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Chapter 21
I had set the GPS to take me to the nursing home, where Iintroduced myself as a family friend.
‘I’m afraid she won’t know you,’ said the nurse. This was theassumption I had made, although I was prepared with aplausible story if necessary. The nurse took me to a singleroom 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 besidethe bed for a while. I guessed Margaret Case was about eighty,much the same age as Daphne had been when she moved tothe nursing home.
Given the story Rosie had told me, it was very possible that Iwas looking at her grandmother.
As Margaret Case remained still and silent in her single bed, Ithought about the Father Project. It was only possible becauseof175/290technology. 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 asmuch as we can. But I am a physical scientist, not apsychologist.
The woman in front of me was not a fifty-four-year-old malemedical practitioner who might have run from his parentalresponsibilities.
She was totally helpless. It would be easy to take a hairsample, or to swab her toothbrush, but it felt wrong.
For these reasons, and for others that I did not fully grasp atthe time, I decided not to collect a sample.
Then Margaret Case woke up. She opened her eyes andlooked directly at me.
‘Geoffrey?’ she said, quietly but very clearly. Was she asking forher husband or for her long-dead son? There was a timewhen I would have replied without thinking, ‘They’re dead,’ notout of malice but because I am wired to respond to the factsbefore others’ feelings. But something had changed in me, andI managed to suppress the statement.
She must have realised that I was not the person she hadhoped to see, and began crying. She was not making anynoise, but there were tears on her cheeks. Automatically,because I had experienced this situation with Daphne, I pulledout my handkerchief and wiped away the tears. She closed hereyes again. But fate had delivered me my sample.
I was exhausted, and by the time I walked out of the nursinghome there were tears in my own eyes from lack of sleep. Itwas early au-tumn, and this far north the day was alreadywarm. I lay under a tree and fell asleep.
I woke to see a male doctor in a white coat standing over meand for a frightening moment I was taken back to the badtimes of twenty years ago. It was only momentary; I quicklyremembered where I was176/290and he was only checking to see that I was not ill or dead. Iwas not breaking any rules. It was four hours and eightminutes since I had left Margaret Case’s room.
The incident was a timely reminder of the dangers of fatigueand I planned the return trip more carefully. I scheduled afive-minute break every hour and at 7.06 p.m. I stopped at amotel, ate an over-cooked steak and went to bed. The earlynight enabled a 5.00 a.m.
start on the Sunday.
The highway bypasses Shepparton, but I took the turnoff andwent to the city centre. I decided not to visit my parents. Theextra sixteen kilometres involved in driving the full distance totheir house and back to the highway would add a dangerousunplanned increment to what was already a demandingjourney, but I did want to see the town.
I drove past Tillman Hardware. It was closed on Sunday, andmy father and brother would be at home with my mother. Myfather was probably straightening pictures, and my motherasking my brother to clear his construction project from thedining table so she could set it for Sunday dinner. I had notbeen back since my sister’s funeral.
The service station was open and I filled the tank. A man ofabout forty-five, BMI about thirty, was behind the counter. As Iapproached, I recognised him, and revised his age tothirty-nine. He had lost hair, grown a beard and gained weight,but he was obviously Gary Parkinson, who had been at highschool with me. He had wanted to join the army and travel.
He had apparently not realised this ambition. I was remindedhow lucky I was to have been able to leave and reinvent mylife.
‘Hey, Don,’ he said, obviously also recognising me.
‘Greetings, GP.’
He laughed. ‘You haven’t changed.’
177/290It was getting dark on Sunday evening when I arrived back inMelbourne and returned the rental car. I left the JacksonBrowne CD in the player.
Two thousand four hundred and seventy-two kilometresaccording to the GPS. The handkerchief was safe in a zip-lockbag, but its existence did not change my decision not to testMargaret Case.
We would still have to go to New York.
I met Rosie at the airport. She remained uncomfortable aboutme purchasing her ticket, so I told her she could pay me backby 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. Ihad told her to pack as lightly as possible but she exceededthe seven kilogram limit for carry-on luggage. Fortunately I wasable to transfer some of her excess equipment to my bag. Ihad packed my ultra-light PC, toothbrush, razor, spare shirt,gym shorts, change of underwear and (annoyingly) b............
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