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Ebook The Rosie Project (a Novel) By Graeme Simsion | Epub, Mobi, Text

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  1. mukul
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    The next morning, I returned with some relief to the routine that had been so severely disrupted over the preceding two days. My Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday runs to the market are a feature of my schedule, combining exercise, meal-ingredients purchase, and an opportunity for reflection. I was in great need of the last of these.

    A woman had given me her phone number and told me to call her. More than the Jacket Incident, the Balcony Meal, and even the excitement of the potential Father Project, this had disrupted my world. I knew that it happened regularly: people in books, films, and TV shows do exactly what Rosie had done. But it had never happened to me. No woman had ever casually, unthinkingly, automatically, written down her phone number, given it to me, and said, “Call me.” I had temporarily been included in a culture that I considered closed to me. Although it was entirely logical that Rosie should provide me with a means of contacting her, I had an irrational feeling that, when I called, Rosie would realize that she had made some kind of error.

    I arrived at the market and commenced purchasing. Because each day’s ingredients are standard, I know which stalls to visit, and the vendors generally have my items prepackaged in advance. I need only pay. The vendors know me well and are consistently friendly.

    However, it is not possible to time-share major intellectual activity with the purchasing process, owing to the quantity of human and inanimate obstacles: vegetable pieces on the ground, old ladies with shopping carts, vendors still setting up stalls, Asian women comparing prices, goods being delivered, and tourists taking photos of each other in front of the produce. Fortunately I am usually the only jogger.

    On the way home, I resumed my analysis of the Rosie situation. I realized that my actions had been driven more by instinct than logic. There were plenty of people in need of help, many in more distress than Rosie, and numerous worthy scientific projects that would represent better use of my time than a quest to find one individual’s father. And of course, I should be giving priority to the Wife Project. Better to push Gene to select more suitable women from the list, or to relax some of the less important selection criteria, as I had already done with the no-drinking rule.

    The logical decision was to contact Rosie and explain that the Father Project was not a good idea. I phoned at 6:43 a.m. on returning from the run and left a message for her to call back. When I hung up, I was sweating despite the fact that the morning was still cool. I hoped I wasn’t developing a fever.

    Rosie called back while I was delivering a lecture. Normally, I turn my phone off at such times, but I was anxious to put thisproblem to bed. I was feeling stressed at the prospect of an interaction in which it was necessary for me to retract an offer. Speaking on the phone in front of a lecture theater full of students was awkward, especially as I was wearing a lapel microphone.

    They could hear my side of the conversation.

    “Hi, Rosie.”

    “Don, I just want to say thanks for doing this thing for me. I didn’t realize how much it had been eating me up. Do you know that little coffee shop across from the Commerce Building—Barista’s? How about two o’clock tomorrow?”

    Now that Rosie had accepted my offer of help, it would have been immoral, and technically a breach of contract, to withdraw it.

    “Barista’s, two p.m. tomorrow,” I confirmed, though I was temporarily unable to access the schedule in my brain because of overload.

    “You’re a star,” she said.

    Her tone indicated that this was the end of her contribution to the conversation. It was my turn to use a standard platitude to reciprocate, and the obvious one was the simple reflection of “You’re a star.” But even I realized that made no sense. She was the beneficiary of my starness in the form of my genetics expertise. On reflection, I could have just said “Good-bye” or “See you,” but I had no time for reflection. There was considerable pressure to make a timely response.

    “I like you too.”

    The entire lecture theater exploded in applause.

    A female student in the front row said, “Smooth.” She was smiling.

    Fortunately I am accustomed to creating amusement inadvertently.

    I did not feel too unhappy at failing to terminate the Father Project. The amount of work involved in one DNA test was trivial.

    We met at Barista’s the next day at 2:07 p.m. Needless to say, the delay was Rosie’s fault. My students would be sitting in their 2:15 p.m. lecture waiting for my arrival. My intention had been only to advise her on the collection of a DNA sample, but she seemed unable to process the instructions. In retrospect, I was probably offering too many options and too much technical detail too rapidly. With only seven minutes to discuss the problem (allowing one minute for running to the lecture), we agreed that the simplest solution was to collect the sample together.

    • • •

    We arrived at the residence of Dr. Eamonn Hughes, the suspected father, on the Saturday afternoon. Rosie had telephoned in advance.

    Eamonn looked older than I had expected. I guessed sixty, BMI twenty-three. Eamonn’s wife, whose name was Belinda (approximately fifty-five, BMI twenty-eight), made us coffee, as predicted by Rosie. This was critical, as we had decided that the coffee-cup rim would be an ideal source of saliva. I sat beside Rosie, pretending to be her friend. Eamonn and Belinda were opposite, and I was finding it hard to keep my eyes away from Eamonn’s cup.

    Fortunately, I was not required to make small talk. Eamonn was a cardiologist and we had a fascinating discussion about genetic markers for cardiac disease. Eamonn finally finished his coffee and Rosie stood up to take the cups to the kitchen. There, she would be able to swab the lip of the cup and we would have an excellent sample. When we discussed the plan, I suggested that this would be a breach of social convention, but Rosie assured me that she knew Eamonn and Belinda well as family friends, and as a younger person, she would be allowed to perform this chore. For once, my understanding of social convention proved more accurate. Unfortunately.

    As Rosie picked up Belinda’s cup, Belinda said, “Leave it, I’ll do it later.”

    Rosie responded, “No, please,” and took Eamonn’s cup.

    Belinda picked up my cup and Rosie’s and said, “Okay, give me a hand.” They walked out to the kitchen together. It was obviously going to be difficult for Rosie to swab Eamonn’s cup with Belinda present, but I could not think of a way of getting Belinda out of the kitchen.

    “Did Rosie tell you I studied medicine with her mother?” asked Eamonn.

    I nodded. Had I been a psychologist, I might have been able to infer from Eamonn’s conversation and body language whether he was hiding the fact that he was Rosie’s father. I might even have been able to lead the conversation in a direction to trap him. Fortunately we were not relying on my skills in this arena. If Rosie succeeded in collecting the sample, I would be able to provide a far more reliable answer than one derived from observations of behavior.

    “If I can offer you a little encouragement,” Eamonn said, “Rosie’s mother was a bit wild in her younger days. Very smart, good-looking, she could have had anyone. All the other women in medicine were going to marry doctors.” He smiled. “But she surprised us all and picked the guy from left field who persisted and stuck around.”

    It was lucky I wasn’t looking for clues. My expression must have conveyed my total lack of comprehension.

    “I suspect Rosie may follow in her mother’s footsteps,” he said.

    “In what component of her life?” It seemed safer to seek clarification than assume that he meant getting pregnant by an unknown fellow student or dying. These were the only facts I knew about Rosie’s mother.

    “I’m just saying I think you’re probably good for her. And she’s had a rough time. Tell me to mind my own business if you like. But she’s a great kid.”

    Now the intent of the conversation was clear, although Rosie was surely too old to be referred to as a kid. Eamonn thought I was Rosie’s boyfriend. It was an understandable error. Correcting it would necessarily involve telling a lie, so I decided to remain silent. Then we heard the sound of breaking crockery.

    Eamonn called out, “Everything okay?”

    “Just broke a cup,” said Belinda.

    Breaking the cup was not part of the plan. Presumably, Rosie had dropped it in her nervousness or in trying to keep it from Belinda. I was annoyed at myself for not having a backup plan. I had not treated this project as serious fieldwork. It was embarrassingly unprofessional, and it was now my responsibility to find a solution. It would surely involve deception, and I am not skilled at deception.

    My best approach was to source the DNA for a legitimate reason.

    “Have you heard about the Genographic Project?”

    “No,” said Eamonn.

    I explained that with a sample of his DNA we could trace his distant ancestry. He was fascinated. I offered to have his DNA processed if he organized a cheek scraping and sent it to me.

    “Let’s do it now, before I forget,” he said. “Will blood do?”

    “Blood is ideal for DNA testing, but—”

    “I’m a doctor,” he said. “Give me a minute.”

    Eamonn left the room, and I could hear Belinda and Rosie speaking in the kitchen.

    Belinda said, “Seen your father at all?”

    “Next question,” said Rosie.

    Belinda instead responded with a statement. “Don seems nice.”

    Excellent. I was doing well.

    “Just a friend,” said Rosie.

    If she knew how many friends I had, she might have realized what a great compliment she had paid me.

    “Oh well,” said Belinda.

    Rosie and Belinda returned to the living room at the same time as Eamonn with his doctor’s bag. Belinda reasonably deduced that there was some medical problem, but Eamonn explained about the Genographic Project. Belinda, who was a nurse, took the blood with professional expertise.

    As I handed the filled tube to Rosie to put in her handbag, I noticed her hands were shaking. I diagnosed anxiety, presumably related to the imminent confirmation of her paternity. I was not surprised when she asked, only seconds after leaving the Hughes’s residence, if we could process the DNA sample immediately. It would require opening the lab on a Saturday evening but at least the project would be completed.

    • • •

    The laboratory was empty: throughout the university, the archaic idea of working Monday to Friday results in an incredible underutilization of expensive facilities. The university was trialing analysis equipment that could test for parent-child relationships very quickly. And we had an ideal DNA sample. It is possible to extract DNA from a wide variety of sources and only a few cells are needed for an analysis, but the preparatory work can be time-consuming and complex. Blood was easy.

    The new machine was located in a small room that had once been a tearoom with sink and refrigerator. For a moment I wished it had been more impressive—an unusual intrusion of ego into my thoughts. I unlocked the refrigerator and opened a beer. Rosie coughed loudly. I recognized the code and opened one for her also.

    I tried to explain the process to Rosie as I set up, but she seemed unable to stop talking, even as she used the scraper on her inner cheek to provide me with her DNA sample.

    “I can’t believe it’s this easy. This quick. I think I’ve always known at some level. He used to bring me stuff when I was a kid.”

    “It’s a vastly overspecified machine for such a trivial task.”

    “One time he brought me a chess set. Phil gave me girly stuff—jewelry boxes and shit. Pretty weird for a personal trainer when you think about it.”

    “You play chess?” I asked.

    “Not really. That’s not the point. He respected that I have a brain. He and Belinda never had any kids of their own. I have a sense that he was always around. He might even have been my mum’s best friend. But I’ve never consciously thought of him as my father.”

    “He’s not,” I said.

    The result had come up on the computer screen. Job complete. I began packing up.

    “Wow,” said Rosie. “Ever thought of being a grief counselor?”

    “No. I considered a number of careers, but all in the sciences. My interpersonal skills are not strong.”

    Rosie burst out laughing. “You’re about to get a crash course in advanced grief counseling.”

    It turned out that Rosie was making a sort of joke, as her approach to grief counseling was based entirely on the administration of alcohol. We went to Jimmy Watson’s on Lygon Street, a short walk away, and as usual, even on a weekend, it was full of academics. We sat at the bar, and I was surprised to find that Rosie, a professional server of drinks, had a very poor knowledge of wine. A few years ago Gene had suggested that wine was the perfect topic for safe conversation and I did some research. I was familiar with the backgrounds of the wines offered regularly at this bar. We drank quite a lot.

    Rosie had to go outside for a few minutes because of her nicotine addiction. The timing was fortunate, as a couple emerged from the courtyard and passed the bar. The man was Gene! The woman was not Claudia, but I recognized her. It was Olivia, the Indian vegetarian from Table for Eight. Neither saw me, and they went past too quickly for me to say anything.

    My confusion at seeing them together must have contributed to my next decision. A waiter came up to me and said, “There’s a table for two that’s just come free in the courtyard. Are you eating with us?”

    I nodded. I would have to freeze the day’s market purchases for the following Saturday, with the resulting loss of nutrients. Instinct had again displaced logic.

    Rosie’s reaction to finding a table being set for us on her return appeared to be positive. Doubtless she was hungry, but it was reassuring to know that I had not committed a faux pas, always more likely when different genders are involved.

    The food was excellent. We had freshly shucked oysters (sustainable), tuna sashimi (selected by Rosie and probably not sustainable), eggplant and mozzarella stack (Rosie), veal sweetbreads (me), cheese (shared), and a single serving of passion fruit mousse (divided and shared). I ordered a bottle of Marsanne and it was an excellent accompaniment.

    Rosie spent much of the meal trying to explain why she wanted to locate her biological father. I could see little reason for it. In the past, the knowledge might have been useful to determine the risk of genetically influenced diseases, but today Rosie could have her own DNA analyzed directly. Practically, her stepfather Phil seemed to have executed the father role, although Rosie had numerous complaints about his performance. He was an egotist; he was inconsistent in his attitude toward her; he was subject to mood swings. He was also strongly opposed to alcohol. I considered this to be a thoroughly defensible position, but it was a cause of friction between them.

    Rosie’s motivation seemed to be emotional, and while I could not understand the psychology, it was clearly very important to her happiness.

    After Rosie had finished her mousse, she left the table to “go to the bathroom.” It gave me time to reflect and I realized that I was in the process of completing a noneventful and in fact highly enjoyable dinner with a woman, a significant achievement that I was looking forward to sharing with Gene and Claudia.

    I concluded that the lack of problems was due to three factors.

    1. I was in a familiar restaurant. It had never occurred to me to take a woman—or indeed anyone—to Jimmy Watson’s, which I had only previously used as a source of wine.

    2. Rosie was not a date. I had rejected her, comprehensively, as a potential partner, and we were together because of a joint project. It was like a meeting.

    3. I was somewhat intoxicated—hence relaxed. As a result, I may also have been unaware of any social errors.

    At the end of the meal, I ordered two glasses of sambuca and said, “Who do we test next?”
     
  2. mukul
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    Besides Eamonn Hughes, Rosie knew of only two other “family friends” from her mother’s medical graduation class. It struck me as unlikely that someone who had illicit sex with her mother would remain in contact, given the presence of Phil. But there was an evolutionary argument that he would wish to ensure that the carrier of his genes was receiving proper care. Essentially this was Rosie’s argument also.

    The first candidate was Dr. Peter Enticott, who lived locally. The other, Alan McPhee, had died from prostate cancer, which was good news for Rosie, as, lacking a prostate gland, she could not inherit it. Apparently he had been an oncologist but had not detected the cancer in himself, a not-uncommon scenario. Humans often fail to see what is close to them and obvious to others.

    Fortunately, he had a daughter, with whom Rosie had socialized when she was younger. Rosie arranged a meeting with Natalie in three days’ time, ostensibly to view Natalie’s newborn baby.

    I reverted to the normal schedule, but the Father Project kept intruding into my thoughts. I prepared for the DNA collection; I did not want a repeat of the broken cup problem. I also had another altercation with the Dean, as a result of the Flounder Incident.

