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Ebook The Rosie Project (a Novel) By Graeme Simsion | Epub, Mobi, Text

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  1. mukul
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    I sat with a newspaper in the University Club reading room for the third day in succession. I wanted this to look accidental. From my position, I could observe the line at the counter where Rosie sometimes purchased her lunch, even though she was not qualified to be a member. Gene had given me this information, reluctantly.

    “Don, I think it’s time to leave this one alone. You’re going to get hurt.”

    I disagreed. I am very good at dealing with emotions. I was prepared for rejection.

    Rosie walked in and joined the line. I got up and slipped in behind her.

    “Don,” she said. “What a coincidence.”

    “I have news on the project.”

    “There’s no project. I’m sorry about . . . last time you saw me. Shit! You embarrass me and I say sorry.”

    “Apology accepted,” I said. “I need you to come to New York with me.”

    “What? No. No, Don. Absolutely not.”

    We had reached the cash register and failed to select any food and had to return to the end of the line. By the time we sat down, I had explained the Asperger’s research project. “I had to invent an entire proposal—three hundred and seventy-one pages—for this one professor. I’m now an expert on the savant syndrome.”

    It was difficult to decode Rosie’s reaction, but she appeared to be more amazed than impressed.

    “An unemployed expert if you get caught,” she said. “I gather he’s not my father.”

    “Correct.” I had been relieved when Lefebvre’s sample had tested negative, even after the considerable effort that had been required to obtain it. I had already made plans, and a positive test would have disrupted them.

    “There are now only three possibilities left. Two are in New York, and both refused to participate in the study. Hence, I have categorized them as difficult, and hence I need you to come to New York with me.”

    “New York! Don, no. No, no, no, no. You’re not going to New York and neither am I.”

    I had considered the possibility that Rosie would refuse. But Daphne’s legacy had been sufficient to purchase two tickets.

    “If necessary I will go alone. But I’m not confident I can handle the social aspects of the collection.”

    Rosie shook her head. “This is seriously crazy.”

    “You don’t want to know who they are?” I said. “Two of the three men who may be your father?”

    “Go on.”

    “Isaac Esler. Psychiatrist.”

    I could see Rosie digging deep into her memory.

    “Maybe. Isaac. I think so. Maybe a friend of someone. Shit, it’s so long ago.” She paused. “And?”

    “Solomon Freyberg. Surgeon.”

    “No relation to Max Freyberg?”

    “Maxwell is his middle name.”

    “Shit. Max Freyberg. He’s gone to New York now? No way. You’re saying I’ve got one chance in three of being his daughter. And two chances in three of being Jewish.”

    “Assuming your mother told the truth.”

    “My mother wouldn’t have lied.”

    “How old were you when she died?”

    “Ten. I know what you’re thinking. But I know I’m right.”

    It was obviously not possible to discuss this issue rationally. I moved to her other statement.

    “Is there a problem with being Jewish?”

    “Jewish is fine. Freyberg is not fine. But if it’s Freyberg, it would explain why my mother kept mum. No pun intended. You’ve never heard of him?”

    “Only as a result of this project.”

    “If you followed football, you would have.”

    “He was a footballer?”

    “A club president. And well-known jerk. What about the third person?”

    “Geoffrey Case.”

    “Oh my God.” Rosie went white. “He died.”

    “Correct.”

    “Mum talked about him a lot. He had an accident. Or some illness—maybe cancer. Something bad, obviously. But I didn’t think he was in her year.”

    It struck me now that we had been extremely careless in the way we had addressed the project, primarily because of the misunderstandings that had led to temporary abandonments followed by restarts. If we had worked through the names at the outset, such obvious possibilities would not have been overlooked.

    “Do you know any more about him?”

    “No. Mum was really sad about what happened to him. Shit. It makes total sense, doesn’t it? Why she wouldn’t tell me.”

    It made no sense to me.

    “He was from the country,” Rosie said. “I think his father had a practice out in the sticks.”

    The website had provided the information that Geoffrey Case was from Moree in northern New South Wales, but this hardly explained why Rosie’s mother would have hidden his identity if he was the father. His only other distinguishing feature was that he was dead, so perhaps this was what Rosie was referring to—her mother’s not wanting to tell her that her father had died. But surely Phil could have been given this information to pass on when Rosie was old enough to deal with it.

    While we were talking, Gene entered. With Bianca! They waved to us, then went upstairs to the private dining section. Incredible.

    “Gross,” said Rosie.

    “He’s researching attraction to different nationalities.”

    “Right. I just pity his wife.”

    I told Rosie that Gene and Claudia had an open marriage.

    “Lucky her,” said Rosie. “Are you planning to offer the same deal to the winner of the Wife Project?”

    “Of course,” I said.

    “Of course,” said Rosie.

    “If that was what she wanted,” I added, in case Rosie had misinterpreted.

    “You think that’s likely?”

    “If I find a partner, which seems increasingly unlikely, I wouldn’t want a sexual relationship with anyone else. But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.”

    “Tell me something I don’t know,” said Rosie, for no obvious reason.

    I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact. “Ah . . . the testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.”

    It was annoying that the first thing that occurred to me was related to sex. As a psychology graduate, Rosie may have made some sort of Freudian interpretation. But she looked at me and shook her head. Then she laughed. “I can’t afford to go to New York. But you’re not safe by yourself.”

    • • •

    There was a phone number listed for an M. Case in Moree. The woman who answered told me that Dr. Case Sr., whose name was confusingly also Geoffrey, had passed away some years ago and that his widow, Margaret, had been in the local nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease for the past two years. This was good news. Better that the mother was alive than the father: there is seldom any doubt about the identity of the biological mother.

    I could have asked Rosie to come with me, but she had already agreed to the New York visit and I did not want to create an opportunity for a social error that might jeopardize the trip. I knew from my experience with Daphne that it would be easy to collect a DNA sample from a person with Alzheimer’s disease. I rented a car and packed swabs, cheek scraper, ziplock bags, and tweezers. I also took a university business card from before I was promoted to associate professor. Doctor Don Tillman receives superior service in medical facilities.

    Moree is 1,230 kilometers from Melbourne. I collected the rental car at 3:43 p.m. after my last lecture on Friday. The Internet route planner estimated fourteen hours and thirty-four minutes of driving each way.

    When I was a university student, I had regularly driven to and from my parents’ home in Shepparton and found that the long journeys had a similar effect to my market jogs. Research has shown that creativity is enhanced when performing straightforward mechanical tasks such as jogging, cooking, and driving. Unobstructed thinking time is always useful.

    I took the Hume Highway north and used the precise speed indication on the GPS to set the cruise control to the exact speed limit, rather than relying on the artificially inflated figure provided by the speedometer. This would save me some minutes without the risk of lawbreaking. Alone in the car, I had the feeling that my whole life had been transformed into an adventure, which would culminate in the trip to New York.

    I had decided not to play podcasts on the journey in order to reduce cognitive load and encourage my unconscious to process its recent inputs. But after three hours, I found myself becoming bored. I take little notice of my surroundings beyond the need to avoid accidents, and in any case the freeway was largely devoid of interest. The radio would be as distracting as podcasts, so I decided to purchase my first CD since the Bach experiment. The gas station just short of the New South Wales border had a limited selection, but I recognized a few albums from my father’s collection. I settled on Jackson Browne’sRunning on Empty. With the repeat button on, it became the soundtrack to my driving and reflections over three days. Unlike many people, I am very comfortable with repetition. It was probably fortunate that I was driving alone.

    With my unconscious failing to deliver anything, I attempted an objective analysis of the state of the Father Project.

    What did I know?

    1. I had tested forty-one of forty-four candidates. (And also several of those of incompatible ethnic appearance.) None had matched. There was the possibility that one of the seven Asperger’s survey respondents who had returned samples had sent someone else’s cheek scraping. I considered it unlikely. It would be easier simply not to participate, as Isaac Esler and Max Freyberg had done.

    2. Rosie had identified four candidates as being known to her mother—Eamonn Hughes, Peter Enticott, Alan McPhee, and, recently, Geoffrey Case. She had considered the first three as high probability, and Geoffrey Case would also qualify for this category. He was now clearly the most likely candidate.

    3. The entire project was reliant on Rosie’s mother’s testimony that she had performed the critical sexual act at the graduation party. It was possible that she had lied because the biological father was someone less prestigious. This would explain her failure to reveal his identity.

    4. Rosie’s mother had chosen to remain with Phil. This was my first new thought. It supported the idea that thebiological father was less appealing or perhaps unavailable for marriage. It would be interesting to know whether Esler or Freyberg were already married or with partners at that time.

    5. Geoffrey Case’s death occurred within months of Rosie’s birth and presumably the realization that Phil was not the father. It might have taken some time for Rosie’s mother to organize a confirmatory DNA test, by which time Geoffrey Case might have been dead and hence unavailable as an alternative partner.

    This was a useful exercise. The project status was clearer in my mind, I had added some minor insights, and I was certain that my journey was justified by the probability that Geoffrey Case was Rosie’s father.

    I decided to drive until I was tired—a radical decision, as I would normally have scheduled my driving time according to published studies on fatigue and booked accommodation accordingly. But I had been too busy to plan. Nevertheless, I stopped for rest breaks every two hours and found myself able to maintain concentration. At 11:43 p.m., I detected tiredness, but rather than sleep I stopped at a gas station, refueled, and ordered four double espressos. I opened the sunroof and turned up the CD player volume to combat fatigue, and at 7:19 a.m. on Saturday, with the caffeine still running all around my brain, Jackson Browne and I pulled into Moree.
     
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    I had set the GPS to take me to the nursing home, where I introduced myself as a family friend.

    “I’m afraid she won’t know you,” said the nurse. This was the assumption I had made, although I was prepared with a plausible story if necessary. The nurse took me to a single room with its own bathroom. Mrs. Case was asleep.

    “Shall I wake her?” asked the nurse.

    “No, I’ll just sit here.”

    “I’ll leave you to it. Call if you need anything.”

    I thought it would look odd if I left too quickly, so I sat beside the bed for a while. I guessed Margaret Case was about eighty, much the same age as Daphne had been when she moved to the nursing home. Given the story Rosie had told me, it was very possible that I was looking at her grandmother.

    As Margaret Case remained still and silent in her single bed, I thought about the Father Project. It was only possible because of technology. For all but the last few years of human existence, the secret would have died with Rosie’s mother.

    I believe it is the duty of science, of humanity, to discover as much as we can. But I am a physical scientist, not a psychologist.

    The woman in front of me was not a fifty-four-year-old male medical practitioner who might have run from his parental responsibilities. She was totally helpless. It would be easy to take a hair sample, or to swab her toothbrush, but it felt wrong.

    For these reasons, and for others that I did not fully grasp at the time, I decided not to collect a sample.

    Then Margaret Case woke up. She opened her eyes and looked directly at me.

    “Geoffrey?” she said, quietly but very clearly. Was she asking for her husband or for her long-dead son? There was a time when I would have replied without thinking, “They’re dead,” not out of malice but because I am wired to respond to the facts before others’ feelings. But something had changed in me, and I managed to suppress the statement.

    She must have realized that I was not the person she had hoped to see, and began crying. She was not making any noise, but there were tears on her cheeks. Automatically, because I had experienced this situation with Daphne, I pulled out my handkerchief and wiped away the tears. She closed her eyes again. But fate had delivered me my sample.

    I was exhausted, and by the time I walked out of the nursing home, there were tears in my own eyes from lack of sleep. It was early autumn, and this far north the day was already warm. I lay under a tree and fell asleep.

