane, except we still got to wear our shoes.

And now, even more discovery. The same community, the same fictional universe, and all new discoveries, all new fun.

The burgerverse is a lot more than a simple collection of stories. It's people, enjoying the same stories, speculating, heralding. The burgerverse is a community.

I really don't speak for anybody else, but I know I'm here for the long haul. Keep writing, CBB!


Dan said...

Hear, Hear Teddy!!! Huzzah! Keep em coming CBB. And if you ever need me to...I'll keep an eye on your kids....or pick up the dear Astra..or whatever...I'm starting to feel like a creep.

THE Danimal

Dan said...

Hear, Hear Teddy!!! Huzzah! Keep em coming CBB. And if you ever need me to...I'll keep an eye on your kids....or pick up the dear Astra..or whatever...I'm starting to feel like a creep.

THE Danimal

Anonymous said...

CBB for Prime Minister!

gt281 said...

I have no idea what’s going on,, I’m confused…
How come nobody passed the bong to me?...
Guess I’ll just have to keep reading,, so I can find out if she ever washes her hair…
Where did Dragana Zoranovic,, the Bond arch villain go?...
I’m lost in a grey Vojvodina nightmare,, pass the anchovies……….

Anonymous said...

Hear hear! Teddy, you speak for me just fine. CBB, what a great little reminder of how all this began. I'm glad you didn't take the shrink's advice (they're not all that clueless, but it seems to be widespread).

I'd send you a donation to help with the tire, but I'm waiting for the 15th myself.
Christmas is tough. Thank goodness for overdraft protection. I think.

Carry on when you can; we'll be here waiting to take the next step of the journey.

Anonymous said...

gt, read (or re-read) Three-Face Flip.

Yesterday I realized that the guy in the drawing is probably Sky himself (and not Drago as I originally thought before I knew CBB had every single string of plot in his hands, ready to fly a million kites at once).

Soooo many questions... like is she telling (or even aware of) the truth about the father?


gt281 said...

Thanks Sheik,
Semi-new here,, not familiar with
time lie/zone characters...will
read it and catch with with the rest of you...