    One of my tasks is to teach genetics to medical students. In the first class of the previous semester, a student, who did not identify himself, had raised his hand shortly after I showed my first slide. The slide is a brilliant and beautiful diagrammatic summary of evolution from single-cell organisms to today’s incredible variety of life. Only my colleagues in the Physics Department can match the extraordinary story that it tells. I cannot comprehend why some people are more interested in the outcome of a football match or the weight of an actress.

    This student belonged to another category.

    “Professor Tillman, you used the word ‘evolved.’ ”

    “Correct.”

    “I think you should point out that evolution is just a theory.”

    This was not the first time I had received a question—or statement—of this kind. I knew from experience that I would not sway the student’s views, which would inevitably be based on religious dogma. I could only ensure that the student was not taken seriously by other trainee doctors.

    “Correct,” I replied, “but your use of the word ‘just’ is misleading. Evolution is a theory supported by overwhelming evidence. Like the germ theory of disease, for example. As a doctor, you will be expected to rely on science. Unless you want to be a faith healer. In which case you are in the wrong course.”

    There was some laughter. Faith Healer objected.

    “I’m not talking about faith. I’m talking about creation science.”

    There were only a few moans from the class. No doubt many of the students were from cultures where criticism of religion is not well tolerated. Such as ours. I had been forbidden to comment on religion after an earlier incident. But we were discussing science. I could have continued the argument, but I knew better than to be sidetracked by a student. My lectures are precisely timed to fit within fifty minutes.

    “Evolution is a theory,” I said. “There is no other theory of the origins of life with wide acceptance by scientists or of any utility to medicine. Hence we will assume it in this class.” I believed I had handled the situation well, but I was annoyed that time had been insufficient to argue the case against the pseudoscience of creationism.

    Some weeks later, eating in the University Club, I found a means of making the point succinctly. As I walked to the bar, I noticed one of the members eating a flounder, with its head still in place. After a slightly awkward conversation, I obtained the head and skeleton, which I wrapped and stored in my backpack.

    Four days later, I had the class. I located Faith Healer and asked him a preliminary question. “Do you believe that fish were created in their current forms by an intelligent designer?”

    He seemed surprised at the question, perhaps because it had been seven weeks since we had suspended the discussion. But he nodded in agreement.

    I unwrapped the flounder. It had acquired a strong smell, but medical students should be prepared to deal with unpleasant organic objects in the interests of learning. I indicated the head: “Observe that the eyes are not symmetrical.” In fact the eyes had decomposed, but the location of the eye sockets was quite clear. “This is because the flounder evolved from a conventional fish with eyes on opposite sides of the head. One eye slowly migrated around, but just far enough to function effectively. Evolution did not bother to tidy up. But surely an intelligent designer would not have created a fish with this imperfection.” I gave Faith Healer the fish to enable him to examine it and continued the lecture.

    He waited until the beginning of the new teaching year to lodge his complaint.

    In my discussion with the Dean, she implied that I had tried to humiliate Faith Healer, whereas my intent had been to advance an argument. Since he had used the term “creation science,” with no mention of religion, I made the case that I was not guilty of denigrating religion. I was merely contrasting one theory with another. He was welcome to bring counterexamples to class.

    “Don,” she said, “as usual you haven’t technically broken any rules. But—how can I put it?—if someone told me that a lecturer had brought a dead fish to class and given it to a student who had made a statement of religious faith, I would guess that the lecturer was you. Do you understand where I’m coming from?”

    “You’re saying that I am the person in the faculty most likely to act unconventionally. And you want me to act more conventionally. That seems an unreasonable request to make of a scientist.”

    “I just don’t want you to upset people.”

    “Being upset and complaining because your theory is disproven is unscientific.”

    The argument ended, once again, with the Dean’s being unhappy with me, though I had not broken any rules, and my being reminded that I needed to try harder to “fit in.” As I left her office, her personal assistant, Regina, stopped me.

    “I don’t think I have you down for the faculty ball yet, Professor Tillman. I think you’re the only professor who hasn’t bought tickets.”

    Riding home, I was aware of a tightness in my chest and realized it was a physical response to the Dean’s advice. I knew that if I could not “fit in” in a science department of a university, I could not fit in anywhere.

    • • •

    Natalie McPhee, daughter of the late Dr. Alan McPhee, potential biological father of Rosie, lived eighteen kilometers from the city, within riding distance, but Rosie decided we should travel by car. I was amazed to find that she drove a red Porsche convertible.

    “It’s Phil’s.”

    “Your ‘father’s’?” I did the air quotes.

    “Yeah, he’s in Thailand.”

    “I thought he didn’t like you. But he lent you his car?”

    “That’s the sort of thing he does. No love, just stuff.”

    The Porsche would be the perfect vehicle to lend to someone you did not like. It was seventeen years old (thus using old emissions technology), had appalling fuel economy, little leg room, high wind noise, and a nonfunctioning air-conditioning system. Rosie confirmed my guess that it was unreliable and expensive to maintain.

    As we arrived at Natalie’s, I realized I had spent the entire journey listing and elaborating on the deficiencies of the vehicle. I had avoided small talk but had not briefed Rosie on the DNA collection method.

    “Your task is to occupy her in conversation while I collect DNA.” This would make best use of our respective skills.

    It soon became clear that my backup plan would be necessary. Natalie did not want to drink: she was abstaining from alcohol while breast-feeding her baby, and it was too late for coffee. These were responsible choices, but we would not be able to swab a cup or glass.

    I deployed Plan B.

    “Can I see the baby?”

    “He’s asleep,” she said, “so you’ll have to be quiet.”

    I stood up and so did she.

    “Just tell me where to go,” I said.

    “I’ll come with you.”

    The more I insisted that I wanted to see the baby alone, the more she objected. We went to its room, and as she had predicted, it was sleeping. This was very annoying, as I had a number of plans that involved collecting DNA in a totally noninvasive way from the baby, who was, of course, also related to Alan McPhee. Unfortunately I had not factored in the mother’s protective instinct. Every time I found a reason to leave the room, Natalie followed me. It was very awkward.

    Finally, Rosie excused herself to go to the bathroom. Even if she had known what to do, she could not have visited the baby, as Natalie had positioned herself so that she could see the bedroom door and was checking frequently.

    “Have you heard about the Genographic Project?” I asked.

    She hadn’t and was not interested. She changed the topic.

    “You seem very interested in babies.”

    There was surely an opportunity here if I could find a way to exploit it. “I’m interested in their behavior. Without the corrupting influence of a parent present.”

    She looked at me strangely. “Do you do any stuff with kids? I mean Scouts, church groups . . .”

    “No,” I said. “It’s unlikely that I’d be suitable.”

    Rosie returned and the baby started crying.

    “Feeding time,” said Natalie.

    “We should be going,” said Rosie.

    Failure! Social skills had been the problem. With good social skills I could surely have gotten to the baby.

    “I’m sorry,” I said, as we walked to Phil’s ridiculous vehicle.

    “Don’t be.” Rosie reached into her handbag and pulled out a wad of hair. “I cleaned her hairbrush for her.”

    “We need roots,” I said. But there was a lot of hair, so it was likely we would find a strand with its root attached.

    She reached into her bag again and retrieved a toothbrush. It took me a few moments to realize what this meant.

    “You stole her toothbrush!”

    “There was a spare in the cupboard. It was time for a new one.”

    I was shocked at the theft, but we would now almost certainly have a usable sample of DNA. It was difficult not to be impressed by Rosie’s resourcefulness. And if Natalie was not replacing her toothbrush at regular intervals, Rosie had done her a favor.

    Rosie did not want to analyze the hair or toothbrush immediately. She wanted to collect DNA from the final candidate and test the two samples together. This struck me as illogical. If Natalie’s sample was a match, we would not need to collect further DNA. However, Rosie did not seem to grasp the concept of sequencing tasks to minimize cost and risk.

    After the problem with the baby access, we decided to collaborate on the most appropriate approach for Dr. Peter Enticott.

    “I’ll tell him I’m thinking about studying medicine,” she said. Dr. Enticott was now on the medical faculty at Deakin University.

    She would arrange to meet him over coffee, which would provide an opportunity to use the coffee-cup swab procedure thatcurrently had a one hundred percent failure rate. I thought it unlikely that a barmaid could convince a professor that she had the credentials to study medicine. Rosie seemed insulted by this and argued that it did not matter in any case. We only had to persuade him to have a drink with us.

    A bigger problem was how to present me, as Rosie did not think she could do the job alone. “You’re my boyfriend,” she said. “You’ll be financing my studies, so you’re a stakeholder.” She looked at me hard. “You don’t need to overplay it.”

    • • •

    On a Wednesday afternoon, with Gene covering a lecture for me in return for the Asperger’s night, we traveled in Phil’s toy car to Deakin University. I had been there many times before for guest lectures and collaborative research. I even knew some researchers in the Medical Faculty, though not Peter Enticott.

    We met him at an outdoor café crowded with medical students back early from the summer break. Rosie was amazing! She spoke intelligently about medicine and even psychiatry, in which she said she hoped to specialize. She claimed to have an honors degree in behavioral science and postgraduate research experience.

    Peter seemed obsessed with the resemblance between Rosie and her mother, which was irrelevant for our purposes. Three times he interrupted Rosie to remind her of their physical similarity, and I wondered if this might indicate some particular bond between him and Rosie’s mother—and hence be a predictor of paternity. I looked, as I had done in Eamonn Hughes’s living room, for any physical similarities between Rosie and her potential father but could see nothing obvious.

    “That all sounds very positive, Rosie,” said Peter. “I don’t have anything to do with the selection process—at least officially.” His wording appeared to imply the possibility of unofficial, and hence unethical, assistance. Was this a sign of nepotism and thus a clue that he was Rosie’s father?

    “Your academic background is fine, but you’ll have to do the GAMSAT.” Peter turned to me. “The standard admission test for the MD program.”

    “I did it last year,” said Rosie. “I got seventy-four.”

    Peter looked hugely impressed. “You can walk into Harvard with that score. But we take other factors into account here, so if you do decide to apply, make sure you let me know.”

    I hoped he never went for a drink at the Marquess of Queensbury.

    A waiter brought the bill. As he went to take Peter’s cup, I automatically put my hand on it to stop him. The waiter looked at me extremely unpleasantly and snatched it away. I watched as he took it to a cart and added it to a tray of crockery.

    Peter looked at his phone. “I have to go,” he said. “But now that you’ve made contact, stay in touch.”

    As Peter left, I could see the waiter looking toward the cart.

    “You need to distract him,” I said.

    “Just get the cup,” said Rosie.

    I walked toward the cart. The waiter was watching me, but just as I reached the tray, he snapped his head in Rosie’s direction and began walking quickly toward her. I grabbed the cup.

    We met at the car, which was parked some distance away. The walk gave me time to process the fact that I had, under pressure to achieve a goal, been guilty of theft. Should I send a check to the café? What was a cup worth? Cups were broken all the time, but by random events. If everyone stole cups, the café would probably become financially nonviable.

    “Did you get the cup?”

    I held it up.

    “Is it the right one?” she said.

    I am not good at nonverbal communication, but I believe I managed to convey the fact that while I might be a petty thief, I do not make errors of observation.

    “Did you pay the bill?” I asked.

    “That’s how I distracted him.”

    “By paying the bill?”

    “No, you pay at the counter. I just took off.”

    “We have to go back.”

    “Fuck ’em,” said Rosie, as we climbed into the Porsche and sped off.

    What was happening to me?
     
  3. mukul
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    We drove toward the university and the lab. The Father Project would soon be over. The weather was warm, though there were dark clouds on the horizon, and Rosie lowered the convertible roof. I was mulling over the theft.

    “You still obsessing about the bill, Don?” Rosie shouted over the wind noise. “You’re hilarious. We’re stealing DNA, and you’re worried about a cup of coffee.”

    “It’s not illegal to take DNA samples,” I shouted back. This was true, although in the UK we would have been in violation of the Human Tissue Act of 2004. “We should go back.”

    “Highly inefficient use of time,” said Rosie in a strange voice, as we pulled up at traffic lights and were briefly able to communicate properly. She laughed and I realized she had been imitating me. Her statement was correct, but there was a moral question involved, and acting morally should override other issues.

    “Relax,” she said. “It’s a beautiful day, we’re going to find out who my father is, and I’ll put a check in the mail for the coffee. Promise.” She looked at me. “Do you know how to relax? How to just have fun?”

    It was too complex a question to answer over the wind noise as we pulled away from the lights. And the pursuit of fun does not lead to overall contentment. Studies have shown this consistently.

    “You missed the exit,” I said.

    “Correct,” she replied, in the joke voice. “We’re going to the beach.” She spoke right over the top of my protests. “Can’t hear you, can’t hear you.”

    Then she put on some music—very loud rock music. Now she really couldn’t hear me. I was being kidnapped! We drove for ninety-four minutes. I could not see the speedometer and was not accustomed to traveling in an open vehicle, but I estimated that we were consistently exceeding the speed limit.

    Discordant sound, wind, risk of death—I tried to assume the mental state that I used at the dentist.

    Finally, we stopped in a beachside parking lot. It was almost empty on a weekday afternoon.

    Rosie looked at me. “Smile. We’re going for a walk, then we’re going to the lab, and then I’m going to take you home. And you’ll never see me again.”

    “Can’t we just go home now?” I said, and realized that I sounded like a child. I reminded myself that I was an adult male, ten years older and more experienced than the person with me, and that there must be a purpose for what she was doing. I asked what it was.

    “I’m about to find out who my dad is. I need to clear my head. So can we walk for half an hour or so, and can you just pretend to be a regular human being and listen to me?”

    I was not sure how well I could imitate a regular human being, but I agreed to the walk. It was obvious that Rosie was confused by emotions, and I respected her attempt to overcome them. As it turned out, she hardly spoke at all. This made the walk quite pleasant: it was virtually the same as walking alone.

    As we approached the car on our return, Rosie asked, “What music do you like?”

    “Why?”

    “You didn’t like what I was playing on the drive down, did you?”

    “Correct.”

    “So, your turn going back. But I don’t have any Bach.”

    “I don’t really listen to music,” I said. “The Bach was an experiment that didn’t work.”

    “You can’t go through life not listening to music.”

    “I just don’t pay it any attention. I prefer to listen to information.”

    There was a long silence. We had reached the car.

    “Did your parents listen to music? Brothers and sisters?”

    “My parents listened to rock music. Primarily my father. From the era in which he was young.”

    We got in the car and Rosie lowered the roof again. She played with her iPhone, which she was using as the music source.

    “Blast from the past,” she said, and activated the music.

    I was just settling into the dentist’s chair again when I realized the accuracy of Rosie’s words. I knew this music. It had been in the background when I was growing up. I was suddenly taken back to my room, door closed, writing in BASIC on my early-generation computer, the song in the background.

    “I know this song!”

    Rosie laughed. “If you didn’t, that’d be the final proof that you’re from Mars.”

