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Chapter 7
‘Wow, Mr Neat. How come there are no pictures on thewalls?’
I had not had visitors since Daphne moved out of the building.
I knew that I only needed to put out an extra plate andcutlery. But it had already been a stressful evening, and theadrenaline-induced eu-phoria that had immediately followed theJacket Incident had evaporated, at least on my part. Rosieseemed to be in a permanently manic state.
We were in the living area, which adjoins the kitchen.
‘Because after a while I would stop noticing them. The humanbrain is wired to focus on differences in its environment – soit can rapidly discern a predator. If I installed pictures or otherdecorative objects, I would notice them for a few days andthen my brain would ignore them. If I want to see art, I go tothe gallery. The paintings there are of higher quality, and thetotal expenditure over time is less than the purchase price ofcheap posters.’ In fact, I had not been to an art gallery sincethe tenth of May, three years before. But this informationwould55/290weaken my argument and I saw no reason to share it withRosie and open up other aspects of my personal life tointerrogation.
Rosie had moved on and was now examining my CDcollection. The investigation was becoming annoying. Dinner wasalready late.
‘You really love Bach,’ she said. This was a reasonablededuction, as my CD collection consists only of the works ofthat composer. But it was not correct.
‘I decided to focus on Bach after reading G?del, Escher, Bachby Douglas Hofstadter. Unfortunately I haven’t made muchprogress. I don’t think my brain works fast enough to decodethe patterns in the music.’
‘You don’t listen to it for fun?’
This was beginning to sound like the initial dinner conversationswith Daphne and I didn’t answer.
‘You’ve got an iPhone?’ she said.
‘Of course, but I don’t use it for music. I download podcasts.’
‘Let me guess – on genetics.’
‘Science in general.’
I moved to the kitchen to begin dinner preparation and Rosiefollowed me, stopping to look at my whiteboard schedule.
‘Wow,’ she said, again. This reaction was becoming predictable.
I wondered what her response to DNA or evolution would be.
I commenced retrieval of vegetables and herbs from therefrigerator.
‘Let me help,’ she said. ‘I can chop or something.’ Theimplication was that chopping could be done by aninexperienced person unfamiliar with the recipe. After hercomment that she was unable to cook even in a life-threateningsituation, I had visions of huge chunks of leek and fragmentsof herbs too fine to sieve out.
‘No assistance is required,’ I said. ‘I recommend reading abook.’
56/290I watched Rosie walk to the bookshelf, briefly peruse thecontents, then walk away. Perhaps she used IBM rather thanMac software, although many of the manuals applied to both.
The sound system has an iPod port that I use to playpodcasts while I cook. Rosie plugged in her phone, and musicemanated from the speakers. It was not loud, but I was certainthat if I had put on a podcast without asking permission whenvisiting someone’s house, I would have been accused of a socialerror. Very certain, as I had made this exact mistake at adinner party four years and sixty-seven days ago.
Rosie continued her exploration, like an animal in a newenvironment, which of course was what she was. She openedthe blinds and raised them, creating some dust. I considermyself fastidious in my cleaning, but I do not need to open theblinds and there must have been dust in places not reachablewithout doing so. Behind the blinds are doors, and Rosiereleased the bolts and opened them.
I was feeling very uncomfortable at this violation of mypersonal environment. I tried to concentrate on foodpreparation as Rosie stepped out of sight onto the balcony. Icould hear her dragging the two big pot plants, whichpresumably were dead after all these years. I put the herb andvegetable mixture in the large saucepan with the water, salt,rice wine vinegar, mirin, orange peel and coriander seeds.
‘I don’t know what you’re cooking,’ Rosie called out, ‘but I’mbasically vegetarian.’
Vegetarian! I had already commenced cooking! Based oningredients purchased on the assumption that I would be eatingalone. And what did ‘basically’ mean – did it imply somelimited level of flexibility, like my colleague Esther, who admitted,only under rigorous questioning, that she would eat pork ifnecessary to survive?
Vegetarians and vegans can be incredibly annoying. Gene has ajoke: ‘How can you tell if someone is a vegan? Just wait tenminutes57/290and they’ll tell you.’ If this were so, it would not be so muchof a problem. No! Vegetarians arrive for dinner and then say,‘I don’t eat meat.’
This was the second time. The Pig’s Trotter Disasterhappened six years ago, when Gene suggested that I invite awoman to dinner at my apartment. He argued that my cookingexpertise would make me more desirable and I would not haveto deal with the pressure of a restaurant environment. ‘Andyou can drink as much as you like and stagger to thebedroom.’
The woman’s name was Bethany, and her internet profile didnot mention vegetarianism. Realising that the quality of the mealwould be critical, I borrowed a recently published book of ‘noseto tail’ recipes from the library, and planned a multi-coursemeal featuring various parts of the animal: brains, tongue,mesentery, pancreas, kidneys, etc.
Bethany arrived on time and seemed very pleasant. We had aglass of wine, and then things went downhill. We started withfried pig’s trotter, which had been quite complex to prepare,and Bethany ate very little of hers.
‘I’m not big on pig’s trotters,’ she said. This was not entirelyunreasonable: we all have preferences and perhaps she wasconcerned about fat and cholesterol. But when I outlined thecourses to follow, she declared herself to be a vegetarian.
Unbelievable!
She offered to buy dinner at a restaurant but, having spent somuch time in preparation, I did not want to abandon the food.
