Father of the Man

Father of the Man by Stephen Benatar Read Free Book Online

Book: Father of the Man by Stephen Benatar Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephen Benatar
fifteen minutes was Ephraim exhorted to get rid of his frown and replace it with something that told the world he was glad to be a part of it.
    It happened for the fourth time shortly afterwards. They were in the training room, which opened out of the main office, a room where such things as application forms and promotional literature were kept, along with the television set—used chiefly for the screening of inspirational videos—and the photo-copier; and Barney and half a dozen of Ephraim’s fellow workers were supposed to be holding a meeting there to do with target-setting and prospect-finding and appointment-making: in other words, the usual load of bullshit; Ephraim’s own terminology had deteriorated—or grown robust—since his arrival at Columbia. Barney suddenly said: “And talking of goals, my own most pressing goal at the moment is to bring back the smile to Eff’s face.” Everyone turned to look at Ephraim and in that instant he felt a searing burst of body heat rush to the surface.
    “Oh, for God’s sake! Can’t you shut up about my smile! I happen to have personal problems. Okay? Whether I choose to smile or not has nothing to do with you!”
    There was silence. Barney rose to his feet.
    “I think the rest of you had better leave. Ephraim and I should maybe have a talk.”
    Ephraim, however, stood up too. “No, thank you. There’s nothing I want to talk about. My problems aren’t the business of this office.”
    “It isn’t your problems we need to discuss. It’s your appearance. And your attitude.”
    By now the others were starting to file past. Ephraim pushed in front of one and headed for the door.
    “You—get back here! I forbid you to leave!”
    Ephraim left. He walked over to his desk, sat down and picked up the telephone receiver. He had a prospect he meant to call.
    But he hadn’t had time to press the seven necessary digits before Barney was standing over him, leaning forward, his own face close to Ephraim’s. “Get back in that room! Do you hear? Get back in that room before I count to ten!”
    Ephraim remained silent; looking towards the window.
    “This second! This very second! Get your bottom off that chair and back through that door! Now !”
    Ephraim slowly swivelled round to face him. Until this moment he had never seen anybody literally shake with anger. He had thought it was just a metaphor.
    “Put down that phone at once or I’ll pull it off the wall and shove it up your arse!”
    Ephraim said sullenly: “Then go ahead and do it.” As an ex-teacher he recognized the foolishness of making threats you couldn’t fulfil.
    Barney merely stood and stared at him. Gradually he straightened up. “We shall talk,” he said. “Before this day is out! And when we do we shall talk about a lot more than just a smile.”
    Then, after a pause, he turned and stalked off. Before long, Ephraim heard him making loud and jovial conversation in another part of the office. The volume wasn’t especially significant, Barney often spoke as though he were conferring Maundy alms in letting everybody listen to his bons mots . But there were two schools of thought, reflected Ephraim, sourly. If you wanted to, you could describe such a comeback as being admirable.
    On the other hand you could say it was pathetic.
    At lunchtime he walked around the churchyard of St Mary’s. Did he do it, he wondered, simply to torment himself? There was one particular inscription which he had looked at very often.
    “If anyone ever fulfilled the Christian duties of husband, parent and friend, it was Alexander Gordon Donaldson. Late of Kirkcudbrightshire. He died at Nottingham on the 30 th of August 1824, aged 33 years.
    “As a testimony of her esteem for his memory and of her deep regret for her loss, this monument was erected by his mourning and afflicted widow Sophia Donaldson.
    “The memory of the just is blessed.”
    Ephraim probably knew it by heart.
    Far from having any talk before the day was out,

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