    I woke to see a male doctor in a white coat standing over me, and for a frightening moment I was taken back to the bad times of twenty years ago. It was only momentary; I quickly remembered where I was, and he was only checking to see that I was not ill or dead. I was not breaking any rules. It was four hours and eight minutes since I had left Margaret Case’s room.

    The incident was a timely reminder of the dangers of fatigue, and I planned the return trip more carefully. I scheduled a five-minute break every hour, and at 7:06 p.m. I stopped at a motel, ate an overcooked steak, and went to bed. The early night enabled a 5:00 a.m. start on the Sunday.

    The highway bypasses Shepparton, but I took the turnoff and went to the city center. I decided not to visit my parents. The extra sixteen kilometers involved in driving the full distance to their house and back to the highway would add a dangerous unplanned increment to what was already a demanding journey, but I did want to see the town.

    I drove past Tillman Hardware. It was closed on Sunday, and my father and brother would be at home with my mother. My father was probably straightening pictures, and my mother asking my brother to clear his construction project from the dining table so she could set it for Sunday dinner. I had not been back since my sister’s funeral.

    The gas station was open. so I was able to fill the tank. A man of about forty-five, BMI about thirty, was behind the counter. As I approached, I recognized him and revised his age to thirty-nine. He had lost hair, grown a beard, and gained weight, but he was obviously Gary Parkinson, who had been at high school with me. He had wanted to join the army and travel. He had apparently not realized this ambition. I was reminded how lucky I was to have been able to leave and reinvent my life.

    “Hey, Don,” he said, obviously also recognizing me.

    “Greetings, GP.”

    He laughed. “You haven’t changed.”

    • • •

    It was getting dark on Sunday evening when I arrived back in Melbourne and returned the rental car. I left the Jackson Browne CD in the player.

    Two thousand, four hundred and seventy-two kilometers, according to the GPS. The handkerchief was safe in a ziplock bag, but its existence did not change my decision not to test Margaret Case.

    We would still have to go to New York.

    • • •

    I met Rosie at the airport. She remained uncomfortable about my purchasing her ticket, so I told her she could pay me back by selecting some Wife Project applicants for me to date.

    “Fuck you,” she said.

    It seemed we were friends again.

    I could not believe how much baggage Rosie had brought. I had told her to pack as lightly as possible, but she exceeded the seven-kilogram limit for carry-on luggage. Fortunately I was able to transfer some of her excess equipment to my bag. I had packed my ultralight PC, toothbrush, razor, spare shirt, gym shorts, change of underwear, and (annoyingly) bulky parting gifts from Gene and Claudia. I had only been allowed a week’s leave, and even then, the Dean had made it difficult. It was increasingly obvious that she was looking for a reason to get rid of me.

    Rosie had never been to the United States but was familiar with international airport procedures. She was highly impressed by the special treatment that I received. We checked in at the service desk, where there was no line, and were accompanied through security to the business-class lounge, despite traveling in economy class.

    As we drank champagne in the lounge, I explained that I had earned special privileges by being particularly vigilant and observant of rules and procedures on previous flights, and by making a substantial number of helpful suggestions regarding check-in procedures, flight scheduling, pilot training, and ways in which security systems might be subverted. I was no longer expected to offer advice, having contributed “enough for a lifetime of flying.”

    “Here’s to being special,” said Rosie. “So, what’s the plan?”

    Organization is obviously critical when traveling, and I had an hour-by-hour plan (with hours subdivided as necessary) replacing my usual weekly schedule. It incorporated the appointments that Rosie had made to meet the two father candidates—Esler the psychiatrist and Freyberg the cosmetic surgeon. Amazingly, she had made no other plans beyond arriving at the airport to meet me. At least it meant that there were no incompatible schedules to reconcile.

    I opened the schedule on my laptop and began outlining it to Rosie. I had not even completed my list of activities for the flight when she interrupted.

    “Fast forward, Don. What are we doing in New York? Between Saturday dinner at the Eslers and Freyberg on Wednesday—which is evening, right? We have four whole days of New York City in between.”

    “Saturday, after dinner, walk to the Marcy Avenue subway station and take the J, M, or Z train to Delancey Street, change to the F train—”

    “Overview, overview. Sunday to Wednesday. One sentence per day. Leave out eating, sleeping, and travel.”

    That made it easy. “Sunday, Museum of Natural History; Monday, Museum of Natural History; Tuesday, Museum of Natural History; Wednesday—”

    “Stop, wait! Don’t tell me Wednesday. Keep it as a surprise.”

    “You’ll probably guess.”

    “Probably,” said Rosie. “How many times have you been to New York?”

    “This is my third.”

    “And I’m guessing this is not going to be your first visit to the museum.”

    “No.”

    “What did you think I was going to do while you were at the museum?”

    “I hadn’t considered it. I presume you’ve made independent plans for your time in New York.”

    “You presume wrong,” said Rosie. “We are going to see New York. Sunday and Monday, I’m in charge. Tuesday and Wednesday it’s your turn. If you want me to spend two days at the museum, I’ll spend two days at the museum. With you. But Sunday and Monday, I’m the tour guide.”

    “But you don’t know New York.”

    “Nor do you.” Rosie took our champagne glasses to the bar to top them up. It was only 9:42 a.m. in Melbourne, but I was already on New York time. While she was gone, I flipped open my computer again and connected to the Museum of Natural History site. I would have to replan my visits.

    Rosie returned and immediately invaded my personal space. She shut the lid of the computer! Incredible. If I had done that to a student playing Angry Birds, I would have been in the Dean’s office the next day. In the university hierarchy, I am an associate professor and Rosie is a PhD student. I was entitled to some respect.

    “Talk to me,” she said. “We’ve had no time to talk about anything except DNA. Now we’ve got a week, and I want to know who you are. And if you’re going to be the guy who tells me who my father is, you should know who I am.”

    In less than fifteen minutes, my entire schedule had been torn apart, shattered, rendered redundant. Rosie had taken over.

    An escort from the lounge took us to the plane for the fourteen-and-a-half-hour flight to Los Angeles. As a result of my special status, Rosie and I had two seats in a row of three. I am only placed next to other passengers when flights are full.

    “Start with your childhood,” said Rosie.

    All it needed was for her to turn on the overhead light for the scenario of interrogation to be complete. I was a prisoner, so I negotiated—and made escape plans.

    “We have to get some sleep. It’s evening in New York.”

    “It’s seven o’clock. Who goes to bed at seven? Anyway, I won’t be able to sleep.”

    “I’ve brought sleeping pills.”

    Rosie was amazed that I would use sleeping pills. She thought I would have some objection to chemicals. She was right about not knowing much about me. We agreed that I would summarize my childhood experiences—which, given her background in psychology, she would doubtless consider hugely significant—eat dinner, take the sleeping pills, and sleep. On the pretext of visiting the bathroom, I asked the cabin manager to bring our dinner as quickly as possible.
     
  3. mukul
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    Telling Rosie my life story was not difficult. Every psychologist and psychiatrist I have seen has asked for a summary, so I have the essential facts clear in my mind.

    My father owns a hardware store in a regional city. He lives there with my mother and my younger brother, who will probably take over when my father retires or dies. My older sister died at the age of forty as a result of medical incompetence. When it happened, my mother did not get out of bed for two weeks, except to attend the funeral. I was very sad about my sister’s death. Yes, I was angry too.

    My father and I have an effective but not emotional relationship. This is satisfactory to both of us. My mother is very caring but I find her stifling. My brother does not like me. I believe this is because he saw me as a threat to his dream of inheriting thehardware store and now does not respect my alternative choice. The hardware store may well have been a metaphor for the affection of our father. If so, my brother won, but I am not unhappy about losing. I do not see my family very often. My mother calls me on Sundays.

    I had an uneventful time at school. I enjoyed the science subjects. I did not have many friends and was briefly the object of bullying. I was the top student in the school in all subjects except English, where I was the top boy. At the end of my schooling I left home to attend university. I originally enrolled in computer science but on my twenty-first birthday made a decision to change to genetics. This may have been the result of a subconscious desire to remain a student, but it was a logical choice. Genetics was a burgeoning field. There is no family history of mental illness.

    I turned toward Rosie and smiled. I had already told her about my sister and the bullying. The statement about mental illness was correct, unless I included myself in the definition of family. Somewhere in a medical archive is a twenty-year-old file with my name and the words “depression, bipolar disorder? OCD?” and “schizophrenia?” The question marks are important: beyond the obvious observation that I was depressed, no definitive diagnosis was ever made, despite attempts by the psychiatric profession to fit me into a simplistic category. I now believe that virtually all my problems could be attributed to my brain’s being configured differently from those of the majority of humans. All the psychiatric symptoms were a result of this difference, not of any underlying disease. Of course I was depressed: I lacked friends, sex, and a social life, because I was incompatible with other people. My intensity and focus were misinterpreted as mania. And my concern with organization was labeled as obsessive-compulsive disorder. Julie’s Asperger’s kids might well face similar problems in their lives. However, they had been labeled with an underlying syndrome, and perhaps the psychiatric profession would be intelligent enough to apply Occam’s razor and see that the problems they might face would be largely due to their Asperger’s brain configuration.

    “What happened on your twenty-first birthday?” asked Rosie.

    Had Rosie read my thoughts? What happened on my twenty-first birthday was that I decided that I needed to take a new direction in my life, because any change was better than staying in the pit of depression. I actually visualized it as a pit.

    I told Rosie part of the truth. I don’t generally celebrate birthdays, but my family had insisted in this case and had invited numerous friends and relatives to compensate for my own lack of friends.

    My uncle made a speech. I understood that it was traditional to make fun of the guest of honor, but my uncle became so encouraged by his ability to provoke laughter that he kept going, telling story after story. I was shocked to discover that he knew some extremely personal facts, and I realized that my mother must have shared them with him. She was pulling at his arm, trying to get him to stop, but he ignored her and did not stop until he noticed that she was crying, by which time he had completed a detailed exposition of my faults and of the embarrassment and pain that they had caused. The core of the problem, it seemed, was that I was a stereotypical computer geek. So I decided to change.

    “To a genetics geek,” said Rosie.

    “That wasn’t exactly my goal.” But it was obviously the outcome. And I got out of the pit to work hard in a new discipline. Where was dinner?

    “Tell me more about your father.”

    “Why?” I wasn’t actually interested in why. I was doing the social equivalent of saying “over” to put the responsibility back on Rosie. It was a trick suggested by Claudia for dealing with difficult personal questions. I recalled her advice not to overuse it. But this was the first occasion.

    “I guess because I want to see if your dad is the reason you’re fucked-up.”

    “I’m not fucked-up.”

    “Okay, not fucked-up. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be judgmental. But you’re not exactly average,” said Rosie, psychology PhD candidate.

    “Agreed. Does ‘fucked-up’ mean ‘not exactly average’?”

    “Bad choice of words. Start again. I guess I’m asking because my father is the reason that I’m fucked-up.”

    An extraordinary statement. With the exception of her careless attitude to health, Rosie had never exhibited any sign of brain malfunction.

    “What are the symptoms of being fucked-up?”

    “I’ve got crap in my life that I wish I hadn’t. And I’m not good at dealing with it. Am I making sense?”

    “Of course,” I said. “Unwanted events occur and you lack certain skills for minimizing the personal impact. I thought when you said ‘fucked-up’ that there was some problem with your personality that you wanted to rectify.”

    “No, I’m okay with being me.”

    “So what is the nature of the damage caused by Phil?”

    Rosie did not have an instant reply to this critical question. Perhaps this was a symptom of being fucked-up. Finally she spoke. “Jesus, what’s taking them so long with dinner?”

