Posts Tagged ‘paradox’

The Father Paradox

clockby Judith Field

Dad always insisted that there was something priceless in the house. Towards the end, words that might have told me what and where, abandoned him. I couldn’t see anything worth more than a few bob, and neither could the house clearance dealer.

I stood by the kitchen window looking at the back wall separating the garden from the churchyard where he was buried. The sky was solid grey and a gust of wind bent the branches of the trees into arcs. Bloody English summer, I bet the sun was baking the pavement in Barcelona. I’d be looking at orchids, thyme and hibiscus, if I could buy a place there. But not on a medical physicist’s salary. Dad left his entire estate to the University. Congratulations, folks, don’t spend the whole fifty quid at once.

Archie, gardener and churchwarden, was in the final stages of wrenching a rose bush out of Dad’s flower bed. I banged on the window. “Come in and have a drink when you’ve finished.”

He wrapped the rose’s root ball in an old sack and stomped into the kitchen. I found a bottle of lemonade, not quite empty, inside the fridge. I poured him a glass, put the empty bottle on the table, turned off the fridge and pulled out the plug, ready for the new tenants.

Archie downed the lot and leaned back. “You sure you’ll be able to plant these roses properly at your place? Get someone to help you.”

“How hard can it be? I’ll do it on my own, I’m a big girl now.” Once both your parents are dead, you finally feel like you’ve grown up. Even when you’re in your fifties.

“I’ll go and dig that dwarf apple tree out for you next,” Archie said, “but then I’ll have to get off, I’ve got more gardens to do. Get another apple if you want fruit. I told your Dad to buy more than one.”

“He wanted to plant a mini-orchard. That tree was going to be the first of many. I’ve got to take it with me. The next tenant might want to chop it down, I couldn’t stand the thought of that. Dad loved his garden.”

“Oh, aye. Good at digging, your Dad was. I suppose he had to be, in his line of work. Bit different from Egypt here, though. I remember him planting this tree, just before he went mad…er, was taken ill. You know, there’s a lot of it about, in this little street. All started around about the same time as your Dad.” Archie pursed his lips and looked upwards. “There’s four others, no…five. Going downhill, really fast.”

“I suppose that’s what happens when folk retire to a place like this. All the same age, all getting senile.”

Archie shrugged. “Dunno about that. Kevin two doors down, he’s got the dee-mentia. He’s only forty-five. I’m going to do his garden next, sweep up the leaves.”

“That’s kind of you.”

He smiled. “Now your Dad, he never let the leaves lie, I’ll give him that. Always had a bonfire going.” He got up and headed for the garden. “See you, Kathleen. I’ll be back in a bit, help you get those books into the car.”

Dad used to call me Kat, but that stopped when people only he could see began coming through the bedroom wall when he lay awake. Then, he called me Kathleen, the Thief, who stole from him. He would get up in the night to hide money around the house–half a £50 note among the pages of a book and the other half inside the toaster. I told him he didn’t have money to burn. “Burn, yes,” he said. I wrinkled my nose as I remembered the time he set the kitchen alight. Saved by the smoke alarm.

Towards the end, he forgot my name completely, and the places where he had hidden things. One day he pulled every book off the shelves that lined the walls and I found him throwing them across the room. “It’s all true,” he muttered, “priceless.” That again. But nothing had turned up and now the house was nearly empty.

Every happy memory I had about the place seemed to have been blotted out by Dad’s becoming what I came to think of as ‘the Father-thing’, some alien creature who had assumed his appearance. Whenever I thought of the house I felt a cold hand clutching my insides.

One more room to empty and I’d never have to come back to the house again. I picked up the charity shop box and headed for the living room. A mouldy smell hung in the air and stains edged their way up the walls where the furniture had been. The front door, opening directly from the room onto the street, shuddered in the wind. The sky outside darkened and rain blobbed against the window. There was still work to do, on a shelf-full of books that the dealer had refused to take. A woman from the charity shop was coming to collect them. I looked at my watch–she was due in an hour. Better get a move on.

I saw a blue book on the shelf. The label on the front read “The Quantum Multiverse–could it resolve the Grandfather Paradox?” The Paradox was a time travel thing–if you went back and killed your own grandfather before you were born, how could you have been born to go back and murder him? It was my final dissertation for my degree, and I’d been much taken with the idea of an infinite number of possible universes, like bubbles, all coexisting but never interacting. Dad took one look at the dissertation, said “too many hard sums for me”, gave me a kiss and put the book on the shelf. It had probably been there ever since.

