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Beethoven's Death Mask

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Peter Symons

I learnt about death and love on the same day. I was seven. This was way back, sometime in the 60s. My father had a job that meant he had to travel a lot. I didn’t understand what he did. I knew he wore a suit, so assumed he was some sort of businessman. He was away a lot. I am not sure I minded him being away so often, but I always felt something was missing. But there was one time when he asked me to go with him. He was tall, perhaps 6 feet 7. For a child, his height was terrifying. I always remember craning my neck up to look at him. My face parallel to the ground.

He called me into his study. My mother told me he wanted to see me. I remember it smelled of typewriter ribbon and tobacco. Along one wall there were books from floor to ceiling. Big, intimidating books with titles I didn’t understand, like Atlas Shrugged and The Will to Power. I understood the individual words, but not when I put them together.

I stood at the doorway, waiting for my father to allow me into the room. His back was towards me, his head bent over something he was reading. His pipe was next to him, resting against a book, smoke twisting its way to the ceiling. After a moment, I knocked on the doorframe. I remember breathing in sharply as he turned his head toward me.

“Oh.” He looked at me quizzically. “That’s right. I wanted to talk to you.”

I was still standing at the door.

“You know how your father takes lots of plane trips?”

I nodded.

“Well…” He stopped and, with an edge of irritation, said “Come in. Come on.”

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