    Rosie went to the bathroom, and I took the opportunity to unwrap the presents that Gene and Claudia had given me. They had driven me to the airport, so it was impossible not to accept the packages. It was fortunate that Rosie was not watching when I opened them. Gene’s present was a new book of sexual positions and he had inscribed it: “In case you run out of ideas.” He had drawn the gene symbol that he uses as his signature underneath. Claudia’s present was not embarrassing but was irrelevant to the trip—a pair of jeans and a shirt. Clothes are always useful, but I had already packed a spare shirt and did not see a need for additional pants in only eight days.

    Gene had again misconstrued the current nature of my relationship with Rosie, but this was understandable. I could not explain the real purpose for taking Rosie to New York, and Gene had made an assumption consistent with his worldview. On the way to the airport, I had asked Claudia for advice on dealing with so much time in the company of one person.

    “Remember to listen,” said Claudia. “If she asks you an awkward question, ask her why she’s asking. Turn it back to her. If she’s a psychology student, she’ll love talking about herself. Take notice of your emotions as well as logic. Emotions have their own logic. And try to go with the flow.”

    In fact, Rosie spent most of the remainder of the flight to Los Angeles either sleeping or watching films, but confirmed—twice—that I had not offended her and she just needed time out.

    I did not complain.
     
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    We survived US Immigration. Previous experience had taught me not to offer observations or suggestions, and I did not need to use my letter of recommendation from David Borenstein at Columbia University characterizing me as a sane and competent person. Rosie seemed extremely nervous, even to someone who is poor at judging emotional states, and I was worried that she would cause suspicion and that we would be refused entry for no justifiable reason, as had happened to me on a previous occasion.

    The official asked, “What do you do?” and I said, “Genetics researcher,” and he said, “Best in the world?” and I said, “Yes.” We were through. Rosie almost ran toward Customs and then to the exit. I was several meters behind, carrying both bags. Something was obviously wrong.

    I caught up to her outside the automatic doors, reaching into her handbag.

    “Cigarette,” she said. She lit a cigarette and took a long drag. “Just don’t say anything, okay? If I ever needed a reason to give up, I’ve got one now. Eighteen and a half hours. Fuck.”

    It was fortunate that Rosie had told me not to say anything. I remained silent but shocked at the impact of addiction on her life.

    She finished her cigarette and we headed to the bar. It was only 7:48 a.m. in Los Angeles, but we could be on Melbourne time until our arrival in New York.

    “What was the deal about ‘best geneticist on the planet’?”

    I explained that I had a special O-1 Visa for Aliens of Extraordinary Ability. I had needed a visa after the occasion when I was refused entry, and this was deemed the safest choice. O-1 visas were quite rare and yes was the correct answer to any question about the extraordinariness of my abilities. Rosie found the word alien amusing. Correction, hilarious.

    • • •

    Since we did not have bags checked, and the immigration process had proceeded smoothly, I was able to implement my best-case alternative and we caught an earlier flight to New York. I had made plans for the time gained through this maneuver.

    At JFK, I steered Rosie toward the AirTrain. “We have two subway options.”

    “I suppose you’ve memorized the timetable,” said Rosie.

    “Not worth the effort. I just know the lines and stations we need for our journeys.” I love New York. The layout is so logical, at least uptown from Fourteenth Street.

    When Rosie had telephoned, Isaac Esler’s wife had been very positive about some contact from Australia and news from thereunion. On the subway, Rosie said, “You’ll need an alias. In case Esler recognizes your name from the Asperger’s survey.”

    I had already considered this. “Austin,” I said. “From Austin Powers. International Man of Mystery.” Rosie thought this was hilarious. I had made a successful, deliberate joke that was not related to exhibiting some quirk in my personality. A memorable moment.

    “Profession?” she asked.

    “Hardware store owner.” The idea appeared in my brain spontaneously.

    “Okaaaaaay,” said Rosie. “Right.”

    We took the E train to Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street and headed uptown.

    “Where’s the hotel?” Rosie asked, as I steered us toward Madison Avenue.

    “Lower East Side. But we have to shop first.”

    “Fuck, Don, it’s after five thirty. We’re due at the Eslers’ at seven thirty. We don’t have time for shopping. I need time to change.”

    I looked at Rosie. She was wearing jeans and shirt—conventional attire. I could not see the problem, but we had time. “I hadn’t planned to go to the hotel before dinner, but since we arrived early—”

    “Don, I’ve been flying for twenty-four hours. We are doing nothing more with your schedule until I’ve checked it for craziness.”

    “I’ve scheduled four minutes for the transaction,” I said. We were already outside the Hermès store, which my research had identified as the world’s best scarf shop. I walked in and Rosie followed.

    The shop was empty except for us. Perfect.

    “Don, you’re not exactly dressed for this.”

    Dressed for shopping! I was dressed for traveling, eating, socializing, museum visiting—and shopping: running shoes, cargo pants, T-shirt, and the sweater knitted by my mother. This was not Le Gavroche. It seemed highly unlikely that they would refuse to participate in a commercial exchange on the basis of my costume. I was right.

    Two women stood behind the counter, one (age approximately fifty-five, BMI approximately nineteen) wearing rings on all eight fingers, and the other (age approximately twenty, BMI approximately twenty-two) wearing huge purple glasses creating the impression of a human ant. They were very formally dressed. I initiated the transaction.

    “I require a high-quality scarf.”

    Ring Woman smiled. “I can help you with that. It’s for the lady?”

    “No. For Claudia.” I realized that this was not helpful but was not sure how to elaborate.

    “And Claudia is”—she made circles with her hand—“what age?”

    “Forty-one years, three hundred and fifty-six days.”

    “Ah,” said Ring Woman, “so we have a birthday coming up.”

    “Just Claudia.” My birthday was thirty-two days away, so it surely did not qualify as “coming up.” “Claudia wears scarves, even in hot weather, to cover lines on her neck that she considers unattractive. So the scarf does not need to be functional, only decorative.”

    Ring Woman produced a scarf. “What do you think of this?”

    It was remarkably light—and would offer almost zero protection against wind and cold. But it was certainly decorative, as specified.

    “Excellent. How much?” We were running to schedule.

    “This one is twelve hundred dollars.”

    I opened my wallet and extracted my credit card.

    “Whoa whoa whoa,” said Rosie. “I think we’d like to see what else you have before we rush into anything.”

    I turned to Rosie. “Our four minutes is almost up.”

    Ring Woman put three more scarves on the counter. Rosie looked at one. I copied her, looking at another. It seemed nice. They all seemed nice. I had no framework for discrimination.

    It continued. Ring Woman kept throwing more scarves on the counter and Rosie and I looked at them. Ant Woman came to help. I finally identified one that I could comment intelligently on.

    “This scarf has a fault! It’s not symmetrical. Symmetry is a key component of human beauty.”

    Rosie had a brilliant response. “Maybe the scarf’s lack of symmetry will highlight Claudia’s symmetry.”

    Ant Woman produced a pink scarf with fluffy bits. Even I could see that Claudia would not approve and dropped it immediately on the reject pile.

    “What’s wrong with it?” said Rosie.

    “I don’t know. It’s unsuitable.”

    “Come on,” she said, “you can do better than that. Imagine who might wear it.”

    “Barbara Cartland,” said Ring Woman.

    I was not familiar with this name, but the answer suddenly came to me. “The Dean! At the ball.”

    Rosie burst out laughing. “Corrrrr-ect.” She pulled another scarf from the pile. “What about this one?” It was virtually transparent.

    “Julie,” I said automatically, then explained to Rosie and the two women about the Asperger’s counselor and her revealing costume. Presumably she would not want a scarf to reduce its impact.

    “This one?”

    It was a scarf that I had quite liked because of its bright colors, but Rosie had rejected it as too “loud.”

    “Bianca.”

    “Exactly.” Rosie had not stopped laughing. “You know more about clothes than you think you do.”

    Ant Woman produced a scarf covered in pictures of birds. I picked it up; the pictures were remarkably accurate. It was quite beautiful.

    “Birds of the world,” Ant Woman said.

    “Oh my God, no!” said Rosie. “Not for Claudia.”

    “Why not? It’s extremely interesting.”

    “Birds of the world! Think about it. Gene.”

    Scarves were being sourced from multiple locations, piling rapidly, being evaluated, tossed aside. It was happening so quickly that I was reminded of the Great Cocktail Night, except that we were the customers. I wondered if the women were enjoying their work as much as I had.

    In the end I left the choice to Rosie. She chose the first scarf that they had shown us.

    As we walked out of the store, Rosie said, “I think I just wasted an hour of your life.”

    “No, no, the outcome was irrelevant,” I said. “It was so entertaining.”

    “Well,” said Rosie, “any time you need entertaining, I could use a pair of Manolo Blahniks.” From the word pair, I guessed that she was referring to shoes.

    “Do we have time?” We had already used the time that Rosie had intended for the hotel visit.

    “I’m kidding, I’m kidding.”

    It was fortunate, as we had to move quickly to arrive at the Eslers’ on schedule. But Rosie needed to change. There was a bathroom at Union Square station. Rosie dashed in and reappeared looking amazingly different.

    “That was incredible,” I said. “So quick.”

    Rosie looked at me. “You’re going like that?” Her tone suggested dissatisfaction.

    “These are my clothes,” I said. “I have a spare shirt.”

    “Show it to me.”

    I reached into the bag to get the alternative shirt, which I doubted Rosie would prefer, and remembered Claudia’s gift. I showed the shirt to Rosie.

    “It was a gift from Claudia,” I said. “I’ve got jeans as well, if that helps.”

    “All hail Claudia,” said Rosie. “She earned the scarf.”

    “We’ll be late.”

    “Politely late is fine.”

    Isaac and Judy Esler had an apartment in Williamsburg. My US cell phone card was working to specification, and we were able to navigate by GPS to the location. I hoped that forty-six minutes met Rosie’s definition of “politely late.”

    “Austin, remember,” said Rosie, as she rang the bell.

    Judy answered the door. I estimated her age as fifty and her BMI as twenty-six. She spoke with a New York accent and was concerned that we might have become lost. Her husband, Isaac, was a caricature of a psychiatrist: midfifties, short, receding hair, black goatee beard, BMI nineteen. He was not as friendly as his wife.

    They offered us martinis. I remembered the effect this drink had on me during the preparation for the Great Cocktail Night and resolved that I would have no more than three. Judy served us some fish-based canapés and asked for details of our trip. She wanted to know whether we had been to New York before, what season it was in Australia (not a challenging question), and whether we planned to do any shopping and see any museums. Rosie handled all these questions.

    “Isaac’s off to Chicago in the morning,” said Judy. “Tell them what you’ll be doing there.”

    “Just a conference,” said Isaac. He and I did not need to do a great deal of talking to ensure the conversation continued.

    He did ask me one thing before we moved to the dining room. “What do you do, Austin?”

    “Austin runs a hardware store,” said Rosie. “A very successful one.”

    Judy served a delicious meal based on farmed salmon, which she assured Rosie was sustainable. Having eaten very little of the poor-quality airplane food, I enjoyed Judy’s meal immensely. Isaac opened some pinot gris from Oregon and was generous in refilling my glass. We talked about New York and the differences between Australian and American politics.

    “Well,” said Judy, “I’m so glad you could come. It makes up a little for missing the reunion. Isaac was so sorry not to be there.”

    “Not really,” said Isaac. “Revisiting the past is not something to do lightly.” He ate the last piece of fish from his plate and looked at Rosie. “You look a lot like your mother. She would have been a bit younger than you when I last saw her.”

