Eli is under the kitchen table at a party. Not bored, but at a loss, mid-life bewilderment, albeit mid-20s life.

It’s a big table, but is not that comfortable underneath. Clean and dry, though.

The party ebbs and flows, but it’s a big house so the vibe does not focus on the kitchen. There are a few chairs, some crates of beer and cider, and lots of bags and coats.

He has a can of cider, opened, but just sipping very slowly. Not drunk, or even got a buzz going. His friends are getting very drunk and rowdy, mostly being not unpleasant. He does sense he might have to go and do some damage limitation, but not yet.

The music is not loud in the kitchen, much louder in lounge.

He is not sure why he ended up under the table, just sort of happened. This is part of the reason why he is bewildered, not drunk, but has ended up under the table for no good reason.

Someone drags a chair across, and sits at the table, kicks and nudges him in the back in the process. Eli apologises and moves over. There’s no reaction, the person stays in their chair, and doesn’t look.

Time passes, and it is getting quite hard to sip from the can since he can’t easily tip his head back and the can is part empty now. His back is sore, and the bum is very numb, so the decision is to crawl out into the party and apologise on behalf of the group of (now very drunk) friends he came in with.

The person is still there at the table, and has been tapping away on a laptop, all that time, quite vigorously, but he hadn’t heard it under the table. Which makes no sense. Enough cider has been consumed to brave the question, “Can I see under your laptop?”.

This breaks concentration of the young woman, “Where did you come from?”.

“Under the table where you kicked me a while ago”.

“Ah, I thought that was a pile of bags and coats. Any injuries?”.

“Not from that, but plenty from sitting under the table for too long.”

“Too long? Is there a just long enough?”.

“Depends. I’m thinking, now, for the first time about the topic, on if there was a purpose to being under the table.”

“Ah, that makes sense. And your purpose was?”

“Um, that I now realise I lack a purpose. I have reached a mid-life bewilderment.”

“OK. Realising this was your purpose?”

“Um, I didn’t start with it as my purpose, but it is what happened. I just suddenly pictured it, the purposelessness, and there it was, a thing.”

“Has it helped, sitting under the table?”

“Um, my self-awareness has presumably gone up a notch, although I’m not really happy about what it is I am now aware of, but I suppose all info is good info if you can make use it. Um, can I just say this is the longest conversation I have had with a female in like. Well, ever. Thank you. I guess I should also thank the half can of cider, and the fact that I had not drunk any more of it. So, can I?”

“Can you what?”

“Look under your laptop?”

“Oh yes. Ok. Here you go. Why?”

“Big rubber feet. Not seen such big ones before, on a laptop.”

“My brother told me it was ruggerised.”

“You mean ruggedised.”

“Do I? Ok. Maybe I do. So, half cider under the table boy, why does that matter to you?”

“Sorry, it’s just a habit, and yes I know it’s an annoying habit, probably a form of Tourettes. I seem unable to resist blurting out the correct spelling of words when someone get’s it wrong.”

“Ok, yes, that is an annoying habit, but that was not what I meant. Why did you want to see under my laptop in the first place?”

“Um, because you were typing pretty heavily and I didn’t hear you.”


“I should have heard you, through the table.”

“And you know this how?”

“Well, I should have. The conduction of your banging the keyboard should have been plenty loud enough for me to hear. To feel in fact, since my head was pretty much against the underside of the table, but I did not pick up any vibes.”

“And so the first thing you needed to say to someone whose legs you’ve been ogling for a good hour, was you type too heavily and what’s that underneath your laptop?”

“Um. Well, I didn’t look at your legs. I’ll go. Sorry.”

“You may stay, under the table half a can of cider eyes shut but ears open boy. I am not having a go. I think I have never met someone so awkward and annoying and distracting at the same time.”


“Yes, I was trying to work something out, and you have distracted me. I was not getting anywhere, but I was, well, trying I guess. Not going to get anywhere tonight. Might have to join the party after all.” She looks frustrated.

