One of the joys of this blog has been able to share the things that interest me and that have grabbed my attention. It’s also been great to have shown you some of my creative works with you in the past, including my poetry and writing process. So I thought why not put up one of my short stories, one I’ve always had a soft spot for.
To give a bit of context. I wrote Lies and Secrets in college (the photo would have been taken a year or two later – I’m on the right) and even won some book vouchers when I entered it into a local competition. At the time I was writing lots of short stories and was even part of a weekly writing group. What with Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, it hasn’t dated well but I still feel an attachment for it. Do you like it? I’d welcome any feedback so please let me know what you think.
‘Is this seat taken?’ the stylish gentleman asked the attractive woman sitting next to an empty chair, whose face was barely visible due to a shawl covering part of her face.
The woman paused for a few seconds. She studied the handsome stranger standing in front of her before saying slowly, ‘Jack. Jack Hawthorne. Is it really you?’
Jack paused for a while; going through all the women he had dated in reverse chronological order before finally coming to the right answer. ‘Anne. Anne Stelkins. Well, who would have believed it?’ he said after a short series of thoughts.
Neither was really sure what to say next. What do you say to someone you haven’t seen for 20 years? Hello? Goodbye? Much happened? I was planning on ringing you but I’ve been busy for the last two decades?
Full of confidence after her counselling sessions, Anne decided to start the conversation. ‘So what brings you here? If I remember correctly, you don’t like coffee bars.’
She remembered, thought Jack worryingly. What sort of person recollects that from such a long time? he said to himself. ‘Well, you are right, I don’t like coffee bars but my girlfriend likes the independent ones and she suggested I come here by myself to check them out.’ What a pathetic lie, he felt, berating himself. She’ll never believe that! She knows why I’m at this singles bar.
Anne was impressed. A girlfriend into distinctive coffee bars. Perhaps worth meeting one day. ‘I’m just here because I heard they have a great selection of coffees and a relaxed atmosphere’ she felt the need to say. She didn’t want him to find out that she was here looking for a boyfriend. ‘A guy at work recommended it’ she added, hoping Jack might think it was serious.
‘So what work is that?’ Jack asked as innocently as he could.
‘Accounting’ she lied. She was only a secretary at a small business.
Accounting?’ he repeated, pleasantly surprised. Feeling he had to do better, he said he was an architect when in fact he was an interior designer for a small firm.
‘I would have thought that you were going to live abroad. Didn’t you have dreams of living in South Africa? Jack said, thinking it better to change the subject. He knew little about architecture.
‘I did. I travelled the world for 6 months. From Cairo to California. It was amazing and the scenery was breathtaking. But there’s no place like home.’ She neglected to mention that she travelled due to a fortunate lucky draw win. ‘What about you?’
‘Only on business. I keep meaning to but there’s always something to be done. Anyway, though, how’s the family? Your parents? Jeff? Mutty?’
‘They’re all fine.’ Her parents had divorced, Jeff, her brother owned a surprisingly successful pornography shop and Mutty, her dog had died of old age. 15 years ago.
Jack was surprised at her short answer. He figured that they must all be doing well but she did not want to seem arrogant. ‘Yeah, mine are all doing well.’ He was not on speaking terms with his parents after a serious argument about responsibility, his two brothers were involved in the loan shark business and he had lost complete contact with all his old friends after drifting apart.
‘So how’s your life been since I last saw you? It sure has been a while’, Anne asked, curious as to what had happened to the guy who had been her first serious boyfriend at 15.
What has happened in the last 20 years? Jeff asked himself. Caught cold by the question, Jeff hesitated.
‘Well…, I moved out of my parent’s house at 18 and went to university for three years. After that I ran into an old friend who told me of an architectural apprentaship I could do at a major company. Academically I haven’t looked back since. In social terms, I’ve been out with women but it has never really worked out.’ He didn’t mention his sacking or his month in hospital after being an unprovoked attack, but apart from the type of job the rest was correct.
‘So you’ve never been engaged? Married?’ Anne asked, interested to know.
‘Well I was engaged and married. In total the relationship lasted six years. But we both realised it wasn’t working out. That was two years ago. We didn’t have any children.’ The first wholly honest thing Jack had said since talking to Anne. Only it was more complicated than that.
Anne wanted to know more. Jack was always so secretive. It was one of the things that she had loved but at the same time hated. No one ever knew what he was thinking. She secretly guessed that she had been harmlessly flirting with other men and he couldn’t cope with it. Jack was such a jealous guy. She had even found the John Lennon song in his room.
Jack had thought about telling her the whole story. It would take a long time. But it would have to be said one day. How he had all that he wanted but it went when he started drinking and then lost his job, which led to him abusing his wife, which led to sincere apologies, before the drinking started again and the vicious cycle continued. He still could not find a reason why he had started drinking. He lost control; his job and then his previously stable marriage. When he awoke next to girl in an area previously unheard of to him, remembering nothing, he knew he had to change. He hadn’t drunk since that incident 18 months ago and had got himself a new job quickly after. But it didn’t seem right to tell all this to his first girlfriend.
When asked the same question by Jack, Anne also hesitated, not knowing what to say. ‘I got offered a job straight after university. They held my job until after my trip and I’ve been there ever since. In terms of relationships…’ She tilted her hand to show good and bad, ‘I married a guy from work but it didn’t work out. We divorced five years after marrying. We both agreed the relationship had run its course.’ It was all truthful, though there were important parts missing.
The relationship had officially ended five years after marriage but in truth it had ended when her husband had started drinking six months after their honeymoon. She had tried to find a reason why but couldn’t. Things had been great before he had started drinking. It was the marriage she had always dreamed of. But once he started drinking there was no going back. Anne just wished she had realised that earlier. The divorce had going been long, bitter and expensive. Fortunately there were no children to worry about.
Jack had imagined that she would still be married. He hadn’t looked at her index finger as she was wearing gloves, but had figured her for the type who needed commitment. They probably just drifted apart but keep in touch regularly he thought to himself. Happens all the time.
Both simultaneously looked at the clock and realised that they had been talking for longer then they expected. They did not notice each other looking at the time, though they were looking at the same clock.
‘I should really be going, it is getting late’ said Jack and realised that he hadn’t even ordered anything. Still, that hadn’t been the reason he had come and he smiled to himself. ‘It looks a good place so I’ll have to come back soon.’ He stood up and put on his jacket.
Anne was surprised he was leaving as she thought there was more to talk about. But architects are busy people she reasoned.
Jack had his hands in his pockets but realised he should shake her hand as a means of goodbye. He let out his right hand but ended up bringing a scrap of paper along with it. He always kept junk in his pockets.
‘Oh, you want my number. I’ll just get my pen.’
Jack cursed himself for being so careless. Thinking about it though, it is good manners and maybe I will give her a ring soon, he thought.
Anne wrote down the number and getting up, put on her coat. They both walked to the door and both went different ways, each with a smile.
Anne grinned as she knew she could still attract men, even when wearing a heavy shawl. He even wanted your number. He still seemed a decent guy and Anne suddenly felt envious of his success. Perhaps I shouldn’t have given him the wrong number.
Jack grinned as he knew women he had dated always remembered him really easily. He had only been interested in the chair to put his feet up. And the notepad was an amusing incident. She gave you her number. She’s still interested. Remembering her job, he ripped the piece of paper up and threw the pieces into a nearby bin. He could and would, never date anyone more successful than himself.