There was something so satisfying, so infinitely pleasurable, about the little rows of ones and noughts, an entire life system mapped out in tens and hundreds. Only of course, they weren't tens and hundreds because there would be no such thing. No decimalisation, no kilometres or millilitres. Imagine, your whole life simplified to two little digits, one straight and hard, the other deliciously soft and rounded.

“We do overcomplicate things,” James said, warm under the ten tog duvet. Emma stiffened.

“What d'you mean, overcomplicate?”

“Can't we just keep it simple? I love you, you love me. The rest isn't important.”

She crept back in closer. “You're probably right.”

But it wasn't that simple. Not with ex-husbands and children and barristers and court orders and access and settlements to consider.

“Are you going to work all weekend?” said Emma, putting her head round the door of the study.

“I just want to get this finished.”

Numbers and codes and logical problems with sensible solutions. Okay, sometimes it didn't look obvious, sometimes the numbers scrambled themselves into tangled balls of wire wool, but always you could smooth them out, tease out the knots, unscramble the mess until the system worked perfectly, the little rows of noughts and ones marching past in perfect order.

“Sometimes I don't know how I feel about him.”

Dinner. A knife and a fork laid carefully either side of a plate. A hundred and one. Or five. James pushed a carrot baton closer to a pea.

“I mean, sometimes I hate him so much, I feel like I could murder him, but then, today, when he brought the kids round, I don't know, I looked at him and thought, I still love you.”

“But you love me.”

“I know. I do love you. It's complicated.”

Like little men, marching through his brain. An army of ones and noughts, one, one, left, right, left. Don't go too fast, or you'll all trip up. Keep it steady. Round and round and up and down, snaking backwards and forwards across the screen in his mind. Watch closely and the little round O's become a thousand little mouths, all open in a single, silent scream.

Home to a note on the kitchen table. 'Need some space. Will ring.' Punching the numbers on the mobile phone. Getting voicemail ten, twenty, thirty times, “Ems, I love you.” Each more desperate than the last. Ten shots of vodka, eighty degrees proof, then lying on the couch, trying to silence the voices in his head.

One nought, one one, a woman and a man.

About the author:

Katherine Pirnie started writing fiction nearly two years ago. She lives in a remote English farmhouse where she writes mostly in the mornings, in her pyjamas. In the past year, she has had stories published in UK litmags Seventh Quark and Aesthetica as well as on the internet.