    Judy said, “We got married the day after the graduation and moved here. Isaac had the biggest hangover at the wedding. He’d been a bad boy.” She smiled.

    “I think that’s enough telling tales, Judy,” said Isaac. “It was all a long time ago.”

    He stared at Rosie. Rosie stared at him.

    Judy picked up Rosie’s plate and mine, one in each hand. I decided that this was the moment to act, with everyone distracted. I stood and picked up Isaac’s plate in one hand and then Judy’s. Isaac was too busy playing the staring game with Rosie to object. I took the plates to the kitchen, swabbing Isaac’s fork on the way.

    “I imagine Austin and Rosie are exhausted,” said Judy, when we returned to the table.

    “You said you’re a hardware man, Austin?” Isaac stood up. “Can you spare five minutes to look at a tap for me? It’s probably a job for a plumber, but maybe it’s just a washer.”

    “He means faucet,” said Judy, presumably forgetting we came from the same country as Isaac.

    Isaac and I went down the stairs to the basement. I was confident I could help with the tap problem. My school vacations had been spent providing advice of exactly this kind. But as we reached the bottom of the stairs, the lights went out. I wasn’t sure what had happened. A power failure?

    “You okay, Don?” said Isaac, sounding concerned.

    “I’m okay,” I said. “What happened?”

    “What happened is that you answered to Don, Austin.”

    We stood there in the dark. I doubted that there were social conventions for dealing with interrogation by a psychiatrist in a dark cellar.

    “How did you know?” I asked.

    “Two unsolicited communications from the same university in a month. An Internet search. You make good dancing partners.”

    More silence and darkness.

    “I know the answer to your question. But I made a promise that I would not reveal it. If I thought it was a matter of life or death, or a serious mental health issue, I would reconsider. But I see no reason to break the promise, which was made because the people involved had thought hard about what would be right. You came a long way for my DNA, and I’m guessing you got it when you cleared the plates. You might want to think beyond your girlfriend’s wishes before you proceed.”

    He turned on the light.

    Something bothered me as we walked up the stairs. At the top, I stopped. “If you knew what I wanted, why did you let us come to your house?”

    “Good question,” he said. “Since you asked the question, I’m sure you can work out the answer. I wanted to see Rosie.”
     
  5. mukul
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    Thanks to carefully timed use of sleeping pills, I woke without any feeling of disorientation at 7:06 a.m.

    Rosie had fallen asleep in the train on the way to the hotel. I had decided not to tell her immediately about the basement encounter, nor mention what I had observed on the sideboard. It was a large photo of Judy and Isaac’s wedding. Standing beside Isaac, dressed in the formal clothes required of a best man, was Geoffrey Case, who had only 370 days to live. He was smiling.

    I was still processing the implications myself, and I thought Rosie would probably have an emotional response that could spoil the New York experience. She was impressed that I had collected the DNA, and even more impressed that I had acted so unobtrusively when I picked up the dishes to assist.

    “You’re in danger of learning some social skills.”

    The hotel was perfectly comfortable. After we checked in, Rosie said she had been worried that I would expect her to share a room in exchange for my paying for her trip to New York. Like a prostitute! I was highly insulted. She seemed pleased with my reaction.

    I had an excellent workout at the hotel gym and returned to find the message light blinking. Rosie.

    “Where were you?” she said.

    “In the gym. Exercise is critical in reducing the effects of jet lag. Also sunlight. I’ve planned to walk twenty-nine blocks in sunlight.”

    “Aren’t you forgetting something? Today is my day. And tomorrow. I own you until midnight Monday. Now get your butt down here. I’m hanging out for breakfast.”

    “In my gym clothes?”

    “No, Don, not in your gym clothes. Shower, dress. You have ten minutes.”

    “I always have my breakfast before I shower.”

    “How old are you?” said Rosie, aggressively. She didn’t wait for the answer. “You’re like an old man—I always have my breakfast before I shower, don’t sit in my chair, that’s where I sit . . . Do not fuck with me, Don Tillman.” She said the last words quite slowly. I decided it was best not to fuck with her. By midnight tomorrow it would be over. In the interim, I would adopt the dentist mind-set.

    It seemed I was in for a root-canal filling. I arrived downstairs and Rosie was immediately critical.

    “How long have you had that shirt?”

    “Fourteen years,” I said. “It dries very quickly. Perfect for traveling.” In fact, it was a specialized walking shirt, though fabric technology had progressed significantly since it was made.

    “Good,” said Rosie. “It doesn’t owe you anything. Upstairs. Other shirt.”

    “It’s wet.”

    “I mean Claudia’s shirt. And the jeans, while you’re at it. I’m not walking around New York with a bum.”

    When I came down for the second attempt at breakfast, Rosie smiled. “You know, you’re not such a bad-looking guy underneath.” She stopped and looked at me. “Don, you’re not enjoying this, are you? You’d rather be by yourself in the museum, right?” She was extremely perceptive. “I get that. But you’ve done all these things for me, you’ve brought me to New York, and by the way, I haven’t finished spending your money yet. So I want to do something for you.”

    I could have argued that her wanting to do something for me meant she was ultimately acting in her own interests, but it might provoke more of the “don’t fuck with me” behavior.

    “You’re in a different place, you’re in different clothes. When the medieval pilgrims used to arrive at Santiago after walking hundreds of kilometers, they burned their clothes to symbolize that they’d changed. I’m not asking you to burn your clothes—yet. Put them on again Tuesday. Just be open to something different. Let me show you my world for a couple of days. Starting with breakfast. We’re in the city with the best breakfasts in the world.”

    She must have seen that I was resisting.

    “Hey, you schedule your time so you don’t waste it, right?”

    “Correct.”

    “So, you’ve committed to two days with me. If you shut yourself down, you’re wasting two days of your life that someone is trying to make exciting and productive and fun for you. I’m going to—” She stopped. “I left the guidebook in my room. When I come down, we’re going to breakfast.” She turned and walked to the elevators.

    I was disturbed by Rosie’s logic. I had always justified my schedule in terms of efficiency. But was my allegiance to efficiency or was it to the schedule itself? Was I really like my father, who had insisted on sitting in the same chair every night? I had never mentioned this to Rosie. I had my own special chair too.

    There was another argument that she had not presented, because she could not have known it. In the last eight weeks I had experienced two of the three best times of my adult life, assuming all visits to the Museum of Natural History were treated as one event. They had both been with Rosie. Was there a correlation? It was critical to find out.

    By the time Rosie came back, I had performed a brain reboot, an exercise requiring a considerable effort of will. But I was now configured for adaptability.

    “So?” she said.

    “So, how do we find the world’s best breakfast?”

    • • •

    We found the World’s Best Breakfast around the corner. It may have been the unhealthiest breakfast I had ever eaten, but I would not put on significant weight or lose fitness, brain acuity, or martial arts skills if I neglected them for two days. This was the mode my brain was now operating in.

    “I can’t believe you ate all that,” said Rosie.

    “It tasted so good.”

    “No lunch. Late dinner,” she said.

    “We can eat any time.”

    Our server approached the table. Rosie indicated the empty coffee cups. “They were great. I think we could both manage another.”

    “Huh?” said the server. It was obvious that she hadn’t understood Rosie. It was also obvious that Rosie had very poor taste in coffee—or she had done as I had and ignored the label “coffee” and was enjoying it as an entirely new beverage. The technique was working brilliantly.

    “One regular coffee with cream and one regular coffee without cream . . . please,” I said.

    “Sure.”

    This was a town where people talked straight. My kind of town. I was enjoying speaking American: cream instead of milk,elevator instead of lift, check instead of bill. I had memorized a list of differences between American and Australian usage prior to my first trip to the US and had been surprised at how quickly my brain was able to switch into using them automatically.

    We walked uptown. Rosie was looking at a guidebook called Not for Tourists, which seemed a very poor choice.

    “Where are we going?” I asked.

    “We’re not going anywhere. We’re there.”

    We were outside a clothing store. Rosie asked if it was okay to go inside.

    “You don’t have to ask,” I said. “You’re in control.”

    “I do about shops. It’s a girl thing. I was going to say, ‘I suppose you’ve been on Fifth Avenue before,’ but I don’t suppose anything with you.”

    The situation was symmetrical. I knew not to suppose anything about Rosie, or I would have been surprised by her describing herself as a “girl,” a term that I understood to be unacceptable to feminists when referring to adult women.

    Rosie was becoming remarkably perceptive about me. I had never been beyond the conference centers and the museum, but with my new mind configuration, I was finding everything fascinating. A whole shop for cigars. The prices of jewelry. The Flatiron Building. The Museum of Sex. Rosie looked at the last of these and chose not to go in. This was probably a good decision: it might be fascinating, but the risk of a faux pas would be very high.

    “Do you want to buy anything?” said Rosie.

    “No.”

    A few minutes later, a thought occurred to me. “Is there somewhere that sells men’s shirts?”

    Rosie laughed. “On Fifth Avenue, New York City. Maybe we’ll get lucky.” I detected sarcasm, but in a friendly way. We found a new shirt of the same genre as the Claudia shirt at a huge store called Bloomingdale’s, which was not, in fact, on Fifth Avenue. We could not choose between two candidate shirts and bought both. My wardrobe would be overflowing!

    We arrived at Central Park.

    “We’re skipping lunch, but I could handle an ice cream,” said Rosie. There was a vendor in the park, and he was serving both cones and prefabricated confections.

    I was filled with an irrational sense of dread. I identified it immediately. But I had to know. “Is the flavor important?”

    “Something with peanuts. We’re in the States.”

    “All ice creams taste the same.”

    “Bullshit.”

    I explained about taste buds.

    “Wanna bet?” said Rosie. “If I can tell the difference between peanut and vanilla, two tickets to Spider-Man. On Broadway. Tonight.”

    “The textures will be different. Because of the peanuts.”

    “Any two. Your choice.”

    I ordered an apricot and a mango. “Close your eyes,” I said. It wasn’t really necessary: the colors were almost identical, but I didn’t want her to see me tossing a coin to decide which one to show her. I was concerned that with her psychological skills she might guess my sequence.

    I tossed the coin and gave her an ice cream.

    “Mango,” guessed Rosie, correctly. Toss, heads again. “Mango again.” She picked the mango correctly three times, then the apricot, then the apricot again. The chances of her achieving this result randomly were one in thirty-two. I could be ninety-seven percent confident she was able to differentiate. Incredible.

    “So, Spider-Man tonight?”

    “No. You got one wrong.”

    Rosie looked at me, very carefully, then burst out laughing. “You’re bullshitting me, aren’t you? I can’t believe it, you’re making jokes.”

    She gave me an ice cream. “Since you don’t care, you can have the apricot.”

    I looked at it. What to say? She had been licking it.

    Once again she read my mind. “How are you going to kiss a girl if you won’t share her ice cream?”

    For several minutes, I was suffused with an irrational feeling of enormous pleasure, basking in the success of my joke, and parsing the sentence about the kiss: Kiss a girl, share her ice cream. It was third-person, but surely not unrelated to the girl who was sharing her ice cream right now with Don Tillman in his new shirt and jeans as we walked among the trees in Central Park, New York City, on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

    • • •

    I needed the 114 minutes of time-out back at the hotel, although I had enjoyed the day immensely. Shower, email, relaxation exercises combined with stretches. I emailed Gene, copying in Claudia, with a summary of our activities.