    Hurtling back to town, in a red Porsche driven by a beautiful woman, with the song playing, I had the sense of standing on the brink of another world. I recognized the feeling, which, if anything, became stronger as the rain started falling and the convertible roof malfunctioned so we were unable to raise it. It was the same feeling that I had experienced looking over the city after the Balcony Meal, and again after Rosie had written down her phone number. Another world, another life, proximate but inaccessible.

    The elusive . . . Sat-is-fac-tion.

    • • •

    It was dark when we arrived back at the university. We were both wet. With the aid of the instruction manual, I was able to close the car roof manually.

    In the lab, I opened two beers (no cough signal required) and Rosie tapped her bottle against mine.

    “Cheers,” she said. “Well done.”

    “You promise to send a check to the café?”

    “Whatever. Promise.” Good.

    “You were brilliant,” I said. I had been meaning to convey this for some time. Rosie’s performance as an aspiring medical student had been very impressive. “But why did you claim such a high score on the medical admission test?”

    “Why do you think?”

    I explained that if I could have deduced the answer, I would not have asked.

    “Because I didn’t want to look stupid.”

    “To your potential father?”

    “Yeah. To him. To anybody. I’m getting a bit sick of certain people thinking I’m stupid.”

    “I consider you remarkably intelligent—”

    “Don’t say it.”

    “Say what?”

    “ ‘For a barmaid.’ You were going to say that, weren’t you?”

    Rosie had predicted correctly.

    “My mother was a doctor. So is my father, if you’re talking about genes. And you don’t have to be a professor to be smart. I saw your face when I said I got seventy-four on the GAMSAT. You were thinking, He won’t believe this woman is that smart. But he did. So, put your prejudices away.”

    It was a reasonable criticism. I had little contact with people outside academia and had formed my assumptions about the rest of the world primarily from watching films and television as a child. I recognized that the characters in Lost in Space andStar Trek were probably not representative of humans in general. Certainly, Rosie did not conform to my barmaid stereotype. It was quite likely that many of my other assumptions about people were wrong. This was no surprise.

    The DNA analyzer was ready.

    “Do you have a preference?” I asked.

    “Whichever. I don’t want to make any decisions.”

    I realized that she was referring to the sequence of testing rather than the choice of father. I clarified the question.

    “I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon. Alan’s dead, which would suck. And Natalie would be my sister, which I’ve got to tell you is pretty weird. But it’s a sort of closure, if that makes sense. I like Peter, but I don’t really know anything about him. He’s probably got a family.”

    It struck me once again that this Father Project had not been well thought through. Rosie had spent the afternoon trying to subdue unwanted emotions, yet the motivation for the project seemed to be entirely emotional.

    I tested Peter Enticott first, as the hair from Natalie’s brush required more time for preprocessing. No match.

    I had found several roots in the wad of hair, so there was no need to have stolen the toothbrush. As I processed them, I reflected that Rosie’s first two candidates, including the one she had felt was a high probability, Eamonn Hughes, had not matched. It was my prediction that Alan’s daughter would not match either.

    I was right. I remembered to look at Rosie for her reaction. She looked very sad. It seemed we would have to get drunk again.

    “Remember,” she said, “the sample’s not from him; it’s his daughter’s.”

    “I’ve already factored it in.”

    “Naturally. So that’s it.”

    “But we haven’t solved the problem.” As a scientist I am not accustomed to abandoning difficult problems.

    “We’re not going to,” said Rosie. “We’ve tested everyone I ever heard of.”

    “Difficulties are inevitable,” I said. “Major projects require persistence.”

    “Save it for something that matters to you.”

    • • •

    Why do we focus on certain things at the expense of others? We will risk our lives to save a person from drowning, yet not make a donation that could save dozens of children from starvation. We install solar panels when their impact on CO2emissions is minimal—and indeed may have a net negative effect if manufacturing and installation are taken into account—rather than contributing to more efficient infrastructure projects.

    I consider my own decision making in these areas to be more rational than that of most people, but I also make errors of the same kind. We are genetically programmed to react to stimuli in our immediate vicinity. Responding to complex issues that we cannot perceive directly requires the application of reasoning, which is less powerful than instinct.

    This seemed to be the most likely explanation for my continued interest in the Father Project. Rationally, there were more important uses for my research capabilities, but instinctively I was driven to assist Rosie with her more immediate problem. As we drank a glass of Muddy Water pinot noir at Jimmy Watson’s before Rosie had to go to work, I tried to persuade her to continue with the project, but she argued, rationally enough, that there was now no reason to consider any member of her mother’s graduation class more likely than any other. She guessed that there would be a hundred or more students and pointed out that thirty years ago, as a result of entrenched gender bias, the majority would be male. The logistics of finding and testing fifty doctors, many of whom would be living in other cities or countries, would be prohibitive. Rosie said she didn’t care thatmuch.

    Rosie offered me a lift home, but I decided to stay and drink.
     
  4. mukul
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    thirteen
    Before abandoning the Father Project, I decided to check Rosie’s estimate of the number of father candidates. It occurred to me that some possibilities could be easily eliminated. The medical classes I teach contain numerous foreign students. Given Rosie’s distinctly pale skin, I considered it unlikely that her father was Chinese, Vietnamese, black, or Indian.

    I began with some basic research—an Internet search for information about the medical graduation class, based on the three names I knew.

    The results exceeded my expectations, but problem solving often requires an element of luck. It was no surprise that Rosie’s mother had graduated from my current university. At the time, there were only two medical courses in Melbourne.

    I found two relevant photos. One was a formal photo of the entire graduation class, with the names of the 146 students. The other was taken at the graduation party, also with names. There were only 124 faces, presumably because some students did not attend. Since the gene shopping had occurred at the party or after, we would not have to worry about the nonattendees. I verified that the 124 were a subset of the 146.

    I had expected that my search would produce a list of graduates and probably a photo. An unexpected bonus was a “Where are they now?” discussion board. But the major stroke of luck was the information that a thirtieth anniversary reunion had been scheduled. The date was only three weeks away. We would need to act quickly.

    I ate dinner at home and rode to the Marquess of Queensbury. Disaster! Rosie wasn’t working. The barman informed me that Rosie worked only three nights per week, which struck me as insufficient to provide an adequate income. Perhaps she had a day job as well. I knew very little about her, beyond her job, her interest in finding her father, and her age, which, based on the fact that her mother’s graduation party was thirty years earlier, must be twenty-nine. I had not asked Gene how he had met her. I did not even know her mother’s name to identify her in the photo.

    The barman was friendly, so I ordered a beer and some nuts and reviewed the notes I had brought.

    There were sixty-three males in the graduation party photo, a margin of only two over the females, insufficient to support Rosie’s claim of discrimination. Some were unambiguously non-Caucasian, though not as many as I expected. It was thirty years ago, and the influx of Chinese students had not yet commenced. There was still a large number of candidates, but the reunion offered an opportunity for batch processing.

    I had by now deduced that the Marquess of Queensbury was a gay bar. On the first visit, I had not observed the social interactions, as I was too focused on finding Rosie and initiating the Father Project, but this time I was able to analyze my surroundings in more detail. I was reminded of the chess club that I belonged to when I was at school: people drawn together by a common interest. It was the only club I had ever joined, excluding the University Club, which was more of a dining facility.

    I did not have any gay friends, but this was related to my overall small number of friends rather than to any prejudice. Perhaps Rosie was gay? She worked in a gay bar, although the clients were all males. I asked the barman. He laughed.

    “Good luck with that one,” he said. It didn’t answer the question, but he had moved on to serve another customer.

    • • •

    As I finished lunch at the University Club the following day, Gene walked in, accompanied by a woman I recognized from the singles party—Fabienne the Sex-Deprived Researcher. It appeared that she had found a solution to her problem. We passed each other at the dining room entrance.

    Gene winked at me and said, “Don, this is Fabienne. She’s visiting from Belgium and we’re going to discuss some options for collaboration.” He winked again and quickly moved past.

    Belgium. I had assumed Fabienne was French. Belgian explained it. Gene already had France.

    • • •

    I was waiting outside the Marquess of Queensbury when Rosie opened the doors at 9:00 p.m.

    “Don.” Rosie looked surprised. “Is everything okay?”

    “I have some information.”

    “Better be quick.”

    “It’s not quick, there’s quite a lot of detail.”

    “I’m sorry, Don, my boss is here. I’ll get into trouble. I need this job.”

    “What time do you finish?”

    “Three a.m.”

    I couldn’t believe it! What sort of jobs did Rosie’s patrons have? Maybe they all worked in bars that opened at 9:00 p.m. and had four nights a week off. A whole invisible nocturnal subculture, using resources that would otherwise stand idle. I took a huge breath and made a huge decision.

    “I’ll meet you then.”

    I rode home, went to bed, and set the alarm for 2:30 a.m. I canceled the run I had scheduled with Gene for the following morning to retrieve an hour. I would also skip karate.

    At 2:50 a.m. I was riding through the inner suburbs. It was not a totally unpleasant experience. In fact, I could see major advantages for myself in working at night. Empty laboratories. No students. Faster response times on the network. No contact with the Dean. If I could find a pure research position, with no teaching, it would be entirely feasible. Perhaps I could teach via video link at a university in another time zone.

    I arrived at Rosie’s workplace at exactly 3:00 a.m. The door was locked and a Closed sign was up. I knocked hard. Rosie came to the door.

    “I’m beat,” she said. This was hardly surprising. “Come in. I’m almost done.”

    Apparently the bar closed at 2:30 a.m. but Rosie had to clean up.

    “You want a beer?” she said. A beer! At 3:01 a.m. Ridiculous.

    “Yes, please.”

    I sat at the bar watching her clean up. The question I had asked sitting in the same place the previous day popped into my mind.

    “Are you gay?” I asked.

    “You came here to ask me that?”

    “No, the question is unrelated to the main purpose of my visit.”

    “Pleased to hear it, alone at three in the morning in a bar with a strange man.”

    “I’m not strange.”

    “Not much,” she said, but she was laughing, presumably making a joke to herself based on the two meanings of strange. I still didn’t have an answer to the gay question. She opened a beer for herself. I pulled out my folder and extracted the party photo.

    “Is this the party where your mother was impregnated?”

    “Shit. Where did this come from?”

    I explained about my research and showed her my spreadsheet. “All names are listed. Sixty-three males, nineteen obviously non-Caucasian, as determined by visual assessment and supported by names, three already eliminated.”

    “You’ve got to be kidding. We’re not testing . . . thirty-one people.”

    “Forty-one.”

    “Whatever. I don’t have an excuse to meet any of them.”

    I told her about the reunion.

    “Minor problem,” said Rosie. “We’re not invited.”

    “Correct,” I said. “The problem is minor and already solved. There will be alcohol.”

    “So?”

    I indicated the bar and the collection of bottles on shelves behind it. “Your skills will be required.”

    “You’re kidding me.”

    “Can you secure employment at the event?”

    “Hang on, hang on. This is getting seriously crazy. You think we’re going to turn up at this party and start swabbing people’s glasses. Oh man.”

    “Not us. You. I don’t have the skills. But otherwise, correct.”

    “Forget it.”

    “I thought you wanted to know who your father was.”

    “I told you,” she said. “Not that much.”

    • • •

    Two days later, Rosie appeared at my apartment. It was 8:47 p.m., and I was cleaning the bathroom, as Eva the short-skirted cleaner had canceled owing to illness. I buzzed her upstairs. I was wearing my bathroom-cleaning costume of shorts, surgical boots, and gloves but no shirt.

    “Wow.” She stared at me for a few moments. “This is what martial arts training does, is it?” She appeared to be referring to my pectoral muscles. Then suddenly she jumped up and down like a child.

    “We got the gig! I found the agency and I offered them shit rates and they went yeah, yeah, yeah, don’t tell anyone. I’ll report them to the union when it’s over.”

    “I thought you didn’t want to do this.”

    “Changed my mind.” She gave me a stained paperback. “Memorize this. I’ve got to get to work.” She turned and left.

    I looked at the book—The Bartender’s Companion: A Complete Guide to Making and Serving Drinks. It appeared to specify the duties of the role I was to perform. I memorized the first few recipes before finishing the bathroom. As I prepared for sleep,having skipped the aikido routine to spend further time studying the book, it occurred to me that things were getting crazy. It was not the first time that my life had become chaotic, and I had established a protocol for dealing with the problem and the consequent disturbance to rational thinking. I called Claudia.

    • • •

    She was able to see me the next day. Because I am not officially one of her clients, we have to have our discussions over coffee rather than in her office. And I am the one accused of rigidity!

    I outlined the situation, omitting the Father Project component, as I did not want to admit to the surreptitious collection of DNA, which Claudia was likely to consider unethical. Instead, I suggested that Rosie and I had a common interest in movies.

    “Have you talked to Gene about her?” asked Claudia.

    I told her that Gene had introduced Rosie as a candidate for the Wife Project and that he would only encourage me to have sex with her. I explained that Rosie was totally unsuitable as a partner but was presumably under the illusion that I was interested in her on that basis. Perhaps she thought that our common interest was an excuse for pursuing her. I had made a major social error in asking her about her sexual orientation: it would only reinforce that impression.

    Yet Rosie had never mentioned the Wife Project. We had been sidetracked so quickly by the Jacket Incident, and after that things had unfolded in a totally unplanned way. But I saw a risk that at some point I would hurt her feelings by telling her that she had been eliminated from consideration for the Wife Project after the first date.

    “So that’s what you’re worried about,” said Claudia. “Hurting her feelings?”

    “Correct.”

    “That’s excellent, Don.”

    “Incorrect. It’s a major problem.”

    “I mean that you’re concerned about her feelings. And you’re enjoying time together?”

    “Immensely,” I said, realizing it for the first time.

    “And is she enjoying herself?”

    “Presumably. But she applied for the Wife Project.”

    “Don’t worry about it,” said Claudia. “She sounds pretty resilient. Just have some fun.”

    • • •

    A strange thing happened the next day. For the first time ever, Gene made an appointment to see me in his office. I had always been the one to organize conversations, but there had been an unusually long gap as a result of the Father Project.

    Gene’s office is larger than mine, owing to his higher status rather than any actual requirement for space. The Beautiful Helena let me in, as Gene was late in returning from a meeting. I took the opportunity to check his world map for pins in India and Belgium. I was fairly certain that the Indian one had been there before, but it was possible that Olivia was not actually Indian. She had said she was Hindu, so she could have been Balinese or Fijian or indeed from any country with a Hindu population. Gene worked on nationalities rather than ethnicities, in the same way that travelers count the countries they have visited. North Korea predictably remained without a pin.

    Gene arrived and commanded the Beautiful Helena to fetch us coffees. We sat at his table, as if in a meeting.

    “So,” said Gene, “you’ve been talking to Claudia.” This was one of the negatives of not being an official client of Claudia: I did not have the protection of confidentiality. “I gather you’ve been seeing Rosie. As the expert predicted.”

