Quasimodo’s paradox, a mathematical love story

BY Michelle Lopert

(A highly commended entry in the Eastern Writers Group Biggest Little Short Story Competition 2007)

Mobius Fibonacci, the school hunchback, left nothing to chance. Beneath the hypotenuse of the giant fig tree, Mobius ignored the frenzied playground and pondered Pi. He crouched on a bench in the school quadrangle and knotted out his calculations.

Other boys, those obtuse, brain-fogged, ball-obsessed numbers, kicked spheres around the hunchback. Whispering girls clumped together in octagons.

Being odd numbers, Mobius and I refused integration. I was a tiny plane figure, the school albino, a colour-impaired sunspot looking for a niche in his spectrum. While my paleness rendered me invisible, Mobius had the dimensions of a giant vector.

Mobius’ goal was escape and mine was Mobius. As yet, I had no co-ordinates on his graph nor intersected his axes. For I was a girl and girls were peripheral Venn diagrams.

Mobius hunched over calculus and pushed me to the perimeter, treating me like some permutated subset. I strove for symmetry, yeaming to be his complementary number. At lunch, I shared my pie charts, hoping to impress him. The radian of his stubbled cheeks glowed with my hyperbolas.

One day, I soared off on a tangent of logarithmic eloquence. Mobius looked up through his thick binomials and burst into laughter till his rhomboids wobbled. My harmonic progressions were working. ” Pythagoras above,” he said. “Thanks to you, I’ve found the solution.”

The bell curve of our friendship rose exponentially. He shared the parametric equation of his cunning plan but I was sceptical. Without the Cartesian co-ordinates, the probability of differentiation was low. It was brilliant but insane. The trigonometry cynics would try to disprove it.

I was wrong. Mobius tested his hypothesis on speech night. Thousands of numbers converged in the draughty trapezium like a Mandelbrot Set. The Principal distributed degrees to those same recurring decimals, brainy axioms from every grade. This year, Mobius won the Alpha Prize for Transcendental Mathematics.

Clutching his certificate, he protracted to the periphery of the stage, the sine curve of his hunchback obvious in profile. Positioned in isolation, Mobius recited the Fibonacci sequence of his namesake. The perimeters were buzzing. Mobius ignored the irrational functions around him and pressed frantically on his calculator. All eyes converged on the magic square on stage.

It happened so quickly. First an explosion. Then a crescent of light that blinded us. By the time the rods and cones settled, Mobius was gone.

They all said it was a trick, a paradox. How average. Most prime numbers couldn’t imagine a parallel universe.

Over the months, the Geometry Police made fruitless inquiries into his disappearance. Without Mobius, I was desperate to escape this colourless prism. I moped about, supplementary, regressive, my computations spiralling in endless loops.

One day, my computer flashed a message that launched me horizontal. It was Mobius, giving me the final co-ordinates for the transcendantal induction. I already had the equation so this was all I needed. Holy Euclid!

My speech night wasn’t far off and then I’d be with Mobius again – this time for infinity.