“The Symmetry Stands Alone” by Brian Patterson

1

Marvin Oran Mansfield had crossed a line.

This time it seemed as though there was no turning back. He ran back upstairs and into his bedroom while tears of regret began to stream down his face. His adrenaline had his heart pumping at an unbelievable rate and his hands were beginning to shake.

You see, Marvin’s love for symmetry had become such an obsession that he felt an overwhelming desire to purposely go against it, just to see what would happen. The problem was, he wasn’t sure about the best way to do it. He had various ideas such as wearing two different shoes or even cutting one side of his hair to look different than the other side. Nothing seemed effective enough. He thought and thought and as ideas came and went he wondered if he was actually just beginning to lose his nerve.

The idea that finally came, however, put all doubts aside. Marvin’s obsession with symmetry had always made driving a bit of a problem. First of all, no car has the same things on the right side that it has on the left. Second of all, there would have to be the same amount of people on each side of the car. This meant that Marvin had to spend a year and a ridiculous amount of money adding pedals and a steering wheel to the right side of his car. It also meant that he could only drive if he had someone in the passenger seat. It made his driving situation almost impossible.

But not today.

As soon as the idea light went off in his head, he bolted down the stairs and out the front door. He threw open the door to his car and hopped in the drivers’ seat. There was no passenger. The car was not symmetrical.

“Things are about to get crazy,” he said to himself.

He pulled out of the driveway and started down the street. He blew right through the first stop sign that he came to. The intersection was a three-way stop, so he had always hated it.

He went through four more stop signs without stopping before beginning to head out of town. He wasn’t exactly sure how revolting against his symmetry obsession meant abandoning the adherence to traffic laws, but somehow the two seemed to be connected. His speed was rising and his blood was pumping. He was driving an asymmetrical car and loving every minute of it.

He realized in a terrible instant, however, that he had no idea would happen when his little joy ride ended. He knew that he wasn’t capable of abandoning symmetry for the rest of his life, but he couldn’t bear to submit to it any longer. The two realities fought it out in his head for what seemed like hours before he decided that he could not take it any longer. Up ahead rose a bridge with a steep drop-off into the Missouri River. He began to accelerate even more.

Tears began to fall again as he neared the bridge and started to turn the wheel to allow him to drive off the side and into the river. He was sure he wanted to go through with it, but he wasn’t sure at the same time. He didn’t know if he could go on, but he certainly had a lot to live for. His fear was reaching an unbelievable new level and as the moment of truth arrived, he reacted unexpectedly. He jerked the wheel back to the left turning the car at the last second and barely missing the side of the bridge.

2

When Bob Olsen Baker woke up, he hadn’t heard about what happened to his friend Marvin quite yet. He rolled out of bed and stumbled over to the bathroom. He had quite the headache. You see, there is something that you should know about Bob. Bob had attended a speech class where someone spoke on postmodern thought. In their speech, they presented the idea that what works for one person is good for them, and what works for another person is good for them as well. Based on this principle, every religion is okay. Bob somewhat distorted the meaning of that idea and decided that he should adopt every religion that he possibly could. From that moment on Bob went from one religion to another like changing his socks so one could never be quite certain what he was practicing at any given time. With that told, last night’s stint as a Lutheran had given him quite the headache this morning.

Bob was in his early twenties and looked like he was thirty-five. He weighed about three hundred and ten pounds and was already losing a fair amount of hair on the top of his head. He maintained a clean shaved appearance as an attempt to look younger, but that was like shooting a water pistol at an ocean liner. He lived in a two-story house with his two roommates Marvin and Lee.

Lee was only twenty-three, but was already a respected movie critic. He had earned his reputation essentially by finding some way to hate just about anything. He stood about five-foot-ten and had a perfectly trimmed chin goatee. His curly hair had that “messy on purpose” look to it. Since he worked at home, the only time he really left was to go watch the movies he reviewed.

