Chapter seven … I love the number seven. Do you have a favourite number? If you do, have you ever wondered why it is your favourite. It’s easy to explain why you might have a favourite fruit (… mine? – raspberry), or animal (dog), or time (the hour before dawn), but can you really say why a number is your favourite? Five is easy – the number of fingers on one hand; three – a beginning, middle and end, and of course the number of parts in a sandwich; two – you and your best friend; but other numbers, how do you explain those to yourself? I like that seven is angular and spikey and prime. Anyhow, enough about favourite numbers; Paternoster (I bet his favourite number is one) says … well, you know what he says … I need to get on with the story and what happened next.
Remember, I listed ping-pong as one of the reasons for us to be on Paternoster Square. You might have thought this sounded a bit odd. But in a world where we can’t interfere with anything going on around us, that anything does not include feathers. Or autumn leaves. Or dropped train tickets. Or ping-pong balls. The next time you see a swirl of leaves spinning round in the corner of a building, or a feather that falls and rises on an invisible breeze and appears not to want to settle – those are the games we play with the anythings that time forgot.
Paternoster Square has two ping-pong tables. To Agatha they look like houses and every Monday she runs in and out between the legs, visiting and leaving the shop/house/library/school – whatever she imagines it might be that particular week. Occasionally, she can’t because there are people actually playing ping-pong, or table-tennis as it is also known. It’s when they play that we have our fun. It’s amazing what we can do to ping-pong balls. We can make them veer off in the opposite direction, swerve, do a double or triple bounce and ping off unwary noses or elbows or heads. People always explain it away saying it’s due to a fickle breeze or even, if they are arrogantly delusional, their skill. Paternoster is worried that you might not know that an arrogantly delusional ping-pong player is like a cat who thinks he can jump onto the roof because he knows and tells everyone, all the time, that he’s the biggest cat around. And the roof is not much higher than an average cat-leap-high bird table. And he thinks he’s done it before (he hasn’t). And that when he did, it was easier than rolling over and having his tummy tickled. What he’s forgotten is that the easy-to-reach roof was the one on the kennel next door, which was easy to reach because at the time he was being chased by the neighbour’s Alsatian. And that the Alsatian-escaping-leap was accomplished eight years ago, before arthritis took up residence in his knees. Paternoster thinks that will explain both arrogant (boastful) and delusional (wrong) to you (which I also did, using just two words, compared to his one-hundred-and-fifteen).
Do you remember where we were in the story before Paternoster interrupted – the Monday morning – Agatha – Lucretia – ping-pong? Well … the only player at the tables, that morning, was one of Lucretia’s pigeons.
I need to explain – Lucretia ‘keeps’ pigeons. Birds, you see, can always see us. Sometimes this works well for the birds. Sometimes it doesn’t. Lucretia’s pigeons probably didn’t regard it as a benefit of any sorts. Although, as they aren’t the brightest bears in the fish pond, they probably didn’t overthink it. Which is probably just as well. Because she makes fools of them.
Somehow, … quite how, I have no idea … she had persuaded a pair that ping-pong balls were eggs. Not just any eggs but their eggs. Their eggs that never hatched. Wherever Lucretia placed the egg-balls the pigeons would try to sit on them. A pigeon trying to incubate a ping-pong ball is like a penguin trying to balance on a football that’s just rolled through a puddle of oil. Not an easy feat to accomplish for an agile bird; harder when agility is not one of your extremely limited talents. The pigeons had become accomplished at a frantic, noisy, wings all akimbo, slipping, sliding, rolling, bumping, flurry-of-feathers fall. Always, no matter how many times it happened, with an ‘I didn’t expect this to happen!’ expression on their face. When she was either bored, or feeling particularly evil, Lucretia would balance the egg-balls in impossible places – in the veil of a bride posing for photographs on the steps of St Paul’s was particularly memorable; forever preserved in her wedding album, a picture of the bride with a streak of white across her face from a panicked, incontinent, swiped-at pigeon.
Agatha saw Lucretia first and followed her eyes to the table and the pigeon. Wedged under the ping-pong table net was the egg-ball and the pigeon was marching up and down the table surface, chest puffed out, head cocked to one side, eyeing the ball, checking different viewing angles and arguing with itself over the best way to approach it and sit on it.
As Agatha watched, the pigeon appeared to decide that there was no best way and the only way was to take a run at it, flip over backwards at the last moment and reverse fast as possible on top of it. The egg-ball, if you remember, was wedged under the net – unfortunately for the pigeon, a ping-pong net, if stretched, behaves like a length of springy elastic. A pigeon rocket launcher, if you like.
A long blue shoe-lace had blown (!) overnight onto the table and become tangled (!) in the net (… Lucretia?) One end now hung down over the edge of the table and flicked temptingly against Agatha’s fingers. (… Or did Lucretia place it into her hand?)
Do I need to tell you what happened next? Can I leave you imagining it until tomorrow?