I pulled out a Bible bound in black leather, gold leaf letters on the spine. Inside, the inscription “Maurice Farthing, November, 1933”. He’d have been thirteen, I remember him telling me that was the age he was when he first became interested in Egyptology. I took it into the kitchen and put it on the table, on top of the pile of books to take home.

Back in the living room, in the gap behind where the book had been, stood another one, a battered hard-back with a dull red cover. The British Way and Purpose, consolidated edition, prepared by the Directorate of Army Education. The book fell open between chapters called ‘Working for a Living’ and ‘What we Produce’, held slightly apart by an envelope containing three dried leaves, burnt at the edges. Another toaster job.

A few pages further on, after ‘What We Do with the Products’, I found two letters. One was from the Royal Botanic Garden, at Kew.

We have been unable to identify the leaf you submitted as there is nothing comparable among our herbarium specimens. However, we believe it to originate from a species of thorn bush.

The letter was dated October 2013, a month before the dementia caught hold of Dad. It must have been the last thing he worked on.

The second letter, sent a week later, was from the radiocarbon dating laboratory at the University.

The papyrus, the ink used in the writing on it and the plant sample you submitted are between 3500 and 4000 years old.

I picked up a pristine copy of A Brief History of Time, flicked through it. Some of the pages hadn’t been cut  ad anyone actually read the book? Behind it was another copy of The British Way and Purpose. Between ‘Better than the Rules’ and ‘Does It Matter What We Believe?’  was a letter from the Department of Semitic Studies at the University, dated November 2013:

“we concur with you that the text on the “papyrus” allegedly from Mount Horeb, of which you sent us a photocopy, is Hebrew, written in a form of early Semitic script. You say that you found it in 1942 but the fact that you have not consulted us until now leads us to assume this is some kind of hoax.

In the margin, in Dad’s writing Yes – I took a break after El Alamein. And No carbon dating till now, you buffoon! I read on.

However, here is the translation of what we could read: “My brother Aaron, these leaves are from the bush I told you about…on fire and yet not consumed… I will be who I will be…my name forever, the name you shall call me… I am not a man of words—not yesterday, not the day before…speak to the people for me, speak to Pharaoh Thutmose…meet me in the desert.” We cannot discern a signature on the document but would be happy to examine the original.

I felt as though all the air had been sucked out of the room and the floor seemed to rush towards me, then vanish into the distance. Where was the original papyrus? I struggled to catch my breath. I clawed at the books still on the shelf, dragged them onto the floor, but there were no more copies of The British Way and Purpose. Pages clattered as I hurled the remaining books across the room, but nothing fell out as they hit the wall.

I ran to the kitchen, grabbed the toaster, turned it upside down and shook it till the works rattled. Nothing. Had there been a dull red book among the ones the dealer took? Why hadn’t I made a note of his phone number? Where had I found it—Google? I wrenched my phone out of my pocket. No signal. I flung the window open. “Archie! Quick! Have you got a local paper?”

Out in the garden, he didn’t seem to have heard me. He knelt on the lawn pulling something red out of the ground where the apple tree had been. His stood up. “Your Dad. Daft old bugger.” He held out a clear plastic bag. Inside was a book with a dark red cover.

“Give that to me!” I ran towards him, my feet slipping and sliding on the wet grass. I snatched the bag and ran back into the house. Archie followed me.

My heartbeat pounded in my ears. The bag slipped out of my shaking hands onto the table. I panted as I tried to tear it open.

“Here, let me do it.” Archie took a lock-knife out of his pocket and pulled out the blade. I gasped. “Don’t look so worried,” he said. “I’ll be careful.” He slit the bag, took the book out and put it on the table next to the empty lemonade bottle. I grabbed the book and it fell open. The pages had been cut away, leaving a space containing a cylindrical grey pottery jar about three inches high. The lid of the jar was shaped like the head of a pointy-eared jackal, with long striped hair. I pulled the jar out of the book.

Archie peered over my shoulder. “Looks old. Valuable, is it?”

I took the jackal head lid off and upended the jar over the table. A roll of paper dropped out. It was brown with tattered edges. Through the surface I saw the outline of unfamiliar texts. Not paper. Papyrus.

My mouth dried. “More than you know.” I touched the papyrus with the tip of my index finger. The air glowed blue above it I felt a buzzing inside my head and an image of sand, and the occasional scrubby bush, flashed across my mind.