Marvin was a college student hoping to become a surgeon someday. His overwhelming desire for symmetry made everything more difficult than it would need to be. If a classroom had one more person on the left than on the right, he had to sit on the right side no matter what. He could only wear clothes that were perfectly symmetrical and he was known for cutting his face on purpose to match an accidental shaving cut on the other side.

Marvin was the tallest and most handsome of the group. He had perfectly combed black hair and kept in good physical shape. The girls usually went for Marvin first until they learned about his symmetry quirk. The problem with Marvin’s love for symmetry (other than how obsessed it made him) was that sometimes it didn’t even make sense. For example, he insisted that his roommates call him “Mar.” He said that they all had three-letter, one-syllable names and they wouldn’t be symmetrical as roommates if he went as Marvin. That, of course, makes no sense and Bob and Lee tried to explain this many times without success. Once Marvin, or “Mar,” had an idea there was no talking him out of it.

Bob made his way down into the kitchen to have some breakfast and chew down some aspirin to help with his headache. Lee was already at the kitchen table eating a bowl of Lucky Charms. Bob greeted him with a monotone “Good morning.”

“Good morning, Father,” Lee replied, having seen the daily religion schedule that Bob kept on the refrigerator. They began to chit-chat as they ate their breakfast. Bob asked Lee if he was coming to mass that morning. Lee replied that after reviewing Sister Act 3 last night he would probably never attend mass again.

The thing about this simple morning conversation is that Lee knew what had happened to Mar the previous day but Mar had asked him to try to keep quiet about it for the time being. He really wanted to, but he knew that Bob would want to know and Bob was his friend too. Because of this, the desire to come right out with it kept growing inside him. Finally, the desire won out.

“Bob, did Mar tell you about what happened yesterday?” he asked.

“No, I didn’t see Mar at all last night.”

“Oh, well I wasn’t really supposed to tell you, but I figure it’s alright because you’re his friend, too,” Lee said avoiding eye contact.

“Well, sure I am,” Bob said growing concerned.

So Lee told Bob the whole story. Bob sat at the table and listened without interruption, as a good Catholic priest would do. Lee continued to look down at the table as he told him the events of what had happened. When he finished the story, Bob sat in silence for a few seconds before he responded.

“I think that we should be a little extra nice to Mar today,” he said. Lee agreed.

A few minutes later, Mar came down the stairs. He greeted both and sat down in the other chair. Bob got really nervous. “Doing okay, Mar?” he asked. “Anything I can get you?”

“No, thanks,” Mar replied. “I’m okay.”

“Good.” Bob paused for a second. “Nothing’s changed, right, Mar?”

Mar got a confused look on his face. “I mean, things are still like normal, right? Nothing has changed?” Lee rolled his eyes. Subtlety was not Bob’s strong suit.

Mar just cracked a smile. “No, Bob. Nothing has changed.” Then he turned to Lee. “You told him, didn’t you?” Lee just shrugged his shoulders and tried to look innocent. Mar sighed but kept his good spirits. “You know, when something like this happens it really makes you feel like you need to get yourself in order,” Mar said tapping his fingers on the table.

“What do you mean?” Lee asked in confusion.

“Well, when the end comes for me, I want to know that those who I care about won’t be stuck. I’m thinking about writing a will.”

Bob and Lee both jerked. “A what?”

“A will. I want to lay my affairs out so that things will be taken care of after I’m gone. I think I’m going to work on it this afternoon. But I’ll talk to you about it later, because I’m going to be late for class now.” Mar got up to leave, but Bob stopped him.

“Mar,” he said looking him in they eye. “You know we’re your friends and we care about you.”

Mar’s grin got even bigger. “I know.”

3

Mar had been gone a little longer than normal when Bob returned from mass. Lee was sitting on the couch with his laptop working on his review of Sister Act 3 when Bob walked into the house. He entered the living room and asked immediately where Mar was.

“He hasn’t come back from class yet,” Lee said without looking up from his computer screen. “He probably went to the library or something.”

“What if he’s working on his will?”

“His what?” Lee looked up with a confused look on his face.