    Rosie was three minutes late for our 7:00 p.m. foyer meeting. I was about to call her room when she arrived wearing clothes purchased that day—white jeans and a blue T-shirt thing—and the jacket she had worn the previous evening. I remembered a Gene-ism, something I had heard him say to Claudia. “You’re looking very elegant,” I said. It was a risky statement, but her reaction appeared to be positive. She did look very elegant.

    We had cocktails at a bar with the World’s Longest Cocktail List, including many I did not know, and we saw Spider-Man. Afterward, Rosie felt the story was a bit predictable but I was overwhelmed by everything, in a hugely positive way. I had not been to the theater since I was a child. I could have ignored the story and focused entirely on the mechanics of the flying. It was just incredible.

    We caught the subway back to the Lower East Side. I was hungry but did not want to break the rules by suggesting that we eat. But Rosie had this planned too. A 10:00 p.m. booking at a restaurant called Momofuku Ko. We were on Rosie time again.

    “This is my present to you for bringing me here,” she said.

    We sat at a counter for twelve where we could watch the chefs at work. There were few of the annoying formalities that make restaurants so stressful.

    “Any preferences, allergies, dislikes?” asked the chef.

    “I’m vegetarian, but I eat sustainable seafood,” said Rosie. “He eats everything—and I mean everything.”

    I lost count of the courses. I had sweetbreads and foie gras (first time!) and sea urchin roe. We drank a bottle of rosé champagne. I talked to the chefs and they told me what they were doing. I ate the best food I had ever eaten. And I did not need to wear a jacket in order to eat. In fact, the man sitting beside me was wearing a costume that would have been extreme at the Marquess of Queensbury, including multiple facial piercings. He heard me speaking to the chef and asked me where I was from. I told him.

    “How are you finding New York?”

    I told him I was finding it highly interesting and explained how we had spent our day. But I was conscious that, under the stress of talking to a stranger, my manner had changed—or to be more precise, reverted—to my usual style. During the day, with Rosie, I had felt relaxed and had spoken and acted differently, and this style continued in my conversation with the chef, which was essentially a professional exchange of information. But informal social interaction with another person had triggered my regular behavior. And my regular behavior and speaking style is, I am well aware, considered odd by others. The man with the piercings must have noticed.

    “You know what I like about New York?” he said. “There are so many weird people that nobody takes any notice. We all just fit right in.”

    “How was it?” asked Rosie, as we walked back to the hotel.

    “The best day of my adult life,” I said. Rosie seemed so happy with my response that I decided not to finish the sentence: “excluding the Museum of Natural History.”

    “Sleep in,” she said. “Nine thirty here and we’ll do the brunch thing again. Okay?”

    It would have been totally irrational to argue.
     
  6. mukul
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    “Did I cause any embarrassment?”

    Rosie had been concerned that I might make inappropriate comments during our tour of the World Trade Center site. Our guide, a former firefighter named Frank, who had lost many of his colleagues in the attack, was incredibly interesting, and I asked a number of technical questions that he answered intelligently and, it seemed to me, enthusiastically.

    “You may have changed the tone a bit,” she said. “You sort of moved the attention away from the emotional impact.” So, I had reduced the sadness. Good.

    Monday was allocated to visiting popular tourist sights. We had breakfast at Katz’s Deli, where a scene for a film calledWhen Harry Met Sally was shot. We went to the top of the Empire State Building, famous as a location for An Affair to Remember. We visited MoMA and the Met, which were excellent.

    We were back at the hotel early—4:32 p.m.

    “Back here at six thirty,” said Rosie.

    “What are we having for dinner?”

    “Hot dogs. We’re going to the baseball game.”

    I never watch sports. Ever. The reasons are obvious—or should be to anyone who values their time. But my reconfigured mind, sustained by huge doses of positive reinforcement, accepted the proposition. I spent the next 118 minutes on the Internet, learning about the rules and the players.

    On the subway, Rosie had some news for me. Before she left Melbourne, she had sent an email to Mary Keneally, a researcher working in her field at Columbia University. She had just received a reply that Mary could see her tomorrow. But she wouldn’t be able to make it to the Museum of Natural History. She could come Wednesday, but would I be okay by myself tomorrow? Of course I would.

    At Yankee Stadium we got beer and hot dogs. A man in a cap, estimated age thirty-five, estimated BMI forty (i.e., dangerously fat), sat beside me. He had three hot dogs! The source of the obesity was obvious.

    The game started, and I had to explain to Rosie what was happening. It was fascinating to see how the rules worked in a real game. Every time there was an event on the field, Fat Baseball Fan would make an annotation in his book. There were runners on second and third when Curtis Granderson came to the plate and Fat Baseball Fan spoke to me. “If he bats in both of these guys, he’ll be heading the league on RBI. What are the odds?”

    I didn’t know what the odds were. All I could tell him was that they were somewhere between 9.9 and 27.2 percent based on the batting average and percentage of home runs listed in the profile I had read. I had not had time to memorize the statistics for doubles and triples. Fat Baseball Fan nevertheless seemed impressed and we began a very interesting conversation. He showed me how to mark the program with symbols to represent the various events, and how the more sophisticated statistics worked. I had no idea sports could be so intellectually stimulating.

    Rosie got more beer and hot dogs and Fat Baseball Fan started to tell me about Joe DiMaggio’s “streak” in 1941, which he claimed was a uniquely odds-defying achievement. I was doubtful, and the conversation was just getting interesting when the game ended, so he suggested we take the subway to a bar in Midtown. As Rosie was in charge of the schedule, I asked for her opinion, and she agreed.

    The bar was noisy and there was more baseball playing on a large television screen. Some other men, who did not appear to have previously met Fat Baseball Fan, joined our discussion. We drank a lot of beer and talked about baseball statistics. Rosie sat on a stool with her drink and observed. It was late when Fat Baseball Fan, whose actual name was Dave, said he had to go home. We exchanged email addresses and I considered that I had made a new friend.

    Walking back to the hotel, I realized that I had behaved in stereotypical male fashion, drinking beer in a bar, watching television, and talking about sports. It is generally known that women have a negative attitude to such behavior. I asked Rosie if I had offended her.

    “Not at all. I had fun watching you being a guy—fitting in.”

    I told her that this was a highly unusual response from a feminist but that it would make her a very attractive partner to conventional men.

    “If I was interested in conventional men.”

    It seemed a good opportunity to ask a question about Rosie’s personal life.

    “Do you have a boyfriend?” I hoped I had used an appropriate term.

    “Sure, I just haven’t unpacked him from my suitcase,” she said, obviously making a joke. I laughed, then pointed out that she hadn’t actually answered my question.

    “Don,” she said, “don’t you think that if I had a boyfriend, you might have heard about him by now?”

    It seemed to me entirely possible that I would not have heard about him. I had asked Rosie very few personal questions outside the Father Project. I did not know any of her friends, except perhaps Stefan, who I had concluded was not her boyfriend. Of course, it would have been traditional to bring any partner to the faculty ball, and not to offer me sex afterward, but not everyone was bound by such conventions. Gene was the perfect example. It was plausible that Rosie had a boyfriend who did not like dancing or socializing with academics, was out of town at the time, or was in an open relationship with her. She had no reason to tell me. In my own life, I had rarely mentioned Daphne or my sister to Gene and Claudia or vice versa. They belonged to different parts of my life. I explained this to Rosie.

    “Short answer, no,” she said. We walked a bit further. “Long answer: you asked what I meant about being fucked up by my father. Psychology 101—our first relationship with a male is with our fathers. It affects how we relate to men forever. So, lucky me, I get a choice of two. Phil, who’s fucked in the head, or my real father, who walked away from me and my mother. And I get this choice when I’m twelve years old and Phil sits me down and has this ‘I wish your mother could be here to tell you’ talk with me. You know, just the standard stuff your dad tells you at twelve—‘I’m not your dad, your mother, who died before you could know her properly, isn’t the perfect person you thought she was, and you’re only here because of your mother being easy, and I wish you weren’t so I could go off and have a life.’ ”

    “He said that to you?”

    “Not in those words. But that’s what he meant.”

    I thought it highly unlikely that a twelve-year-old—even a female future psychology student—could correctly deduce an adult male’s unspoken thoughts. Sometimes it is better to be aware of one’s incompetence in these matters, as I am, than to have a false sense of expertise.

    “So I don’t trust men. I don’t believe they’re what they say they are. I’m afraid they’re going to let me down. That’s my summary from seven years of studying psychology.”

    This seemed a very poor result for seven years of effort, but I assumed she was omitting the more general knowledge provided by the course.

    “You want to meet tomorrow evening?” said Rosie. “We can do whatever you want to do.”

    I had been thinking about my plans for the next day.

    “I know someone at Columbia,” I said. “Maybe we could go there together.”

    “What about the museum?”

    “I’ve already compressed four visits into two. I can compress two into one.” There was no logic in this, but I had drunk a lot of beer, and I just felt like going to Columbia. Go with the flow.

    “See you at eight—and don’t be late,” said Rosie. Then she kissed me. It was not a passionate kiss; it was on the cheek, but it was disturbing. Neither positive nor negative, just disturbing.

    I emailed David Borenstein at Columbia, then Skyped Claudia and told her about the day, omitting the kiss.

    “Sounds like she’s made a big effort,” said Claudia.

    This was obviously true. Rosie had managed to select activities that I would normally have avoided but enjoyed immensely. “And you’re giving her the guided tour of the Museum of Natural History on Wednesday?”

    “No, I’m going to look at the crustaceans and the Antarctic flora and fauna.”

    “Try again,” said Claudia.
     
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    We took the subway to Columbia. David Borenstein had not replied to my email. I did not mention this to Rosie, who invited me to her meeting, if it did not clash with mine.

    “I’ll say you’re a fellow researcher,” she said. “I’d like you to see what I do when I’m not mixing drinks.”

    Mary Keneally was an associate professor of psychiatry in the Medical Faculty. I had never asked Rosie the topic of her PhD. It turned out to be environmental risks for early-onset bipolar disorder, a serious scientific topic. Rosie’s approach appeared sound and well considered. She and Mary talked for fifty-three minutes, and then we all went for coffee.

    “At heart,” Mary said to Rosie, “you’re a psychiatrist rather than a psychologist. You never thought of transferring to medicine?”

    “I came from a medical family,” said Rosie. “I sort of rebelled.”

    “Well, when you’ve finished rebelling, we’ve got a great MD program here.”

    “Right,” said Rosie. “Me at Columbia.”

    “Why not? In fact, since you’ve come all this way . . .” She made a quick phone call, then smiled. “Come and meet the dean.”

    As we walked back to the medical building, Rosie said to me, “I hope you’re suitably impressed.” We arrived at the dean’s office and he stepped out to meet us.

    “Don,” he said. “I just got your email. I haven’t had a chance to reply.” He turned to Rosie. “I’m David Borenstein. And you’re with Don?”

    We all had lunch at the faculty club. David told Rosie that he had supported my O-1 visa application. “I didn’t lie,” he said. “Anytime Don feels like joining the main game, there’s a job for him here.”

    • • •

    Coal-oven pizza is supposedly environmentally unsound, but I treat statements of this kind with great suspicion. They are frequently emotionally based rather than scientific and ignore full life-cycle costs. Electricity good, coal bad. But where does the electricity come from? Our pizza at Arturo’s was excellent. World’s Best Pizza.

    I was interested in one of the statements Rosie had made at Columbia.

    “I thought you admired your mother. Why wouldn’t you want to be a doctor?”

    “It wasn’t my mother. My father’s a doctor too. Remember? That’s what we’re here for.” She poured the rest of the red wine into her glass. “I thought about it. I did the GAMSAT, like I told Peter Enticott. And I did get seventy-four. Suck on that.” Despite the aggressive words, her expression remained friendly. “I thought that doing medicine would be a sign of some sort of obsession with my real father. Like I was following him rather than Phil. Even I could see that was a bit fucked-up.”