Archie leaned in front of me. “It’s clever, lighting up like that. Let me look at it properly.”

“No!” I reached out to grab the papyrus, knocking the pile of books to the floor. I looked out of the window. “I think it’s stopped raining. I don’t want to keep you. Kevin’ll be waiting. Time to go!” A phoney laugh stuck in my throat.

“OK, calm down. I’ll say goodbye.” He reached out to shake my hand. I felt bad. Archie had helped me find something wonderful, even if he didn’t know it. I’d send him some money, anonymously. Once I’d sold the scroll.

I put my arms round Archie and hugged him. He reddened. “Give over. I’m only going to rake up Kev’s leaves. Not create the hanging gardens of Babylon.”

I released him. “That was for me. For all your help. You must let me give you something,” I said. “Take anything you like the look of. Before you go.”

Archie tugged at one ear. “Sure?”

I nodded. He looked round, frowning. Archie picked up the Bible and leafed through it. “I wouldn’t mind taking this notebook, for my little grandson. Loves to draw, he does.”

“That belonged to Dad. I don’t think anyone should be scribbling on it.”

“Make your mind up. But I’m sure your Dad wouldn’t have minded a little lad having a bit of a draw. It’s not like it’s got writing or anything. Well, just a bit at the beginning and I’ll make sure he leaves that.” He shoved the bible towards me, flicking through blank page after blank page.

I took it. “Where’s the New Testament?”

Archie shrugged. “Where’s what?”

Genesis was there. Exodus stopped in the middle of a sentence about Moses tending sheep. After that, blank pages.

“But it was there. I saw it.” My throat tightened and I heard my voice rise in pitch. “Where’s the rest of the Bible gone?

Archie raised his eyebrows. “Bible?”

“This.” I jabbed a fingertip at the cover. “Look. Read.” I turned the book so that the spine was uppermost. No gold text. Had I imagined it? Dementia wasn’t contagious – was it?

The chair squeaked as I flopped into it. I pushed my fingers through my hair.

Archie put his hands up. “OK, OK, keep your Dad’s book. Didn’t mean to upset you.” He looked away from me. “I’ll leave you to it.”

He shuffled out of the back door. I locked the door behind him. I took a deep breath and told myself to think rationally, to remember I was a scientist. The Bible must have been printed in some kind of disappearing ink. And as for Archie, he must be losing his memory. Poor man.

I went back into the front room. A beam like a full-on car headlight shone through the window. The charity shop woman must have come early. I looked out of the window into the empty street. The hair on the back of my neck prickled, as though someone was watching me. I locked the door.

I put the Bible back on the table. I had proof that what it said was true. Dad was right, it was priceless. “It’s not too late,” I said to an empty room. “I’m going to make you a household name, Dad.” I decided to be patriotic and offer it all to the British Museum first. The jar alone must be worth something. I picked it up and reached out towards the papyrus again.

Pins and needles shot through my palm. My hand opened and I dropped the jar onto the table. After a second pause it rolled, apparently under its own power, onto the floor where it smashed on the stone tiles. The air seemed thick and I felt like I was moving under water. I heard a sound as though the air was tearing like cloth.

The shadow of a man appeared, black but edged with tiny sparks, but not on the wall. It stood in the middle of the room, on the air itself. A bright spot appeared in the middle of the shadow. It expanded till it filled the darkness and changed into the figure of a dark-skinned man. He stepped out of the space and into the room, flecks of light crackling around his shaven head.

He wore a white tunic, with fringes hanging down by his legs. He had bright green shadow on his eyelids, and a black line circled each eye. He held out his hand.

“Give me the scroll of the slave Moshe.”


He clapped his hands and I felt as though weights had fallen away from me. “You took the scroll from the jar. Give it to me.”

“Who the hell are you? Get out of my house.” He stood motionless. To get to the landline phone in the hall, I would have to get past him. He reached for the papyrus.

My breath rasped as I grabbed the empty lemonade bottle. I smashed it against the stone tiles of the floor. “You heard me. Get out.” I grasped the neck of the bottle and held the broken end outwards.

The man held his palm up and took a pace back. “I am Khusebek, magician of Pharaoh Thutmose. I serve Sekhmet, goddess of plague. You cannot harm me.”

“Don’t be too sure.” My mouth dried and I felt sick.

“The scroll is mine.”

“I’m not going to give it to you. It belongs to me. Me and my Dad.” I took a step towards him, jerking the broken end of the bottle forwards.