    “Yes,” I said, “but not for the Wife Project.” Gene is my best friend, but I still felt uncomfortable about sharing information about the Father Project. Fortunately he did not pursue it, probably because he assumed I had sexual intentions toward Rosie. In fact I was amazed that he didn’t immediately raise the topic.

    “What do you know about Rosie?” he asked.

    “Not very much,” I said honestly. “We haven’t talked much about her. Our discussion has focused on external issues.”

    “Give me a break,” he said. “You know what she does, where she spends her time.”

    “She’s a barmaid.”

    “Okay,” said Gene. “That’s all you know?”

    “And she doesn’t like her father.”

    Gene laughed for no obvious reason. “I don’t think he’s Robinson Crusoe.” This seemed a ludicrous statement about Rosie’s paternity until I recalled that the reference to the fictional shipwreck survivor could be used as a metaphorical phrase meaning “not alone” or in this context “not alone in not being liked by Rosie.” Gene must have noticed my puzzled expression as I worked it out, and elaborated: “The list of men that Rosie likes is not a long one.”

    “She’s gay?”

    “Might as well be,” said Gene. “Look at the way she dresses.”

    Gene’s comment seemed to refer to the type of costume she was wearing when she first appeared in my office. But she dressed conventionally for her bar work, and on our visits to collect DNA had worn unexceptional jeans and tops. On the night of the Jacket Incident she had been unconventional but extremely attractive.

    Perhaps she did not want to send out mating signals in the environment in which Gene had encountered her, presumably a bar or restaurant. Much of women’s clothing is designed to enhance their sexual attraction in order to secure a mate. If Rosie was not looking for a mate, it seemed perfectly rational for her to dress otherwise. There were many things that I wanted to ask Gene about Rosie, but I suspected that asking would imply a level of interest that Gene would misinterpret. But there was one critical question.

    “Why was she prepared to participate in the Wife Project?”

    Gene hesitated a while. “Who knows?” he said. “I don’t think she’s a lost cause, but just don’t expect too much. She’s got a lot of issues. Don’t forget the rest of your life.”

    Gene’s advice was surprisingly perceptive. Did he know how much time I was spending with the cocktail book?
     
  5. mukul
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    fourteen
    My name is Don Tillman and I am an alcoholic. I formed these words in my head but I did not say them out loud, not because I was drunk (which I was) but because it seemed that if I said them, they would be true, and I would have no choice but to follow the rational path, which was to stop drinking permanently.

    My intoxication was a result of the Father Project—specifically the need to gain competence as a drinks waiter. I had purchased a cocktail shaker, glasses, olives, lemons, a zester, and a substantial stock of liquor as recommended in The Bartender’s Companion in order to master the mechanical component of cocktail making. It was surprisingly complex, and I am not naturally a dexterous person. In fact, with the exception of rock climbing, which I have not practiced since I was a student, and martial arts, I am clumsy and incompetent at most forms of sports. The expertise in karate and aikido is the result of considerable practice over a long period.

    I practiced first for accuracy, then speed. At 11:07 p.m., I was exhausted and decided that it would be interesting to test the cocktails for quality. I made a classic martini, a vodka martini, a margarita, and a cocksucking cowboy—cocktails noted by the book as being among the most popular. They were all excellent and tasted far more different from one another than ice-cream varieties. I had squeezed more lime juice than was required for the margarita and made a second so as not to waste it.

    Research consistently shows that the risks to health outweigh the benefits of drinking alcohol. My argument is that the benefits to my mental health justify the risks. Alcohol seems to both calm me down and elevate my mood, a paradoxical but pleasant combination. And it reduces my discomfort in social situations.

    I generally manage my consumption carefully, scheduling two days’ abstinence per week, although the Father Project had caused this rule to be broken a number of times. My level of consumption does not of itself qualify me as an alcoholic. However, I suspect that my strong antipathy toward discontinuing it might do so.

    The Mass DNA Collection Subproject was proceeding satisfactorily, and I was working my way through the cocktail book at the required rate. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not destroy brain cells.

    As I prepared for bed, I felt a strong desire to telephone Rosie and report on progress. Logically it was not necessary, and it is a waste of effort to report that a project is proceeding to plan, which should be the default assumption. Rationality prevailed. Just.

    • • •

    Rosie and I met for coffee twenty-eight minutes before the reunion function. To my first-class honors degree and PhD, I could now add a Responsible Service of Alcohol certificate. The exam had not been difficult.

    Rosie was already in server uniform and had brought a male equivalent for me.

    “I picked it up early and washed it,” she said. “I didn’t want a karate exhibition.”

    She was obviously referring to the Jacket Incident, even though the martial art I had employed was aikido.

    I had prepared carefully for the DNA collection—ziplock bags, tissues, and preprinted adhesive labels with the names from the graduation photo. Rosie insisted that we did not need to collect samples from those who had not attended the graduation party, so I crossed out their names. She seemed surprised that I had memorized them, but I was determined not to cause errors due to lack of knowledge.

    The reunion was held at a golf club, which seemed odd to me, but I discovered that the facilities were largely for eating and drinking rather than supporting the playing of golf. I also discovered that we were vastly overqualified. There were regular bar personnel who were responsible for preparing the drinks. Our job was merely to take orders, deliver drinks, and, most important, collect the empty glasses. The hours spent in developing my drink-making skills had apparently been wasted.

    The guests began arriving, and I was given a tray of drinks to distribute. I immediately perceived a problem. No name tags! How would we identify the DNA sources? I managed to find Rosie, who had also realized the problem but had a solution, based on her knowledge of social behavior.

    “Say to them, ‘Hi, I’m Don and I’ll be looking after you this evening, Doctor—’ ” She demonstrated how to give the impression that the sentence was incomplete, encouraging them to contribute their names. Extraordinarily, it turned out to work 72.5 percent of the time. I realized that I needed to do this with the women as well, to avoid appearing sexist.

    Eamonn Hughes and Peter Enticott, the candidates we had eliminated, arrived. As a family friend, Eamonn must have known Rosie’s profession, and she explained to him that I worked evenings to supplement my academic income. Rosie told Peter Enticott that she did bar work part-time to finance her PhD. Perhaps they both assumed that we had met through working together.

    Actually swabbing the glasses discreetly proved the most difficult problem, and I was able to get at most one sample from each tray that I returned to the bar. Rosie was having even more problems.

    “I can’t keep track of all the names,” she said frantically, as we passed each other with drinks trays in our hands. It was getting busy and she seemed a little emotional. I sometimes forget that many people are not familiar with basic techniques for remembering data. The success of the subproject would be in my hands.

    “There will be adequate opportunity when they sit down,” I said. “There is no reason for concern.”

    I surveyed the tables set for dinner, ten seats per table, plus two with eleven seats, and calculated the attendance at ninety-two. This, of course, included female doctors. Partners had not been invited. There was a small risk that Rosie’s father was a transsexual. I made a mental note to check the women for signs of male features and test any that appeared doubtful. Overall, however, the numbers looked promising.

    When the guests sat down, the mode of service moved from provision of a limited selection of drinks to taking orders.Apparently, this arrangement was unusual. Normally, we would just bring bottles of wine, beer, and water to the table, but as this was an upmarket function, the club was taking orders and we had been told to “push the top shelf stuff,” apparently to increase the club’s profits. It occurred to me that if I did this well, I might be forgiven for any other errors.

    I approached one of the tables of eleven. I had already introduced myself to seven of the guests and obtained six names.

    I commenced with a woman whose name I already knew.

    “Greetings, Dr. Collie. What can I get you to drink?”

    She looked at me strangely, and for a moment I thought I had made an error with the word-association method I was using and that her name was perhaps Doberman or Poodle. But she did not correct me.

    “Just a white wine, thanks.”

    “I recommend a margarita. World’s most popular cocktail.”

    “You’re doing cocktails?”

    “Correct.”

    “In that case,” she said, “I’ll have a martini.”

    “Standard?”

    “Yes, thanks.” Easy.

    I turned to the unidentified man beside her and tried the Rosie name-extraction trick. “Greetings, my name is Don and I’ll be looking after you this evening, Doctor—”

    “You said you’re doing cocktails?”

    “Correct.”

    “Have you heard of a Rob Roy?”

    “Of course.”

    “Well, put me down for one.”

    “Sweet, dry, or perfect?” I asked.

    One of the men opposite my customer laughed. “Take that, Brian.”

    “Perfect,” said the man I now knew as Dr. Brian Joyce. There were two Brians but I had already identified the first.

    Dr. Walsh (female, no transsexual characteristics) ordered a margarita.

    “Standard, premium, strawberry, mango, melon, or sage and pineapple?” I asked.

    “Sage and pineapple? Why not?”

    My next customer was the only remaining unidentified man, the one who had laughed at Brian’s order. He had previously failed to respond to the name-extraction trick. I decided not to repeat it.

    “What would you like?” I asked.

    “I’ll have a double-coddled Kurdistani sailmaker with a reverse twist,” he said. “Shaken, not stirred.”

    I was unfamiliar with this drink but assumed the professionals behind the bar would know it.

    “Your name, please?”

    “Sorry?”

    “I require your name. To avoid errors.”

    There was a silence. Dr. Jenny Broadhurst, beside him, said, “His name’s Rod.”

    “Dr. Roderick Broadhurst, correct?” I said by way of confirmation. The rule against partners did not apply, of course, to people who were in a relationship with someone from the same class. There were seven such couples and Jenny was predictably sitting beside her husband.

    “What—” started Rod, but Jenny interrupted.

    “Quite correct. I’m Jenny and I’ll have a sage and pineapple margarita too, please.” She turned to Rod. “Are you being a jerk? About the sailmaker? Pick on someone with your own complement of synapses.”

    Rod looked at her, then at me. “Sorry, mate, just kidding. I’ll have a martini. Standard.”

    I collected the remainder of the names and orders without difficulty. I understood that Jenny had been trying to tell Rod discreetly that I was unintelligent, presumably because of my waiter role. She had used a neat social trick, which I noted for future use, but had made a factual error which Rod had not corrected. Perhaps one day he or she would make a clinical or research mistake as a result of this misunderstanding.

    Before I returned to the bar, I spoke to them again.

    “There is no experimental evidence of a correlation between synapse numbers and intelligence level within primate populations. I recommend reading Williams and Herrup, Annual Review of Neuroscience.” I hoped this would be helpful.

    Back at the bar, the cocktail orders caused some confusion. Only one of the three bar persons knew how to make a Rob Roy, and then only a conventional one. I gave her the instructions for the perfect version. Then there was an ingredient problem with the sage and pineapple margarita. The bar had pineapple (tinned—the book had said “fresh if possible,” so I decided that this would be acceptable) but no sage. I headed for the kitchen, where they could not even offer me dried sage. Obviously this was not what The Bartender’s Companion had called a “well-stocked bar, ready for any occasion.” The kitchen staff were also busy, but we settled on coriander leaves and I took a quick mental inventory of the bar’s ingredients to avoid further problems of this kind.

    Rosie was also taking orders. We had not yet progressed to the stage of collecting glasses, and some people seemed to be drinking quite slowly. I realized that our chances would be improved if there was a high turnover of drinks. Unfortunately, I was unable to encourage faster consumption, as I would be violating my duty as the holder of a Responsible Service of Alcohol certificate. I decided to take a middle ground by reminding them of some of the delicious cocktails available.

    As I took orders, I observed a change in the dynamic of the ecosystem, evidenced by Rosie’s looking annoyed as she came past me.

    “Table five won’t let me take their order. They want to wait for you.” It appeared that almost everyone wanted cocktails rather than wine. No doubt the proprietors would be pleased with the profit results. Unfortunately it appeared that staff numbers had been calculated on the basis that most orders would be for beer or wine, and the bar personnel were having trouble keeping up. Their knowledge of cocktails was surprisingly poor, and I was having to dictate recipes along with the orders.

    The solution to both problems was simple. Rosie went behind the bar to assist while I took all the orders myself. A good memory was a huge asset, as I did not need to write anything down or process just one table at a time. I took orders for the whole room, then relayed them back to the bar at consistent intervals. If people needed “time to think,” I left them and returned rather than waiting. I was actually running rather than walking, and increased my word rate to the maximum that I considered comprehensible. The process was very efficient and seemed to be appreciated by the diners, who would occasionally applaud when I was able to propose a drink to meet a particular requirement or replayed a table’s orders when they were concerned that I might have misheard.

    People were finishing their drinks, and I found that I could swab three glasses between the dining room and the bar. The remainder I grouped together and indicated to Rosie as I left the tray on the bar, rapidly advising her of the owners’ names.

    She seemed a little pressured. I was enjoying myself immensely. I had the presence of mind to check the cream supplies before dessert was served. Predictably, the quantity was insufficient for the number of cocktails I expected to sell to complement the mango mousse and sticky date pudding. Rosie headed for the kitchen to find more. When I returned to the bar, one of the barmen called out to me, “I’ve got the boss on the phone. He’s bringing cream. Do you need anything else?” I surveyed the shelves and made some predictions based on the “ten most popular dessert cocktails.”

    “Brandy, Galliano, crème de menthe, Cointreau, advocaat, dark rum, light rum.”

    “Slow down, slow down,” he said.

    I wasn’t slowing down now. I was, as they say, on a roll.
     
  6. mukul
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    fifteen
    The boss, a middle-aged man (estimated BMI twenty-seven), arrived with the additional supplies just in time for dessert and did some reorganization of the process behind the bar. Dessert was great fun, although it was hard to hear orders over the volume of conversation. I sold primarily the cream-based cocktails, which most of the diners were unfamiliar with but responded to enthusiastically.

    As the food waiters cleared the dessert dishes, I made a rough mental calculation of our coverage. It depended a great deal on Rosie, but I believed we had samples from at least eighty-five percent of the males. Good, but not optimum use of our opportunity. Having ascertained the names of the guests, I had determined that all but twelve of the Caucasian males from the graduation party were present. The missing twelve included Alan McPhee, unable to attend owing to death, but already eliminated by means of his daughter’s hairbrush.

    I headed for the bar, and Dr. Ralph Browning followed me. “Can I bother you for another Cadillac? That was maybe the best drink I’ve ever had.”

    The bar staff were packing up, but the boss said to Rosie, “Make the man a Cadillac.”

    Jenny and Rod Broadhurst appeared from the dining room. “Make that three,” said Rod.

    The other bar personnel surrounded the owner, and there was a conversation.

    “These guys have to go,” said the boss to me, shrugging his shoulders. He turned to Rosie. “Double time?”

    Meanwhile, the diners were forming a throng around the bar, raising their hands for attention.

    Rosie handed a Cadillac to Dr. Browning, then turned to the boss. “Sorry, I need at least two to stay. I can’t run a bar for a hundred people by myself.”

    “Me and him,” said the boss, pointing to me.

    Finally, I had a chance to use my expertise. Rosie lifted the hinged part of the bar and let me through.