    Gene frequently states that psychologists are incompetent at understanding themselves. Rosie seemed to have provided good evidence for that proposition. Why avoid something that she would enjoy and be good at? And surely three years of undergraduate education in psychology plus several years of postgraduate research should have provided a more precise classification of her behavioral, personality, and emotional problems than “fucked-up.” Naturally I did not share these thoughts.

    • • •

    We were first in line when the museum opened at 10:30 a.m. I had planned the visit according to the history of the universe, the planet, and life. Thirteen billion years of history in six hours. At noon, Rosie suggested we delete lunch from the schedule to allow more time with the exhibits. Later, she stopped at the reconstruction of the famous Laetoli footprints made by hominids approximately 3.6 million years ago.

    “I read an article about this. It was a mother and child, holding hands, right?”

    It was a romantic interpretation but not impossible.

    “Have you ever thought of having children, Don?”

    “Yes,” I said, forgetting to deflect this personal question. “But it seems both unlikely and inadvisable.”

    “Why?”

    “Unlikely, because I have lost confidence in the Wife Project. And inadvisable because I would be an unsuitable father.”

    “Why?”

    “Because I’d be an embarrassment to my children.”

    Rosie laughed. I thought this was very insensitive, but she explained, “All parents are an embarrassment to their kids.”

    “Including Phil?”

    She laughed again. “Especially Phil.”

    At 4:28 p.m. we had finished the primates. “Oh no, we’re done?” said Rosie. “Is there something else we can see?”

    “We have two more things to see,” I said. “You may find them dull.”

    I took her to the room of balls—spheres of different sizes showing the scale of the universe. The display is not dramatic, but the information is. Nonscientists, nonphysical scientists, frequently have no idea of scale—how small we are compared to the size of the universe, how big compared to the size of a neutrino. I did my best to make it interesting.

    Then we went up in the elevator and joined the Heilbrunn Cosmic Pathway, a 110-meter spiral ramp representing a time line from the big bang to the present. It is just pictures and photos and occasional rocks and fossils on the wall, and I didn’t even need to look at them, because I know the story, which I related as accurately and dramatically as I could, putting all that we had seen during the day into context, as we walked down and around until we reached the ground level and the tiny vertical hairline representing all of recorded human history. It was almost closing time now, and we were the only people standing there. On other occasions, I have listened to people’s reactions as they reach the end. “Makes you feel a bit unimportant, doesn’t it?” they say. I suppose that is one way of looking at it—how the age of the universe somehow diminishes our lives or the events of history or Joe DiMaggio’s streak.

    But Rosie’s response was a verbal version of mine. “Wow,” she said, very quietly, looking back at the vastness of it all. Then, in this vanishingly small moment in the history of the universe, she took my hand, and held it all the way to the subway.
     
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    We had one critical task to perform before leaving New York the following morning. Max Freyberg, the cosmetic surgeon and potential biological father of Rosie, who was “booked solid,” had agreed to see us for fifteen minutes at 6:45 p.m. Rosie had told his secretary she was writing a series of articles for a publication about successful alumni of the university. I was carrying Rosie’s camera and would be identified as a photographer.

    Getting the appointment had been difficult enough, but it had become apparent that collecting the DNA would be far more challenging in a working environment than in a social or domestic location. I had set my brain the task of solving the problem before we departed for New York and had expected it to have found a solution through background processing, but it had apparently been too occupied with other matters. The best I could think of was a spiked ring that would draw blood when we shook hands, but Rosie considered this socially infeasible.

    She suggested clipping a hair, either surreptitiously or after identifying it as a stray that would mar the photo. Surely a cosmetic surgeon would care about his appearance. Unfortunately a clipped hair was unlikely to yield an adequate sample: it needed to be plucked to obtain a follicle. Rosie packed a pair of tweezers. For once I hoped I might have to spend fifteen minutes in a smoke-filled room. A cigarette butt would solve our problem. We would have to be alert to opportunities.

    Dr. Freyberg’s office was in an older-style building on the Upper West Side. Rosie pushed the buzzer and a security guard appeared and took us up to a waiting area where the walls were totally covered with framed certificates and letters from patients praising Dr. Freyberg’s work.

    Dr. Freyberg’s secretary, a very thin woman (BMI estimate sixteen) of about fifty-five with disproportionately thick lips, led us into his office. More certificates! Freyberg himself had a major fault: he was completely bald. The hair-plucking approach would not be viable. Nor was there any evidence that he was a smoker.

    Rosie conducted the interview very impressively. Freyberg described some procedures that seemed to have minimal clinical justification, and talked about their importance to self-esteem. It was fortunate that I had been allocated the silent role, as I would have been strongly tempted to argue. I was also struggling to focus. My mind was still processing the hand-holding incident.

    “I’m sorry,” said Rosie, “but could I bother you for something to drink?”

    Of course! The coffee-swab solution.

    “Sure,” said Freyberg. “Tea, coffee?”

    “Coffee would be great,” said Rosie. “Just black. Will you have one yourself?”

    “I’m good. Let’s keep going.” He pushed a button on his intercom. “Rachel. One black coffee.”

    “You should have a coffee,” I said to him.

    “Never touch it,” said Freyberg.

    “Unless you have a genetic intolerance of caffeine, there are no proven harmful effects. On the contrary—”

    “What magazine is this for again?”

    The question was straightforward and totally predictable. We had agreed on the name of the fictitious university publication in advance, and Rosie had already used it in her introduction.

    But my brain malfunctioned. Rosie and I spoke simultaneously. Rosie said, “Faces of Change.” I said, “Hands of Change.”

    It was a minor inconsistency that any rational person would have interpreted as a simple, innocent error, which in fact it was. But Freyberg’s expression indicated disbelief and he immediately scribbled on a notepad. When Rachel brought the coffee, he gave her the note. I diagnosed paranoia and started to think about escape plans.

    “I need to use the bathroom,” I said. I planned to phone Freyberg from the bathroom, so Rosie could escape while he took the call.

    I walked toward the exit, but Freyberg blocked my path.

    “Use my private one,” he said. “I insist.”

    He led me through the back of his office, past Rachel to a door marked Private and left me there. There was no way to exit without returning the way we had come. I took out my phone, called 411—directory assistance—and they connected me to Rachel. I could hear the phone ring and Rachel answer. I kept my voice low.

    “I need to speak to Dr. Freyberg,” I said. “It’s an emergency.” I explained that my wife was a patient of Dr. Freyberg and that her lips had exploded. I hung up and texted Rosie: Exit now.

    The bathroom was in need of Eva’s services. I managed to open the window, which had obviously not been used for a long time. We were four floors up, but there seemed to be plenty of handholds on the wall. I eased myself through the window and started climbing down, slowly, focusing on the task, hoping Rosie had escaped successfully. It had been a long time since I had practiced rock climbing, and the descent was not as simple as it first seemed. The wall was slippery from rain earlier in the day and my running shoes were not ideal for the task. At one point I slipped and only just managed to grasp a rough brick. I heard shouts from below.

    When I finally reached the ground, I discovered that a small crowd had formed. Rosie was among them. She flung her arms around me. “Oh my God, Don, you could have killed yourself. It didn’t matter that much.”

    “The risk was minor. It was just important to ignore the height issue.”

    We headed for the subway. Rosie was quite agitated. Freyberg had thought that she was some sort of private investigator, working on behalf of a dissatisfied patient. He was trying to have the security personnel detain her. Whether his position was legally defensible or not, we would have been in a difficult position.

    “I’m going to get changed,” said Rosie. “Our last night in New York City. What do you want to do?”

    My original schedule specified a steakhouse, but now that we were in the pattern of eating together, I would need to select a restaurant suitable for a sustainable-seafood-eating “vegetarian.”

    “We’ll work it out,” she said. “Lots of options.”

    It took me three minutes to change my shirt. I waited downstairs for Rosie for another six. Finally I went up to her room and knocked. There was a long wait. Then I heard her voice.

    “How long do you think it takes to have a shower?”

    “Three minutes, twenty seconds,” I said, “unless I wash my hair, in which case it takes an extra minute and twelve seconds.” The additional time was due primarily to the requirement that the conditioner remain in place for sixty seconds.

    “Hold on.”

    Rosie opened the door wearing only a towel. Her hair was wet, and she looked extremely attractive. I forgot to keep my eyes directed toward her face.

    “Hey,” she said. “No pendant.” She was right. I couldn’t use the pendant excuse. But she didn’t give me a lecture on inappropriate behavior. Instead, she smiled and stepped toward me. I wasn’t sure if she was going to take another step, or if I should. In the end, neither of us did. It was an awkward moment, but I suspected we had both contributed to the problem.

    “You should have brought the ring,” said Rosie.

    For a moment, my brain interpreted “ring” as “wedding ring” and began constructing a completely incorrect scenario. Then I realized that she was referring to the spiked ring I had proposed as a means of obtaining Freyberg’s blood.

    “To come all this way and not get a sample,” she said.

    “Fortunately, we have one.”

    “You got a sample? How?”

    “His bathroom. What a slob. He should get his prostate checked. The floor—”

    “Stop,” said Rosie. “Too much information. But nice work.”

    “Very poor hygiene,” I told her. “For a surgeon. A pseudosurgeon. Incredible waste of surgical skill—inserting synthetic materials purely to alter appearance.”

    “Wait till you’re fifty-five and your partner’s forty-five, and see if you say the same thing.”

    “You’re supposed to be a feminist,” I said, though I was beginning to doubt it.

    “It doesn’t mean I want to be unattractive.”

    “Your appearance should be irrelevant to your partner’s assessment of you.”

    “Life is full of should-be’s,” said Rosie. “You’re the geneticist. Everyone notices how people look. Even you.”

    “True. But I don’t allow it to affect my evaluation of them.”

    I was on dangerous territory: the issue of Rosie’s attractiveness had gotten me into serious trouble on the night of the faculty ball. The statement was consistent with my beliefs about judging people and with how I would wish to be judged myself. But I had never had to apply these beliefs to someone standing opposite me in a hotel bedroom wearing only a towel. It dawned on me that I had not told the full truth.

    “Ignoring the testosterone factor,” I added.

    “Is there a compliment buried in there somewhere?”

    The conversation was getting complicated. I tried to clarify my position. “It would be unreasonable to give you credit for being incredibly beautiful.”

    What I did next was undoubtedly a result of my thoughts being scrambled by a sequence of extraordinary and traumatic incidents in the preceding few hours: the hand holding, the escape from Freyberg’s office, and the extreme impact of the world’s most beautiful woman standing naked under a towel in front of me.

    Gene should also take some blame for suggesting that earlobe size was a predictor of sexual attraction. Since I had never been so sexually attracted to a woman before, I was suddenly compelled to examine her ears. In a moment that was, in retrospect, similar to the critical incident in Georges Duhamel’s Confession de minuit, I reached out and brushed her hair aside. But in this case, amazingly, the response was different from that documented in the novel we had studied in French class. Rosie put her arms around me and kissed me.

    I think it is likely that my brain is wired in a nonstandard configuration, but my ancestors would not have succeeded in breeding without understanding and responding to basic sexual signals. That aptitude was hardwired in. I kissed Rosie back. She responded.

    We pulled apart for a moment. It was obvious that dinner would be delayed. Rosie studied me and said, “You know, if you changed your glasses and your haircut, you could be Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird.”

    “Is that good?” I assumed, given the circumstances, that it was, but wanted to hear her confirm it.

