This is a selection taken from the stories I wrote between 2003 and 2011. Nearly all of them have been previously published, many in publications no longer extant. Where they are still available in existing books or magazines, sufficient time has elapsed to permit their re-publication without fear of ethical impropriety or breach of contractual terms. Check the Blog Archive at the bottom of the page for individual titles.

Please be aware that each story was written by the person I was at the time. In a sense, therefore, each one was written by somebody different. None of them was written by the person I am now.

Anybody wanting to view my novel Odyssey can do so here. I’ve set the price very low because I’m more interested in the story being read than in making money out of it. It’s about a goddess and her rabbit companion taking a mortal man on a journey to teach him a few lessons about the nature of reality and higher consciousness, and it's probably more entertaining than I make it sound. I never was any good at selling myself. The Gift Horse, a story of reincarnation and karmic balancing, is also now available at the same place.

July 08, 2011

A Fairytale of Philadelphia.

Nothing overtly supernatural here, just a small slice of life with a large helping of fantasy thrown in. Like many of my stories, though, it does have some basis in fact; although I must say that any similarity to real persons or circumstances is partly coincidental. Joseph and Lisa are based on real people, and Louise is real, too, though in a slightly different way.

Approximate reading time: 20 minutes.

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Joseph Bentley had been traipsing the streets of the downtown area for at least two hours. The brace of bags he was carrying weren’t particularly heavy, but two hours of alternating them between his shoulders – and sometimes carrying the smaller one in his hand so as to be able to sling the big one over his back – conveyed the notion that lead weights had somehow been added bit by bit as he walked. It had rained the whole time, too, and even though the air was hot and the water that had crept through several gaps in his inadequate attire not unduly uncomfortable, he couldn’t avoid the unpleasant sensation of being wet where a person isn’t supposed to be wet. This was just the latest reason to feel dejected.

He’d been walking ever since he’d had a meal of sorts, more out of a sense of duty to routine than any genuine need of sustenance, in some fast food outlet on... on... 22nd Street, wasn’t it? He was trying to get some idea of his bearings in a strange American city, and he found American addresses confusing. Too many numbers. Where he came from, they didn’t have addresses like 1420 17th Street. He was more used to 14 Sackville Terrace. Much more human; much more humane. He didn’t feel particularly human at that moment, and all sense of humanity – subjective or objective – had temporarily gone the way of all wet flesh.

This had to stop; he needed a drink.

He tried to place himself, although he had no idea why it should concern him. What did it matter where he was? He knew which city he was in, wouldn’t that do? He decided to try and work it out anyway. He decided it was a control thing.

Walnut Street? Chestnut Street. Nutcase Street? All nuts; that was good enough. He spotted a bar with a name that appealed to him. Rick’s Bar proclaimed the blue neon sign. Excellent, he thought; he knew all about Rick’s Bar. And so he went in, made for the nearest bar stool, dropped his sopping bags onto the floor, and sprawled himself across the counter for a few seconds.

‘Can I get’ya a drink, buddy?’

‘Scotch. As big as it comes. Neat.’

‘Neat? You mean straight up.’

‘Do I? I’ve no idea. I mean I don’t want any ice in it.’

‘Gotcha.’

Two minutes later he was observing the four other people whose paths he was briefly crossing on the road of life. ‘Life?’ he thought to himself. ‘Did I just think life? No, too much – way too much.’

Two of them were a young couple sitting at a table. Their body language suggested a degree of intimate acquaintance, and that wouldn’t do. Bad memories. In the corner sat a man in a business suit, poring over a wad of papers. A business report, maybe, or a set of accounts. ‘Greyville,’ thought Joseph. The fourth was the only one worthy of attention. An attractive young woman, maybe in her late twenties, sat on another bar stool around the corner from his. She had long dark hair, and was wearing what looked like a dark raincoat zipped up to the chin. He thought it odd, since it was so warm, and that intrigued him. What intrigued him more was that she looked just as miserable as he felt. A sense of shared misery plucked at him briefly. ‘Pretty as peaches,’ he thought, remembering a phrase he had heard an American use once. And then he turned away to examine the d├ęcor.