    Dr. Miranda Ball raised her hand. “Same again, please.”

    I called to Rosie, loudly, as the bar area was now very noisy. “Miranda Ball. Alabama slammer. One part each sloe gin, whisky, Galliano, triple sec, orange juice, orange slice, and a cherry.”

    “We’re out of triple sec,” yelled Rosie.

    “Substitute Cointreau. Reduce the quantity by twenty percent.”

    Dr. Lucas put his finished drink on the bar and raised his finger. One more.

    “Gerry Lucas. Empty glass,” I called.

    Rosie took the glass: I hoped she realized that we didn’t have a sample for him yet.

    “Another anal probe for Dr. Lucas.”

    “Got that,” she called from the kitchen. Excellent, she had remembered to swab.

    Dr. Martin van Krieger called out, loudly, “Is there a cocktail with Galliano and tequila?”

    The crowd quieted. This sort of question had become common during dinner, and the guests had seemed impressed with my responses. I took a few moments to think.

    Martin called out again, “Don’t worry if there isn’t.”

    “I’m reindexing my internal database,” I said, to explain the delay. It took a few moments. “Mexican gold or Freddy Fudpucker.” The crowd applauded.

    “One of each,” he said.

    Rosie knew how to make a Freddy Fudpucker. I gave the boss the Mexican gold recipe.

    We continued in this mode, with great success. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to test all male doctors present, including those I had previously filtered out because of incompatible ethnic appearance. At 1:22 a.m. I was confident that we had tested all but one person. It was time to be proactive.

    “Dr. Anwar Khan. Approach the bar, please.” It was an expression I had heard used on television. I hoped it carried the required authority.

    Dr. Khan had drunk only from his water glass and had carried it with him to the bar.

    “You haven’t ordered a drink all night,” I said.

    “Is that a problem? I don’t drink alcohol.”

    “Very wise,” I said, although I was providing a bad example, with a beer open beside me. “I recommend a virgin colada. Virgin Mary. Virgin—”

    At this moment, Dr. Eva Gold put her arm around Dr. Khan. She was obviously affected by alcohol. “Loosen up, Anwar.”

    Dr. Khan looked back at her, and then at the crowd, who were, in my assessment, also exhibiting the effects of intoxication.

    “What the hell,” he said. “Line up the virgins.”

    He put his empty glass on the bar.

    • • •

    I did not leave the golf club until very late. The last guests departed at 2:32 a.m., two hours and two minutes after the scheduled completion time. Rosie, the boss, and I had made 143 cocktails. Rosie and the boss had also sold some beer, which I did not keep track of.

    “You guys can go,” said the boss. “We’ll clean up in the morning.” He extended his hand to me and I shook it according to custom, although it seemed very late for introductions. “Amghad,” he said. “Nice work, guys.”

    He didn’t shake Rosie’s hand but looked at her and smiled. I noticed that she was looking a little tired. I was still full of energy.

    “Got time for a drink?” said Amghad.

    “Excellent idea.”

    “You’ve got to be kidding,” said Rosie. “I’m going. All the stuff’s in your bag. You don’t want a lift, Don?”

    I had my cycle and had only drunk three beers over the course of a long evening. I estimated that my blood alcohol would be well below the legal limit, even after a drink with Amghad. Rosie departed.

    “What’s your poison?” said Amghad.

    “Poison?”

    “What do you want to drink?”

    Of course. But why, why, why can’t people just say what they mean?

    “Beer, please.”

    Amghad opened two pale ales and we clicked bottles.

    “How long have you been doing this?” he asked.

    Though some deception had been necessary for the purposes of the Father Project, I was not comfortable with it.

    “This is my first work in the field,” I said. “Did I make some error?”

    Amghad laughed. “Funny guy. Listen,” he said. “This place here is okay, but it’s mostly steak and beer and midrange wine. Tonight was a one-off, and mainly because of you.” He drank some beer and looked at me without speaking for a while. “I’ve been thinking of opening in North Melbourne—a little cocktail bar with a bit of flair. New York feel, but something a bit extra behind the bar, if you know what I mean. If you’re interested—”

    He was offering me a job! This was flattering, considering my limited experience, and my immediate irrational thought was that I wished Rosie had been present to witness it.

    “I already have a job. Thank you.”

    “I’m not talking about a job. I’m talking about a share in a business.”

    “No, thank you,” I said. “I’m sorry. But I think you would find me unsatisfactory.”

    “Maybe, but I’m a pretty good judge. Give me a call if you change your mind. I’m in no hurry.”

    • • •

    The following day was Sunday.

    Rosie and I arranged to meet at the lab at 3:00 p.m. She was predictably late, and I was already at work. I confirmed that we had obtained samples from all attendees at the reunion, meaning we had now tested all but eleven of the Caucasian males in the class.

    Rosie arrived in tight blue jeans and a white shirt and headed for the refrigerator. “No beer until all samples are tested,” I said.

    The work took some time, and I needed to source additional chemicals from the main laboratory.

    At 7:06 p.m. Rosie went out for pizza, an unhealthy choice, but I had missed dinner the previous night and calculated that my body would be able to process the extra kilojoules. When she returned, I was testing the fourth-to-last candidate. As we were opening the pizza, my mobile phone rang. I realized immediately who it was.

    “You didn’t answer at home,” said my mother. “I was worried.” This was a reasonable reaction on her part, as her Sunday phone call is part of my weekly schedule. “Where are you?”

    “At work.”

    “Are you all right?”

    “I’m fine.”

    It was embarrassing to have Rosie listen to a personal conversation, and I did everything I could to terminate it quickly, keeping my responses as brief as possible. Rosie started laughing—fortunately not loudly enough for my mother to hear—and making funny faces.

    “Your mother?” she said, when I was finally able to hang up.

    “Correct. How did you guess?”

    “You sound like any sixteen-year-old boy talking to his mum in front of—” She stopped. My annoyance must have been obvious. “Or me talking to Phil.”

    It was interesting that Rosie also found conversation with a parent difficult. My mother is a good person but very focused on sharing personal information. Rosie picked up a slice of pizza and looked at the computer screen.

    “I’m guessing no news.”

    “Plenty of news. Five more eliminated, only four to go. Including this one.” The result had come up while I was on the phone. “Delete Anwar Khan.”

    Rosie updated the spreadsheet. “Allah be praised.”

    “World’s most complicated drink order,” I reminded her. Dr. Khan had ordered five different drinks, compensating for his abstinence earlier in the evening. At the end of the night, he had left with his arm around Dr. Gold.

    “Yeah, and I messed it up too. Put rum in the virgin colada.”

    “You gave him alcohol?” I presumed this was in violation of his personal or religious standards.

    “Maybe he’ll miss out on his seventy-two virgins.”

    I was familiar with this religious theory. My public position, as negotiated with the Dean, is that I regard all nonscience-based beliefs as having equal merit. But I found this one curious.

    “Seems irrational,” I said, “wanting virgins. Surely a woman with sexual experience would be preferable to a novice.”

    Rosie laughed and opened two beers. Then she stared at me, in the way that I am not supposed to do to others. “Amazing. You. You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met. I don’t know why you’re doing this, but thanks.” She tapped her bottle against mine and drank.

    It was enjoyable to be appreciated, but this was exactly what I had been worried about when I spoke to Claudia. Now Rosie was asking about my motives. She had applied for the Wife Project and presumably had expectations on that basis. It was time to be honest.

    “Presumably you think it’s in order to initiate a romantic relationship.”

    “The thought had crossed my mind,” said Rosie.

    Assumption confirmed.

    “I’m extremely sorry if I’ve created an incorrect impression.”

    “What do you mean?” said Rosie.

    “I’m not interested in you as a partner. I should have told you earlier, but you’re totally unsuitable.” I tried to gauge Rosie’s reaction, but the interpretation of facial expressions is not one of my strengths.

    “Well, you’ll be pleased to know I can cope. I think you’re pretty unsuitable too,” she said.

    This was a relief. I hadn’t hurt her feelings. But it did leave a question unanswered.

    “Then why did you apply for the Wife Project?” I was using the word apply loosely, as Gene had not required Rosie to complete the questionnaire. But her answer suggested a more serious level of miscommunication.

    “Wife Project?” she said, as if she had never heard of it.

    “Gene sent you to me as a candidate for the Wife Project. A wild card.”

    “He did what?”

    “You haven’t heard of the Wife Project?” I asked, trying to establish the correct starting point.

    “No,” she said, speaking in the tone that is traditionally used for giving instructions to a child. “I have never heard of the Wife Project. But I’m about to. In detail.”

    “Of course,” I said. “But we should time-share it with pizza consumption and beer drinking.”

    “Of course,” said Rosie.

    I explained in some detail about the Wife Project, including the review with Gene and field visits to dating establishments. I finished as we consumed the final slices of pizza. Rosie had not really asked any questions except to make exclamations such as “Jesus” and “Fuck.”

    “So,” said Rosie, “are you still doing it? The Wife Project?”

    I explained that the project was still technically active, but in the absence of any qualified candidates there had been no progress.

    “What a shame,” said Rosie. “The perfect woman hasn’t checked in yet.”

    “I would assume that there is more than one candidate who meets the criteria,” I said, “but it’s like finding a bone-marrow donor. Not enough registrations.”

    “I can only hope that enough women realize their civic duty and take the test.”

    It was an interesting comment. I didn’t really feel it was a duty. In the last few weeks, reflecting on the Wife Project and its lack of success, I had felt sad that there were so many women who were looking for partners and desperate enough to register, even though there was only a low probability that they would meet the criteria.

    “It’s entirely optional,” I said.

    “How nice for them. Here’s a thought for you. Any woman who takes that test is willing to be treated as an object. You can say that’s their choice. But if you spent two minutes looking at how much society forces women to think of themselves as objects, you might not think so. What I want to know is, do you want a woman who thinks like that? Is that the sort of wife you want?” Rosie was sounding angry. “You know why I dress the way I do? Why these glasses? Because I don’t want to be treated as an object. If you knew how insulted I am that you think I was an applicant, a candidate—”

    “Then why did you come to see me that day?” I asked. “The day of the Jacket Incident?”

    She shook her head. “Remember at your apartment, on your balcony, I asked you a question about the size of testicles?”

    I nodded.

    “It didn’t strike you as odd that here I was, on a first date, asking about testicles?”

    “Not really. On a date I’m too focused on not saying odd things myself.”

    “Okay, strike that.” She seemed a little calmer. “The reason I asked the question was that I had a bet with Gene. Gene, who is a sexist pig, bet me that humans were naturally nonmonogamous, and that the evidence was the size of their testicles. He sent me to a genetics expert to settle the bet.”

    It took me a few moments to process fully the implications of what Rosie was saying. Gene had not prepared her for the dinner invitation. A woman—Rosie—had accepted an offer of a date with me without being prewarned, set up. I was suffused with an irrationally disproportionate sense of satisfaction. But Gene had misled me. And it seemed he had taken advantage of Rosie financially.

    “Did you lose much money?” I asked. “It seems exploitative for a professor of psychology to make a bet with a barmaid.”

    “I’m not a fucking barmaid.”

    I could tell by the use of the obscenity that Rosie was getting angry again. But she could hardly contradict the evidence. I realized my error—one that would have caused trouble if I had made it in front of a class.

    “Barperson.”

    “Bartender is the established nonsexist term,” she said. “That’s not the point. It’s my part-time job. I’m doing my PhD in psychology, okay? In Gene’s department. Does that make sense now?”

    Of course! I suddenly remembered where I had seen her before—arguing with Gene after his public lecture. I recalled that Gene had asked her to have coffee with him—as he habitually did with attractive women—but that she had refused. For some reason I felt pleased about this. But if I had recognized her when she first came to my office, the whole misunderstanding could have been avoided. Everything now made sense, including the performance she had given in her medical school inquiry. Except for two things.

    “Why didn’t you tell me?”

    “Because I am a barmaid, and I’m not ashamed of it. You can take me or leave me as a barmaid.” I assumed she was speaking metaphorically.

    “Excellent,” I said. “That explains almost everything.”

    “Oh, that’s fine, then. Why the ‘almost’? Don’t feel you have to leave anything hanging.”

    “Why Gene didn’t tell me.”

    “Because he’s an asshole.”

    “Gene is my best friend.”

    “God help you,” she said.

    With matters clarified, it was time to finish the project, although our chances of finding the father tonight were looking poor. Fourteen candidates remained and we had only three samples left. I got up and walked to the machine.

    “Listen,” said Rosie. “I’m going to ask you again. Why are you doing this?”

    I remembered my reflection on this question and the answer I had reached involving scientific challenge and altruism to adjacent humans. But as I began my explanation, I realized that it was not true. Tonight we had corrected numerous invalid assumptions and errors in communication. I should not create a new one.

    “I don’t know,” I said.

    I turned back to the machine and began to load the sample. My work was interrupted by a sudden smashing of glass. Rosie had thrown a beaker, fortunately not one containing an untested sample, against the wall.

    “I am so so over this.” She walked out.

    • • •

    The next morning there was a knock at my office door. Rosie.

    “Enter,” I said. “I assume you want to know the final three results.”

    Rosie walked unnaturally slowly to my desk, where I was reviewing some potentially life-changing data. “No,” she said. “I figured they were negative. Even you would have phoned if you’d gotten a match.”

    “Correct.”

    She stood and looked at me without saying anything. I am aware that such silences are provided as opportunities for me to speak further, but I could think of nothing useful to say. Finally, she filled the gap.

    “Hey—sorry I blew up last night.”

    “Totally understandable. It’s incredibly frustrating to work so hard for no result. But very common in science.” I remembered that she was a science graduate, as well as a barmaid. “As you know.”

    “I meant your Wife Project. I think it’s wrong, but you’re no different from every other man I know in objectifying women—just more honest about it. Anyway, you’ve done so much for me—”

    “A communication error. Fortunately now rectified. We can proceed with the Father Project without the personal aspect.”

    “Not till I understand why you’re doing it.”

    That difficult question again. But she had been happy to proceed when she thought that my motivation was romantic interest even though she did not reciprocate that interest.

    “There has been no change in my motivation,” I said, truthfully. “It was your motivation that was a concern. I thought you were interested in me as a partner. Fortunately, that assumption was based on false information.”

    “Shouldn’t you be spending the time on your objectification project?”

    The question was perfectly timed. The data I was looking at on my screen indicated a major breakthrough.

    “Good news. I have an applicant who satisfies all requirements.”

    “Well,” said Rosie, “you won’t be needing me.”

    This was a truly strange response. I hadn’t needed Rosie for anything other than her own project.
     
  7. mukul
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    sixteen
    The candidate’s name was Bianca Rivera and she met all criteria. There was one obstacle, which I would need to devote time to. She noted that she had twice won the state ballroom dancing championship, and she required her partner to be an accomplished dancer. It seemed perfectly reasonable for her to have some criteria of her own, and this one was easy to satisfy. And I had the perfect place to take her.