    “He was only the sexiest man that ever lived.”

    We looked at each other some more, and I moved to kiss her again. She stopped me.

    “Don, this is New York. It’s like a vacation. I don’t want you to assume it means anything more.”

    “What happens in New York stays in New York, right?” It was a line Gene had taught me for conference use. I had never needed to employ it before. It felt a little odd, but appropriate for the circumstances. It was obviously important that we both agreed there was no emotional continuation. Although I did not have a wife at home like Gene, I had a concept of a wife that was very different from Rosie, who would presumably step out on the balcony for a cigarette after sex. Oddly, the prospect didn’t repel me as much as it should have.

    “I have to get something from my room,” I said.

    “Good thinking. Don’t take too long.”

    My room was only eleven floors above Rosie’s, so I walked up the stairs. Back in my room, I showered, then thumbed through the book Gene had given me. He had been right after all. Incredible.

    I descended the stairs to Rosie’s room. Forty-three minutes had passed. I knocked on the door, and Rosie answered, now wearing a sleeping costume that was, in fact, more revealing than the towel. She was holding two glasses of champagne.

    “Sorry, it’s gone a bit flat.”

    I looked around the room. The bed cover was turned down, the curtains were closed, and there was just one bedside lamp on. I gave her Gene’s book.

    “Since this is our first—and probably only—time, and you are doubtless more experienced, I recommend that you select the position.”

    Rosie thumbed through the book, then started again. She stopped at the first page, where Gene had written his symbol.

    “Gene gave you this?”

    “It was a present for the trip.”

    I tried to read Rosie’s expression and guessed anger, but that disappeared and she said, in a nonangry tone, “Don, I’m sorry, I can’t do this. I’m really sorry.”

    “Did I say something wrong?”

    “No, it’s me. I’m really sorry.”

    “You changed your mind while I was gone?”

    “Yeah,” said Rosie. “That’s what happened. I’m sorry.”

    “Are you sure I didn’t do something wrong?” Rosie was my friend, and the risk to our friendship was now at the forefront of my mind. The sex issue had evaporated.

    “No, no, it’s me,” she said. “You were incredibly considerate.”

    It was a compliment I was unaccustomed to receiving. A very satisfying compliment. The night had not been a total disaster.

    • • •

    I could not sleep. I had not eaten and it was only 8:55 p.m. Claudia and Gene would be at work now, back in Melbourne, and I did not feel like talking to either of them. I considered it inadvisable to contact Rosie again, so I rang my remaining friend. Dave had eaten already, but we walked to a pizza restaurant and he ate a second dinner. Then we went to a bar and watched baseball and talked about women. I do not recall much of what either of us said, but I suspect that little of it would have been useful in making rational plans for the future.
     
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    My mind had gone blank. That is a standard phrase, and an exaggeration of the situation. My brain stem continued to function, my heart still beat, I did not forget to breathe. I was able to pack my bag, consume breakfast in my room, navigate to JFK, negotiate check-in, and board the plane to Los Angeles. I managed to communicate with Rosie to the extent that it was necessary to coordinate these activities.

    But reflective functioning was suspended. The reason was obvious—emotional overload  ! My normally well-managed emotions had been allowed out in New York—on the advice of Claudia, a qualified clinical psychologist—and had been dangerously overstimulated. Now they were running amok in my brain, crippling my ability to think. And I needed all my thinking ability to analyze the problem.

    Rosie had the window seat and I was by the aisle. I followed the pre-takeoff safety procedures, for once not dwelling on their unjustified assumptions and irrational priorities. In the event of impending disaster, we would all have something to do. I was in the opposite position. Incapacitated.

    Rosie put her hand on my arm. “How are you feeling, Don?”

    I tried to focus on analyzing one aspect of the experience and the corresponding emotional reaction. I knew where to start. Logically, I did not need to go back to my room to get Gene’s book. Showing a book to Rosie was not part of the original scenario I had planned back in Melbourne when I prepared for a sexual encounter. I may be socially inept, but with the kiss under way, and Rosie wearing only a towel, there should have been no difficulties in proceeding. My knowledge of positions was a bonus but probably irrelevant the first time.

    So why did my instincts drive me to a course of action that ultimately sabotaged the opportunity? The first-level answer was obvious. They were telling me not to proceed. But why? I identified three possibilities.

    1. I was afraid that I would fail to perform sexually.

    It did not take long to dismiss this possibility. I might well have been less competent than a more experienced person and could even have been rendered impotent by fear, though I considered this unlikely. But I was accustomed to being embarrassed, even in front of Rosie. The sexual drive was much stronger than any requirement to protect my image.

    2. No condom.

    I realized, on reflection, that Rosie had probably assumed that I had left her room to collect or purchase a condom. Obviously I should have obtained one, in line with all recommendations on safe sex, and presumably the concierge would have some for emergencies, along with spare toothbrushes and razors. The fact that I did not do so was further evidence that subconsciously I did not expect to proceed. Gene had once told me a story about racing around Cairo in a taxi trying to find a condom vendor. My motivation had clearly not been as strong.

    3. I could not deal with the emotional consequences.

    The third possibility only entered my mind after I eliminated the first and second. I immediately knew—instinctively!—that it was the correct one. My brain was already emotionally overloaded. It was not the death-defying climb from the surgeon’s window or the memory of being interrogated in a dark cellar by a bearded psychiatrist who would stop at nothing to protect his secret. It was not even the experience of holding Rosie’s hand from the museum to the subway, although that was a contributor. It was the total experience of hanging out with Rosie in New York.

    My instincts were telling me that if I added any more to this experience—if I added the literally mind-blowing experience of having sex with her—my emotions would take over my brain. And they would drive me toward a relationship with Rosie. That would be a disaster for two reasons. The first was that she was totally unsuitable in the longer term. The second was that she had made it clear that such a relationship would not extend beyond our time in New York. These reasons were completely contradictory, mutually exclusive, and based on entirely different premises. I had no idea which one was correct.

    We were in the final stages of our descent into LAX. I turned to Rosie. It had been several hours since she asked her question, and I had now given it considerable thought. How was I feeling?

    “Confused,” I said to her.

    I expected her to have forgotten the question, but perhaps the answer made sense in any case.

    “Welcome to the real world.”

    • • •

    I managed to stay awake for the first six hours of the fifteen-hour flight home from LA in order to reset my internal clock, but it was difficult.

    Rosie had slept for a few hours, then watched a movie. I looked over and saw that she was crying. She removed her headphones and wiped her eyes.

    “You’re crying,” I said. “Is there a problem?”

    “Busted,” said Rosie. “It’s just a sad story. Bridges of Madison County. I presume you don’t cry at movies.”

    “Correct.” I realized that this might be viewed as a negative, so added, in defense, “It seems to be a predominantly female behavior.”

    “Thanks for that.” Rosie went quiet again but seemed to have recovered from the sadness that the movie had stimulated.

    “Tell me,” she said, “do you feel anything when you watch a movie? You’ve seen Casablanca?”

    I was familiar with this question. Gene and Claudia had asked it after we watched a DVD together. So my answer was the result of reflection.

    “I’ve seen several romantic movies. The answer is no. Unlike Gene and Claudia, and apparently the majority of the human race, I am not emotionally affected by love stories. I don’t appear to be wired for that response.”

    • • •

    I visited Claudia and Gene for dinner on Sunday night. I was feeling unusually jet-lagged, and as a result had some difficulty in providing a coherent account of the trip. I tried to talk about my meeting with David Borenstein at Columbia, what I saw at the museums, and the meal at Momofuku Ko, but they were obsessed with grilling me about my interactions with Rosie. I could not reasonably be expected to remember every detail. And obviously I could not talk about the Father Project activities.

    Claudia was very pleased with the scarf, but it provided another opportunity for interrogation. “Did Rosie help you choose this?”

    Rosie, Rosie, Rosie.

    “The sales assistant recommended it. It was very straightforward.”

    As I left, Claudia said, “So, Don, are you planning to see Rosie again?”

    “Next Saturday,” I said, truthfully, not bothering to tell her that it was not a social occasion: we had scheduled the afternoon to analyze the DNA.

    She seemed satisfied.

    • • •

    I was eating lunch alone in the University Club, reviewing the Father Project file, when Gene arrived with his meal and a glass of wine and sat opposite me. I tried to put the file away but succeeded only in giving him the correct impression that I was trying to hide something. Gene suddenly looked over at the service counter, behind me.

    “Oh God!” he said.

    I turned to look and Gene snatched the folder, laughing.

    “That’s private,” I said, but Gene had opened it. The photo of the graduating class was on top.

    Gene seemed genuinely surprised. “My God. Where did you get this?” He was studying the photo intently. “It must be thirty years old. What’s all the scribble?”

    “Organizing a reunion,” I said. “Helping a friend. Weeks ago.” It was a good answer, considering the short time I had to formulate it, but it did have a major defect. Gene detected it.

    “A friend? Right. One of your many friends. You should have invited me.”

    “Why?”

    “Who do you think took the photo?”

    Of course. Someone had been required to take the photo. I was too stunned to speak.

    “I was the only outsider,” said Gene. “The genetics tutor. Big night—everyone pumped, no partners. Hottest ticket in town.”

    Gene pointed to a face in the photo. I had always focused on the males and never looked for Rosie’s mother. But now that Gene was pointing to her, she was easy to identify. The resemblance was obvious, including the red hair, although the color was less dramatic than Rosie’s. She was standing between Isaac Esler and Geoffrey Case. As in Isaac Esler’s wedding photo, Case was smiling broadly.

    “Bernadette O’Connor.” Gene sipped his wine. “Irish.”

    I was familiar with the tone of Gene’s statement. There was a reason for his remembering this particular woman, and it was not that she was Rosie’s mother. In fact, it seemed that he didn’t know the connection, and I made a quick decision not to inform him.

    His finger moved one space to the left.

    “Geoffrey Case. Not a great return on his tuition fees.”

    “He died, correct?”

    “Killed himself.”

    This was new information. “Are you sure?”

    “Of course I’m sure,” said Gene. “Come on, what’s this about?”

    I ignored the question. “Why did he do it?”

    “Probably forgot to take his lithium,” said Gene. “He had bipolar disorder. Life of the party on a good day.” He looked at me. I assumed he was about to interrogate me as to the reason for my interest in Geoffrey Case and the reunion, and I was thinking frantically to invent a plausible explanation. I was saved by an empty pepper grinder. Gene gave it a twist, then walked away to exchange it. I used a table napkin to swab his wineglass and left before he returned.
     
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    twenty-nine
    I cycled to the university on Saturday morning with an unidentifiable, and therefore disconcerting, emotion. Things were settling back into their normal pattern. The day’s testing would mark the end of the Father Project. At worst, Rosie might find a person that we had overlooked—another tutor or caterer or perhaps someone who had left the party early—but a single additional test would not take long. And I would have no reason to see Rosie again.

    We met at the lab. There were three samples to test: the swab from Isaac Esler’s fork, a urine sample on toilet paper from Freyberg’s floor, and Gene’s table napkin. I had still not told Rosie about the handkerchief from Margaret Case but was anxious to get a result on Gene’s sample. There was a strong possibility that Gene was Rosie’s father. I tried not to think about it, but it was consistent with Gene’s reaction to the photo, his identification of Rosie’s mother, and his history of casual sex.

    “What’s the napkin?” asked Rosie.

    I was expecting this question.

    “Retest. One of the earlier samples was contaminated.”

    My improving ability at deception was not enough to fool Rosie. “Bullshit. Who is it? It’s Case, isn’t it? You got a sample for Geoffrey Case.”