The choice of name for the establishment was obvious enough, since there was a TV set in the corner of the room showing the film Casablanca, and the walls were liberally hung with references to it. There were portraits of Bogart, Bergman, Veidt, Rains – even one of the redoubtable Sydney Greenstreet. There were stills galore, and several frames containing some of the more memorable lines. The hill o’ beans speech, If that plane leaves and you’re not on it..., You played it for her, you can play it for me, etc, etc. The one that brought a wry smile to his lips was We’ll always have Paris. ‘What an idiot you were, Rick,’ he muttered.

‘I agree.’ He turned to see the dark haired woman in the raincoat standing next to him, drink in hand. ‘May I sit with you?’

‘As long as you’re not trying to sell me something.’

‘Like what?’

Joseph’s look must have conveyed his obvious suspicion, for it seemed the woman almost stomped her foot.

‘Heavens! What can you be thinking? That’s terrible.’

Joseph was sure he detected a twinkle in her eye, but he played safe.

‘Yes, of course. I’m sorry; I meant no offence. It’s just that I’m not used to being approached by attractive women in bars.’

A short period of silence followed, during which awkward moments Joseph looked at the woman and then looked away, and the woman stared resolutely at Joseph. He’d noticed that about American women. Up front, combative, no messing. She took the stool next to his.

‘You’re English, aren’t you?’

‘I am.’

‘What’s your name?’

‘Joe, although for some unaccountable reason one or two people prefer to call me Joseph. I answer to both.’

‘Joseph’s a nice name.’

‘Do you think so? Can’t say I was ever that keen on it myself.’

‘It’s from the Bible, isn’t it?’

‘I believe it does have Levantine origins.’

‘What?’

‘Yes, it’s from the Bible.’

‘What are you doing in our beautiful, wet city? From your luggage, I’d say you just came from the airport.’

‘Not just, exactly: about five hours ago. I came to meet somebody.’

‘And did you?’

‘Did I what?’

‘Meet this somebody?’

‘Briefly.’

‘Why briefly?’

‘She wasn’t expecting me. It didn’t go quite as planned.’

‘How so?’

‘Oh, long story. Aren’t they all?’

‘We have time if you want to talk about it. What’s her name?’

‘Lisa.’

‘That’s a nice name, too.’

‘Think so?’

‘Yeah, sure I do. So what went wrong?’

Joseph shuffled on his seat, insofar as it’s possible to shuffle on a bar stool.

‘Do you really want to hear it?’

‘Sure I want to hear it.’

Joseph groaned, but very quietly.

‘I don’t suppose you’re familiar with the Latin phrase si tu non veneris ad me, ego veniam ad te.

‘I know a little Spanish, but I’m strictly minor league on Latin.’

‘It means “If you won’t come to me, I’ll come to you.” I read it in a book and it seemed appropriate to the circumstances.’

‘Circumstances?’

‘We – this woman and I – met over the internet, you see, first through following each other’s blogs, then by e-mail (I remember the thrill I felt when she wrote in a blog comment “e-mail me?” Ha!) And then we got to talking on Skype.’

‘Was she beautiful?’

‘Facially, you mean? I didn’t know at first; in the pictures she posted, she always kept herself well hidden behind big glasses and under woolly hats and the like. All I knew at the time was that there was something fascinating about her – something vibrant, searching, intelligent, creative, electric, beguiling...’

‘Wow!’

‘But then, when I did eventually get to see her face, yes, she was beautiful too.’

‘And you fell in love with her.’

‘Mm... not so sure about that. Not sure I know what it means. Let’s just say I was captivated. I started to get this curious ache if we went a whole day without some form of contact. A sort of longing, a fearful sort of longing – fear of losing, I suppose, or rejection. Same thing. Pretty silly, don’t you think? We fell out a couple of times, but it didn’t last. Back she came, and down I fell again.’

Joseph had cleared his first scotch during the course of the conversation, and ordered another. He offered to buy the woman a drink.

‘No, thanks. I’m fine. So what happened?’

‘There was a plan that she would come to visit me in England, but it fell through because of other commitments. So then I was reading a book one day and came across that Latin quotation. I decided that if she couldn’t come to me, I would go to her. And I thought it would be a splendid surprise if I arrived unannounced. Big mistake.’

‘Why?’

‘Ah, well, first there was the leg work to be done. We’d never exchanged home addresses, you see. All I knew was that she was a waitress in a coffee bar, somewhere in the downtown area, so I had to look for her.’

‘Hey, that’s romantic.’