    I called Regina, the Dean’s assistant, and confirmed that she was still selling tickets for the faculty ball. Then I emailed Bianca and invited her as my partner. She accepted! I had a date—the perfect date. Now I had ten days to learn to dance.

    • • •

    Gene entered my office as I was practicing my dance steps.

    “I think the longevity statistics were based on marriages to live women, Don.”

    He was referring to the skeleton I was using for practice. I had obtained it on loan from the Anatomy Department, and no one had asked what I required it for. Judging from the pelvis size, it was almost certainly a male skeleton, but this was irrelevant for dancing practice. I explained its purpose to Gene, pointing out the scene from the film Grease that was showing on the wall of my office.

    “So,” said Gene, “Ms. Right—sorry, Dr. Right, PhD, just popped into your inbox.”

    “Her name’s not Wright,” I said, “it’s Rivera.”

    “Photo?”

    “Not necessary. The meeting arrangements are quite precise. She’s coming to the faculty ball.”

    “Oh shit.” Gene went silent for a while and I resumed dancing practice. “Don, the faculty ball is a week from Friday.”

    “Correct.”

    “You can’t learn to dance in nine days.”

    “Ten. I started yesterday. The steps are trivial to remember. I just need to practice the mechanics. They’re considerably less demanding than martial arts.”

    I demonstrated a sequence.

    “Very impressive,” said Gene. “Sit down, Don.”

    I sat.

    “I hope you’re not too pissed off at me about Rosie,” he said.

    I had almost forgotten. “Why didn’t you tell me she was a psychology student? And about the bet?”

    “From what Claudia said, you guys seemed to be having a good time. I thought if she wasn’t telling you, it was for a reason. She may be a bit twisted but she’s not stupid.”

    “Perfectly reasonable,” I said. On matters of human interaction, why argue with a professor of psychology?

    “I’m glad one of you is all right with it,” said Gene. “I have to tell you, Rosie was a little unhappy with me. A little unhappy with life. Listen, Don, I persuaded her to go to the ball. Alone. If you knew how often Rosie takes my advice, you’d realize what a big deal that was. I was going to suggest you do the same.”

    “Take your advice?”

    “No, go to the ball—alone. Or invite Rosie as your partner.”

    I now saw what Gene was suggesting. Gene is so focused on attraction and sex that he sees it everywhere. This time he was totally in error.

    “Rosie and I discussed the question of a relationship explicitly. Neither of us is interested.”

    “Since when do women discuss anything explicitly?” said Gene.

    • • •

    I visited Claudia for some advice on my crucial date with Bianca. I assumed that she would be there in her role as Gene’s wife, and I advised her that I might require assistance on the night. It turned out she wasn’t even aware of the ball.

    “Just be yourself, Don. If she doesn’t want you for yourself, then she’s not the right person for you.”

    “I think it’s unlikely that any woman would accept me for myself.”

    “What about Daphne?” asked Claudia.

    It was true: Daphne was unlike the women I had dated. This was excellent therapy—refutation by counterexample. Perhaps Bianca would be a younger, dancing version of Daphne.

    “And what about Rosie?” asked Claudia.

    “Rosie is totally unsuitable.”

    “I wasn’t asking that,” said Claudia. “Just whether she accepts you for yourself.”

    I thought about it for a few moments. It was a difficult question.

    “I think so. Because she isn’t evaluating me as a partner.”

    “It’s probably good that you feel like that,” said Claudia.

    • • •

    Feel! Feel, feel, feel! Feelings were disrupting my sense of well-being. In addition to a nagging desire to be working on the Father Project rather than the Wife Project, I now had a high level of anxiety related to Bianca.

    Throughout my life I have been criticized for a perceived lack of emotion, as if this were some absolute fault. Interactions with psychiatrists and psychologists—even including Claudia—start from the premise that I should be more “in touch” with my emotions. What they really mean is that I should give in to them. I am perfectly happy to detect, recognize, and analyze emotions. This is a useful skill and I would like to be better at it. Occasionally an emotion can be enjoyed—the gratitude I felt for my sister, who visited me even during the bad times, the primitive feeling of well-being after a glass of wine—but we need to be vigilant that emotions do not cripple us.

    I diagnosed brain overload and set up a spreadsheet to analyze the situation.

    I began by listing the recent disturbances to my schedule. Two were unquestionably positive. Eva, the short-skirted cleaner, was doing an excellent job and had freed up considerable time. Without her, most of the recent additional activities would not have been possible. And anxiety notwithstanding, I had my first fully qualified applicant for the Wife Project. I had made a decision that I wanted a partner and for the first time I had a viable candidate. Logic dictated that the Wife Project, to which I had planned to allocate most of my free time, should now receive maximum attention. Here, I identified problem number one. My emotions were not aligned with logic. I was reluctant to pursue the opportunity.

    I did not know whether to list the Father Project as positive or negative, but it had consumed enormous time for zero outcome. My arguments for pursuing it had always been weak, and I had done far more than could reasonably be expected of me. If Rosie wanted to locate and obtain DNA from the remaining candidates, she could do so herself. She now had substantial practical experience with the collection procedure. I could offer to perform the actual tests. Once again, logic and emotion were not in step. I wanted to continue the Father Project. Why?

    It is virtually impossible to make useful comparisons of levels of happiness, especially across long periods of time. But if I had been asked to choose the happiest day of my life, I would previously have nominated, without hesitation, the first day I spent at the American Museum of Natural History in New York when I traveled there for a conference during my PhD studies. The second-best day was the second day there, and the third-best the third day there. But after recent events, the answer was not so clear. It was difficult to choose between the Natural History Museum and the night of cocktail making at the golf club. Should I therefore consider resigning my job and accepting Amghad’s offer of a partnership in a cocktail bar? Would I be permanently happier? The idea seemed ludicrous.

    The cause of my confusion was that I was dealing with an equation that contained large negative values, most seriously the disruption to my schedule, and large positive values, the consequential enjoyable experiences. My inability to quantify these factors accurately meant that I could not determine the net result—negative or positive. And the margin of error was huge. I marked the Father Project as being of undetermined net value and ranked it the most serious disturbance.

    The last item on my spreadsheet was the immediate risk that my nervousness and ambivalence about the Wife Project would impede my social interaction with Bianca. I was not concerned about the dancing: I was confident that I could draw on my experience of preparing for martial arts competitions, with the supplementary advantage of an optimum intake of alcohol, which for martial arts is not permitted. My concern was more with social faux pas. It would be terrible to lose the perfect relationship because I failed to detect sarcasm or looked into her eyes for more or less than the conventional period of time. I reassured myself that Claudia was essentially correct: if these things concerned Bianca excessively, she was not the perfect match, and I would at least be in a position to refine the questionnaire for future use.

    I visited a formal costume rental establishment as recommended by Gene and specified maximum formality. I did not want a repeat of the Jacket Incident.
     
  8. mukul
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    seventeen
    The ball was on a Friday evening at a reception center on the river. For efficiency, I had brought my costume to work and practiced the cha-cha and rumba with my skeleton while I waited to leave. When I went to the lab to get a beer, I felt a strong twinge of emotion. I was missing the stimulation of the Father Project.

    The morning suit, with its tails and tall hat, was totally impractical for cycling, so I took a taxi and arrived at exactly 7:55 p.m., as planned. Behind me, another taxi pulled up and a tall, dark-haired woman stepped out. She was wearing the world’s most amazing dress: multiple bright colors—red, blue, yellow, green—with a complex structure including a split up one side. I had never seen anyone so spectacular. Estimated age thirty-five, BMI twenty-two, consistent with the questionnaire responses. Neither a little early nor a little late. Was I looking at my future wife? It was almost unbelievable.

    As I stepped out of the taxi, she looked at me for a moment, then turned and walked toward the door. I took a deep breath and followed. She stepped inside and looked around. She saw me again and looked more carefully this time. I approached her, close enough to speak, being careful not to invade her personal space. I looked into her eyes. I counted one, two. Then I lowered my eyes a little, downward, but only a tiny distance.

    “Hi,” I said. “I’m Don.”

    She looked at me for a while before extending her hand to shake with low pressure.

    “I’m Bianca. You’ve . . . really dressed up.”

    “Of course, the invitation specified formal.”

    After approximately two seconds she burst into laughter. “You had me for a minute there. So deadpan. You know, you write ‘good sense of humor’ on the list of things you’re looking for, but you never expect to get a real comedian. I think you and I are going to have fun.”

    Things were going extremely well.

    The ballroom was huge—dozens of tables with formally dressed academics. Everyone turned to look at us, and it was obvious that we had made an impression. At first I thought it must be Bianca’s spectacular dress, but there were numerous other interestingly dressed women. Then I noticed that the men were almost without exception dressed in black suits with white shirts and bow ties. None wore tails or a hat. It accounted for Bianca’s initial reaction. It was annoying, but not a situation I was unfamiliar with. I doffed my hat to the crowd and they shouted greetings. Bianca seemed to enjoy the attention.

    We were at table twelve, according to the seating index, right on the edge of the dance floor. A band was tuning up. Observing their instruments, I concluded that my skills at cha-cha, samba, rumba, foxtrot, waltz, tango, and lambada would not be required. I would need to draw on the work of the second day of the dancing project—rock ’n’ roll.

    Gene’s recommendation to arrive thirty minutes after the official start time meant that all but three of the seats at the table were already occupied. One of these belonged to Gene, who was walking around, pouring champagne. Claudia was not present.

    I identified Laszlo Hevesi from Physics, who was dressed totally inappropriately in combat pants and a hiking shirt, sitting next to a woman whom I recognized with surprise as Frances from the speed-dating night. On Laszlo’s other side was the Beautiful Helena. There was also a dark-haired man of about thirty (BMI approximately twenty) who appeared not to have shaved for several days, and beside him, the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. In contrast to the complexity of Bianca’s costume, she was wearing a green dress with zero decoration, so minimal that it did not even have straps to hold it in place. It took me a moment to realize that its wearer was Rosie.

    Bianca and I took the two vacant seats between Stubble Man and Frances, following the alternating male-female pattern that had been established. Rosie began the introductions, and I recognized the protocol that I had learned for conferences and never actually used.

    “Don, this is Stefan.” She was referring to Stubble Man. I extended my hand and shook, matching his pressure, which I judged as excessive. I had an immediate negative reaction to him. I am generally not competent at assessing other humans, except through the content of their conversation or written communication. But I am reasonably astute at identifying students who are likely to be disruptive.

    “Your reputation precedes you,” Stefan said.

    Perhaps my assessment was too hasty.

    “You’re familiar with my work?”

    “You might say that.” He laughed.

    I realized that I could not pursue the conversation until I introduced Bianca.

    “Rosie, Stefan, allow me to present Bianca Rivera.”

    Rosie extended her hand and said, “Delighted to meet you.”

    They smiled hard at each other and Stefan shook Bianca’s hand also.

    My duty done, I turned to Laszlo, whom I had not spoken to for some time. Laszlo is the only person I know with poorer social skills than mine, and it was reassuring to have him nearby for contrast.

    “Greetings, Laszlo,” I said, assessing that formality would not be appropriate in his case. “Greetings, Frances. You found a partner. How many encounters were required?”

    “Gene introduced us,” said Laszlo. He was staring inappropriately at Rosie. Gene gave a thumbs-up signal to Laszlo, then moved between Bianca and me with the champagne bottle. Bianca immediately upended her glass. “Don and I don’t drink,” she said, turning mine down as well. Gene gave me a huge smile. It was an odd response to an annoying version-control oversight on my part: Bianca had apparently responded to the original questionnaire.

    Rosie asked Bianca, “How do you and Don know each other?”

    “We share an interest in dancing,” Bianca said.

    I thought this was an excellent reply, not referring to the Wife Project, but Rosie gave me a strange look.

    “How nice,” she said. “I’m a bit too busy with my PhD to have time for dancing.”

    “You have to be organized,” said Bianca. “I believe in being very organized.”

    “Yes,” said Rosie, “I—”

    “The first time I made the final of the nationals was in the middle of my PhD. I thought about dropping the triathlon or the Japanese cookery course, but . . .”

    Rosie smiled, but not in the way she usually did. “No, that would have been silly. Men love a woman who can cook.”

    “I like to think we’ve moved beyond that sort of stereotyping,” said Bianca. “Don’s quite a cook himself.”

    Claudia’s suggestion that I mention my competence in cooking on the questionnaire had obviously been effective. Rosie provided some evidence.

    “He’s fabulous. We had the most amazing lobster on his balcony.”

    “Oh, really?”

    It was helpful that Rosie was recommending me to Bianca, but Stefan was displaying the disruptive-student expression again. I applied my lecture technique of asking him a question first.

    “Are you Rosie’s boyfriend?”

    Stefan did not have a ready answer, and in a lecture that would have been my cue to continue, with the student now healthily wary of me. But Rosie answered for him.

    “Stefan is doing his PhD with me.”

    “I believe the term is partner,” said Stefan.

    “For this evening,” said Rosie.

    Stefan smiled. “First date.”

    It was odd that they did not seem to have agreed on the nature of their relationship. Rosie turned back to Bianca.

    “And yours and Don’s first date too?”

    “That’s right, Rosie.”

    “How did you find the questionnaire?”

    Bianca looked quickly at me, then turned back to Rosie. “Wonderful. Most men only want to talk about themselves. It was so nice to have someone focusing on me.”

    “I can see how that would work for you,” said Rosie.

    “And a dancer,” Bianca said. “I couldn’t believe my luck. But you know what they say: the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

    Rosie picked up her champagne glass, and Stefan said, “How long have you been dancing, Don? Won any prizes?”

    I was saved from answering by the arrival of the Dean.

    She was wearing a complex pink dress, the lower part of which spread out widely, and was accompanied by a woman of approximately the same age dressed in the standard male ball costume of black suit and bow tie. The reaction of the ball goers was similar to that at my entrance, without the friendly greetings at the end.

    “Oh dear,” said Bianca. I had a low opinion of the Dean, but the comment made me uncomfortable.

    “You have a problem with gay women?” said Rosie, slightly aggressively.

    “Not at all,” said Bianca. “My problem’s with her dress sense.”

    “You’ll have fun with Don, then,” said Rosie.

    “I think Don looks fabulous,” said Bianca. “It takes flair to pull off something a little different. Anyone can wear a dinner suit or a plain frock. Don’t you think so, Don?”

    I nodded in polite agreement. Bianca was exhibiting exactly the characteristics I was looking for. There was every chance she would be perfect. But for some reason, my instincts were rebelling. Perhaps it was the no-drinking rule. My underlying addiction to alcohol was causing my unconscious to send a signal to reject someone who stopped me from drinking. I needed to overcome it.

