the sarcophagus in the room

I knew I’d seen him before. He’s the father of someone I used to work with in the ambulance.
‘How’s Gracia? It’s a shame we lost touch.’
‘Fine,’ he says. ‘Same as ever.’
‘Tell her I said hi.’
‘I will.’
So how’s her daughter, Lily?’
‘D’you mean Sofia?’
‘That’s it. Sofia. How’s Sofia?’
‘She’s fifteen now.’
‘Is she? Fifteen! Where does the time go?’
‘If I knew I’d go there, too.’
‘Is Gracia still in the ambulance?’
‘Nah. She works in a surgery. She’s a practice nurse.’
‘A practice nurse! That’s great!’
‘She likes it.’
I close the yellow folder, put it to one side, then pause a moment to chew the fat, hooking my hands around my knee, rocking forwards and back.
‘That must’ve been when I met you for the first time. Fifteen years ago, at Sofia’s first birthday party.’
‘I suppose so.’
‘In a function room over a swimming pool.’
‘I think it was at the Buddhist centre.’
‘Was it?’
‘I think so.’
‘Maybe I’m thinking of someone else.’
‘Didn’t Gracia’s husband work in the fashion trade? Wasn’t he a buyer or something like that?’
‘He’s a dentist.’
‘A dentist?’
‘But they’re not together any more.’
‘Oh. Sorry to hear that.’
He sighs and pulls his cardigan more tightly around him, even though the room is stiflingly hot.
‘I’m glad I’m on the mend,’ he says. ‘I’ve got a cruise coming up in a couple of months.’
‘Have you? How lovely! Where’re you going? Somewhere warm?’
‘Great! I’d love to go to Egypt. The Valley of the Kings and all that.’
‘I’ve always been fascinated by the Ancient Egyptians. As you probably guessed when you walked in the door.’
I glance round the room – mostly at a well-stocked bookcase to his left, crammed with Egyptian art and history books, each shelf lined with a selection of soapstone figurines, cats and bulls and miniature obelisks, and on the very top shelf, either end of a row of smaller books with golden and black hieroglyphs on the spines, two pharaoh head bookends cast in resin.
‘I see what you mean!’
‘Not that,’ he says, ‘That!’ and nods to my right.
And for the first time I see it – a life-size replica of King Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus, standing floor to ceiling, brilliantly lit by four spots.
‘Oh!’ I say. ‘Wow! I totally missed it!
‘He takes a deep breath, sighs and shakes his head.
‘Well. Hidden in plain sight, then,’ he says. and folds his arms. ‘All done?’

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