‘Is it? Suppose it is, in a way. Anyway, I found her at about the tenth. There she was, serving a customer. She walked back across the floor and passed close to me. She glanced briefly at me at first, and then stopped and did the best double take I’ve ever seen. She looked more than shocked, she looked appalled. “Hello, Lisa,” I said. “What the..?” was all I got in return. But it was the look on her face that sent a chill down my spine. “Can we talk?” I said. “No, I’m busy.” “What about when you finish?” “I’ll be busy then, too.” And with that she walked away and disappeared into the back. Well, it was pretty obvious, wasn’t it? I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life. I’d got it all wrong. So I walked and walked, feeling like shit, and ended up here.’

‘Maybe she was confused about her feelings.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Maybe she just got a shock and didn’t know how to deal with it.’

‘Lots of maybe’s, aren’t there? You didn’t see her face. Eyes say a lot.’

‘Yeah, guess you’re right. So what’ll you do now?’

‘Go home I suppose. What else is there to do?’

‘You could hang out with me tomorrow. What you did was pretty damn extraordinary, and we’re short on Romantics in America. You could tell me more about Lisa and I’ll tell you my story. The weather forecast’s good.’

Joseph looked into the woman’s eyes. They looked honest, decent – complicated perhaps, but not inscrutable. He generally trusted his instinct when it came to eyes.

‘I noticed you weren’t looking too happy, yourself.’

‘No. Me and my boyfriend – so called – split up tonight. He said I wasn’t glamorous enough. Said I was boring. Jerk!’

‘Not glamorous enough?’

‘Right. I guess it’s ‘cos I don’t spend a hundred dollars a week on makeup, and I’m fussy about how much of my body I display to the great American public. From the shoulder to the knee is private. Puts me a bit outside the groove. Hell, seems I told you my story already. Mine’s shorter than yours. Still want to hang out?’

‘Yes, I think I do. Where should we meet?’

‘City Hall, ten o’clock? Do you know where that is?’

‘Oh, yes! I walked past it at least three times tonight.’

‘A date then!’

‘Date? Ha! Haven’t heard that word in years. OK, date it is. Would you have that drink with me now?’

‘Er, yeah. Sure I will.’

The drinks were obtained and they chinked glasses.

‘You know, you haven’t told me your name yet,’ said Joseph.

‘Oh gee, sorry. It’s Louise, but my friends call me Louis for a joke.’

‘Louis is it? Good name. Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’

The bartender, who had seen Casablanca so many times he knew the script backwards, rolled his eyes.

*  *  *

The weather forecast was accurate. As Joseph approached the extravagant bulk of City Hall the only dampness on his skin came from the first hints of light perspiration, encouraged by the hazy heat and a sun that seemed unnaturally powerful for 9.45 in the morning. It was never this hot, this early, in England. He wondered whether Louise would still be wearing a coat. He wondered whether Louise would be there at all.

The sheer size of the place aroused some consternation; he hadn’t noticed it in the mental and physical gloom of the previous evening. It occurred to him that a hundred people could arrange to meet here and still miss each other. Best thing, he thought, would be to walk the circuit of the place and keep walking it until he either encountered Louise or gave up the attempt. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d been stood up, and the previous night’s events had already assumed the impression of a dream.

The position of the sun told him he was heading west, and if he wasn’t mistaken the eastern end of the building looked to be one of the short sides. This was going to eat up some shoe leather. He crossed the busy road and turned left. He liked clockwise. There was nobody hanging around on that side of the building, only a bustle of people going about their business hurriedly and anonymously, and so he began the circuit.

He was in a hurry, too; he was anxious to see what Louise looked like in the hot light of day, and even more anxious to know whether she still wanted to spend time with him. As he turned the corner he spotted a single, still figure standing close to the building. He looked questioningly at it, and stopped. It wasn’t Louise; it was Lisa.

She caught sight of him almost immediately, and for several long seconds – or maybe even minutes – they both stood still and silent, regarding one another with an intensity that seemed to halt the morning bustle of the downtown area. Joseph moved first, but his walk was slowed by the pressure of incredulity. As he came to within touching distance, the ability to speak was dormant.

‘Hi,’ said Lisa quietly. The spell was broken, if only partially.

‘What are you doing here, Lisa? I’m supposed to be meeting somebody.’

‘I know,’ she returned with a light frown. ‘Me. I got your message.’

‘Message?’