“His will! His will! He said that he was going to work on writing a will today! Don’t you remember?”

“I don’t know,” Lee answered trying not to mirror Bob’s emotion. “Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. He didn’t tell me what he was doing after class.”

“Listen, Lee. Don’t you think that after what happened yesterday that Mar writing a will might be kind of a big deal? I mean, what thoughts do you think are going through his head right now?”

“I don’t know, but I think we just have to let him do it if he wants to,” Lee said still trying to calm Bob down. “What he does, he’ll do and we can’t control him or try to change his mind about anything. We just have to support him.”

“But we’re still going to be extra nice to him?”

“I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Bob got up and walked over to the window to look outside. When he did, he saw the strangest thing. The house across the street had a moving truck out front. Considering that the house had been vacant the entire time they had lived there, this was kind of a big deal. Bob crossed himself and alerted Lee to the situation.

Lee put down his computer and rushed over to the window. After all, for a home-working movie critic, this was a lot of excitement. He nudged Bob over and attempted to hide behind the curtain while still being able to see out the window.

A car pulled up behind the moving truck and the only person inside was an attractive female who appeared to be about their age. She parked the car and got out. Bob and Lee looked at each other for about half a second and then returned to the girl. She appeared to be about five-foot-five, give or take an inch, and she had brown hair down to her shoulders. She wasn’t stunning or gorgeous or the type of girl you would see on TV, but that just meant that they might have a chance. She had a pretty smile and she was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt.

Right about then Mar walked in the side door. He noticed his two roommates huddled by the window and his curiosity was immediately piqued. He thought about scaring them, but decided instead to just cut to the chase. “What are you guys doing?” he asked with a laugh.

They both turned around and Bob seemed overexcited. “There’s a girl moving into that house across the street! And she’s pretty! And she’s wearing a Star Wars T-shirt! And she’s . . . she’s . . . pretty!”

“I see girls do wonders for your vocabulary,” Lee said which received a roll of the eyes from Bob. Mar was intrigued, though, and he walked over to the window to take a look. Of course, by the time he got there, there was no girl to see.

“Oh, man. She is pretty. Wow,” Mar said, his words dripping with sarcasm. “I better get away from the window so she doesn’t see me staring and call the cops. I’m pretty sure that a girl that pretty is used to guys staring at her. She probably has the cops on speed dial. I’m never looking out the window again just in case.”

“Very funny, Mar. She was there, I promise.”

“Okay, then where is she?”

“For all you know,” Lee interjected, “she may have been on her way over here and she was close enough that we couldn’t see her anymore.”

“If that was true, then she’d be here right –” Knock, knock, knock came from the shaking door.

“Mar, I believe that’s for you,” Lee said with fully justified grin on his face. Mar walked over to the door, paused, glanced back at his roommates, put his hand on the door, pulled it open, and found himself face to face with a brown-haired girl in a Star Wars T-shirt.

4

“Hello, my name is Sarah,” she said as she extended her hand. “I just moved in across the street.” Mar stared at it for a second too long and then finally extended his as well.

“It’s nice to meet you, Sarah. I’m glad someone finally moved into that house. It evens things up.”

“What do you mean by that?” Sarah asked, unsure if she wanted to know. Behind the door, Lee and Bob groaned quietly.

“Well, you see, there are four houses on the block and with three of them inhabited, the block wasn’t symmetrical.”

“Right . . . well, I just thought I would come over and introduce myself. I didn’t catch your name though. What do they call you?” Sarah said attempting to re-route the conversation. For just a second it seemed like Mar had actually forgotten his name. Just as Lee and Bob were about to come to the rescue, he finally was able to spit it out.

“Mar. My name is Mar. It is nice to meet you as well, Sarah.” Behind the door, Bob coughed obnoxiously loud. Mar jerked like he had just been reminded of their existence, so he opened the door all the way and invited Sarah in. She politely entered. “These are my roommates Bob and Lee,” he said pointing to each of them.

