by Cynthia Kennison
People are getting up in this house. Company will come downstairs. They need showers, they want the toilet. They need these before breakfast.
I am getting breakfast. John is in the bathroom. It is eight-thirty Saturday morning. John is in the bathroom, has been in the bathroom since six, so he could get out and let the guests go in and use it. Before six the rest of us who live here finished with the bathroom. Jane has gone back to bed. I have driven Kendall to Sturbridge for his College Board Achievements, forty miles the round trip. Joey, the company's youngest boy got up because he woke up in Kendall's room with Kendall, and he rode along. It was an adventure.
Because it has rained for six days, we twice drove through the place where the overflow of the Quaboag River crossed the road. The first time, I hesitated and watched a pickup truck go through the water, and noticed the water was only as deep as its tires. I drove through slowly, but not slowly enough, and water broke in a wave over the entire car. It sounded and looked as if we were in a car wash. On the return trip, I slowed down to almost no miles per hour, felt a tug on the wheels and washed water only over the hood and windshield. At noon, when John will try to get Kendall, the river will have overflowed every road and we will call my parents in Sturbridge to collect him and keep him until the water fits back into its meandering channel. But in the early morning we can drive through water, ford the river.
Joey, who is nine, said, "This is really great. We don't have this in Montreal."
"We don't have it here," I told him. "It isn't usual here." I was pleased to get us home for breakfast.
Joey's parents have not come downstairs. The kettle has stayed warm from Kendall's breakfast. Nothing else has been done about breakfast, although John promised. We hear John calling, and I think he is telling me he is again wading around in the basement, rescuing floating things.
Joey tries the bathroom door. I hear him say something, and he comes back to the kitchen.
"Isn't Mr. Kennison out yet?" I measure coffee.
"No. The door won't unlock." Joey goes out to the woods.
I go to the bathroom door and talk to John. We yell with our voices carefully lowered so the company won't hear. We discuss that John has tried the window and finds he is no longer of a size to climb out the windows in our house. I put boots on again and carry screwdrivers outside to hand them through the window.
Inside, Joey and I listen to the screwdriver, and then we hear the doorknob fall onto the hall floor. John's voice comes more clearly than before. The door still won't move. I say, "Maybe the hinges."
"I'm trying something else." John says, as if I am interfering in something good.
Marcia, Joey's mother, is with us now. Joey explains, I explain, we have a laugh. I work very hard at getting a wonderful breakfast.
Michael is here, in his bathrobe, carrying his towel. Michael is John's friend, another mathematician. John has always been grateful for Michael's mathematical and practical advice.
Marcia helps me with grapefruit sections while Michael stands in the hallway and talks to John through the bathroom door. Spasms of screwdriver sounds continue. I really need to use the bathroom, more urgently every time the scratching starts. I lean back from the stove to see down the hall. Michael is on his hands and knees, talking directly into the doorknob hole.
I start toast. When I look next, I am placing a tall pile of toast onto the table. Michael is still on all fours. talking. I don't hear the screwdriver. After a pause, Michael puts his ear to the door while John talks. I move close enough to listen.
"You could try that." Michael nods and twists a piece of his beard thoughtfully. "But if n is greater than c, it doesn't work. Here's why."
They are talking math.
John stays in the bathroom until he finally decides to take the hinge off. Then there is no door on the bathroom. Marcia decides their family will leave right after breakfast.
John says he and Michael don't see each other very often alone, and while he was stuck it seemed reasonable to discuss a problem. His latest published result came out of that discussion. Through that doorknob hole.
Years later I tell another Montreal math friend of John and Michael this story. He likes it a lot. At a party at the next math conference, I hear an Australian mathematician telling it to a group of Russians.