Mistakes in Discrete Mathematics

Emily Franklin

Emily Franklin

His fourth time this week but he can’t tell her. Charlotte holds the door with her bulky boot, the footwear of Inuits and tenth graders. Inside, condensation rivulets vein the walls, heat so aggressive Zvi immediately unzips his jacket, walks with one arm dangling as though he’s trying to slide out of his own skin. His daughter’s yoga mat is pristine, tightly rolled, held under her arm like a baguette. Half-unfurled, his mat sheds bits of gray foam everywhere; his car, the condo’s still-unfurnished family room.

Same thing each time, Charlotte gliding off barefoot to check them in, jacket on habitual hook, shoes removed, socks peeled with his thumb. He doesn’t see Charlotte checking on him as he lines his sneakers up evenly. Other peoples’ footwear looks tossed aside, casual, something Zvi never manages.

Charlotte bows a reverent namaste to the teacher and tugs him. “I set up our mats already. By the pole, your favorite spot.”

Zvi takes a breath of entryway air before submitting himself to the studio, the familiar dread of poses, exertion ahead. “Relax,” newly sensitive Charlotte says.

Zvi’s anxiety isn’t about class, just that she won’t show. She of slim torso and solid shoulders, puce mat, the magical tattoo of ∫ half-visible on her flank. Next to him, Charlotte arranges their gear – balance blocks, water bottles. He wants to admit coming to class without her, but can’t because daughters ask why and his why is ∫; the perfect merging of divine physical beauty and brain – why else would she have the integer symbol penned permanently on her side?

∫ appears. Relief. Pulse up, Zvi stares. Charlotte notices. Hot yoga was her idea. A way, every other Sunday, for them to connect. Nineteen years in this country, emigrating with discernable muscles, a marriage. Tenure lured him, Charlotte keeps him. Zvi is hirsute and indelicate, but too small to be lumbering, out of place among the flock of women in class, their shirts as thin as bible pages. Some angles, he catches sight of elusive breasts.

Furtive glances now after Charlotte’s chiding, “Drishti, Abba. Dad.” Concentrated personal focus.

But Zvi latches onto ∫’s mark, her Lulu Lemon-clad ass blissfully close in forward fold. Predictive theory to figure out the likelihood of their overlap. Probability Mass Function. Variables: times per week she attended class, probability of attending _ of 7 days, which particular class. Days and the frequency multiplied.

“Use breath to be in this room. Now. Here.”

Does everyone else find this difficult? Is discrete math to blame? Objects assuming only distinct, separated values. His mat, her mat. Discrete objects characterized by integers – look at the tattoo’s sensual curve, the effort of muscle underneath.

Charlotte’s math grade is a B-. She’d shown him texts from “friends” calling her names. He’d explained the cruelty of information dissemination – gossip and broadcasting. Total exchange vs. all-to-all communication. Graph theory variants. “Is there is a slut theorem?” she’d asked. “Have you been with a lot of guys?” Zvi’d said. “Define been,” she’d answered.

∫ (n, 1. whole, undivided a positive or negative number or zero. 2. a complete entity) “Derived from Latin,” Zvi whispers. “Untouched.”

Charlotte rolls her eyes, then worries her father misses social cues. At school recently, Understanding Differences explained Autism Spectrum issues. Charlotte sat there, body pressed to her speech-bubble shaped desk. Oh. My. God. She’d raised her hand. “My dad totally has Asperger’s.”

Zvi did not, in fact, have Asperger’s and when she’d asked – gently, over their normally strained and silent post-yoga bowl of pho – he’d shaken his head. It’s possible for someone – Zvi – to be socially somewhat dysfunctional and also have one tunneled focus, in his case, mathematics both applied and discrete – without Asperger’s. But Charlotte investigated on line, saw Guidance, and is wrongly convinced. Zvi doesn’t correct her because Charlotte’s much nicer now that she thinks her father has Special Needs.

Secretly, Zvi believes everyone has special needs, except maybe the tattooed woman now rolling out her perfectly rectangular mat. “Char – quick, do the geometry. P equals…”

“God, Dad,” Charlotte mouth breathes. The room smells. Yeast and sweat, cardio and calm.

Class begins. Charlotte takes her poses, relief flooding her system because her Aspie dad finds comfort in routines, Vinyasa’s pattern. Zvi stretches his side body, curving one arm down until he can touch the floor like Ω. Then he’s upright, τ, intent on watching ∫-woman unfathomably on her mat in U (the union of). If A is the set of all the women in class who won’t date Zvi, and B is all the women in class who think him sweet for bringing his daughter, then A ∪ B is the set of those elements which are in A or B or both. So A ∩ B is the set of all women in class who both romantically ignore and think Dad-Zvi is sweet.

But Zvi’s hyper-focus on ∫ means missing moments when he and Charlotte, strands of DNA twisting endlessly between them, come to this π. Sweating hard now, going from plank to standing, waiting for corpse pose, those last minutes when the room deflates. He wants to trace ∫’s perfect integer symbol, with thumb or tongue, imagines her being his somehow.

“Dad, stop,” Charlotte hisses after class. How can he explain it? Charlotte expertly packs up, pads barefoot to ∫, converses while Zvi waits, terrified he’s being outed as a lurker, or an Aspergian mathematician. Where is father on that list?

Outside, Charlotte says, “Just so you know, it’s not real.” She mimes ∫ in the night air. “Turns out, the tattoo guy made a mistake. She doesn’t even know what an integer is! Can you believe it?”
Such disappointment. Such failure. He won’t come without Charlotte again.

What will he say tonight over their shared noodle bowl? A start: with the studio’s fogged windows and sound-cloud of om-ing, how he could barely see out. And, now, taking Charlotte’s hand, he couldn’t see in, as though he hadn’t been there at all.


Emily Franklin is the author of a novel, Liner Notes (S&S), and The Girls’ Almanac, a collection of linked short stories (William Morrow), as well as numerous novels for young adults. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Mississippi Review, Word Riot, Small Spiral Notebook, Carve Magazine, Pindeldyboz, and Brevity among others.


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