    It would have been easy to say yes, but identifying the sample as Case’s would create great confusion if it tested positive. A web of lies.

    “I’ll tell you if it’s the one,” I said.

    “Tell me now,” said Rosie. “It is the one.”

    “How can you know?”

    “I just know.”

    “You have zero evidence. Isaac Esler’s story makes him an excellent candidate. He was committed to getting married to someone else right after the party. He admits to being drunk. He was evasive at dinner. He’s standing next to your mother in the photo.”

    This was something we had not discussed before. It was such an obvious thing to have checked. Gene had once given me an exercise to do at conferences: “If you want to know who’s sleeping with who, just look at who they sit with at breakfast.” Whoever Rosie’s mother had been with that night would likely be standing next to her. Unless of course he was required to take the photo.

    “My intuition versus your logic. Wanna bet?”

    It would have been unfair to take the bet. I had the advantage of the knowledge from the basement encounter. Realistically, I considered Isaac Esler, Gene, and Geoffrey Case to be equally likely. I had mulled over Esler’s reference to “people involved”and concluded that it was ambiguous. He might have been protecting his friend, but he could equally have been hiding behind him. Though if Esler was not himself the father, he could simply have told me to test his sample. Perhaps his plan was to confuse me, in which case it had succeeded, but only temporarily. Esler’s deceptive behavior had caused me to review an earlier decision. If we reached a point where we had eliminated all other candidates, including Esler, I would test the sample I had collected from Margaret Case.

    “Anyway it’s definitely not Freyberg,” said Rosie, interrupting my thinking.

    “Why not?” Freyberg was the least likely but certainly not impossible.

    “Green eyes. I should have thought of it at the time.”

    She interpreted my expression correctly: disbelief.

    “Come on, you’re the geneticist. He’s got green eyes, so he can’t be my father. I checked it on the Internet.”

    Amazing. She retains a professor of genetics, an alien of extraordinary abilities, to help find her father, she travels for a week, spending almost every minute of the waking day with him, yet when she wants the answer to a question on genetics, she goes to the Internet.

    “Those models are simplifications.”

    “Don, my mother had blue eyes. I have brown eyes. My real father had to have brown eyes, right?”

    “Wrong,” I said. “Highly likely but not certain. The genetics of eye color are extremely complex. Green is possible. Also blue.”

    “A medical student—a doctor—would know that, wouldn’t she?”

    Rosie was obviously referring to her mother. I thought it was probably not the right time to give Rosie a detailed account of the deficiencies in medical education.

    I just said, “Highly unlikely. Gene used to teach genetics to medical students. That’s a typical Gene simplification.”

    “Fuck Gene,” said Rosie. “I am so over Gene. Just test the napkin. It’s the one.” But she sounded less sure.

    “What are you going to do when you find out?”

    This question should have been asked earlier. Failure to raise it was another result of lack of planning, but now that I could picture Gene as the father, Rosie’s future actions became more relevant to me.

    “Funny you should ask,” said Rosie. “I said it was about closure. But I think, subconsciously, I had this fantasy that my real father would come riding in and . . . deal with Phil.”

    “For failing to keep the Disneyland promise? It would surely be difficult to devise a suitable punishment after so much time.”

    “I said it was a fantasy,” she said. “I saw him as some sort of hero. But now I know it’s one of three people, and I’ve met two of them. Isaac Esler: ‘We must not revisit the past lightly.’ Max Freyberg: ‘I consider myself a restorer of self-esteem.’ Assholes, both of them. Just weak guys who ran away.”

    The lack of logic here was astounding. At most, one of them had deserted her.

    “Geoffrey Case . . .” I began, thinking Rosie’s characterization would not apply to him, but if Rosie knew about the manner of his death, she might interpret it as a means of escaping his responsibilities.

    “I know, I know. But if it turns out to be someone else, some middle-aged guy who’s pretending to be something he isn’t, then time’s up, douche bag.”

    “You’re planning to expose him?” I asked, horrified. Suddenly it struck me that I could be involved in causing great pain to someone, very possibly my best friend. To his whole family! Rosie’s mother had not wanted Rosie to know. Perhaps this was why. By default, Rosie’s mother knew more about human behavior than I did.

    “Correct.”

    “But you’ll be inflicting pain. For no compensatory gain.”

    “I’ll feel better.”

    “Incorrect,” I said. “Research shows that revenge adds to the distress of the victim—”

    “That’s my choice.”

    There was the possibility that Rosie’s father was Geoffrey Case, in which case all three samples would test negative, and it would be too late for Rosie to wreak her revenge. I did not want to rely on that possibility.

    I turned off the machine.

    “Stop,” said Rosie. “I have a right to know.”

    “Not if it causes suffering.”

    “What about me?” she said. “Don’t you care about me?” She was becoming emotional. I felt very calm. Reason was in control again. My thoughts were straight.

    “I care about you enormously. So I can’t contribute to your doing something immoral.”

    “Don, if you don’t do the test, I’m never going to speak to you again. Ever.”

    This information was painful to process but rationally entirely predictable.

    “I’d assumed that was inevitable,” I said. “The project will be complete, and you’ve indicated no further interest in the sexual aspect.”

    “So it’s my fault?” said Rosie. “Of course it’s my fault. I’m not a fucking nonsmoking teetotal chef with a PhD. I’m notorganized.”

    “I’ve deleted the nondrinking requirement.” I realized that she was referring to the Wife Project. But what was she saying? That she was evaluating herself according to the criteria of the Wife Project? Which meant—

    “You considered me as a partner?”

    “Sure,” she said. “Except for the fact that you have no idea of social behavior, your life’s ruled by a whiteboard, and you’re incapable of feeling love—you’re perfect.”

    She walked out, slamming the door behind her.

    I turned the machine on. Without Rosie in the room, I could safely test the samples and then decide what to do with them. Then I heard the door open again. I turned around, expecting to see Rosie. Instead it was the Dean.

    “Working on your secret project, Professor Tillman?”

    I was in serious trouble. In all previous encounters with the Dean, I had been following the rules, or the infraction had been too minor to punish. Using the DNA machine for private purposes was a substantial breach of the Genetics Department regulations. How much did she know? She did not normally work on weekends. Her presence was not an accident.

    “Fascinating stuff, according to Simon Lefebvre,” said the Dean. “He comes into my office and asks me about a project in my own faculty. One that apparently requires that we collect his DNA. As you do. I gather there was some sort of joke involved. Pardon my lack of humor, but I was at a slight disadvantage—having never heard of the project. Surely, I thought, I would have seen the proposal when it went to the ethics committee.”

    Up to this point, the Dean had seemed cool and rational. Now she raised her voice.

    “I’ve been trying for two years to get the Medical Faculty to fund a joint research project—and you decide not only to behave grossly unethically but to do it to the man who holds the purse strings. I want a written report. If it doesn’t include an ethics approval that I somehow haven’t seen yet, we’ll be advertising an associate professor position.”

    The Dean stopped at the door.

    “I’m still holding your complaint about Kevin Yu. You might want to think about that. And I’ll have your lab key, thank you.”

    The Father Project was over. Officially.

    • • •

    Gene came into my office the following day as I was completing an EPDS questionnaire.

    “Are you okay?” he said. This was a timely question.

    “I suspect not. I’ll tell you in approximately fifteen seconds.” I completed the questionnaire, calculated the result, and passed it to Gene. “Sixteen,” I told him. “Second-highest score ever.”

    Gene looked at it. “Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Do I have to point out that you haven’t had a baby recently?”

    “I don’t answer the baby-related questions. It was the only depression instrument Claudia had at home when my sister died. I’ve continued using it for consistency.”

    “This is what we call ‘getting in touch with our feelings,’ is it?” said Gene.

    I sensed that the question was rhetorical and did not reply.

    “Listen,” he said, “I think I can fix this thing for you.”

    “You have news from Rosie?”

    “For Chrissakes, Don,” said Gene. “I have news from the Dean. I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but DNA testing without ethics approval—that’s ‘career over.’ ”

    I knew this. I had decided to phone Amghad, the golf club boss, and ask him about the cocktail bar partnership. It seemed like time to do something different. It had been a weekend of rude awakenings. I had arrived home after the interaction with the Dean to find that Eva, my housekeeper, had filled in a copy of the Wife Project questionnaire. On the front, she had written, “Don. Nobody is perfect. Eva.” In my state of heightened vulnerability, I had been extremely affected by this. Eva was a good person whose short skirts were perhaps intended to attract a partner and who would have been embarrassed by her relatively low socioeconomic status as she answered questions about postgraduate qualifications and appreciation of expensive food. I reflected on all the women who had completed my questionnaire, hoping they might find a partner. Hoping that partner might be me, even though they did not know much about me and would probably be disappointed if they did.

    I had poured myself a glass of pinot noir and gone out to the balcony. The city lights reminded me of the lobster dinner with Rosie that, contrary to the predictions of the questionnaire, had been one of the most enjoyable meals of my life. Claudia had told me I was being too picky, but Rosie had demonstrated in New York that my assessment of what would make me happy was totally incorrect. I sipped the wine slowly and watched the view change. A window went dark, a traffic light changed from red to green, an ambulance’s flashing lights bounced off the buildings. And it dawned on me that I had not designed the questionnaire to find a woman I could accept but to find someone who might accept me.

    Regardless of what decisions I might make as a result of my experiences with Rosie, I would not use the questionnaire again. The Wife Project was over.

    Gene had more to say. “No job, no structure, no schedule. You’ll fall apart.” He looked at the depression questionnaire again. “You’re falling apart already. Listen. I’m going to say that it was a Psych Department project. We’ll make up an ethics application, and you can say you thought it had been approved.”

    Gene was obviously doing his best to be helpful. I smiled for his benefit.

    “Does that take a few points off the score?” he said, waving the EPDS questionnaire.

    “I suspect not.”

    There was a silence. Neither of us apparently had anything to say. I expected Gene to leave. But he tried again.

    “Help me here, Don. It’s Rosie, isn’t it?”

    “It makes no sense.”

    “Let me put this simply,” said Gene. “You’re unhappy—so unhappy that you’ve lost perspective on your career, your reputation, your holy schedule.”

    This was true.

    “Shit, Don, you broke the rules. Since when do you break rules?”

    It was a good question. I respect rules. But in the last ninety-nine days, I had broken many rules, legal, ethical, and personal. I knew exactly when it had started. The day Rosie walked into my office and I hacked into Le Gavroche’s reservation system so I could go on a date with her.

    “All this because of a woman?” said Gene.

    “Apparently. It’s totally irrational.” I felt embarrassed. It was one thing to make a social error, another to admit that rationality had deserted me.

    “It’s only irrational if you believe in your questionnaire.”

    “The EPDS is highly—”

    “I’m talking about your ‘Do you eat kidneys?’ questionnaire. I’d say genetics one, questionnaire nil.”

    “You consider the situation with Rosie to be the result of genetic compatibility?”

    “You have such a way with words,” Gene said. “If you want to be a bit more romantic about it, I’d say you were in love.”

    This was an extraordinary statement. It also made absolute sense. I had assumed that romantic love would always be outside my realm of experience. But it perfectly accounted for my current situation. I wanted to be sure.

    “This is your professional opinion? As an expert on human attraction?”

    Gene nodded.

    “Excellent.” Gene’s insight had transformed my mental state.

    “Not sure how that helps,” said Gene.

    “Rosie identified three faults. Fault number one was the inability to feel love. There are only two left to rectify.”

    “And they would be?”

    “Social protocols and adherence to schedules. Trivial.”
     

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