(first published in Free Flash Fiction, 17/6/2022)
Dr. Ernest Mathewson was eating an early breakfast. He was about to head off to the University of St Andrews to examine a postgraduate dissertation. It was a longish drive from Glasgow and the external examiner’s fee was a joke. But, as he’d patiently explained to Mrs Mathewson, he’d accepted the invitation more than six months ago. And it wouldn’t be fair to the examinee to postpone it at the last minute.
Mrs Mathewson’s response was delivered quietly but with feeling: ‘No, I’m the one who’s being told at the last minute. Well, if you’re intent on clearing off to St Andrews for the day, when my parents are holidaying with us, then the least you can do is to give them a lift. They can have a day-trip, have a look round the harbour, the abbey, the links and so on, while you’re messing about at the university.’
He found it was no hardship. Apart from one rather inconvenient toilet stop for his mother-in-law, he quite enjoyed the car journey.
The examination itself was routine: the dissertation was workman-like rather than brilliant, but there was no doubt that it deserved to pass. The obligatory pre-examination lunch in the university’s staff dining room was a bit too Spartan for Ernest’s taste. But he enjoyed the post-examination chat afterwards over coffee in the internal examiner’s office.
They hadn’t met previously, though each knew the other’s work. They found that they bonded over a near-homicidal common dislike of the recent post-modern turn in historical scholarship, whereby scholars chose to focus, not on the analysis of historical events, but rather on analysing how previous scholars had chosen to report them. The afternoon flew by and Ernest, glancing at his watch, realised it was high time for him to depart. A job well done.
The journey home was uneventful. As Ernest pulled into his driveway, and stepped out of the car, he was surprised to see his wife fling open the front door. ‘What the hell have you done with my parents?’