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There were over four hundred people in the tenants’ association but only the same old five ever turned up to the meetings. At some point, Albert would talk about the great rent strike of 1923. You could almost believe that Albert had been there but that was impossible.

What we did have was a formidable pub quiz team. No quiz night at the Well-Tempered Clavier was complete without us. Albert didn’t often answer questions but when he did, he was invariably right.

One Tuesday there was a guest quizmaster, Frank Till. He had a round called roots. We thought it would be about the book but it wasn’t.

“What is the root of 1764?” was the first question. A hush fell on the bar. The only sound to be heard was old Albert writing down the answer. As you (or your calculator) probably know, it is “42”.

“I’ve started you off on the easy one,” Frank said. There were audible groans and three calculators had to be confiscated before the proceedings could proceed.

The numbers just got longer and longer. I won’t bore you with them. The round was of ten questions. Albert got all ten of them right.

“I was amazed at the way you worked out all those square roots so quickly,” I commented to Albert.

“Worked out, come off it lad. Nobody could work them out that quickly. I memorised them.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to say that was impossible but I saw the look in Albert’s eye. He was waiting for me to say that. When I said no more, Albert concluded, “Yes. I memorised them in 1923. During the rent strike, it was. Did I ever tell you . . .”

Flash Fiction by Derek McMillan

Published in Winter 2017


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