My boyfriend is a savant

My boyfriend is a savant. He can multiply enormous numbers by each other in seconds and can list the members of my expansive German family in order of age without ever having been formally taught. He can recall facts about obscure historical figures I’ve never heard of and whenever we share a book to read, I have to skip paragraphs to keep up with his page turning.

Of course he denies it. He shakes his head with a bemused smile, masking the beginnings of faint frustration and says, “I’m not a savant, Katzi”. Then I ask him to multiply 678 by 78 and he says “52,884”.

“Is it really?”
“I think so”, he replies modestly.
I check it on my phone. He’s always right. I have found that he finds it difficult to refuse an offer to compute.

Being a savant’s girlfriend has its complications. One becomes idle. Instead of whipping out a calculator, or typing something into Google, or even better lifting one of my enormous encyclopaedias, I call him.

Another problem I have found is that it is extremely difficult to find a fault or defect to offset the genius quality. As well as knowing lots, he’s also unbearably humble.

The difference between us is that I don’t like to let the facts get in the way of a good diagnosis. I understand that according to the Strict Diagnostic criteria, LSB unfortunately does not qualify as a savant. However, this does not stop me from addressing text messages to him with “What’s up, Savantface?”

In an effort to refute my hypothesis, this Christmas he gave me a book with the title “Islands of Genius” with a foreword written by my hero Daniel Tammet. I fear he thought that reason was the way to a change of heart. This book, like most academic works, disguises interesting and insightful points with dull prose.

Peculiarly, though I received it last week, the inside cover claims it to have been “first published in 2012”. I see this as nothing more than further evidence of LSB’s preternatural processing speed.

The Mouse

One September morning in our poky kitchen, my father and I were enjoying an early brunch. He was spooning floating pineapple rings from a large glass bowl while I dipped some oatmeal biscuits into my peppermint tea. From the corner of my eye, I noticed something small and dark flitting across the floor, but the moment I turned in its direction, it was gone.

My father’s pineapple ring splashed unceremoniously back into its pool. “Did you see that?” he asked.

“See what?” I replied, wondering whether he was talking about the same thing.
“Something on the floor?”
“Yes! It was probably a Daddy Long Legs”, I told him.
He agreed and we laughed at my infantile terminology.

I thought nothing more of it and we continued to eat in amicable silence.

That September represented a new and unforeseen period of my life. I’d finished university the May before and was still at home, having failed in my attempts to travel and to find a job.

The upside to it all was that I was rather enjoying domestic life. I got to see a lot of my dad, and we’d developed our own little routines, like making mochas in the tiny steel pot which he’d had since university and listening to programmes on Radio 4.

Though I could sense myself regressing, I took solace from the fact that these moments at home were precious; that they wouldn’t last forever.

Throughout the summer, I had been indiscriminately applying for jobs but nobody would have me; the country was at a standstill. Then one day an enormous opportunity presented itself: The Irish Times was looking for an intern.

600 applied and I was in the final eight. I wasn’t holding my breath but I was devouring newspapers all the same and after a summer of uncertainty, a date for the final interview had at long last been set. Many of my conversations with my father went something like this:

“Dad, do you think I have a future?”
“Of course”, he said “You will become a literary lay-about just like me”

My father is the honorary editor of a history journal and spends much of his time cycling to and from the National Library to check if Major General so-and-so of the fifth battalion really did travel to Kinsale in 1752 as the Right Honourable Blogs’ diary of that date alleges. If he’s not doing that, he’s sitting in front of his laptop, painstakingly typesetting articles, which have arrived in his inbox from the eclectic collection of contributors he has garnered from around the world.

“Of course you won’t be rich”, he said, “but you will find a niche eventually”.

So went our conversations that summer and we revelled in the gentle irony with which we viewed our mundane daily existence.

Now that the summer had drawn to a close, the brunch we were enjoying in early September was my last before the final Irish Times interview, which was to take place the following day.

That evening, my father made an announcement.

“We have a mouse”.

“What?”, I said, already squirming.