I ate alone and did not see Bethany again.
Now Rosie. In this case it might be a good thing. Rosie couldleave and life would return to normal. She had obviously notfilled in the questionnaire honestly, or Gene had made anerror. Or possibly he had selected her for her high level ofsexual attractiveness, imposing his own preferences on me.
Rosie came back inside, looking at me, as if expecting aresponse.
‘Seafood is okay,’ she said. ‘If it’s sustainable.’
58/290I had mixed feelings. It is always satisfying to have the solutionto a problem, but now Rosie would be staying for dinner. Iwalked to the bathroom, and Rosie followed. I picked up thelobster from the bath, where it had been crawling around.
‘Oh shit,’ said Rosie.
‘You don’t like lobster?’ I carried it back to the kitchen.
‘I love lobster but …’
The problem was now obvious and I could sympathise.
‘You find the killing process unpleasant. Agreed.’
I put the lobster in the freezer, and explained to Rosie that Ihad researched lobster-execution methods, and the freezermethod was considered the most humane. I gave her a websitereference.
While the lobster died, Rosie continued her sniffing around. Sheopened the pantry and seemed impressed with its level oforganisation: one shelf for each day of the week, plus storagespaces for common resources, alcohol, breakfast, etc., and stockdata on the back of the door.
‘You want to come and sort out my place?’
‘You want to implement the Standardised Meal System?’ Despiteits substantial advantages, most people consider it odd.
‘Just cleaning out the refrigerator would do,’ she said. ‘I’mguessing you want Tuesday ingredients?’
I informed her that, as today was Tuesday, no guessing wasrequired.
She handed me the nori sheets and bonito flakes. I requestedmac-adamia nut oil, sea salt and the pepper grinder from thecommon resources area.
‘Chinese rice wine,’ I added. ‘Filed under alcohol.’
‘Naturally,’ said Rosie.
She passed me the wine, then began looking at the otherbottles in the alcohol section. I purchase my wine in half-bottles.
59/290‘So, you cook this same meal every Tuesday, right?’
‘Correct.’ I listed the eight major advantages of theStandardised Meal System.
1. No need to accumulate recipe books.
2. Standard shopping list – hence very efficient shopping.
3. Almost zero waste – nothing in the refrigerator or pantryunless required for one of the recipes.
4. Diet planned and nutritionally balanced in advance.
5. No time wasted wondering what to cook.
6. No mistakes, no unpleasant surprises.
7. Excellent food, superior to most restaurants at a much lowerprice (see point 3).
8. Minimal cognitive load required.
‘Cognitive load?’
‘The cooking procedures are in my cerebellum – virtually noconscious effort is required.’
‘Like riding a bike.’
‘Correct.’
‘You can make lobster whatever without thinking?’
‘Lobster, mango and avocado salad with wasabi-coated flyingfish roe and crispy seaweed and deep-fried leek garnish.
Correct. My current project is quail-boning. It still requiresconscious effort.’
Rosie was laughing. It brought back memories of school days.
Good ones.
As I retrieved additional ingredients for the dressing from therefrigerator, Rosie brushed past me with two half-bottles ofchablis and put them in the freezer with the lobster.
‘Our dinner seems to have stopped moving.’
60/290‘Further time is required to be certain of death,’ I said.
‘Unfortunately, the Jacket Incident has disrupted the preparationschedule. All times will need to be recalculated.’ I realised atthis point that I should have put the lobster in the freezer assoon as we arrived home, but my brain had been overloadedby the problems created by Rosie’s presence. I went to thewhiteboard and started writing up revised preparation times.
Rosie was examining the ingredients.
‘You were going to eat all this by yourself?’
I had not revised the Standardised Meal System since Daphne’sde-parture, and now ate the lobster salad by myself onTuesdays, deleting the wine to compensate for the additionalcalorie intake.
‘The quantity is sufficient for two,’ I said. ‘The recipe can’t bescaled down. It’s infeasible to purchase a fraction of a livelobster.’ I had intended the last part as a mild joke, and Rosiereacted by laughing. I had another unexpected moment offeeling good as I continued recalculating times.
Rosie interrupted again. ‘If you were on your usual schedule,what time would it be now?’
‘6.38 p.m.’
The clock on the oven showed 9.09 p.m. Rosie located thecontrols and started adjusting the time. I realised what she wasdoing. A perfect solution. When she was finished, it showed6.38 p.m. No recalcula-tions required. I congratulated her onher thinking. ‘You’ve created a new time zone. Dinner will beready at 8.55 p.m. – Rosie time.’
‘Beats doing the maths,’ she said.
Her observation gave me an opportunity for another WifeProject question. ‘Do you find mathematics difficult?’
She laughed. ‘It’s only the single hardest part of what I do.
Drives me nuts.’
If the simple arithmetic of bar and restaurant bills was beyondher, it was hard to imagine how we could have meaningfuldiscussions.
61/290‘Where do you hide the corkscrew?’ she asked.
‘Wine is not scheduled for Tuesdays.’
‘Fuck that,’ said Rosie.
There was a certain logic underlying Rosie’s response. I wouldonly be eating a single serve of dinner. It was the final step inthe abandonment of the evening’s schedule.
I announced the change. ‘Time has been redefined. Previousrules no longer apply. Alcohol is hereby declared mandatory inthe Rosie Time Zone.’
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