The Rosie Project Page 47

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

What did I know?

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.
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 this would also apply to Geoffrey Case. He was now clearly the most likely candidate.
The entire project was reliant on Rosie\s mother\s testimony that she had performed the critical se*ual 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.
Rosie\s mother had chosen to remain with Phil. This was my first new thought. It supported the idea that the biological 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.
Geoffrey Case\s death occurred within months of Rosie\s birth and presumably the realisation that Phil was not the father. It might have taken some time for Rosie\s mother to organise 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 service station, refuelled 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.

21

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\ 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\ e 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 realised 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 centre. I decided not to visit my parents. The extra sixteen kilometres 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.


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