The man said a word I did not understand, which would probably take pictograms of reeds and eyes to write down. An invisible force grasped my hand, twisting it round. The bottle smashed on the floor, with a crash that seemed to go on and on. I rubbed my wrist.

His eyes narrowed. “You will not stop me. My magic is the breaker of bones. The tearer of flesh. Next time I will rip your arms from your body. The scroll is cursed. If you do not give it to me, the curse will fall on you.”

I backed away, my fists clenched, until I was pressed against the wall. “Go on, take it.”

He reached out. With a crack that made my ears ring, a flash of light burst out of the scroll. He jerked his hand back.

“The power is too great. I may hold it but I may not pick it up. You must give it to me.”

I dropped the scroll onto the table. “Then, you’ve got a problem, because I’m not going to. I don’t believe all that nonsense about curses. So just sod off.”

“I have waited many lifetimes. Dead. Asleep. Waiting for the scroll to be released from its captivity. The scroll is the destroyer of brains. It is a tool of great energy, it makes two times touch. Things are shaken loose in their time. You released the power when you took the scroll from its jar. It called to me through time, dragging me through an opened door between my world and yours.”

His gaze followed mine, to the shattered remains of the jar on the floor. “Why do you think your father, the tomb robber, kept it in the jar? Now the scroll cannot be put back, its power cannot be contained.”

“What are you on about, power?” I remembered my day job again. Caesium could give off blue light like the scroll had, if it got damp. “You mean radioactivity? Calm down. If that jar kept it in check I’m sure it’s nothing a few inches of lead can’t block.” The museum would be able to shield it. Wouldn’t they?

He moved towards me. I dashed to the other side of the kitchen, my feet crunching on the broken glass and pottery. The table stood between us. He leaned towards me.

“My master Pharaoh Thutmose found the scroll abandoned in the wilderness, after the slaves escaped. He kept it, hoping to use it to get them back. He never did. When he died, he took the scroll into his tomb. It watched over him for thousands of years. And your father crept through the doorway stole it.”

“Liar. Dad was no grave robber. He must have dug it out of the ground.”

He raised a palm. “It was in the tomb. And it was never in the tomb. The doorway opened and let your father steal the scroll before we could put it in. I have followed your father through the doorway.”

“So Dad got hold of the scroll before you had the chance to stash it. Although it was already stashed. And then, it appears here? I don’t think so.” My head ached, and I remembered the idea of the bubble universes. Perhaps, in one bubble, Pharaoh kept the scroll. In another, Dad got it. Somehow, the power of the scroll had made my bubble collide with the other two. “I don’t care how you got here, or why,” I said. “Just trot off back through that doorway. I’ve got to get home. I’ve got a press release to write.”

“You do not understand. The curse has already come on you and your people.”

“I don’t believe you. Stay here if you want, but I’m off.”  I slipped the scroll into my pocket and turned away.

“Then fear—” he cleared his throat “the power of Sekhmet. You will lose your mind. Your fellow-men have already done so. Your father looked upon the scroll too many times and was no longer your father.”

I had looked at it. The image was in my head, when I shut my eyes.

“Hear me,” he said. “The scroll released is more powerful than the gods. Your father’s wits were smashed. The spreading destruction that cannot be undone, the eater of minds, a swarm of locusts devouring all in its path. It attacks even the minds of those who have not seen the scroll. There is no healing. No escape, now. Without the jar.”

I looked at the shards on the floor. “I’ll burn it. And that’ll stop up your precious doorway as well.”

“Your father tried fire. And failed. As you will.”

I remembered the burning kitchen, the garden bonfires. Dad, Kevin, others…brains turned to mush. Archie, forgetting the Bible. Next me. Dementia, spreading.

“The eater of minds has taken root in me,” he said. “Only if I return to my own time, with or without the scroll, will it be checked. But I cannot travel without the scroll.”

I pulled it from my pocket. “OK, you have the vile thing. Then just get lost.” He put out his hand, palm upwards. I reached out.

The air shimmered silver. I caught movement in the corner of my eye and flicked my head towards it. I heard a noise inside my head, whining at a higher and higher pitch until I could only feel it. Then nothing. Another shadow appeared. A man stepped out, dressed in what looked like a woollen coat, over a knee length shirt. He had a close-clipped beard and on his head he wore a piece of cloth that draped round his shoulders, held in place with a cord round the forehead.

He thrust his out his hand and snatched my wrist. With his other hand, he grabbed my free arm and pushed it round my back. I let the scroll fall and kicked it across the floor.

