As I said earlier, my father had a face that could stop a clock; and that's exactly what happened one spring morning as I was having a sandwich in a small cafe not far from work. The world flickered, shuddered and stopped. The proprietor of the cafe froze in midsentence and the picture on the television stopped dead. Outside, birds hung motionless in the sky. Cars and trams halted in the streets and a cyclist involved in an accident stopped in midair, the look of fear frozen on his face as he paused two feet from the hard asphalt. The sound halted too, replaced by a dull snapshot of a hum, the world's noise at that moment in time paused indefinitely at the same pitch and volume.
"How's my gorgeous daughter?"
I turned. My father was sitting at a table and rose to hug me affectionately.
"I'm good," I replied, returning his hug tightly. "How's my favorite father?"
"Can't complain. Time is a fine physician."
I stared at him for a moment.
"Y'know," I muttered, "I think you're looking younger every time I see you."
"I am. Any grandchildren in the offing?"
"The way I'm going? Not ever."
My father smiled and raised an eyebrow.
"I wouldn't say that quite yet."
He handed me a Woolworths bag.
"I was in '78 recently," he announced. "I brought you this."
He handed me a single by the Beatles. I didn't recognize the title.
"Didn't they split in '70?"
"Not always. How are things?"
"Same as ever. Authentications, copyright, theft-"
"-same old shit?"
"Yup." I nodded. "Same old shit. What brings you here?"
"I went to see your mother three weeks ahead your time," he answered, consulting the large chronograph on his wrist. "Just the usual-ahem-reason. She's going to paint the bedroom mauve in a week's time--will you have a word and dissuade her? It doesn't match the curtains."
"How is she?"
He sighed deeply.
"Radiant, as always. Mycroft and Polly would like to be remembered too."
They were my aunt and uncle; I loved them deeply, although both were mad as pants. I regretted not seeing Mycroft most of all. I hadn't returned to my hometown for many years and I didn't see my family as often as I should.
"Your mother and I think it might be a good idea for you to come home for a bit. She thinks you take work a little too seriously."
"That's a bit rich, Dad, coming from you."
"Ouch-that-hurt. How's your history?"
"Do you know how the Duke of Wellington died?"
"Sure," I answered. "He was shot by a French sniper during the opening stages of the Battle of Waterloo. Why?"
"Oh, no reason," muttered my father with feigned innocence, scribbling in a small notebook. He paused for a moment.
"So Napoleon won at Waterloo, did he?" he asked slowly and with great intensity.
"Of course not," I replied. "Field Marshal Blucher's timely intervention saved the day."
I narrowed my eyes.
"This is all O-level history, Dad. What are you up to?"
"Well, it's a bit of a coincidence, wouldn't you say?"
"Nelson and Wellington, two great English national heroes both being shot early on during their most important and decisive battles."
"What are you suggesting?"
"That French revisionists might be involved."
"But it didn't affect the outcome of either battle," I asserted. "We still won on both occasions!"
"I never said they were good at it."
"That's ludicrous!" I scoffed. "I suppose you think the same revisionists had King Harold killed in 1066 to assist the Norman invasion!"
From The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Copyright © February 2002, Viking Press, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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