But Dad wasn't laughing. He replied with some surprise:
"Harold? Killed? How?"
"An arrow, Dad. In his eye."
"English or French?"
"History doesn't relate," I replied, annoyed at his bizarre line of questioning.
"In his eye, you say?- Time is out of joint," he muttered, scribbling another note.
"What's out of joint?" I asked, not quite hearing him.
"Nothing, nothing. Good job I was born to set it right-"
"Hamlet?" I asked, recognizing the quotation.
He ignored me, finished writing and snapped the notebook shut, then placed his fingertips on his temples and rubbed them absently for a moment. The world joggled forward a second and refroze as he did so. He looked about nervously.
"They're onto me. Thanks for your help, Sweetpea. When you see your mother, tell her she makes the torches burn brighter--and don't forget to try and dissuade her from painting the bedroom."
"Any color but mauve, right?"
He smiled at me and touched my face. I felt my eyes moisten; these visits were all too short. He sensed my sadness and smiled the sort of smile any child would want to receive from their father. Then he spoke:
"For I dipped into the past, far as SpecOps-12 could see-"
He paused and I finished the quote, part of an old ChronoGuard song Dad used to sing to me when I was a child.
"-saw a vision of the world and all the options there could be!"
And then he was gone. The world rippled as the clock started again. The barman finished his sentence, the birds flew onto their nests, the television came back on with a nauseating ad for SmileyBurgers, and over the road the cyclist met the asphalt with a thud.
Everything carried on as normal. No one except myself had seen Dad come or go.
I ordered a crab sandwich and munched on it absently while sipping from a mocha that seemed to be taking an age to cool down. There weren't a lot of customers and Stanford, the owner, was busy washing up some cups. I put down my paper to watch the TV when the Toad News Network logo came up.
Toad News was the biggest news network in Europe. Run by the Goliath Corporation, it was a twenty-four-hour service with up-to-date reports that the national news services couldn't possibly hope to match. Goliath gave it finance and stability, but also a slightly suspicious air. No one liked the Corporation's pernicious hold on the nation, and the Toad News Network received more than its fair share of criticism, despite repeated denials that the parent company called the shots.
"This," boomed the announcer above the swirling music, "is the Toad News Network. The Toad, bringing you News Global, News Updates, News NOW!"
The lights came up on the anchorwoman, who smiled into the camera.
"This is the midday news on Monday, May 6, 1985, and this is Alexandria Belfridge reading it. The Crimean Peninsula," she announced, "has again come under scrutiny this week as the United Nations passed resolution PN17296, insisting that England and the Imperial Russian Government open negotiations concerning sovereignty. As the Crimean War enters its one hundred and thirty-first year, pressure groups both at home and abroad are pushing for a peaceful end to hostilities."
I closed my eyes and groaned quietly to myself. I had been out there doing my patriotic duty in '73 and had seen the truth of warfare beyond the pomp and glory for myself. The heat, the cold, the fear, the death. The announcer spoke on, her voice edged with jingoism.
"When the English forces ejected the Russians from their last toehold on the peninsula in 1975, it was seen as a major triumph against overwhelming odds. However, a state of deadlock has been maintained since those days and the country's mood was summed up last week by Sir Gordon Duff-Rolecks at an antiwar rally in Trafalgar Square."
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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