He spoke from behind me. “I—I am Moshe. Do not give the scroll to Khusebek. If you do, we will b-be as nothing and s-s-so will you. Pick it up. Give it to me.”

Moshe. Moses, who stammered. His brother as spokesperson.

“Do not listen to this slave,” Khusebek hissed.

I turned my wrist, kicking out at Moshe.

“Listen, or I b-break your bones,” he said. “I beg of y-you. I am slow of tongue, b-but I have had to come alone, this time. This doorway is, is unsafe. It destroys. When two have entered it, in all but a single time, only one has come out.”

I bent forward as pain shot up to my shoulder. My eyes watered. “I’m giving it to Khusebek. For all our sakes.”

Moshe leaned forward, let go of my wrist and snatched the Bible from the table. “In his world, Pharaoh found the scroll before my brother could read it. And now his world, mine and yours are bound up with each other. If you give it to him it will be as though we Israelites had never lived. We, and our children, and our children’s children.”

Holding the front cover of the Bible, he shook it in front of me. The empty pages clattered in my face. Moshe dropped my arm.

“Now, will you listen?”

I nodded.

“Our worlds are woven because your father took the scroll from Pharaoh’s and from mine and brought it to yours. We never left Egypt. We withered and died out. God has forsaken your world. That is why the pages are blank.”

“Give the scroll to me,” Khusebek snarled.

Moshe reached out a hand to mine again, but I dodged and ran to where the scroll lay.

“Now listen,” I said. “I’m sorry for your loss, but I have to stop the dementia.”

“You would help a few people, and condemn your whole world to eternal misery?”

I heard a voice outside in the street, crackling as though coming in on a badly tuned radio. “What could be worse than your brain turning to mush?” I said. I turned to Khusebek. “Just take this and get lost.” My hands shook.

The light shone through the window again. I ran to shut the curtains. A spotlight beam swept along the front of the house, coming from a streetlamp right outside the front door. Mounted on the lamp post was some sort of camera, swivelling to follow the path of the beam. I heard another crackle, from a loudspeaker mounted at the top of the post.

The voice spoke again. “Worship the one true goddess, people of the faith!”

I shut the curtains.

“Woman of dwelling 38! We know you are there. You were warned before.”

There had never been a streetlamp outside the front door, there can’t have been. How would we have got the car off the drive?  Dementia must have caught hold, in me. I felt my heart race.

“This is your final warning. Attend worship or pay the ultimate penalty.”

Something drew me, staggering, to the window. Outside, the colour faded from the world, draining away to a view like a sepia photograph. A van drew up outside the house. On its side, letters read “Honouring the One True Goddess is our Way and Purpose”.

Without sound this time, another shadow appeared, glowing blue round the edges. I smelled something aromatic and smoky, like tobacco. Moses and Khusebek froze. From the shadow a man stepped, aged in his twenties. He wore an open-necked khaki battledress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, baggy shorts, knee-length khaki socks and scuffed black boots. On his head was a black beret. Below that, a face I had seen in seventy year old photographs. Dad. With his whole life ahead of him.

“Hello, Kat,” he said. “I thought I’d better join the party, now that lot are at the door.”

I reached out and touched his face. The skin was warm and rough. “Dad? What’s going on?

He stepped towards me, leaving sandy footprints on the floor. “Is that it? No hug, for your Dad?”

I squeezed him tightly. He kissed the top of my head and unwrapped my arms.

“Let a chap breathe. Curious, I’d have expected to see myself here.”

“You won’t. It’s 2015 and you’re…you live somewhere else, now.”

“You mean I’m dead. Well, I had a good run for my money. I must have been…ninety three?”

I felt a lump rise in my throat. “I’ve missed you. Every day. But look, this scroll you found. I’m giving it back to the Egyptians. Sorry.”

“No. Give it to the Israelites, before it’s too late.”

“But, the dementia—”

Dad put his palm up, his mouth set in a line. “Shut up. The scroll, created on holy ground, became charged with great power. It can make a stammering man speak clearly. It can warp the fabric of existence so that space-time bends back on itself. But there’s just about enough time to undo it all. If you give it to Moshe.”

I folded my arms. “No, Dad. I’ve made my mind up. You haven’t seen dementia take away someone you loved. You haven’t mourned someone who was still alive.”

Dad reached out and squeezed my hand. “A cure might be found. But there’s no cure for world-wide tyranny. You have to do what I say.”

I shrugged. “Why? Things seem OK to me.”