“On what?”

“Wine, probably”

“Um, no, what were you working on? Um. Sorry. I’m being nosey.”

“No, it’s alright. I brought it up. I am trying to get a picture from some numbers I have collected. I have borrowed my brother’s rubberised, ruggedised sorry, laptop, typed up some of the numbers into a spreadsheet, and now I’m trying to make graphs of it.”

“You typed some of the numbers in? How many are there?”

“70 thousand.”

“What? Um, sorry. I mean, that’s a lot. Why did you type them in, by hand?”

“Because I wrote them down by hand on lots of sheets of paper. Are you going to end this distraction by mocking me? I can get to annoyed really easily. This thing is really bugging me.”

“Um, no, sorry. No. Not, er, mocking. I, just being nosey, just asking. That’s another habit. Sorry.”

“OK. Maybe I do need the wine. I’ll pack up. Who do you know here?”

“Well, some of those shouters next door. And you.”

“Me? You know me? What do you know?”

“You are 5ft7. You run a lot. You are I would guess an older sister of someone here. Not the older brother who …”

“Stop.” She gets out a pen and paper. “Again.”

“Um. Sorry?”

“Say that list again”.

“Um, ok. 5ft7. Run a lot. Middle sister.”

“Keep going.”

“You have a job, rather than being a student on a course. You’re work place does not have an IT department. You work with people that you have to be polite to. Your work involves encouraging people. You measure them, over time. You’ve been measuring them for more than a year”

“OK cider boy. You are now taking the piss. I mean, what? I was wondering how long you’d keep the piss-take going.”

“Um, what. Sorry? But what piss-take? You asked me to.”

“Yes, and when it becomes clear someone has told you what I do, the joke is kind of over.”

“Um. Joke? No, but you asked me to? Sorry. I’ll go.”

“Ok, look. Sorry I snapped. Its a party. I should chill out. It was a good joke. When I find whoever it was who set me up I will, I don’t know, spill my drink on them or something. Be seeing you, cider boy.”

And that is that.

Eli doesn’t feel like staying after that, so slopes off home to his shared flat. Flat mates arrive several hours later. Loud. By all accounts it has been an ok party.


A week passed. Maybe two. No more parties, but work drifted on. The mid-20s-bewilderment still going strong. There she was again. Walking right towards him. Didn’t look angry, much, but was definitely heading for him.

“Hello cider boy.”

“Um, sorry. Hi.”

“Pub or cafe?”

“Um. What?”

“That pub, or that cafe. Your choice. I’m buying you a drink whilst I ask you a question. It can be beer or coffee. Or cider. Again, your choice.”

“You’re wearing the same shoes. And trouser things.”

“Yes, that may be true, but beer or coffee, or cider?”

“Um, beer. But not that pub, it’s too loud.”

“Lead on MacDuff.”

A pub and the first round of beers later, she took a deep breath and said, “I asked around at the party. I asked my younger brother, who was not in fact the one who lent me this ruggedised laptop (points at bag), if anyone knew you, at first no-one seemed to. And when I asked who was in on the joke, there was blank incomprehension, until I described what had gone down in the kitchen and then they just laughed at me and said ‘oh, you mean Eli’. When I explained further they just laughed some more, and said ‘Yes, that’s Eli’”. So, Eli, and my name is Rachel, by the way. What did happen in the kitchen? How did you do that?”

“Um. What? How did I do what?”

“You did the best act of cold reading I’ve ever seen. If that is what it was. It freaked me out. I felt like I had been stalked, or was being made fun of.”

“Oh, sorry. That wasn’t. I mean you asked me to.”

“Yes, ‘that’s Eli’. I did ask you to. And you told me. You told me lots of things, all of which were pretty much accurate and you had not, everyone assures me, been told any of it. I have them written down here, plus the last one which really got to me, and has been running round my head.”

“That was the easiest one.”

“Oh, come on. Right (slaps page down). Are you ok to go through this list and explain to me how you plucked these things out of the ether?”

