9. Orange Blossom Special

Pru’s barking must be addressed and over the weekend, we begin her training with blind but well-intended determination. We will walk with Pru together as a family. We want her to feel safe and there is safety in numbers. We flank our little dachshund puppy like the Queen’s guards. We bring treats with us. Pru loves treats. Pru crosses the threshold of our front door with trepidation. After a few steps, Pru looks longingly back at the door and her home. She looks up as if to say, “do we really have to leave the house? The house feels safe. Walks are dangerous.” We will distract Pru from her percieved dangers of menacing toddlers in strollers and our friendly postman, until she is no longer barking at either. 

It is Monday and Pru is under the desk as I type. She barks up and I look down. Pru has white stuffing hanging out of her mouth. Bed number four deflates as I type. Today we took the treats and Pru to do the school run. She did better than before, but it was a tediously slow process. A friend, I usually walk with, waited for a while but had to get to the office. Pru and I were left on our own for the slow cold slog back to the car. We made it back after what seemed like eternity. Pru was stuffed with treats, and we were both a little exhausted. The school run can be hard for Pru and me too. I enjoy seeing other parents, but chit chat can sometimes feel draining. Like Pru, I feel a sense of trepidation crossing the threshold of our home and into the world beyond our front door. I wish there were some treats to help me on my walks too. 

In the afternoon I call our doctor, and she texts me a questionnaire to fill out. The Autism-Spectrum Quotient Test. A subjective self-assessment. I wonder if this test, first published in 2001, was designed with girls and women in mind. I take the test. On a scale of 0-50, 0 being unlikely to be on the Autistic Spectrum and 50 being very likely on the Spectrum, I score 42. The score lights up on my phone. I see my score and my mind wonders if I answered the questions correctly, who the 42nd President of the United States was and who was president in 2001. Then 2001 floods back. 2001 was not a good year. Pru the puppy was not alive in 2001, and Justice without Prudence stood blind. The 42nd President of the United States was Bill Clinton, a Rhodes Scholar here in Oxford and a consolation of sorts. 

The test score seems high, maybe I didn’t answer the questions in the right way. But there is a knowing deep inside me. Earlier in the week I stumble across the account of a woman in her 40’s, who recently went through the process of being diagnosed as autistic. She said she was stunned to learn that not everyone thought of the months of the year in colours. I think I’ve misread something. I stop breathing for a second. I think of October… mostly orange, but red, yellow and brown too. The colour orange reminds me of how I stumbled across Virginia Woolf’s diary in a junk shop. It was October and the book’s cover was orange, the perfect autumnal shade of orange. When my husband gets home from work, I meet him at our front door. As he takes off his coat I ask him, “do you think of the months in colour?” He looks at me like I’m not speaking English. I ask, “what colour is October to you?” He says he doesn’t think of months in colour. He looks at me carefully and asks, “do you think of the months in terms of colour?” My whole world is connected by colour. Orange is colour of my memory of stumbling across Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary in the junk shop in October. Orange becomes the colour memory of my 42/50 day. I wonder how many female artists, photographers and designers there are who reside on the spectrum and have no idea. 

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