Marianne

An abundance of light brown hair, creamy skin and freckles made people stare whenever she told them she was born in Africa. It always amused her, seeing this prejudiced reaction in the people who ate at the restaurant where she worked. She sounded French, you see, and so they all assumed that she was a young photography student, maybe a dancer, who worked during the mornings.

She was a student, this was true, but not of what people always assumed. Her large eyes and pink lips seemed to give most people the impression that she was a dreamer, when, in fact, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. She hadn’t remembered a single dream she’d had at night for over ten years. This isn’t to say that she was without imagination – theoretical mathematics required more of the stuff than anyone who wasn’t studying it could believe, and Marianne possessed it in abundance. The simple logic of numbers, a universal language, was beautiful to her, and the deeper mysteries of unreal numbers and the roots of negatives fascinated her and raised a song in her heart.

It was hard for her to find a date – there wasn’t time between night classes, homework and her job at the cafe to go out anywhere. She got countless phone numbers from customers leaving a fat tip on their credit cards, smiling at her with cheeky grins, but she never copied them from the┬áreceipts, simply leaving them in the cash register where they belonged. She wasn’t interested in random men who saw her wrapped in an apron and looking like the picture of womanly virtue. Neither did she want the fawning boys in her class who drooled at the thought of a female┬ámathematician. No, she was looking for something else, and she would recognize it when it came. She hoped.

1. Mr. and Mrs. Adams

One evening in late August, Daniel and Caroline, known to most of their neighbors as Mr. and Mrs. Adams, sat in their rocking chairs on the porch. The sun had just disappeared over the hills and the sky was a wonderful canvas of pastel colors, ranging from soft orange to a deep purplish-blue.

Mr. Adams, glasses perched precariously on the edge of his nose, was doing the big Sunday crossword-puzzle. He was chewing on the end of an unlit pipe, but sometimes he laid it down and chewed on the end of his pencil instead as he thought about the clues. Mrs. Adams was holding a large square of needlepoint and stitching away at it. Every few moments, she put it down in her lap, rested her chin in her hand and gazed at the sporadic lights of the fireflies winking in and out in the front garden.

A stranger, happening to walk past this picturesque scene, would think that the grey-haired pair sitting on their front porch in wooden rocking chairs were a regular Granny and Gramps. The stranger would probably imagine that, inside the house, there would be something baking in the oven and an afghan thrown over the sofa. Easy to imagine, too, were the long weeks of bingo and naps, phone calls to the kids and an anticipation for the weekends during which the grandchildren would come over for milk and cookies. Strangers didn’t often walk past on this suburban street, though, so Mr. and Mrs. Adams weren’t subject to many such misconceptions about their lives.

In fact, both of them were professors at the rather prestigious liberal-arts university that sat in the valley twenty-five miles away. Mr. Adams was in the literature department and Mrs. Adams was in the psychology department, and although both were in their mid-sixties, neither had ever yet played bingo. Their weeks were normally busy with drives to and from the university, quiet evenings of grading papers interspersed with outings to lectures, staff-events or dinners with friends. They were even seen at the community center every Saturday night for salsa-lessons, along with a variety of young and old folk from the neighborhood. Mr. and Mrs. Adams were definitely not an idle pair.

Still, in late summer, they were on vacation. The summer term, which was an easy time for both anyway since they each taught only one or two courses for it, was now over and both husband and wife had finished grading all the final papers a few days earlier. In two weeks, they would both be beginning the fall semester and their lives would become hectic and busy again, but they were now enjoying some rest and relaxation, and sitting on the porch in the evening was one of their greatest pleasures.