Susannah reached into the laundry basket and pulled out the navy blue bra – the one she had been wearing for the last three days – and thought of Catherine. Catherine was the brilliant but emotionally fragile protagonist in the play, “Proof” by author/playwright David Auburn. Susannah had gone to see it the night before. It was the first production put on by the fledgling theatre company founded by her dear friend, Gayle, on the town green. It was the best version she had ever seen. She’d been to that play before – seen it both on stage and screen – but had never thought much about its main character. Today she wondered, “Am I Catherine?”
Wrapped in a worn blue wool shawl despite the July date, sitting in her darkened study, she considered that thought. Like Catherine in “Proof,” she was isolated, at loose ends, in between meaningful work, and depressed. No crazy father to care for. But then, that had been the one thing that had kept Catherine sane for three years. Susannah had no kids, no dogs, not even a house plant to require her attention. Nothing but herself since she had kicked him out and ended her marriage.
She had flirted with clinical depression over the years, but never was able to commit fully to it. Now she almost wished to sink in and not fight her way out as she had done in the past. With her kids grown and gone, what was to keep her from indulging? And reaching fifty seemed like the perfect time.
That morning, she had forced herself to do the dishes and had a pile of very decent household chores she could do. Not having really cleaned in weeks, a good vacuum and dust was needed. And if she wanted to take advantage of the more promising weather, the screened in porch, still covered with a layer of yellow pollen from a month ago called for attention. Or she could sweep the entryway and pull a few weeds. But the longer she considered her options by visualizing herself getting off the couch to accomplish any of them, the longer she sat. A brief panic coursed through her body at each image, leaving her impotently hugging her shawl and noting the slow but inexorable passage of time.
“I am blue,” she said to herself. And she smiled wanly through the tears at the joke: her cobbled-together outfit – dark jeans and a shirt under the shawl, heavy cotton socks: all navy blue. She had wondered at times why blue – always by far her favorite color – connoted sadness. But today it made sense. She looked and felt blue.
At 4:00PM, a light rain began to fall, ending the possibility – in her mind, at least – of attacking any of the outside jobs. She began to feel hungry, so there was something she could do. Then she thought about the stale potato chips left over from the night before that had served as a “pre-breakfast” without having been followed by actual breakfast, and the thought of any food turned her stomach. By 6:00PM, she was still sitting there, having leafed through some magazines, and again thought of “Proof” and Catherine.
Catherine, the mathematical genius whose melancholy had reduced her to endlessly browsing through piles of Cosmos and Vanity Fair, had abandoned her academic pursuits for a family obligation that meant more to her than her degree – the live-in care of her batty professor/father. But Susannah didn’t have such a noble purpose. She didn’t have a purpose at all and, as the day slipped into darkness, that reality weighed on her consciousness. What would it be that could overcome inertia and snap her out of it this time? The spark that had hit Catherine was a theorem that had been confounding mathematicians for ages. Challenged by her father who was lucid enough to articulate the complex problem though barely able to button his shirt, she had discovered the elusive proof. Circuitous as it turned out to be, the proof had become her path to recovery.
Susannah mechanically rose from the couch and opened her computer buried in a corner of the study on a cluttered desk. A part of her brain that had lain dormant for months slowly began to flicker. Eyes staring ahead with the image of Catherine in her mind, she opened the laptop, set her fingers on the keyboard and started to tap, tap, tap. Would this, could this new story that began to pour out her fingertips and onto the screen be her “proof?”