She said hi to each and they returned the greeting. “It’s nice to meet you both,” she said. “Bob, is your full name Robert?”

“No,” he replied looking down. “It’s just Bob. Bob Olsen Baker. My parents wanted to make sure that if I was dyslexic I would at least be able to read my name and my initials.” The sad thing is, he wasn’t kidding.

“Well,” Sarah said looking for a chance to duck out, “it was nice meeting all of you. I saw that there is a theater down the road. Maybe you guys would like to go check out a movie sometime.”

“That would be great,” Mar chirped, “as long as only two of us guys went and we found another girl . . . and we took my car . . . and sat on corresponding sides of the theater.”

Sarah looked dumbfounded.

Lee chimed in, “Mar has kind of a thing for symmetry. We normally tease him about it, but today we’re just being nice.”

“Well that is very, um, nice of you,” Sarah said with a laugh and a wink that caught Lee off guard completely. “Well, take it easy, Bob, Mar, Lee. I’ll see you guys later.”

After Sarah left, the guys all looked at each other. Lee analyzed the situation by asking a simple question. “Which one of you two idiots is going to make a move on her first?”

5

Bob won the game of paper, rock, and scissors. He always did well when he was Catholic. He went across the street immediately and knocked on her door. She answered a little more cheery than he expected her to.

“Hey, Bob, what’s up?” Bob got right to it.

“Well, I was wondering if maybe you would like to go out with me sometime,” Bob said while looking right past her.

“Oh, thanks, Bob,” she said, though it was obvious that there was more to come. “The truth is, though, that I don’t know that I’m really looking to date right now.”

“You’re not like a nun are you? Because I’m Catholic today.” She obviously had no idea what that meant, but chose to move past it without even asking.

“No, I’m not a nun. If the right guy comes along I could date, I just think that when that happens I’ll know and it will be meant to be. I think it’s possible that it has happened, but I’m sorry, Bob, I just don’t think it is you. I really am sorry.”

When Bob returned to the house the other two guys were sitting in the living room. They both hopped up when they heard the door open and shut again..

“How’d it go, man?” Mar asked like his life depended on the answer.

“No good. I should have waited until tomorrow when I’m a Mormon. I’ll have to go over there any way, and I’ll be dressed in a suit and tie.”

“So what, she doesn’t like priests?” Lee cracked.

“She just said that she’s waiting for the right guy to come along and she didn’t think it was me. She was at least nice about it.”

“So, I guess that makes you the man of the hour,” Lee said looking in Mar’s direction. “Go get her.”

“I don’t think right now is a good time. I might go talk to her sometime, but not right now. I think I’m going to go up to my room and take a nap.”

Bob jumped right into action. “Can I get you anything before you go upstairs? A glass of milk or a snack to help you sleep? How about an extra blanket for your nap? Anything at all?”

Mar just laughed. “No, Bob, I’ll be fine. Thank you for the offer, though.” With that, Mar went up to his room and Bob left to go down to the church and pray. Lee was left all alone in the living room and the house fell quiet.

Mar wasn’t sleeping in his room, however. He was lying on his bed, but he was as wide-awake as awake gets. You see, the instant feeling that Sarah had talked to Bob about when you just know that someone is right for you the second you see them is exactly the way he had felt when he first saw Sarah. His heart was beating about ninety miles an hour and his palms were sweaty. He hadn’t felt this way in a long time. He knew that he was going to need to go talk to her but he had no idea what he should say. Should he ask her out right away or give her the chance to see that he was the person she had been waiting for? Obviously if Bob’s story was accurate, she wasn’t going to say yes unless she already felt something pretty strong for him and he didn’t want to blow it too soon.

Also, he knew that his obsession with symmetry could be a problem. In all honesty, it always had been. He knew that unless he could learn to control it, the obsession would eventually ruin any relationship that he might have. He also knew that what had happened yesterday had given him a brand new sense of confidence. The main thing that he knew, however, was that he had already fallen in love with Sarah.

