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  • The Golden Mean
  • Matthew Baker (bio)

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[End Page 34]


Tryg spent the week, like every week, in the suburbs, lounging in the hammock with his mother, bouncing on the trampoline with his stepfather, choreographing plays with his sisters, sneaking cookies from the pantry with his sisters, building a hopscotch course with his sisters that had numbers chalked into the squares and spanned the length of the driveway and included multiple routes and by design took the shape of a fractal, doing homework, and reading, and, that whole week, his empty duffel bag lay in a crumple [End Page 35] by his bedroom door, never letting him forget that eventually he’d have to leave. The duffel bag was made of a camouflage material, with his name embroidered beneath the zipper in cursive lettering, and had a canvas strap. The mere sight of that bag would send a jolt of despair spiking through him. He couldn’t enter or exit his bedroom without passing it. It haunted him. He waited for the microwave to heat his oatmeal, leaning back against the cupboards, trying not to smile as his mother read puns aloud from a magazine, and afterward, when he brought the bowl of oatmeal into his bedroom, there lay the duffel bag. He rooted through gelato in the freezer, searching for a certain flavor, cracking up while his stepfather did impersonations of coworkers, and afterward, when he carried the bowl of gelato into his bedroom, there lay the duffel bag. He burrowed into the throw pillows on the window seat in the living room, wearing thick woolen socks, watching the ceiling fan whip about in blurry ovals, listening to mingled voices as his mother recited credit-card PINs into the telephone in the hallway and his stepfather called out sports scores to a neighbor from the porch and his sisters debated whether rainbows were actually just friendly lightning, feeling cozy and warm and very content. And later, in his bedroom, there lay the duffel bag, reminding him that he couldn’t stay, that his days here were numbered.

Then the weekend came, that quickly the weekend came, and as the sun began sinking through the clouds outside his bedroom window, he stood over the duffel bag, feeling a sense of doom.

He packed it. Just threw things in, resigned to his fate. In went his textbooks. In went his graphing paper. In went his compass, his protractor, his calculator, his ruler. Clothing wasn’t necessary. Neither were toiletries. He already had all of that where he was going.

Tryg was in-between age-wise—not quite child, not yet teenager—a pudgy, clumsy, nervous creature who routinely slaughtered standardized tests. He was taking calculus at a high school. He counted everything instinctively, avoided anything in uneven numbers obsessively, and, from memory, could recite the first hundred decimals of π. His only serious crush was on ∞. His sense of fashion was logical to a fault, favoring comfort over style, loose sweatshirts and baggy slacks, shoe inserts for arch support. He read mathematics journals for recreation.

He had two families: the Appelbaums and the Bergquists. Privately, he referred to them as Family A and Family B. Family A had members {Mom, Stepdad, Tryg, Natalie, Isabel}. Family B had members [End Page 36] {Dad, Stepmom, Tryg, Elliott, Parker}. They were separate families, but together they were his family, A ∪ B, {Mom, Stepdad, Dad, Stepmom, Tryg, Natalie, Isabel, Elliott, Parker}. He was the only member of both sets, the only intersection, A ∩ B, {Tryg}. That was what defined him. He had the largest family out of anyone, and was the most alone.

Family A lived out in suburbia.

Family B lived on a farm.

His mother was shouting for him to hurry.

Tryg dragged the duffel bag out of his bedroom, down the staircase, and into the brightly lit expanse of the living room, full of despair. The sunset tinted everything. Back during the flood, so much rain had fallen in the suburb that even with all of the windows latched shut, the water pouring from the gutters of the house had seemed to roar. Tonight, the windows...


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