The Rosie Project Page 40

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 realised 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 practised with different beats. You\ e not as smart as I thought you were.\

I just looked out the window of the taxi.

Then she said, \No way. No f*king way. You did, didn\ you? That\s worse. You\d rather make a fool of yourself in front of everyone than tell her she didn\ 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\ mind, but when we stopped laughing I felt awkward again and averted my gaze.

\You\ e unbelievable,\ said Rosie. \Look at me when I\m talking.\

I kept looking out the window. I was already over-stimulated. \I know what you look like.\

\What colour 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 colour?\

\My eyes. It happens with babies. That was when my mother realised that Phil wasn\ my father. She had blue eyes and so does Phil. And she decided to tell him. I suppose I should be grateful he wasn\ a lion.\

I was having trouble making sense of all that Rosie was saying, doubtless due 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 colour 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 realised 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 re-parsed her statement: \I suppose I should be grateful he wasn\ 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 jewellery 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\ 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 non-violent techniques for dealing with difficult social situations.\

\Like tonight.\

\I emphasised the things that people found amusing.\

Rosie didn\ respond. I recognised the therapy technique, but could not think of anything to do but elaborate.

\I didn\ have many friends. Basically zero, except my sister. Unfortunately she died two years ago due to 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 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 realise 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\ asking for a beer.


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