He nodded solemnly. “Yes, I rather feared that’s what I saw in the kitchen this morning, but I didn’t want to scare you”.

“Ugh”, my mother sighed, from under her woollen blanket in the living room. “We’d better seal up the kitchen door so it doesn’t escape into the rest of the house”.

And so it began.

I refused point-blank to enter the kitchen the following morning and set off for my interview without breakfast.

I’m a vegetarian but that does not mean that I like to be invaded; particularly not by fast creatures, with long, thin tails, I told myself. After all, that’s why I chose to grow up with guinea pigs and hamsters rather than gerbils and rats. I further justified my over-reaction by telling myself that I was under enormous stress: what with a potentially life-defining interview ahead of me.

I arrived home that evening to bad news.

“We saw it in the living room”, my father said, grim-faced but full of resolve.
“It was incredibly fast”, my mother added gravely.

On the way upstairs, I quivered at every nook, convinced that the creature was about to emerge from hiding and crawl up my leg. I couldn’t bring myself to take out my furry slippers from under the hall table either, in case the mouse had taken refuge there. I shuddered and locked myself into my room.

I sat there and wondered about myself.

Two days later, things took a turn for the worse:

“It was in our bedroom”, my mother said “I saw it scamper behind the cupboard”.

She too was highly uncomfortable about the invasion.

Action had to be taken. My father got some traps.

My protest was pathetic: “Can’t we just capture it and free it humanely? Please

We could not, and I had some nerve if I thought that I could just sit there, being an hysterical and inert vegetarian, applying a guilt trip while they went to war on all our behalf.

Impractical, irrational and immature, I knew that I could neither see the mouse suffer nor capture it alone.

There had to be another way.

I made my way to the local hardware store, passing through shelves of creosote and weed-killer until I got to a section labelled “Pest Control”. Jumping with delight, I found exactly what I was looking for; I snatched it from the shelf and proceeded to the till.

I arrived home triumphant.

“I have a humane trap”, I declared.

“Huh?”

They weren’t nearly as enthusiastic as I was. They’d spent the day trying to catch the thing, which had now been spotted in several locations throughout the house, only to have me saunter back from my sojourn in the moral high-grounds, wielding a tiny cardboard box, which promised “easy capture and release”

They wouldn’t replace their multiple killer-traps with my one humane one, but agreed to use it as a supplement to their own.

The following day I spotted the mouse in my sock-drawer, and screamed.

I noticed though, that it was much smaller than I had expected.

It was a baby mouse, with a beautiful little face and a shorter-than-average tail.

I thought about the techniques for overcoming fears that psychologists recommend. One of them was called “mere exposure”: simply coming into contact with a fear can help alleviate it.

On Sunday morning my mother went to Church, having seen the mouse scuttle under her wardrobe.

By then our battle with the mouse was becoming somewhat of a farce; so much so that my father had placed our mouse-shaped pumice stone onto a trap in the living room the day before in order to startle me.

Fortified by courage and relaxed by the prepostrousness of the situation I entered the room. My father was in bed, reading a tatty book with a dull title.

“What’s the situation?”, I asked.

He lifted his nose reluctantly from under the book: “It has to be over there”, he said, motioning to the far corner of the room, “It definitely hasn’t left.”

With a sudden surge of courage, I ran to the kitchen and snatched the humane trap from where I had placed it just beside the door.

Returning upstairs, I opened the flap to the linen closet where scores of my mum’s dresses were hanging.

In the corner, half-concealed by a green velvet wrap, whiskers twitching and tiny ears erect, I saw it perched.

Any of the fear I had left drained from me in a flash. It was adorable.

We waved a scarf at it and it dashed. We dived and it squeezed past us in a blur. We put the hoover on and it didn’t move.

We laughed.

Mum came home and I retreated, expecting that we would have the little creature captured and released into the wild by lunchtime.

Later that day a voice called me from above.

“Kate, we have it!!! We’ve got it!! Come here!”

I rushed up, tripping on the pieces of cheese they had left in a trail across the floor.

