Party trick

Mandarins_s“Have a look at this great picture of Mark.”

My father held a largish black and white print, which he thrust towards his good friends, Vincent and Kathy.

Dad had sent Mark to get more champagne before launching this performance. I knew what was coming. While Vincent and Kathy politely scanned the photo, Dad grinned at Isobel, his wife. She gave him the half-smile that signalled tolerance more than pleasure.

“What’s the point?” Vincent asked, and Kathy immediately added, “It’s a lovely picture.”

“Notice anything?”

The way Dad said this certainly alerted Vincent, if he had not been alerted already. Vincent crinkled his brow and examined the picture more carefully.

“When did he cut his hair so short?” Kathy asked.

“Where is this taken?” Vincent asked, hoping for clues.

Mark returned with the champagne. He took in the situation in an instant, but Dad spoke first.

“I was just showing Vincent and Kathy the picture of you in hospital.”

Mark rolled his eyes, but kept his mouth shut.

“You can open that bottle. We’re all running dry.”

“What sort of hospital is that?” Vincent said.

“The sort where I had my appendix out.”

“What?”

“That’s not Mark — that’s me when I was fifteen!”

Vincent and Kathy expressed their amazement.

“It isn’t really you, is it? It looks exactly like Mark.”

The blood rose to Mark’s cheeks as Kathy compared his face to the photo.

Dad and Mark really do look alike. Like identical twins separated by twenty-five years. What our mother was doing at Mark’s conception, I really don’t know. It is as if she withdrew from the proceedings altogether, leaving Dad to clone himself in her womb. Of course, this is not a good scientific explanation. She must have offered up half of Mark’s genes, and if none of them show on his face, they must nonetheless be in there somewhere, perhaps pumping his heart or turning the gears in his head. They are secret agents.

“He’s a good looking boy, isn’t he?” Dad said, and it was weirdly ambiguous, but of course he really did mean that he was a good-looking boy and that Mark was a good-looking boy because Mark looked just like him.

“I’m not just like you,” Mark said.

“Close enough to fool everyone,” Dad said.

“Mark doesn’t want to look like you,” Isobel said, and she tried to change the subject.

“It fools everyone,” Dad insisted, and he told the story of showing the same photo to other friends. He turned to Mark, to draw him in.

“We’re very alike, in all sorts of ways.”

Nobody was looking at me during this. I was not expected to feature during this performance. I look like my mother, not my father. In me his genes are secret agents, and I live in terror of their subversive tricks.

© 2018 Craig Bingham

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