The Rosie Project Page 9

Olivia resumed talking to me while the others engaged in small talk - an extraordinary waste of time when a major life decision was at stake. On Claudia\s advice, I had memorised the questionnaire. She thought that asking questions directly from the forms could create the wrong \dynamic\ and that I should attempt to incorporate them subtly into conversation. Subtlety, I had reminded her, is not my strength. She suggested that I not ask about se*ually transmitted diseases and that I make my own estimates of weight, height and body mass index. I estimated Olivia\s BMI at nineteen: slim, but no signs of anorexia. I estimated Sharon the Accountant\s at twenty-three, and Maria the Nurse\s at twenty-eight. The recommended healthy maximum is twenty-five.

Rather than ask about IQ, I decided to make an estimate based on Olivia\s responses to questions about the historical impact of variations in susceptibility to syphilis across native South American populations. We had a fascinating conversation, and I felt that the topic might even allow me to slip in the se*ually-transmitted-diseases question. Her IQ was definitely above the required minimum. Gerry the Lawyer offered a few comments that I think were meant to be jokes, but eventually left us to continue uninterrupted.

At this point, the missing woman arrived, twenty-eight minutes late. While Olivia was distracted, I took the opportunity to record the data I had acquired so far on three of the four questionnaires in my lap. I did not waste paper on the most recent arrival, as she announced that she was \always late\. This did not seem to concern Gerry the Lawyer, who presumably billed by the six-minute interval, and should consequently have considered time to be of great value. He obviously valued se* more highly as his conversation began to resemble that of Gene.

With the arrival of Late Woman, the waiter appeared with menus. Olivia scanned hers then asked, \The pumpkin soup, is it made with vegetable stock?\

I did not hear the answer. The question provided the critical information. Vegetarian.

She may have noted my expression of disappointment. \I\m Hindu.\

I had previously deduced that Olivia was probably Indian from her sari and physical attributes. I was not sure whether the term \Hindu\ was being used as a genuine statement of religious belief or as an indicator of cultural heritage. I had been reprimanded for failing to make this distinction in the past.

\Do you eat ice-cream?\ I asked. The question seemed appropriate after the vegetarian statement. Very neat.

\Oh yes, I am not vegan. As long as it is not made with eggs.\

This was not getting any better.

\Do you have a favourite flavour?\

\Pistachio. Very definitely pistachio.\ She smiled.

Maria and Danny had stepped outside for a cigarette. With three women eliminated, including Late Woman, my task was almost complete.

My lambs\ brains arrived, and I cut one in half, exposing the internal structure. I tapped Sharon, who was engaged in conversation with Craig the Racist, and pointed it out to her. \Do you like brains?\

Four down, job complete. I continued my conversation with Olivia, who was excellent company, and even ordered an additional drink after the others had departed in the pairs that they had formed. We stayed, talking, until we were the last people in the restaurant. As I put the questionnaires in my backpack, Olivia gave me her contact information, which I wrote down in order not to be rude. Then we went our separate ways.

Cycling home, I reflected on the dinner. It had been a grossly inefficient method of selection, but the questionnaire had been of significant value. Without the questions it prompted, I would undoubtedly have attempted a second date with Olivia, who was an interesting and nice person. Perhaps we would have gone on a third and fourth and fifth date, then one day, when all of the desserts at the restaurant contained egg, we would have crossed the road to the ice-cream parlour, and discovered they had no egg-free pistachio. It was better to find out before we made an investment in the relationship.

5

I stood inside the entrance of a suburban house that reminded me of my parents\ brick veneer residence in Shepparton. I had resolved never to attend another singles party, but the questionnaire allowed me to avoid the agony of unstructured social interaction with strangers.

As the female guests arrived, I gave each a questionnaire to complete at their convenience and return to me either at the party or by mail. The host, a woman, initially invited me to join the crowd in the living room, but I explained my strategy and she left me alone. After two hours, a woman of about thirty-five, estimated BMI twenty-one, returned from the living room, holding two glasses of sparkling wine. In her other hand was a questionnaire.

She passed me a glass. \I thought you might be thirsty,\ she said in an attractive French accent.

I was not thirsty, but I was pleased to be offered alcohol. I had decided that I would not give up drinking unless I found a non-drinking partner. And, after some self-analysis, I had concluded that (c) moderately was an acceptable answer to the drinking question and made a note to update the questionnaire.

\Thank you.\ I hoped she would give me the questionnaire and that it might, improbably, signal the end of my quest. She was extremely attractive, and her gesture with the wine indicated a high level of consideration not exhibited by any of the other guests or the host.

\You are a researcher, am I right?\ She tapped the questionnaire.

\Correct.\

\Me, also,\ she said. \There are not many academics here tonight.\ Although it is dangerous to draw conclusions based on manner and conversation topics, my assessment of the guests was consistent with this observation.


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