“Listen. You’ve felt as though you’re being watched, haven’t you?”

I nodded. “Ever since I opened the Bible .”

“That’s because you are under surveillance. Every one of us is, now. Because Aaron never saw the scroll, there’s no Judaism. So there was never a Jesus. And there was no Islam. The other religions of the world never flourished—”

“—I don’t care. Religion is behind all the problems of this life. We’re better off as atheists—”

He grabbed both my hands. “Atheism? Forbidden. Because there was nothing to believe in, something cold and harsh arose to fill gaps. An evil that murders non-worshippers.”

I heard the letterbox rattle.

“They’re coming,” Dad said. “Give the scroll to Moshe.”

“But Khusebek will be left behind. And his presence is giving everyone dementia. It killed you. It’s taking everyone in the street, in the town, in the country. It will take the world. One by one.”

I heard footsteps outside the front door. The letterbox rattled. The loudspeaker bellowed. “You have twenty seconds to pray in repentance before we enact the ultimate penalty. May the one true goddess have mercy upon your soul.”

Dad bent down and grabbed the scroll. “I started this mess. I have to undo it. The line of time has been spliced and recombined. All realities are superimposed. You could call it The Father Paradox. The only way to sort it out is to cut it off and start again, to overwrite what might happen. I have to take it back myself, so that I never found it. This is the only chance we have.”

“Take me with you.”

Moses opened his mouth. “Fool! Did you not hear me? This doorway is unsafe. Two in, one out.”

“You said that once it worked for two people. I’ll take that chance.”

Dad’s hand trembled as he took mine. “If you come with me, who knows which of us will survive? And whether the scroll will come through intact?”

Tears ran down my cheeks. “Do you think I care what happens to the bloody scroll? I can’t let you go again. I won’t.”
Judith Field

Dad dropped my hand, and wagged a finger at me. “Language. I might be much younger than you are, but I’m still your father. Sorry, I’ve got to do it on my own.”

“Then come back again afterwards. Come back to me.”

He shook his head. “I can’t. I have to leave it there. And time travel’s not possible without it. Goodbye, Kat. Chin up. Who knows what life will be when the scroll was never in it? We’ll probably still be together, and you won’t be older than me like now.”

“Or you might have gone under a bus. Or broken your neck falling off some ancient temple.” And I might still be alone. “Take me.”

Dad shook his head. He put the scroll into his pocket. All motion stopped and he looked like a photograph. He dimmed to black and white. I saw the room behind him.

“No!” I grabbed his arm as he faded.

* * *

Archie unlocked the front door and stepped into the living room. A boy aged about ten looked up from the book open in front of him on a table, and smiled.

“Hiya, Grandad!”

“Hiya, Joe. Is your dad in? I want to chat to him about the New Year holiday.”

Joe shook his head. “He went to see the Rabbi.”

“OK. Getting on with your homework? Good lad.”

“Yeah. Nearly done. I had lots.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “maths—those flippin’ decimal sums—”

“—give you a hand, if you like.”

“No, you don’t do it the same way as Miss Bradshaw and I’ve got to show my working out. Anyway, I’ve finished it. Now I’m on history. I’m doing a project about the Egyptians.”

“You know they took your guts out when you died?”

Joe mimed putting his finger down his throat. “Yeah. They used to stick them in jars.” He picked up a postcard. “I got this from the museum. I copied the picture into my book.”

“Give us a look.” Archie took the card. It showed a stone relief of a man and a woman facing each other, smiling and holding hands. Each had placed their free hand on the top of a jar with the head of a jackal for a lid, standing on a table in front of them. Hieroglyphics ran across the bottom of the carving. “Perhaps that’s one of them gut jars, with the dog’s head on.” He turned the card over. “Yes, I was right. It says “From the New Kingdom (18th-20th Dynasties, 1550-1069 BC). Shows Canopic jar for preservation of body parts, with head of Duamutef. Inscription (possibly referring to the goddess Bast) reads Dad and Cat were here.”  His eyes narrowed. “If you’ve finished with this, can I have it?”

“If you want.”

Archie slipped the card into his pocket. “OK, I’ll be off now. Tell your dad I’ll pop in later.” He walked to the front door and reached out to the handle. He stopped. “Hang on.” His hand dropped and he walked back across the room.

“Why are you putting the card in there?” Joe said.

Archie put the book with the dull red cover back on the shelf. “Dunno, lad.” He frowned, and stroked his chin. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Judith Field