My father, grinning, was holding the plastic box, where the mouse had become entrapped.

“There you go, it was your humane trap that did it in the end”, my mother conceded, smiling with a twinkle in her eye.

I took the box from my father and stared in at the little face, with its jet-black beedy black eyes peering back at me.

In those few minutes, as we sat there in my parents’ room, surrounded by traps, with clothes and cheese strewn around the floor and the tiny creature in our hands we felt closer to each other than we had for a long time. Somehow this little incident had brought us together: first through our nervous tension and then, when we saw the cute thing up close, in our shared appreciation of the ridiculous.

There was some sticky stuff on the base of the trap so the creature couldn’t run away.

“We’ll release it in the park across the road”, I cried, beaming at the idea.

“It won’t be long before it’s back!”, my father laughed as we were getting ready to go.

We were giddy with our success.

I ran upstairs to grab my camera so that I could record the moment of release. We got as far as the gate and I got my mother to take a shot of my father and me with our mouse friend.

Once in the park, I returned the box to my dad, to do the honours. We’d brought a pair of kitchen scissors with us so we could remove the top of the box.

Gingerly, my dad cut through the roof. The mouse, impaled on the floor, did not look happy.

“Not long now”, I gushed over it, still frivolous and light-headed with our victory.

My father placed the plastic container down on the ground.

Suddenly from behind, an enormous labrador came bounding towards us, barking madly. He had smelt a rat.

My instincts suddenly aroused, I growled and ushered him away, becoming a little embarrassed as I turned and saw his ten-year-old owner watching me.

The dog gone, the park fell silent but for some leaves, which rustled in the distance. We must have been there for only a few seconds but suddenly an uncertainty engulfed the air.

My father stepped back to look at the motionless mouse, stuck to the base of the box and after a while, he asked my mother to get him a sand scraper from the house.

While she was gone, I bent down, and looked more closely at where the mouse was stuck.

Attached to the base of the box, were not just the four paws, as I had thought, but the entire belly of the mouse, rendering it utterly immobile.

My mother returned with the scraper. Dad picked up the box again. With gentleness that stirred me, he attempted to get it under the mouse’s tiny feet.

It didn’t work. The gluey goo was too deeply ingrained into its silky-thin fur.

My heart was beating more quickly now.

The little body was beginning to twist in pain. My father’s expression changed: scraper in hand, he too was twinging with discomfort.

As the mouse moved, more of its fur became dislodged.

I began to see blood.

“Stop”, I yelled, hopelessly.

I had to look away. My father’s eyes were full of pain, as he continued to scrape at the little body, wreathing in agony.

An autumn chill was in the air.

The last I saw of the creature was its outstretched neck and taut, mangled, tortured body being ripped away from the plastic box.

It haunts me still.

In the days, weeks and months that followed, nothing has invaded me like this image. We had some other mice after that which were killed, humanely by guillotine. I got a rejection letter from the Irish Times some weeks later and didn’t feel much. And for all the bloodshed I have seen in the news, and the depressing images of suffering on the streets around me, nothing disturbs me like that image, or sends a pang of guilt so accute gushing through my entire body.

Money affairs: DSK’s third wife spends day thinking.

Imagine you are Anne Sinclair, third wife of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. You’re sitting in a leather armchair in your Washington mansion, twiddling your thumbs. There’s nothing to do. Normally, in this situation, you’d write your blog Deux ou Trois choses vues d’Amerique. But, malheuresement, along with the rest of your activities, you wound that up too last May. Pity, you think. It had made the list of top 12 Political blogs in France. No mean feat, when you consider the myriad hopeful commentators polluting the blogosphere.

Sigh. You take out your ipad and find yourself googling Dominique. You read again his resignation statement -there’s sure to be a hard copy around somewhere – but let’s face it: such is the world we live in that it’s faster to find your husband’s press release online than in the hand-carved oak filing cabinet upstairs. You smile wryly when you get to the bit where he writes “I think at this time first of my wife—whom I love more than anything—of my children, of my family, of my friends.”