    We finished our entrées and the band played a few loud chords. Stefan walked over to them and took the microphone from the singer.

    “Good evening, everyone,” he said. “I thought you should know that we have a former finalist in the national dancing championships with us this evening. You may have seen her on television. Bianca Rivera. Let’s give Bianca and her partner Don a few minutes to entertain us.”

    I had not expected my first performance to be so public, but there was the advantage of an unobstructed dance floor. I have given lectures to larger audiences and participated in martial arts bouts in front of crowds. There was no reason to be nervous. Bianca and I stepped onto the dance floor.

    I took her in the standard jive hold that I had practiced on the skeleton, and immediately felt the awkwardness, approaching revulsion, that I feel when forced into intimate contact with another human. I had mentally prepared for this, but not for a more serious problem. I had not practiced with music. I am sure I executed the steps accurately, but not at precisely the correct speed, and not at the same time as the beat. We were immediately tripping over each other and the net effect was a disaster. Bianca tried to lead, but I had no experience with a living partner, let alone one who was trying to be in control.

    People began laughing. I am an expert at being laughed at and, as Bianca pulled away from me, I scanned the audience to see who was not laughing, an excellent means of identifying friends. Gene and Rosie and, surprisingly, the Dean and her partner were my friends tonight. Stefan was definitely not.

    Something major was required to save the situation. In my dancing research, I had noted some specialized moves that I had not intended to use but remembered because they were so interesting. They had the advantage of not being highly dependent on synchronized timing or body contact. Now was the time to deploy them.

    I performed the running man, milking the cow, and the fishing imitation, reeling Bianca in, though she did not actually move as required. In fact she was standing totally still. Finally, I attempted a body-contact maneuver, traditionally used for a spectacular finish, in which the male swings the female on either side, over his back, and between his legs. Unfortunately this requires cooperation on the part of the partner, particularly if she is heavier than a skeleton. Bianca offered no such cooperation and the effect was as if I had attacked her. Unlike aikido, dancing training apparently does not include practice in falling safely.

    I offered to help her up, but she ignored my hand and walked toward the bathroom, apparently uninjured.

    I went back to the table and sat down. Stefan was still laughing.

    “You bastard,” Rosie said to him.

    Gene said something to Rosie, presumably to prevent inappropriate public anger, and she seemed to calm down.

    Bianca returned to her seat, but only to collect her bag.

    “The problem was synchronization,” I tried to tell her. “The metronome in my head is not set to the same frequency as the band.”

    Bianca turned away, but Rosie seemed prepared to listen to my explanation. “I turned off the sound during practice so I could focus on learning the steps.”

    Rosie did not reply, and I heard Bianca speaking to Stefan. “It happens. This isn’t the first time, just the worst. Men say they can dance . . .” She walked toward the exit without saying good night to me, but Gene followed and intercepted her.

    This gave me an opportunity. I righted my glass and filled it with wine. It was a poorly made gordo blanco with excessive residual sugar. I drank it and poured another. Rosie got up from her seat and walked over to the band. She spoke to the singer, then the drummer.

    She returned and pointed at me in a stylized manner. I recognized the action: I had seen it twelve times. It was the signal that Olivia Newton-John gave to John Travolta in Grease to commence the dance sequence that I had been practicing when Gene interrupted me nine days earlier. Rosie pulled me toward the dance floor.

    “Dance,” she said. “Just fucking dance.”

    I started dancing without music. This was what I had practiced. Rosie followed according to my tempo. Then she raised her arm and started waving it in time with our movements. I heard the drummer start playing and could tell in my body that he was in time with us. I barely noticed the rest of the band start up.

    Rosie was a good dancer and considerably easier to manipulate than the skeleton. I led her through the more difficult moves, totally focused on the mechanics and on not making errors. The Grease song finished and everyone clapped. But before we could return to the table, the band started again and the audience clapped in time: Satisfaction. It may have been due to the effect of the gordo blanco on my cognitive functions, but I was suddenly overwhelmed by an extraordinary feeling—not of satisfaction but of absolute joy. It was the feeling I had in the Museum of Natural History and when I was making cocktails. We started dancing again, and this time I allowed myself to focus on the sensations of my body moving to the beat of the song from my childhood and of Rosie moving to the same rhythm.

    The music finished and everyone clapped again.

    I looked for Bianca, my date, and located her near the exit with Gene. I had presumed she would be impressed that the problem was solved, but even from a distance and with my limited ability to interpret expressions, I could see that she was furious. She turned and left.

    The rest of the evening was incredible, changed totally by one dance. Everyone came up to Rosie and me to offer compliments. The photographer gave us each a photo without charging us. Stefan left early. Gene obtained some high-quality champagne from the bar, and we drank several glasses with him and a Hungarian postdoc named Klara from Physics. Rosie and I danced again, and then I danced with almost every woman at the ball. I asked Gene if I should invite the Dean or her partner, but he considered this to be a question beyond even his social expertise. In the end I did not, as the Dean was visibly in a bad mood. The crowd had made it clear that they would rather dance than listen to her scheduled speech.

    At the end of the night, the band played a waltz, and when it was finished, I looked around and it was just Rosie and me on the dance floor. And everyone applauded again. It was only later that I realized that I had experienced extended close contact with another human without feeling uncomfortable. I attributed it to my concentration on correctly executing the dance steps.

    “You want to share a taxi?” asked Rosie.

    It seemed a sensible use of fossil fuel.

    In the taxi, Rosie said to me, “You should have practiced with different beats. You’re not as smart as I thought you were.”

    I just looked out the window of the taxi.

    Then she said, “No way. No fucking way. You did, didn’t you? That’s worse. You’d rather make a fool of yourself in front of everyone than tell her she didn’t float your boat.”

    “It would have been extremely awkward. I had no reason to reject her.”

    “Besides not wanting to marry a parakeet,” said Rosie.

    I found this incredibly funny, no doubt as a result of alcohol and decompensation after the stress. We both laughed for several minutes, and Rosie even touched me a few times on the shoulder. I didn’t mind, but when we stopped laughing, I felt awkward again and averted my gaze.

    “You’re unbelievable,” said Rosie. “Look at me when I’m talking.”

    I kept looking out the window. I was already overstimulated. “I know what you look like.”

    “What color eyes do I have?”

    “Brown.”

    “When I was born, I had blue eyes,” she said. “Baby blues. Like my mother. She was Irish but she had blue eyes. Then they turned brown.”

    I looked at Rosie. This was incredible.

    “Your mother’s eyes changed color?”

    “My eyes. It happens with babies. That was when my mother realized that Phil wasn’t my father. She had blue eyes and so does Phil. And she decided to tell him. I suppose I should be grateful he wasn’t a lion.”

    I was having trouble making sense of all that Rosie was saying, doubtless owing to the effects of the alcohol and her perfume. However, she had given me an opportunity to keep the conversation on safe ground. The inheritance of common genetically influenced traits such as eye color is more complex than is generally understood, and I was confident that I could speak on the topic for long enough to occupy the remainder of our journey. But I realized that this was a defensive action and impolite to Rosie, who had risked considerable embarrassment and damage to her relationship with Stefan for my benefit.

    I rolled back my thoughts and reparsed her statement: “I suppose I should be grateful he wasn’t a lion.” I assumed she was referring to our conversation on the night of the Balcony Meal when I informed her that lions kill the offspring of previous matings. Perhaps she wanted to talk about Phil. This was interesting to me too. The entire motivation for the Father Project was Phil’s failure in that role. But Rosie had offered no real evidence beyond his opposition to alcohol, ownership of an impractical vehicle, and selection of a jewelry box as a gift.

    “Was he violent?” I asked.

    “No.” She paused for a while. “He was just—all over the place. One day I’d be the most special kid in the world, next day he didn’t want me there.”

    This seemed very general, and hardly a justification for a major DNA investigation project. “Can you provide an example?”

    “Where do I start? Okay, the first time was when I was ten. He promised to take me to Disneyland. I told everyone at school. And I waited and waited and waited and it never happened.”

    The taxi stopped outside a block of flats. Rosie kept talking, looking at the back of the driver’s seat. “So I have this whole thing about rejection.” She turned to me. “How do you deal with it?”

    “The problem has never occurred,” I told her. It was not the time to begin a new conversation.

    “Bullshit,” said Rosie. It appeared that I would need to answer honestly. I was in the presence of a psychology graduate.

    “There were some problems at school,” I said. “Hence the martial arts. But I developed some nonviolent techniques for dealing with difficult social situations.”

    “Like tonight.”

    “I emphasized the things that people found amusing.”

    Rosie didn’t respond. I recognized the therapy technique but could not think of anything to do but elaborate.

    “I didn’t have many friends. Basically zero, except my sister. Unfortunately she died two years ago because of medical incompetence.”

    “What happened?” said Rosie, quietly.

    “An undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy.”

    “Oh, Don,” said Rosie, very sympathetically. I sensed that I had chosen an appropriate person to confide in.

    “Was she . . . in a relationship?”

    “No.” I anticipated her next question. “We never found out the source.”

    “What was her name?”

    This was, on the surface, an innocuous question, though I could see no purpose in Rosie’s knowing my sister’s name. The indirect reference was unambiguous, as I had only one sister. But I felt very uncomfortable. It took me a few moments to realize why. Although there had been no deliberate decision on my part, I had not said her name since her death.

    “Michelle,” I said to Rosie. After that, neither of us spoke for a while.

    The taxi driver coughed artificially. I presumed he wasn’t asking for a beer.

    “You want to come up?” said Rosie.

    I was feeling overwhelmed. Meeting Bianca, dancing, rejection by Bianca, social overload, discussion of personal matters—now, just when I thought the ordeal was over, Rosie seemed to be proposing more conversation. I was not sure I could cope.

    “It’s extremely late,” I said. I was sure this was a socially acceptable way of saying that I wanted to go home.

    “The taxi fares go down again in the morning.”

    If I understood correctly, I was now definitely far out of my depth. I needed to be sure that I wasn’t misinterpreting her.

    “Are you suggesting I stay the night?”

    “Maybe. First you have to listen to the story of my life.”

    Warning! Danger, Will Robinson. Unidentified alien approaching! I could feel myself slipping into the emotional abyss. I managed to stay calm enough to respond.

    “Unfortunately I have a number of activities scheduled for the morning.” Routine, normality.

    Rosie opened the taxi door. I willed her to go. But she had more to say.

    “Don, can I ask you something?”

    “One question.”

    “Do you find me attractive?”

    Gene told me the next day that I got it wrong. But he was not in a taxi, after an evening of total sensory overload, with the most beautiful woman in the world. I believed I did well. I detected the trick question. I wanted Rosie to like me, and I remembered her passionate statement about men treating women as objects. She was testing to see if I saw her as an object or as a person. Obviously the correct answer was the latter.

    “I haven’t really noticed,” I told the most beautiful woman in the world.
     
  9. mukul
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    eighteen
    I texted Gene from the taxi. It was 1:08 a.m., but he had left the ball at the same time as I did and had further to travel. Urgent: Run tomorrow 6 a.m. Gene texted back: Sunday at 8. Bring Bianca’s contact info. I was about to insist on the earlier date when I realized that I could profitably use the time to organize my thoughts.

    It seemed obvious that Rosie had invited me to have sex with her. I was right to have avoided the situation. We had both drunk a substantial quantity of champagne, and alcohol is notorious for encouraging unwise decisions about sex. Rosie had the perfect example. Her mother’s decision, doubtless prompted by alcohol, was still causing Rosie significant distress.

    My own sexual experience was limited. Gene had advised that it was conventional to wait until the third date, and my relationships had never progressed beyond the first. In fact, Rosie and I had technically had only one date—the night of the Jacket Incident and the Balcony Meal.

    I did not use the services of brothels, not for any moral reason, but because I found the idea distasteful. This was not a rational reason, but since the benefits I was seeking were only primitive, a primitive reason was sufficient.

    But I now seemed to have an opportunity for what Gene would call “no-strings-attached sex.” The required conditions were in place: Rosie and I had clearly agreed that neither of us had an interest in a romantic relationship, then Rosie had indicated that she wanted to have sex with me. Did I want to have sex with Rosie? There seemed no logical reason not to, leaving me free to obey the dictates of my primitive desires. The answer was an extremely clear yes. Having made this completely rational decision, I could think of nothing else.

    On Sunday morning, Gene met me outside his house. I had brought Bianca’s contact details and checked her nationality—Panamanian. Gene was very pleased about the latter.

    Gene wanted full details of my encounter with Rosie, but I had decided it was a waste of effort to explain it twice: I would tell him and Claudia together. As I had no other subject to discuss and Gene had difficulty in running and speaking concurrently, we spent the next forty-seven minutes in silence.

    When we returned to Gene’s house, Claudia and Eugenie were having breakfast.

    I sat down and said, “I require some advice.”

    “Can it wait?” said Claudia. “We have to take Eugenie to horse riding and then we’re meeting people for brunch.”

    “No. I may have made a social error. I broke one of Gene’s rules.”

    Gene said, “Don, I think the Panamanian bird has flown. Put that one down to experience.”

    “The rule applies to Rosie, not Bianca. Never pass up a chance to have sex with a woman under thirty.”

    “Gene told you that?” said Claudia.

    Carl had entered the room and I prepared to defend myself against his ritual attack, but he stopped to look at his father.

    “I thought I should consult with you because you’re a psychologist and with Gene because of his extensive practical experience,” I said.

    Gene looked at Claudia, then at Carl.

    “In my misspent youth,” he said. “Not my teens.” He turned back to me. “I think this can wait till lunch tomorrow.”

    “What about Claudia?” I asked.

    Claudia got up from the table. “I’m sure there’s nothing Gene doesn’t know.”

    This was encouraging, especially coming from his wife.

    • • •

    “You said what?” said Gene. We were having lunch in the University Club as scheduled.

    “I said that I hadn’t noticed her appearance. I didn’t want her to think I saw her as a sexual object.”

    “Jesus,” said Gene. “The one time you think before you speak is the one time you shouldn’t have.”

    “I should have said she was beautiful?” I was incredulous.

    “Got it in one,” said Gene, incorrectly, as the problem was that I hadn’t gotten it right the first time. “That’ll explain the cake.”

    I must have looked blank. For obvious reasons.

    “She’s been eating chocolate cake. At her desk. For breakfast.”

    This seemed to me to be an unhealthy choice, consistent with smoking, but not an indicator of distress. But Gene assured me that it was to make herself feel better.

    Having supplied Gene with the necessary background information, I presented my problem.

    “You’re saying she’s not the one,” said Gene. “Not a life partner.”

    “Totally unsuitable. But she’s extremely attractive. If I’m going to have uncommitted sex with anyone, she’s the perfect candidate. She has no emotional attachment to me either.”

    “So why the stress?” said Gene. “You have had sex before?”

    “Of course,” I said. “My doctor is strongly in favor.”

    “Frontiers of medical science,” said Gene.