“Um. OK. 5ft7. You are.”

“Yes, ok, that can be estimated by eye I guess, although I was sitting down. So, anyway. Hm. Ok. Next. Here I’ll turn the page round.”

“No, it’s ok. Next was ‘middle sister’.”

“You remember the whole list?”

“Yes. You did not seem to have any bag or coat with you. Everyone at the party had dumped their stuff in the kitchen. You hadn’t, so I assumed you were staying. You looked like an older version of one of the people I saw earlier whose flat it was.”

“Why was the brother who lent me the laptop older?”

“Ruggedised laptops are not common, and only fairly senior IT people in companies would be able to get hold of a spare one, and you look too young to have a younger brother that senior.”

“Nicely played. You got a compliment in there.”

“Um, it wasn’t, ok. You have a job. You are doing something substantive, and you are too old to be a student.”

“Oh well.”

“You run. Your shoes were for running, and expensive, and well worn.”

“No IT department. OK, let me guess. I was lent the laptop from outside work?”

“Yes. And you had been taking notes using pen and paper. You were polite to me, even when I kept annoying you.”

“It wasn’t annoyance. Oh, never mind. OK, so I am polite with people. Go on.”

“You encourage people, like you did with me, and are doing.”

“Hm. Let’s see. Measure, yes, well, maybe I told you that, but over a year? Really? I mean. Hm. Sorry. Go on.”

“I guessed 10 numbers per hour, for an 8 hour day, for 6 days a week, call it 500 numbers per week, double that because you seem to work hard, so call it one thousand. That’s 50 thousand for one year. You said 70 thousand. So that felt like more than a year of numbers.”

“OK, So, all that being said, and say I grudgingly admit that most of those points are pretty much on the money, what is my actual job?”

“If all those guesses were right, I would say you are a personal trainer, qualified a couple of years ago. Nothing else really fits.”

“Hm. OK. I’m caught between feeling like a fool and feeling freaked out. Would you like another drink?”

“Yes, but it is my turn. Please? What would you like? Same again?”

“OK, another half of whatever that was, unless yours was better?”

“Mine is the best beer this pub serves.”

“You’ve deduced that too?”

“Well, we’ve tried them all, if that’s what you mean. It is the best one. On tap, anyway.”

“Go on then. I am here to learn and I might as well also learn what the best beer in this pub tastes like.”

They chat further. Eli asked about the problem, and Rachel brought out laptop, shows the spreadsheet, one tab per person. They are numbers from achievements of different clients on the sets of equipment over time. The frustration is that Rachel can sense there is a pattern to how people are improving, regressing, improving on different pieces of apparatus at different times in their program. Rachel’s ‘encouraging’ was always reactive. She could not anticipate some important shifts in motivation. It was some steps forward and a few back, every day, every week.

The clients were improving their fitness and strength, but very slowly, and inconsistently. Hence the urge to look at all the numbers together, and not just for one client. Hence the laptop. But no eureka moment.

“Have you cleansed your data? Have you tried principal components analysis?”

“Well. No. I typed it in so it should be clean.”

“No, I meant have you checked the numbers make sense and there are no typos?”

“I typed them in very carefully.”

“OK, so that’s a no. It is possible to set up some checks to look for bad numbers”.

In strict XP mode, Eli does not touch the keyboard and instead describes how Rachel can put the checks in place. And just like that, Eli and Rachel are a team.

The same thing happens with PCA.

With more after work pub sessions over the weeks, sampling the best beer in several pubs, with the laptop in hand, with the structure of Rachel’s data challenge, her patience with Mr.Awkward, and his happiness to just be talking about interesting stuff with an actual female who seemed interested in the stuff he found interesting, the team dynamic, Eli and Rachel became an emergent item. No one moment was the moment it happened.


Under the table
(from Emus All The Way Down)
by Chris Gathercole
http://stories.upthebuzzard.com, RSS
published: 30 September 2017
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.