Loving by Numbers by Robert Scott

‘Hey, Suzy. Do you know how long we’ve been going out?’

Al was lying on his front, his knees bent and brush-denim flares flapping away. His bare heels banged against each back pocket in time to the music; the smiley-face patch on his left, then the USA flag two-finger peace-sign on the right.

‘That depends on what you call “going out”, don’t you think?’ replied Suzy.

A gust of wind rushed through the leaves, drowning out the one line that Suzy could never catch. Her face squashed up.

‘Why does something like that always happen when that part comes around?’ she asked.

Al didn’t answer.

Suzy rolled onto her side and leant on her elbow, her hand propping up her head. Al’s hair was getting as long as hers. Maybe he was growing it over the summer so he would look good when he started uni. It fell around his face so she couldn’t see his eyes. His suntanned forearms were stopping the pages of the magazine from blowing about. He was lost in there.

‘Hey Al. You don’t need to read so much anymore, you know. You can give your eyes a rest now the exams are done.’ Al didn’t move, not even a flinch. ‘They could have the summer off. They’ll need a break before you hit uni.’ Nothing.

On the other side of the park a dog was running around the boundary of the cricket pitch. Some guy was throwing a ratty green tennis ball along the white line and the dog kept running after it, yelping like it had won a prize. It looked as if the guy was aiming to hit the line each time. Sometimes, he got close – just a couple of feet away – but mostly the ball bounced a few yards away on the rock-hard yellowing grass. The dog just ran after it wherever it went.

The song on the radio ended. A voice came from amongst the hair.

‘It says here: “Forget the seven-year itch. Recent research shows that most relationships last between eighteen and twenty-two months, with an average honeymoon period of less than nine.’’ Al was a clever bastard, but he’d never make it as a newsreader.

‘That’s a lot of numbers you’ve got there: seven, eighteen, twenty-two. What else?’

Al shook his hair back and looked round. ‘What are we on Suze? When was it we started? May? June?’ His face was all screwed up in the sun.

As Suzy reached over and switched off the tiny silver radio, it toppled onto the grass and came back on again. ‘Do you remember my first answer five minutes ago?’ She picked the radio up in both hands and killed it this time.

Al swivelled up and sat cross-legged with the magazine open in his lap. As he leant forward, it looked as if the Muhammad Ali on his yellow T-shirt was reading the article.

‘Sorry, Suze. No, what did you say?’

‘What is that magazine, anyway?’ she asked.

Al flipped it shut. ‘Truly You it’s called. It’s my sister’s. There’s an interview with …’

‘Those numbers you read out – the research – they’re just averages, right? It says “Most” blah blah, blah, eighteen; “average” blah, blah, blah, nine, right?’

‘Yeah, Suze. It’s research.’

‘They’re bullshit though, aren’t they, really? Most. Average. They’re bullshit words.’

‘No, Suzy. It’s not bull shit. It’s science. Facts. Numbers. Like I’m gonna study for three years.’

‘But those are just averages, Al. They’re not real people. Some guys will have bigger numbers, some lower. That’s really no use to anyone like us. We’re just one – well, two – you know. We’re not averages – we’re us.’

Al looked down at the pages, as if he was looking for answers. The guy and his dog appeared again. They were still going around the cricket pitch. Same routine. God, how many times do they do that? And what’s the deal with the line thing? Is it for the guy or the dog?

Al started up again, like a defence lawyer. ‘What about this bit: it says, “The major fault-lines”…’

‘Sounds like geography class,’ said Suzy.

‘The research also shows that the major fault-lines in the foundations of relationships start at month eleven.’

That’s it. Suzy snatched the magazine and sat over Al, pinning his arms down with her knees.

‘Get off, Suzy!’ Al squirmed and tried to get her off.

She held him more tightly until he lay still. She reached down and gently brushed the hair away from his face, like she was clearing sand off a precious buried statue. His skin felt soft and warm.

‘You kissed me on June 26th last year. You can work it all out from there maths boy.’


[Previously published by MuraInk, August 2019]


Robert Scott is writing a first novel. His story ‘The Mothership’ was shortlisted for the HISSAC 2019 short fiction competition. His short story ‘A Day out for Lucy’ is forthcoming on Nymphs Publications. His flash fiction ‘A 1980s Romance’ is forthcoming on Bandit Fiction. He’s on Twitter: twitter.com/RDScott9

Image: unsplash.com