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Chapter 8
As I completed dinner preparation, Rosie set the table – notthe conventional dining table in the living room, but a makeshifttable on the balcony, created by taking a whiteboard from thekitchen wall and placing it on top of the two big plant pots,from which the dead plants had been removed. A white sheetfrom the linen cupboard had been added in the role oftablecloth. Silver cutlery – a housewarming gift from myparents that had never been used – and the decorative wineglasses were on the table. She was destroying my apartment!
It had never occurred to me to eat on the balcony. The rainfrom early in the evening had cleared when I came outsidewith the food, and I estimated the temperature at twenty-twodegrees.
‘Do we have to eat right away?’ asked Rosie, an odd question,since she had claimed that she was starving some hours ago.
‘No, it won’t get cold. It’s already cold.’ I was conscious ofsounding awkward. ‘Is there some reason to delay?’
‘The city lights. The view’s amazing.’
63/290‘Unfortunately it’s static. Once you’ve examined it, there’s noreason to look again. Like paintings.’
‘But it changes all the time. What about in the early morning?
Or when it rains? What about coming up here just to sit?’
I had no answer that was likely to satisfy her. I had seen theview when I bought the apartment. It did not change much indifferent conditions. And the only times I just sat were when Iwas waiting for an appointment or if I was reflecting on aproblem, in which case interesting surroundings would be adistraction.
I moved into the space beside Rosie and refilled her glass. Shesmiled. She was almost certainly wearing lipstick.
I attempt to produce a standard, repeatable meal, but obviouslyingredients vary in their quality from week to week. Today’sseemed to be of unusually high standard. The lobster salad hadnever tasted so good.
I remembered the basic rule of asking a woman to talk aboutherself.
Rosie had already raised the topic of dealing with difficultcustomers in a bar, so I asked her to elaborate. This was anexcellent move. She had a number of hilarious stories, and Inoted some interpersonal techniques for possible future use.
We finished the lobster. Then Rosie opened her bag and pulledout a pack of cigarettes! How can I convey my horror?
Smoking is not only unhealthy in itself, and dangerous toothers in the vicinity. It is a clear indication of an irrationalapproach to life. There was a good reason for it being the firstitem on my questionnaire.
Rosie must have noticed my shock. ‘Relax. We’re outside.’
There was no point in arguing. I would not be seeing heragain after tonight. The lighter flamed and she held it to thecigarette between her artificially red lips.
‘Anyhow, I’ve got a genetics question,’ she said.
‘Proceed.’ I was back in the world I knew.
64/290‘Someone told me you can tell if a person’s monogamous bythe size of their testicles.’
The sexual aspects of biology regularly feature in the popularpress, so this was not as stupid a statement as it mightappear, although it embodied a typical misconception. Itoccurred to me that it could be some sort of code for a sexualadvance, but I decided to play safe and respond to thequestion literally.
‘Ridiculous,’ I said.
Rosie seemed very pleased with my answer.
‘You’re a star,’ she said. ‘I’ve just won a bet.’
I proceeded to elaborate and noted that Rosie’s expression ofsatisfaction faded. I guessed that she had oversimplified herquestion and that my more detailed explanation was in factwhat she had been told.
‘There may be some correlation at the individual level, but therule applies to species. Homo sapiens are basicallymonogamous, but tac-tically unfaithful. Males benefit fromimpregnating as many females as possible, but are able tosupport only one set of offspring. Females seekmaximum-quality genes for their children plus a male tosupport them.’
I was just settling into the familiar role of lecturer when Rosieinterrupted.
‘What about the testicles?’
‘Bigger testicles produce more semen. Monogamous speciesrequire only sufficient for their mate. Humans need extra totake advantage of random opportunities and to attack thesperm of recent intruders.’
‘Nice,’ said Rosie.
‘Not really. The behaviour evolved in the ancestral environment.
The modern world requires additional rules.’
‘Yeah,’ said Rosie. ‘Like being there for your kids.’
‘Correct. But instincts are incredibly powerful.’
‘Tell me about it,’ said Rosie.
65/290I began to explain. ‘Instinct is an expression of –’
‘Rhetorical question,’ said Rosie. ‘I’ve lived it. My mother wentgene shopping at her medical graduation party.’
‘These behaviours are unconscious. People don’t deliberately –’
‘I get that.’
I doubted it. Non-professionals frequently misinterpret thefindings of evolutionary psychology. But the story wasinteresting.
‘You’re saying your mother engaged in unprotected sex outsideher primary relationship?’
‘With some other student,’ replied Rosie. ‘While she was datingmy’
– at this point Rosie raised her hands and made a downwardsmovement, twice, with the index and middle fingers of bothhands – ‘father.
My real dad’s a doctor. I just don’t know which one. Really,really pisses me off.’
I was fascinated by the hand movements and silent for a whileas I tried to work them out. Were they a sign of distress atnot knowing who her father was? If so, it was not one I wasfamiliar with. And why had she chosen to punctuate herspeech at that point … of course!
‘Quotation marks,’ I said aloud as the idea hit me.
‘You made quotation marks around “father” to draw attentionto the fact that the word should not be interpreted in theusual way. Very clever.’
‘Well, there you go,’ she said. ‘And there I was thinking youwere reflecting on my minor problem with my whole fuckinglife. And might have something intelligent to say.’
I corrected her. ‘It’s not a minor problem at all!’ I pointed myfinger in the air to indicate an exclamation mark. ‘You shouldinsist on being informed.’ I stabbed the same finger to indicatea full stop. This was quite fun.
66/290‘My mother’s dead. She died in a car accident when I was ten.............
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