Life by Numbers

Flash Fiction July, 27

She uses statistics to guide her life choices; if she wants to buy a car, look for a new pair of boots or decide where to work she has to first do her research. It became her habit a decade ago, a keen burning interest in educated guesses and piles of research lined with percentage figures and a hundred numbers stacked up.

She calls it the way to contention, buys her new car when the old one finally bites the dust for good; buys it after six weeks of travel by bus and train because she doesn’t want to just get the first thing she sees. It’s not a car she likes, but it’s a car that comes highly recommended by several different experts and she likes that aspect. Justifies it to everyone who asks and collects figures quoting all the good of it, memorizes them verbatim, complete with sources and cites them at will.

(Ignores all the details of the bad; it’s a good car, and it grows on her eventually)

Living her life by numbers has become both a science and an art, allowing her to fill in the blanks of something based on the numerical weight it carries when she does her diligent research. She overlooks the hours that she spends studying up on things, and promises herself that she’s securing ease and comfort in life.

Calculations weigh in too, scratched out on paper and tapped into a manual calculator because she likes the feel of it in her hand. At some point the numbers wear off so she opens the app in her phone, switches it to the scientific one that she barely knows how to work and uses that. She teaches herself to use it through a series of video tutorials and Google-searched how-to manuals.

The numbers fail her eventually though because she always forgets to look at the negative side of things, only ever preferring to find the positive percentages to all the research she hunts out. Some times she’s searching for reviews on a new item that she’s planning to buy and she promises herself this time will be different, that she will look at the negative reviews as well as the good.

(She never does)

The numbers begin to elude her because she spends too much time doubting things now that she realizes she’s not getting the full picture. She stands in a shop, stares at the shelves and dithers over what item to buy. Clasped in one hand she has a notebook with pages dedicated to the items she has listed, statistics she has compiled on how to find the best items, get the best value or the most popular, most trusted.

In the end she stuffs the notebook in her coat pocket, snatches the list from her bag and buys everything without looking at the numbers she’s spent so long lovingly going over.

(The world does not end)

Next time she throws caution to the wind, skates her fingers over a row of product before selecting one and moving on. Intuition, people call it. She’s never liked it as a reason to do anything, but it’s worth a try.

She wonders why she spent so long focusing on the numerical aspects. The boxes and bags of things are more than just numbers, she thinks.

She wonders, statistically speaking, how many people really trust the reviews they read. (Do they trust the good first and the bad second, or vice versa?)

The fascination with numbers lingers on and the habit remains, though lessened: when she encounters a new product the first thing she does is create a breakdown of it, good reviews against bad and popularity, then tries it against other products she has tried in the same field. Sometimes it works, and she finds something she likes.

(She decides that statistically speaking people want to see the good in things, and so they buy based on good rather than bad)

And finally she breaks the habit entirely, no longer weighing up products, but people. She researches them based on friends and creates a secretive ranking system, based on what she looks for in herself and tries to invent a formula for befriending the people she most likes. It’s a strange habit, one that she tries not to do too often but she tells herself that researching someone before is just good sense. There’s no point in befriending someone and finding there’s no common ground, she decides.

Calls it an economy of time and carries on with her graphs.

Others see what she’s doing, sometimes. In her free time she sketches out charts and maps and graphs, and leaves them unlabelled until she’s at home and it’s most secure. People watch over her shoulder and comment about how they couldn’t live a life of numbers, how they much prefer the liveliness of something else.

Numbers are lively, she thinks indignantly, but she’s aware of her reputation among the office as an unusual sort. She keeps this opinion to herself and makes her graphs. Content.

She likes the precision of it, how she can control the outcome just by changing a few variables. Her job itself tends to be unpredictable: she never quite knows what she will be dealing with until the day she arrives at work, and then she has to bend and adapt around it. This way, she likes to think, she can remain a little sane.

Numbers are clinical, logical: if something doesn’t add up she just erases it and starts again, repeats it until she gets her desired outcome.

(she spends years transferring the habit onto a dozen other topics)

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