Invitation

Lia closed the tablet a couple of hours after Dave had left her. She had wanted to hear more of the pained voice but felt that she ought to try to learn something of the faith behind the music before distracting herself with Gihon’s presence. The music itself was a glorious sound, a reflection of an old mass belief at its finest. Some of the philosophy was not so easy to appreciate, however, and she’d had to remind herself of the yawning chasm of time between Hildegard’s day and her own, the difference between duty and order and freedom, expectations and rights.

The information on the tablet was not just about music or forms of worship. The notes were Jensson’s usual tangle of sources and commentaries branching out to reflect many different possible areas of interest. Lia had started to hop from time to time, subject to subject, link to link in a search to see when society grew out of the strictures of faith. Skimming the notes she saw that she was not the first making the same searches. Not just Jensson but time and again she saw the same scribbled hand across the virtual margins of the scanned texts. It wasn’t difficult to recognise the handwriting – the man even swore when making notes to himself.

She might have been shocked by some of the hatred endemic in the early philosophy but at least she had the advantage of academic distance. Gihon … if he had grown up in a society that had adopted similar Dark Age beliefs she could understand his confusion. He had appeared on the roll at Temple University as a finished product. It was a safe place to begin if you wanted your own past to be hidden. Egypt was a land with a history so strong that a man could hide the things he didn’t want others to see, the minor details of this or that or what might have been. There was nothing definite for her to build the story of his past, but his written words matched the pain in a voice that had no home in his place of birth.

Lunch was quiet. For a change the courtyard table at the Serpent remained empty while her friends passed their time with idle gossip and hoped that Gihon would arrive. When Lupe offered to buy her thoughts she merely said that she was tired and had little to report other than a dull day at the books. He had never understood her fascination with history, saying things were going slowly was a good way of sidestepping any further interest.

Back in the study area Lia stared at the listing on the private folder for a very long time. Twenty-seven files in all, of which fifteen were fully identified. From the size of them she guessed they must have been fragments or audio only. They were nothing compared to the length of the afternoon and to the other avenues of reading that had been opened up to her. It would be easy for her to listen to his voice. In all honesty she didn’t know why she had been left with this window into their lives and briefly wondered if it was some kind of test. There had been little need for Jensson to confirm, or even mention, one of the many rumours about his origins. There was certainly no need for him to make any reference to the big man. The names of the tracks were not familiar, nothing that she recalled being played before.

Light slanted hazily through the narrow windows. The afternoon was turning into early evening. The tablet sat at the furthest edge of the data table. She’d pushed it away from her but kept looking over to it, unable to quite close it and put it aside. She still hadn’t listened to the other tracks. She’d looked up the names (of course, she was a researcher) puzzled over the lyrics where she could (who wouldn’t in the same position?) but couldn’t bring herself to play them. Whatever else she learned she knew she wouldn’t be able to un-hear them once they had been played. She wasn’t certain that she wanted to risk learning too much.

Instead she played the Palestrina, and then the Pergolesi version of Stabat Mater Dolorosa while she looked at translations from a dead language she learned was called Latin. Both were very beautiful arrangements in their way, professional and very polished. Like picking at something she shouldn’t she went back to the recording of Gihon’s voice. Though it was far from perfect it resonated somewhere deep inside her and she felt privileged that Jensson had shared it with her.

Still pondering the meaning behind the sudden openness Lia didn’t hear her mentor – for surely that was what he had decided to be – return to his usual chair behind her. As she stared vaguely at random images cycling through on the workstation screen her nose made her aware of his presence. She stretched to hide the deep breath she took to confirm her guess before turning to him – yes, just Dave, long legs drawn up, taking up very little space in his chair – the fragrance was subtly different when Gihon wore it.

“I fear I’ve discovered more distractions with that thing.” She nodded across to the artfully abandoned tablet.

“How so? You have a sudden urge to go to a fetish club?” He took in her confused look. “Ah, you didn’t go poking round the personal files then. No bother. What have you found then?” Leaning forward he gave her his most interested face and they both politely ignored what his comment might have meant.