    He was probably making a joke. I think the value of regular sex has been known for some time.

    I explained further. “It’s just that adding a second person makes it more complicated.”

    “Naturally,” said Gene. “I should have thought of that. Why not get a book?”

    • • •

    The information was available on the Internet, but a few minutes of examining the search results on “sexual positions” convinced me that the book option would provide a more relevant tutorial with less extraneous information.

    I had no difficulty finding a suitable book and, back in my office, selected a random position. It was called the reverse cowboy position (variant 2). I tried it—simple. But, as I had pointed out to Gene, the problem was the involvement of the second person. I got the skeleton from the closet and arranged it on top of me, following the diagram in the book.

    There is a rule at the university that no one opens a door without knocking first. Gene violates it in my case, but we are good friends. I do not consider the Dean my friend. It was an embarrassing moment, especially as the Dean was accompanied by another person, but entirely her fault. It was fortunate that I had kept my clothes on.

    “Don,” she said, “if you can leave off repairing that skeleton for a moment, I’d like you to meet Dr. Peter Enticott from the Medical Research Council. I mentioned your work in cirrhosis and he was keen to meet you. To consider a funding package.” She emphasised the last two words as though I was so unconnected with university politics that I might forget that funding was the center of her world. She was right to do so.

    I recognized Peter instantly. He was the former father candidate who worked at Deakin University, and who had prompted the cup-stealing incident. He also recognized me.

    “Don and I have met,” he said. “His partner is considering applying for the MD program. And we met recently at a social occasion.” He winked at me. “I don’t think you’re paying your academic staff enough.”

    We had an excellent discussion about my work with alcoholic mice. Peter seemed highly interested and I had to reassure him repeatedly that I had designed the research so there was no need for external grants. The Dean was making hand signals and contorting her face, and I guessed that she wanted me to misrepresent my study as requiring funding, so that she could divert the money to some project that would not be funded on its merits. I chose to feign a lack of comprehension, but this had the effect of increasing the intensity of the Dean’s signaling. It was only afterward that I realized that I should not have left the sexual positions book open on the floor.

    I decided that ten positions would be sufficient initially. More could be learned if the initial encounter was successful. It did not take long—less time than learning the cha-cha. In terms of reward for effort, it seemed strongly preferable to dancing and I was greatly looking forward to it.

    I went to visit Rosie in her workplace. The PhD students’ area was a windowless space with desks along the walls. I counted eight students, including Rosie and Stefan, whose desk was beside Rosie’s.

    Stefan gave me an odd smile. I was still suspicious of him.

    “You’re all over Facebook, Don.” He turned to Rosie. “You’ll have to update your relationship status.”

    On his screen was a spectacular photo of Rosie and me dancing, similar to the one that the photographer had given me and which now sat by my computer at home. I was spinning Rosie, and her facial expression indicated extreme happiness. I had not technically been “tagged” as I was not registered on Facebook (social networking not being an interest of mine), but our names had been added to the photo: Prof. Don Tillman of Genetics and Rosie Jarman, PhD Candidate, Psychology.

    “Don’t talk to me about it,” said Rosie.

    “You don’t like the photo?” This seemed a bad sign.

    “It’s Phil. I don’t want him seeing this.”

    Stefan said, “You think your father spends his life looking at Facebook?”

    “Wait till he calls,” said Rosie. “ ‘How much does he earn?’ ‘Are you screwing him?’ ‘What can he bench-press?’ ”

    “Hardly unusual questions for a father to ask about a man who’s dating his daughter,” said Stefan.

    “I’m not dating Don. We shared a taxi. That’s all. Right, Don?”

    “Correct.”

    Rosie turned back to Stefan. “So you can stick your little theory where it fits. Permanently.”

    “I need to talk to you in private,” I said to Rosie.

    She looked at me very directly. “I don’t think there’s anything we need to say in private.”

    This seemed odd. But presumably she and Stefan shared information in the same way that Gene and I did. He had accompanied her to the ball.

    “I was reconsidering your offer of sex,” I said.

    Stefan put his hand over his mouth. There was quite a long silence; I would estimate six seconds.

    Then Rosie said, “Don, it was a joke. A joke.”

    I could make no sense of this. I could understand that she might have changed her mind. Perhaps the problem around the sexual objectification response had been fatal. But a joke? Surely I could not be so insensitive to social cues to have missed the fact that she was joking. Yes, I could be. I had failed to detect jokes in the past. Frequently. A joke. I had been obsessing about a joke.

    “Oh. When should we meet about the other project?”

    Rosie looked down at her desk. “There is no other project.”
     
  10. mukul
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    mukul Kazirhut Lover Member

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    nineteen
    For a week, I did my best to return to my regular schedule, using the time freed up by Eva’s cleaning and the cancellation of the Father Project to catch up on the karate and aikido training that I had been missing.

    Sensei, fifth dan, a man who says very little, especially to the black belts, pulled me aside as I was working the punching bag in the dojo.

    “Something has made you very angry,” he said. That was all.

    He knew me well enough to know that once an emotion was identified, I would not let it defeat me. But he was right to speak to me, because I had not realized that I was angry.

    I was briefly angry with Rosie because she unexpectedly refused me something I wanted. But then I became angry withmyself over the social incompetence that had doubtless caused Rosie embarrassment.

    • • •

    I made several attempts to contact Rosie and got her answering service. Finally I left a message: “What if you get leukemia and don’t know where to source a bone-marrow transplant? Your biological father would be an excellent candidate with a strong motivation to assist. Failure to complete the project could result in death. There are only eleven candidates remaining.”

    She did not return my call.

    “These things happen,” said Claudia, over the third coffee meeting in four weeks. “You get involved with a woman, it doesn’t work out . . .”

    So that was it. I had, in my own way, become “involved” with Rosie.

    “What should I do?”

    “It’s not easy,” said Claudia, “but anyone will give you the same advice. Move on. Something else will turn up.”

    Claudia’s logic, built on sound theoretical foundations and drawing on substantial professional experience, was obviously superior to my own irrational feelings. But as I reflected on it, I realized that her advice, and indeed the discipline of psychology itself, embodied the results of research on normal humans. I am well aware that I have some unusual characteristics. Was it possible that Claudia’s advice was not appropriate for me?

    I decided on a compromise course of action. I would continue the Wife Project. If (and only if) there was further time available, I would use it for the Father Project, proceeding alone. If I could present Rosie with the solution, perhaps we could become friends again.

    Based on the Bianca Disaster I revised the questionnaire, adding more stringent criteria. I included questions on dancing, racquet sports, and bridge to eliminate candidates who would require me to gain competence in useless activities, and increased the difficulty of the mathematics, physics, and genetics problems. Option (c) moderately would be the only acceptable answer to the alcohol question. I organized for the responses to go directly to Gene, who was obviously engaging in the well-established research practice of making secondary use of the data. He could advise me if anyone met my criteria. Exactly.

    In the absence of Wife Project candidates, I thought hard about the best way to get DNA samples for the Father Project.

    The answer came to me as I was boning a quail. The candidates were doctors who would presumably be willing to contribute to genetics research. I just needed a plausible excuse to ask for their DNA. Thanks to the preparation I had done for the Asperger’s lecture, I had one.

    I pulled out my list of eleven names. Two were confirmed dead, leaving nine, seven of whom were living overseas, which explained their absence at the reunion. But two had local phone numbers. One was the head of the Medical Research Institute at my own university. I rang it first.

    “Professor Lefebvre’s office,” said a woman’s voice.

    “It’s Professor Tillman from the Department of Genetics. I’d like to invite Professor Lefebvre to participate in a research project.”

    “Professor Lefebvre is on sabbatical in the US. He’ll be back in two weeks.”

    “Excellent. The project is Presence of Genetic Markers for Autism in High-Achieving Individuals. I require him to complete a questionnaire and provide a DNA sample.”

    Two days later, I had succeeded in locating all nine living candidates and posted them questionnaires, created from the Asperger’s research papers, and cheek scrapers. The questionnaires were irrelevant but were needed to make the research appear legitimate. My covering letter made clear my credentials as a professor of genetics at a prestigious university. In the meantime, I needed to find relatives of the two dead doctors.

    • • •

    I found an obituary for Dr. Gerhard von Deyn, a victim of a heart attack, on the Internet. It mentioned his daughter, a medical student at the time of his death. I had no trouble tracking down Dr. Brigitte von Deyn, and she was happy to participate in the survey. Simple.

    Geoffrey Case was a much more difficult challenge. He had died a year after graduating. I had long ago noted his basic details from the reunion website. He had not married and had no (known) children.

    Meanwhile the DNA samples trickled back. Two doctors, both in New York, declined to participate. Why would medical practitioners not participate in an important study? Did they have something to hide? Such as an illegitimate daughter in the same city that the request came from? It occurred to me that, if they suspected my motives, they could send a friend’s DNA. At least refusal was better than cheating.

    Seven candidates, including the younger Dr. von Deyn, returned samples. None of them was Rosie’s father or half sister. Professor Simon Lefebvre returned from his sabbatical and wanted to meet me in person.

    “I’m here to collect a package from Professor Lefebvre,” I said to the receptionist at the city hospital where he was based, hoping to avoid an actual meeting and interrogation. I was unsuccessful. She buzzed the phone, announced my name, and Professor Lefebvre appeared. He was, I assumed, approximately fifty-four years old. I had met many fifty-four-year-olds in the past thirteen weeks. He was carrying a large envelope, presumably containing the questionnaire, which was destined for the recycling bin, and his DNA.

    As he reached me, I tried to take the envelope, but he extended his other hand to shake mine. It was awkward, but the net result was that we shook hands and he retained the envelope.

    “Simon Lefebvre,” he said. “So, what are you really after?”

    This was totally unexpected. Why should he question my motives?

    “Your DNA,” I said. “And the questionnaire. For a major research study. Critical.” I was feeling stressed and my voice doubtless reflected it.

    “I’m sure it is.” Simon laughed. “And you randomly select the head of medical research as a subject?”

    “We were looking for high achievers.”

    “What’s Charlie after this time?”

    “Charlie?” I didn’t know anyone called Charlie.

    “All right,” he said. “Dumb question. How much do you want me to put in?”

    “No putting in is required. There is no Charlie involved. I just require the DNA . . . and the questionnaire.”

    Simon laughed, again. “You’ve got my attention. You can tell Charlie that. Shoot me through the project description. And the ethics approval. The whole catastrophe.”

    “Then I can have my sample?” I said. “A high response rate is critical for the statistical analysis.”

    “Just send me the paperwork.”

    Simon Lefebvre’s request was entirely reasonable. Unfortunately I did not have the required paperwork, because the projectwas fictitious. To develop a plausible project proposal would potentially require hundreds of hours of work.

    I attempted an estimate of the probability that Simon Lefebvre was Rosie’s father. There were now four untested candidates: Lefebvre, Geoffrey Case (dead), and the two New Yorkers, Isaac Esler and Solomon Freyberg. On the basis of Rosie’s information, any one of them had a twenty-five percent probability of being her father. But having proceeded so far without a positive result, I had to consider other possibilities. Two of our results relied on relatives rather than direct testing. It was possible that one or both of these daughters were, like Rosie, the result of extrarelationship sex, which, as Gene points out, is a more common phenomenon than popularly believed. And there was the possibility that one or more of my respondents to the fictitious research project might have deliberately sent a false sample.

    I also had to consider that Rosie’s mother might not have told the truth. It took me a long time to think of this, as my default assumption is that people will be honest. But perhaps Rosie’s mother wanted Rosie to believe that her father was a doctor, as she was, rather than a less prestigious person. On balance, I estimated the chance that Simon Lefebvre was Rosie’s father was sixteen percent. In developing documentation for the Asperger’s research project, I would be doing an enormous amount of work with a low probability that it would provide the answer.

    I chose to proceed. The decision was barely rational.

    • • •

    In the midst of this work, I received a phone call from a solicitor to advise me that Daphne had died. Despite the fact that she had been effectively dead for some time, I detected in myself an unexpected feeling of loneliness. Our friendship had been simple. Everything was so much more complicated now.

    The reason for the call was that Daphne had left me what the solicitor referred to as a “small sum” in her will. Ten thousand dollars. And she had also left a letter, written before she had gone to live in the nursing home. It was handwritten on decorative paper.

    Dear Don,

    Thank you for making the final years of my life so stimulating. After Edward was admitted to the nursing home, I did not believe that there was much left for me. I’m sure you know how much you have taught me, and how interesting our conversations have been, but you may not realize what a wonderful companion and support you have been to me.

    I once told you that you would make someone a wonderful husband, and in case you have forgotten, I am telling you again. I’m sure if you look hard enough, you will find the right person. Do not give up, Don.

    I know you don’t need my money, and my children do, but I have left you a small sum. I would be pleased if you would use it for something irrational.

    Much love,

    Your friend,

    Daphne Speldewind

    It took me less than ten seconds to think of an irrational purchase: in fact I allowed myself only that amount of time to ensure that the decision was not affected by any logical thought process.

    • • •

    The Asperger’s research project was fascinating but very time-consuming. The final proposal was impressive, and I was confident it would have passed the peer-review process if it had been submitted to a funding organization. I was implying it had been, though I stopped short of forging an approval letter. I called Lefebvre’s personal assistant and explained that I had forgotten to send him the documents but would now bring them personally. I was becoming more competent at deception.

    I arrived at reception, and the process of summoning Lefebvre was repeated. This time he was not holding an envelope. I tried to give him the documents and he tried to shake my hand, and we had a repeat of the confusion that had occurred the previous time. Lefebvre seemed to find this funny. I was conscious of being tense. After all this work, I wanted the DNA.

    “Greetings,” I said. “Documentation as requested. All requirements have been fulfilled. I now need the DNA sample and questionnaire.”

    Lefebvre laughed again and looked me up and down. Was there something odd about my appearance? My T-shirt was the one I wear on alternate days, featuring the periodic table, a birthday gift from the year after my graduation, and my pants were the serviceable pair that are equally suitable for walking, lecturing, research, and physical tasks. Plus high-quality running shoes. The only error was that my socks, which would have been visible below my pants, were of slightly different colors, a common error when dressing in poor light. But Simon Lefebvre seemed to find everything amusing.

    “Beautiful,” he said. Then he repeated my words in what seemed to be an attempt to imitate my intonation: “Allrequirements have been fulfilled.” He added, in his normal voice, “Tell Charlie I promise I’ll read the proposal.”

    Charlie again! This was ridiculous.

    “The DNA,” I said, forcefully. “I need the sample.”

    Lefebvre laughed as though I had made the biggest joke of all time. There were tears running down his face. Actual tears.

    “You’ve made my day.”

    He grabbed a tissue from a box on the reception desk, wiped his face, blew his nose, and tossed the used tissue in the trash can as he left with my proposal.

    I walked to the trash and retrieved the tissue.
     

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