6

Bob was still at the church, Mar still upstairs, and Lee still alone in the living room when another knock came from the door. Lee went to answer it and was surprised to find Sarah standing there.

“Hello, Sarah,” he said a little unsure of himself. “Can I do something for you?”

“Well” she said while fidgeting with her pockets, “I was just wondering if I could come in and talk to you for a minute.”

“Well, sure, come on in,” Lee said and he ushered her into the living room and offered her a seat. “I heard that Bob came over to see you a little bit ago.”

“Yeah, he did. I felt really bad because I kind of had to shoot him down. I didn’t want to, but I wanted to be honest with him as well.”

“It’s okay, Sarah. He was fine. He’ll get over it; don’t worry.” Lee didn’t know it, but right about this time Mar had gotten within hearing range up the stairs. When Sarah knocked on the door, he had heard it and he came out into the hallway. He just listened however, because he wanted to hear what Sarah and Lee could possibly have to talk about. His pulse began to rise even higher as he continued to listen.

“What did you think of Mar, since he was the first one that you met?” Lee asked and Mar about had a stroke.

“Uh, he seemed nice I guess. A little on the shy side,” Sarah answered.

“Yeah, you could say that,” Lee commented. “Something happened to him yesterday that has kind of changed his view on things. I don’t know if it’s right or not, but we’ve all been trying to be a little nicer to him today because of it. “

“Really?” Sarah asked with a mixture of concern and curiosity. “What happened?”

“It really isn’t my place to tell you” Lee said. “You’ll probably have to ask Mar.”

“Well, here’s the truth, Lee,” Sarah said in a very serious tone. “I didn’t come over here to talk to Bob because Bob doesn’t seem to be my type. I also didn’t come over here to talk to Mar because his symmetry thing is just a little more than I could handle.”

“It has gotten a little old in the past,” Lee said honestly.

“Right. Well, I came over here to ask you if you would like to go on a date with me to the movies this afternoon.”

“Me?” Lee asked, taken completely by surprise. “You want to ask me out? Bob said you only go out with guys that you have instant feelings for.”

Sarah looked him straight in the eye. “That’s right.”

Lee looked right back. “I would love to.”

They stood up and headed for the door. As they were leaving, Mar heard Sarah ask if Lee had seen Sister Act 3 yet The door closed before he heard Lee’s answer. It didn’t matter either way. He was sweating profusely. His hands were clamped so tight they etched fingernail imprints in his palms. He stumbled down the stairs with his thoughts.

“It has gotten old in the past?” Mar said, thinking out loud. “I didn’t come over here to talk to Mar because his symmetry thing is just a little more than I could handle? Are you kidding me? This cannot be happening. This absolutely cannot be happening to me. She doesn’t even know anything about Lee. I just lost the girl of my dreams to a guy she doesn’t even know just because she had a feeling about him. Give me a break!”

Then the thought occurred to him that perhaps the whole thing was his fault. His quirky obsession for symmetry had actually managed to ruin his life. Frustration began to boil inside him until he finally exploded and yelled at the top of his lungs “I hate symmetry! I hate it! I never want to be symmetrical again!”

Something serious had happened.

Marvin Oran Mansfield had crossed a line. This time it seemed as though he could not turn back. He ran back upstairs and into his bedroom while tears of regret began to stream down his face. His adrenaline had his heart pumping at an unbelievable rate and his hands began to shake.

You see, Marvin’s love for symmetry had become such an obsession that he felt an overwhelming desire to purposely go against it, just to see what would happen. The problem was, he wasn’t sure how best to do it. He had various thoughts of wearing two different shoes or even cutting one side of his hair to look different than the other side. Nothing seemed effective enough. He thought and thought and as ideas came and went he wondered if he was actually just beginning to lose his nerve.

