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Alan MacCuish
Imperfect `10'

As he stared in wonder at Claire’s delicate hands during dinner, it occurred to Adam that they had arrived, unbeknownst to her, at a watershed in their relationship. It was a watershed which Adam approached like a first year student seeing home for the first time since going to University - first hesitantly, then suddenly, overwhelmed by a heady mixture of familiarity, excitement and relief, sprinting towards that familiar place at full speed. Once there, he realized he had only one logical course of action open to him. He had to finish the relationship.

This was not, by any stretch of the imagination, instinct on his part - far from it. In his early years, Adam had been famously prone to making extremely poor decisions where girls were concerned. He had quickly abandoned his instinct in this area for something altogether more reliable. In his late teens and early twenties, Adam developed a simple system designed to help inform him whether a girlfriend was in fact ‘The One’. It consisted of a set of criteria based, quite simply, on things that annoyed him; when a girlfriend did something annoying, he would make a note of it, monitor its progress and if it occurred more that five times, it would generate a ‘point’. ‘Points’ were accumulated over time until they reached the magic number - 10. Once at 10, Adam would triple-check the data and if accurate, end the relationship.

The system had not let him down yet. He was 32 and unmarried.

So it was with strange detachment that he watched Claire absent-mindedly cleaning her fingernails with the tip of her butter knife; this in itself ought to be enough to finish it, he thought, but then he remembered that that would fundamentally undermine the system – and without the system there would be anarchy –and no-one wanted that - least of all Adam. No, Claire had been incredibly distracted recently and the result was suddenly that she had begun obsessing with her fingernails. It was the final straw – time to move on.

These were never decisions that Adam took lightly - in fact, far from it. Adam considered himself to be a very fair person and his talent for process meant that every girl he had ever dumped had at the very least been given the same opportunity to succeed as her predecessor.

To this end, Adam had, over the years - through anecdote, keen observation and personal experience - been able to compile an incredibly detailed, mental list of what he considered to be The Universal Truths - the things that all girls did that annoyed all boys: the inability to drink white wine without turning violent, watching programmes where the sole purpose was to find undiscovered models/singers/dancers and the classic squandering of money on magazines such as Heat, Hello! and Grazia. This database was crucial in that it allowed Adam to check ‘points’ a particular girlfriend was accumulating in his original system against the broader data and if, as in the case of his previous girlfriend, Maggie, there was, say, no record of it being standard practice amongst girls to share underwear with their mother, as it certainly was in Maggie’s case, he would be able to confirm that this was an habit unique to that particular girl – and thus confirm ‘the point.’

This separation between things that all girls did that annoyed Adam and things that were unique to a particular girlfriend was in fact crucial to his chances of finding ‘The One.’

Because without it, his relationships would be lucky to last a week.

So it was this process of separation that Adam carried out in his mind as he watched Claire moved from digit to digit, absent-mindedly excavating with her knife. It didn’t take him long. There were 10 original points, alright. Finito.

As he looked up sympathetically, Adam noticed that Claire was now furiously texting with both hands, but baring her teeth through concentration – Number Nine. Composing himself, he summoned the special smile he reserved for these occasions; this was no ordinary smile; every muscle in Adam’s body, willing or not, was now suddenly press-ganged into playing it’s component part; the smile itself was accompanied by the elaborate raising of both his eyebrows, the shrugging of both shoulders and climaxed in a huge, rather alarming, exhale of breath through his nostrils. This last action was the breathing equivalent of slamming the bell at the reception of an old fashioned hotel.

It worked every time.

Claire slowly looked up from her phone, as if emerging from a dream. Then, breaking the waters of consciousness, she emerged, blinking, into the sunlight of the moment. What she saw when she blinked away her preoccupation was Adam, his face like a demented children’s entertainer, grinning at her.

“Uh?” She said.

Saying ‘Uh?” when she hadn’t heard the question – Number Eight. She wasn’t doing herself any favours here.

“I’ve got something to tell you.” Adam said, using his most disarming tone. A moment passed before she replied:

“Actually. I’ve got something to tell you. “

One upmanship – Number Seven. What a surprise, Adam thought. After a few seconds he said, firmly:

“O.K, well, why don’t you go first?”

“No, no.” Claire said brightly. “You go - you said first.”

Claire’s eyes narrowed in determination and her mouth curled up – Number Six. This was too much of a coincidence; Adam sat for a moment wondering whether Claire, perhaps sensing what was happening, was now deliberately running through a medley of every single thing that could possibly annoy him in a sort of Top of the Tops type count down. Well, if she was, he thought, the band would be on stage any moment.

Adam dropped his head and sighed.

“Claire. Please.” He said in his most modern, neutral voice. He knew what was coming of course; and yes, there it was, the tongue shoved into the top lip like one ill-fitting sock inside the other accompanied by the text book neck extension and, just for the judges – the head tilt: an absolute Claire Classic - and Number Five.

