The Rosie Project Page 5

Ninety-three days after the third birthday dinner, we were travelling to the nursing home, discussing a genetics paper that Daphne had read the previous day, when it became apparent that she had forgotten some significant points. It was not the first time in recent weeks that her memory had been faulty, and I immediately organised an assessment of her cognitive functioning. The diagnosis was Alzheimer\s disease.

Daphne\s intellectual capability deteriorated rapidly, and we were soon unable to have our discussions about genetics. But we continued our meals and walks to the nursing home. Daphne now spoke primarily about her past, focusing on her husband and family, and I was able to form a generalised view of what married life could be like. She continued to insist that I could find a compatible partner and enjoy the high level of happiness that she had experienced in her own life. Supplementary research confirmed that Daphne\s arguments were supported by evidence: married men are happier and live longer.

One day Daphne asked, \When will it be my birthday again?\ and I realised that she had lost track of dates. I decided that it would be acceptable to lie in order to maximise her happiness. The problem was to source some daphne out of season, but I had unexpected success. I was aware of a geneticist who was working on altering and extending the flowering of plants for commercial reasons. He was able to supply my flower vendor with some daphne, and we had a simulated birthday dinner. I repeated the procedure each time Daphne asked about her birthday.

Eventually, it was necessary for Daphne to join her husband at the nursing home, and, as her memory failed, we celebrated her birthdays more often, until I was visiting her daily. The flower vendor gave me a special loyalty card. I calculated that Daphne had reached the age of two hundred and seven, according to the number of birthdays, when she stopped recognising me, and three hundred and nineteen when she no longer responded to the daphne and I abandoned the visits.

I did not expect to hear from Julie again. As usual, my assumptions about human behaviour were wrong. Two days after the lecture, at 3.37 p.m., my phone rang with an unfamiliar number. Julie left a message asking me to call back, and I deduced that I must have left something behind.

I was wrong again. She wanted to continue our discussion of Asperger\s syndrome. I was pleased that my input had been so influential. She suggested we meet over dinner, which was not the ideal location for productive discussion, but, as I usually eat dinner alone, it would be easy to schedule. Background research was another matter.

\What specific topics are you interested in?\

\Oh,\ she said, \I thought we could just talk generally ... get to know each other a bit.\

This sounded unfocused. \I need at least a broad indication of the subject domain. What did I say that particularly interested you?\

\Oh ... I guess the stuff about the computer testers in Denmark.\

\Computer applications testers.\ I would definitely need to do some research. \What would you like to know?\

\I was wondering how they found them. Most adults with Asperger\s syndrome don\ know they have it.\

It was a good point. Interviewing random applicants would be a highly inefficient way to detect a syndrome that has an estimated prevalence of less than 0.3 per cent.

I ventured a guess. \I presume they use a questionnaire as a preliminary filter.\ I had not even finished the sentence when a light went on in my head - not literally, of course.

A questionnaire! Such an obvious solution. A purpose-built, scientifically valid instrument incorporating current best practice to filter out the time wasters, the disorganised, the ice-cream discriminators, the visual-harassment complainers, the crystal gazers, the horoscope readers, the fashion obsessives, the religious fanatics, the vegans, the sports watchers, the creationists, the smokers, the scientifically illiterate, the homeopaths, leaving, ideally, the perfect partner, or, realistically, a manageable shortlist of candidates.

\Don?\ It was Julie, still on the line. \When do you want to get together?\

Things had changed. Priorities had shifted.

\It\s not possible,\ I said. \My schedule is full.\

I was going to need all available time for the new project.

The Wife Project.

3

After speaking with Julie, I went immediately to Gene\s office in the Psychology building, but he was not there. Fortunately his personal assistant, The Beautiful Helena, who should be called The Obstructive Helena, was not there either and I was able to access Gene\s diary. I discovered that he was giving a public lecture, due to finish at 5.00 p.m., with a gap before a meeting at 5.30 p.m. Perfect. I would merely have to reduce the length of my scheduled gym session. I booked the vacant slot.

After an accelerated workout at the gym, achieved by deleting the shower and change tasks, I jogged to the lecture theatre, where I waited outside the staff entrance. Although I was perspiring heavily from the heat and exercise, I was energised, both physically and mentally. As soon as my watch showed 5.00 p.m., I walked in. Gene was at the lectern of the darkened theatre, still talking, apparently oblivious to time, responding to a question about funding. My entrance had allowed a shaft of light into the room, and I realised that the audience\s eyes were now on me, as if expecting me to say something.

\Time\s up,\ I said. \I have a meeting with Gene.\

People immediately started getting up, and I observed the Dean in the front row with three people in corporate costumes. I guessed that they were there as potential providers of finance and not because of an intellectual interest in primate se*ual attraction. Gene is always trying to solicit money for research, and the Dean is constantly threatening to downsize the Genetics and Psychology departments because of insufficient funding. It is not an area I involve myself in.


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