The idea that finally came, however, put all doubts aside. Marvin’s obsession with symmetry had always made driving a bit of a problem. First of all, no car has the same things on the right side that it has on the left. Second of all, there would have to be the same amount of people on each side of the car. This meant that Marvin had to spend a year and a ridiculous amount of money adding pedals and a steering wheel to the right side of his car. It also meant that he could only drive if he had someone in the passenger seat. It made his driving situation almost impossible.

But not today.

As soon as the idea light went off in his head, he bolted down the stairs and out the front door. He threw open the door to his car and hopped in the drivers’ seat. There was no passenger. The car was not symmetrical.

“Things are about to get crazy,” he said to himself.

He pulled out of the driveway and started down the street. He blew right through the first stop sign that he came to. The intersection was a three-way stop, so he had always hated it.

He went through four more stop signs without stopping before beginning to head out of town. He wasn’t exactly sure how revolting against his symmetry obsession meant abandoning the adherence to traffic laws, but somehow the two seemed connected. His speed was rising and his blood was pumping. He was driving an asymmetrical car and loving every minute of it.

He realized in a terrible instant, however, that he had no idea what would happen when his little joy ride ended. He knew that he wasn’t capable of abandoning symmetry for the rest of his life, but he couldn’t bear to submit to it any longer. The two realities fought it out in his head for what seemed like hours before he decided that he could not take it any longer. Up ahead rose a bridge with a steep drop-off into the Missouri River. He began to accelerate even more.

Tears began to fall again as he neared the bridge and started to turn the wheel to allow him the ability to drive off the side and off into the river. He was sure he wanted to go through with it, but he wasn’t sure at the same time. He didn’t know if he could go on, but he certainly had a lot to live for.

His fear raced to an unbelievable new level and as the moment of truth neared, he reacted unexpectedly. He jerked the wheel back to the left turning the car at the last second and barely missing the side of the bridge. Unfortunately, he overcorrected and turned right into a semi-truck coming from the other direction. The semi plowed into the right front corner of his car which spun him around, rolled him over and toppled the car into a huge ditch just fifteen feet before the hill going down to the river. No one ever determined if he died from the semi hit or when the car landed in the ditch. In either case, he did not walk away from that accident.

7

Lee had turned his phone off while he and Sarah were at the movie, so Bob couldn’t tell him the news until they returned home later that night. The three of them sat in the living room in silence for the longest time before Bob finally asked the question that he and Lee both felt but neither wanted to ask.

“Lee,” he said with a quiver in his voice. “Do you think that Mar made the will that he talked about? Do you think that was why he was late coming home from class today?”

“I don’t know, man. I don’t know.”

“Will?” Sarah asked with a high level of confusion. “What are you guys talking about?”

“Well” Lee said, not really looking forward to explaining it, “you see, yesterday Mar won the lottery. He found a game that he could play in a symmetrical fashion and he won about five hundred thousand dollars. We had decided to be really nice to him today because we were hoping that he would cut us in on the money, but then for some reason he decided that he wanted to make a will, probably just because he had never had that much money before. Then we were nice because we wanted to get in on the will. I guess he felt different after winning all of that money. He felt confident in himself, but that also came with a desire to take care of those he cared about in case something happened to him. Well, something did.”

“So you two were only being nice to try and get some money from him?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“I don’t believe this,” Sarah said as she stormed toward the door. “You two deserve each other.”

After Sarah left, Bob and Lee walked up to Mar’s room, which was still slightly torn up from his little breakdown earlier that day. They sighed together, and without a word, they made his room completely symmetrical again.

8

A few weeks later a doctor in the nearest city received the following letter:

Dear Dr. Mansfield,

You don’t know me, but I am a second cousin of yours. If you are reading this, then I have unfortunately passed away. Here is the good news, though. As a former student of plastic surgery myself, I delight in your work to help make people symmetrical again. I would like for every cent that I have earned to go into an account to help your patients pay for their surgeries. Thank you for making the world a more symmetrical place. Please put the enclosed funds to good use.

Thanks, and God bless.

Marvin Olsen Mansfield

Bob and Lee are currently scheduled to go under the knife.

Copyright 2010 Brian Patterson

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s