“Ads!” Claire said suddenly, raising her voice.

‘Ads’ – Number Four. His name was Adam. A.D.A.M. Adam…

Adam replied: “Look, Claire…”

Claire squealed in frustration – Number Three. This was a sound so excruciating to Adam that it was all he could do to stop lashing out. The frequency was utterly unique; somewhere, to his mind, between nails down a blackboard and a broken dog whistle. He inexplicably smiled.

Claire smiled back.

‘Alright.’ She said, suddenly.

‘I’m pregnant.”

Time froze; Adam had never been in a plane crash but he had seen the one in Fight Club where Ed Norton suddenly finds his domestic flight thrown into turmoil by an explosion and suddenly he’s careering towards the earth, bits of plane, luggage and passengers being jettisoned as he makes his way, rigid, to a certain death. It would feel, Adam thought, like this.

He tried to speak but couldn’t. Then he remembered: Number fucking Two - out of the blue bombshells. At the beginning of their relationship there had been a 6-month period when Adam had been thrown into a state of permanent panic whenever Claire opened her mouth after such asides as: ”I lost my virginity to my maths teacher” and “I used to take Heroine with Russell Brand when we lived in a squat together” and “My dad was in prison for most of the 70s” These innocuously delivered H- bombs of information were always apropos nothing; but they had thinned out over the last year and Adam now kicked himself for letting his guard down.

How was this possible? Well, he knew how it was physically possible, but statistically they had only had sex 4 times in 5 months and even then he had been fastidious about contraception; his mind raced through the opportunities like a high speed rolodex until, quite suddenly, it came to a halt at the night of 28th June. His Birthday.

They had. They bloody well had.

He remembered specifically because they had come home from the pub and done it on the floor in front of the television while ‘The Friday Night Project’ was on in the background. In fact, he remembered distinctly now that he’d look up at one point during the act to see a tight shot of Justin Lee Collins head and naked upper torso on the telly. Due to his proximity and size it had, for a moment or two anyway, seemed like Justin, Claire and Adam were involved in a threesome – and that, he remembered, had really amused him. Until, that is, they cut to an identically framed shot of Alan Carr and the joke had soured very quickly. Especially when Carr started, by sheer coincidence, looking down the barrel of the camera and running his tongue round his lips.

No – they’d done it all right.

This changed everything.

Adam was going to be a father.

It meant of course, on the bright side, that the previous concerns about his low sperm count were unfounded. In fact he would be writing to their snooty, patronising private doctor about that. “We aren’t all bulls” Mr. Rogan.” The doctor had said. Fuck you, pal, Adam thought. I’m like Butch Cassidy hitting a spinning coin in direct sunlight. How do you like them apples? He made a mental note to look up where the nearest sperm donation centre was - he had a responsibility to share this.

He looked at Claire with renewed interest.

There was still the option to go ahead with the dumping as planned of course, but he would be a social outcast. He could always start again - make new friends, find new pubs - but it was a lot of work, especially at his age. No, thinking about it, it was inconceivable that he finish it now. And when he went back through the ten points, he began to realise that all bunched up together they seemed pretty bad but, if he was being honest, they were tiny parts of their normal days – if they were even every day at all. No, now he came to think about it, if he used the ‘pros/cons’ system he developed for selecting mates instead of ‘10 pointer,’ Claire would probably be his best mate in the world by a mile. They liked the same things, they made each other laugh, when they did have sex it was quite nice, she was a brilliant cook, his mum and dad loved her and she was really good with Jerry, his handicapped brother – much better than Adam was in fact, much more natural.

Adam now looked at Claire with nothing short of wonder. A sudden rush of love and sickening guilt flooded every fibre of his being in equal, potent measures; he’d come so close to disaster. But now, saved by her intervention, all that mattered in the world to Adam was that he play this – and was seen to play this - perfectly. After all, hadn’t he, like all men over 30 been, in a way, rehearsing for this very moment? Wasn’t this, in fact, the only possible explanation for the incredible sales enjoyed of ‘The Dangerous Book For Boys’ versus the comparatively small number of new fathers with boys of the age the book was aimed at – 48% of the overall number of UK fathers with boys’ aged 6-11 (a statistic he had contacted the National Audit office specifically to extract after being unable to find it on their website.) Adam, like over a million others, had read that book cover to cover and in nine – no less than nine months time - he would be able to start putting all that knowledge to practical use.

He beamed at Claire. Big breath…

“That’s wonderful!” He cried.

She considered this for a moment then, gently placing the knife she had been cleaning her nails with down on the table said:

“It not yours.”

And with that, she left. Stunned, Adam watched her weaving through the restaurant toward the door, reaching for he phone as she did so.

Number One. He thought: she always had to have the last word.