Men are like primitive women, you think. So impulsive, so fragile, so loveable. All the same, really. Well, the successful ones at least. You log into youtube and search for yourself this time. The top results: heartbreaking. You’ve gone from being a superstar journalist to a stoic wife. That’s what a few minutes of misdemeanour with a hotel maid can do to a thirteen-year career in television.

ABC News has compiled a clumsy profile of you– the facts swiped, you suspect, straight from your wikipedia page – and now two uninformed presenters are describing your marriage as that of a “Power couple”. Very original. Bloody Americans. The headline is pathetic too – you’re described as “the woman standing by her man”. They even get a French lady to say with pitiable enthusiasm “she was the number one journalist in France for a very long time”. Wonderful, insightful. That last part makes you just a little bit sad though, the ‘was’. Still, all good things come to an end.
And that bit about the French preferring you to Carla as first lady. That is true. The Telegraph report of the February poll opened “The former supermodel was heavily beaten by glamorous TV presenter Anne Sinclair”. So much for emancipation.

Such is mass media though- it condenses years to minutes in seconds. And don’t you, of all people know it. Still, it’s not like your career is everything. Didn’t you give it all up in 1997 anyway, when Dominique became finance minister and you quit TF1 to avoid conflict of interest?

Ha, conflict of interest. The stuff of affairs. Never have been too bothered by Dominique’s straying. He’s like a dog – always comes back, and there’s a comfortable power in knowing that he couldn’t live without you. Embarrassing though, always. Not personally embarrassing of course– your self-esteem is higher than that – but it’s a bother playing supportive wife all the time. You’re a lot more. You’re his best friend, and a best-selling author. And you won the Sept d’Or.

Besides, when it comes to scandals, you’ve seen it all before. The 500 odd people of note you’ve interviewed over the years have had their own remarkable scandals: Bill and Hillary Clinton – you spoke to them separately of course- the very image of successful marriage in spite of transgression. Madonna, Mitterand, Sarcozy, Gorbachev, Kohl, Schroeder… the list goes on. And of course – how could you forget – Prince Charles; the least likely of seducers but one of the more refreshing to interview, with his hoity Britishness and attempts at polished French.

Of course, over the years some of your intimate friends tentatively suggested leaving Dominique, especially after the affair with Piroska Nagy. But they don’t understand. You are no fool. You knew the man you married. You were his third wife; he your second husband. Sexual fidelity was not high on your list of priorities. He seduced you like he seduced the others. You’re not naïve enough to think otherwise but the respect he has for you is not corporal – he respects your mind, and he knows that your loyalty makes its own demands.

Still, you cannot bear to think of her, that maid. You’ve seen her desperate interview, how could you not have? The bit that makes you shiver is near the beginning. It’s when she says “he come to me and cup my breasts no you don’t have to be sorry”. You can see it, vividly. Your husband. And that maid.

Her broken English, “he won’t say nothing”, “I never see him before”, “they gonna kill me before someone knows what happened to me”. They ring in your ears, those words. First you feel rage, then contempt and finally immense, unbearable guilt, as you look around your expansive, ornate surroundings.

You can’t help being surprised though – in your capacity as a journalist – that more isn’t being made of the occurrence of the sexual encounter in the first place, which is undisputed. Sure, in France the media is liberated from petty feminist cries. But maybe now the rest of the world has woken up to it too: marital fidelity plays no part in public affairs.

Something has triggered a quotation in your mind though. An unpleasant neural connection has occurred. What rushes to mind just now is something your husband said in the “Inside Job” TV documentary about the financial crisis last year. Just the little, unarguable fact that “At the end of the day, the poorest – as always – pay the most”. Nothing more.

She doesn’t have a hope in hell- that immigrant who has been intimate with your husband. But she has inflicted upon you the gravest injury of all – the indignity of being pitied. You close down your ipad, and rise stiffly from your leather chair to make yourself, and Dominique a cup of tea. You’re getting too old for this.