“All that religious mind control, how did people cope with it? Astonishing the connections. Oh, and I found some of Gihon’s ‘God Shaped Hole’ notes. I’m guessing he was an angry man whenever he wrote them. I think I’m going to have to start over and enrol myself in some of his classes.” She took the plunge. “Can I ask why you left me with it?”

“The subject came up so it seemed appropriate to let it take you where it would. Gihon says you are a good kid and I trust his judgement. He must think you’re old enough for whatever you’re likely to find in here to even have considered you for the job, even his anger at random deities. So what are you – about twenty-five?”

“Old enough? I’m twenty-eight, nearly twenty-nine. I’m hardly a kid.” As soon as she said it she realised the distinction of the ‘nearly’ made her sound very young. Why the sudden need to stand up for something that was little more than a number? Maybe it was just because it was impolite of him to ask. That he smiled and raised his hands in mock surrender at her tone should, she thought, have irked her more but she found it very hard to be annoyed with him.

“Fine, I’ll try and remember. But from my perspective, that still makes you a kid. An average healthy life span of a hundred and ten, hundred and twenty – that’s what you have over here? – anyone under thirty is still young. I mean, it is all relative. When and where I was born you might be expected to get eighty good years and paced your life accordingly. If you grew up where Gihon did you could be a grandmother by now and still having children of your own and that wouldn’t be seen as unusual.”

“You know an awful lot about him.” She wasn’t certain how far she could go, was this inviting further confidences or becoming impudent? European social boundaries were not as clearly defined as those she was used to, she was wary of taking the lead in case he took offence.

“Ah, we know an awful lot about each other. Time can do that.” The acknowledgment was frustrating, it told her nothing.

“When Gihon told me I’d be working for you he called you the old man. I have to be honest and say you were not quite what I was expecting. He said you were his oldest friend but isn’t it a bit insulting to be called the old man?”

“How can it be an insult when it’s a fact? I am old. Look it up in the dictionary and the definition will say ‘see Dave Jensson’.” He shrugged; there was nothing to be done to alter the facts. “I am his oldest friend and, as you clearly guessed on the first day, I’m also his ‘old man’.” He raised an eyebrow. “Is that still in use? Way back when it was a colloquialism for husband. Originally from when sanctioned marriages were just between male and female, and only included two people at that. Strange,” he mused, “I’ve never really thought of Gihon as ‘the missus’. Ah, it might be best not to mention that – especially not to him. Still, what an odd thought to have after all this time.”

“I can see that.” And she smiled as she started to shut down the workstation. There was no way she was going to be able to concentrate on work after that. Whatever else, she could never imagine the big man being referred to in feminine terms.

“Can I ask you another personal question?” At least he acknowledged that asking her age had overstepped the mark. Surprised she shrugged and waited for him to continue. Given what else she had learned in the day she thought this could be interesting. The question was unexpected; it started in a rush of words, slowing towards the end as he wound down to uncertainty. “Do you … do you eat meat? Only, I was thinking, it’s been a bit of a long day and I should really make up for keeping you so late again. Would you like to come home and eat with us rather than go back to your place? I know it’s not really the done thing anymore but we do tend to eat meat most nights but I can ask Gihon to do vegetarian – vegan? – if that is what you’d prefer, whatever you like …?”

She stared at him. He looked uncomfortable. He fidgeted with the edge of the tablet and looked worried. Sometimes he managed to look very lost. So very charming in his earnestness, no matter how old he might be. She fought the urge to laugh and settled on putting him out of his misery.

“Come on Dr J, I’m from the middle of nowhere – of course I have no problem with meat. I guess I should thank you for the consideration. And thanks for the invite, yes, I would love to join you.” He’d seriously thought that she would turn down such an opportunity? No chance of that, she would eat whatever they were eating; an offer to spend time back at the Field of Reeds was not something to be turned down.

Hearing his half of the call to let Gihon know that there would be an extra person for dinner, she was pleased that the highlight of her evening wouldn’t be discovering end of the week fridge surprise to make up a sad meal for one. That he turned away from her to whisper the next part of the conversation carefully into his phone she took to be him having to promise to make up for the unexpected guest. She’d not been able to work out how relationships worked in their home. Apart from that first and very public greeting there had been signs of nothing other than friendship between the two men. She hoped the evening would be informative.

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