‘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 realised my error – one that would have caused trouble if I had made it in front of a class.
‘Bartender is the established non-sexist 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 recognised 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 enquiry. 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 arsehole.’
‘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 realised 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 got a match.’
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.
The candidate’s name was Bianca Rivera and she met all criteria. There was one obstacle, to which I would need to devote time. She noted that she had twice won the state ballroom dancing championship, and 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 practising my dance steps.
‘I think the longevity statistics were based on marriages to live women, Don.’