‘Yeah. The one you sent with the woman who came to my house last night.’

‘Woman? What woman?’

‘The woman you sent with a message to say you’d be at City Hall at ten o’clock, and would I meet you here. Don’t pretend you didn’t, Joseph. I hate lies.’

‘I swear it. I never sent any woman with a message. What did she look like?’

‘About thirty, pretty, long dark hair, wearing an old fashioned black raincoat. Is this some sort of game, Joseph? I hate games, too.’

Joseph was confused. He stared at Lisa, and Lisa stared back. She seemed to be searching his eyes for something. Integrity, perhaps. Her own eyes seemed beautiful to him, and softer than the day before - more accepting. But that wasn’t the point. He jerked his mind back to the memory of the previous night and the meeting with Louise in Rick’s Bar.’ He’d had no more scotch than he was used to drinking, and he’d been a long way short of drunk.

‘I did meet a woman just as you describe, last night,’ he said. ‘I told her about you; she seemed interested. But I never sent her with a message. How could I? I don’t know where you live.’

‘Guess she must have looked me up in the phone book.’

‘I didn’t tell her your surname, either.’

Silence fell again and both sets of eyes were locked firmly on each other. Joseph was the sort who always needed to make sense of his senses, but at that moment he felt merely bewildered. There was thrill in abundance, and excitement, and expectation, and anxiety. Maybe there was even fear. But something else was swamping the lot, something that didn’t have a name yet, something he didn’t recognise because he’d never made its acquaintance before. Lisa broke the impasse.

‘You look a little older than I expected, but no matter. You have nice eyes. I don’t have to work today; we could spend it together.’

There was another short, but heavily pregnant, period of silence until Lisa spoke again.

‘Joseph, can we talk?’

*  *  *

They talked. They spent six hours together, during which time they talked, they walked, they had coffee, they sat in the shade, they had lunch, and then they walked some more.

It would be true to say that Joseph did most of the talking; he was more the garrulous type. But what he mostly did was observe. He’d found through years of experience that the words people use can be deceptive. Even the most truthful of people tend only to tell their own truth as it appears to them at that moment. It takes more than talk to understand somebody, and so he placed greater reliance on observing three things: dress, body language and eyes. And he had no doubt that Lisa was observing him, too; her eyes told him that. They were searching, testing, weighing up the possibilities and consequences. At four o’clock they parted without resolution, and Joseph headed back to Rick’s Bar.

He occupied the same bar stool and ordered the same drink. It was far too early by his standards, but what the hell. He heard a shuffle beside him and turned to see Louise taking the seat next to his. She was wearing the same black raincoat, zipped up to the neck. He regarded her steadily, feeling only a sense of resigned incredulity. 

'Aren't you hot in that coat?' he asked.

'U-huh. So what? There are more important things than being hot, aren't there Joseph?'

Joseph said nothing. Louise smiled for several seconds, and then said

‘Well, did I do good?’

Joseph asked the obvious question. The case of the mysterious visit was uppermost in his mind.

‘How did you know where Lisa lived?’

‘I know everything you need me to know.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘I can do magic?’

‘Magic.’

‘Yup. How did it go with Lisa?’

‘Not well.’

‘She had one characteristic you could never live with, didn’t she? Something to do with her attitude on a subject that’s very important to you.’

‘And how do you know that? Oh, sorry; I forgot. You know everything I need to you to know.’

‘Correct.’

Joseph shook his head and searched the enigmatic smile that had never left Louise’s lips and eyes.

‘I understand you, Joseph,’ she said. ‘I’m the only one who does. Shall I explain it to you?’

‘Will it help?’

‘It might. Look, Joseph, you’re a smart guy. In fact, you’ve got a lot of things going for you. You've got plenty of strengths, but you’ve got one big weakness. Any woman you get close to – the way you got close to Lisa – has tremendous power over you. She can reduce you to a pile of jibbering jello with a single action, opinion, or even expression of intent. And do you know why? Because such a woman holds your masculinity in her hands, and she can snuff it out as easy as crushing a butterfly. Lisa would do that to you; not maliciously, of course, or even deliberately, but she wouldn’t be able to help it. She wouldn’t know what she was doing, Joseph. She wouldn’t hold back because she wouldn’t understand the nature of the power she has; she wouldn’t see the butterfly she was crushing. Let me ask you something. Are you a control freak?'

'No.'

'And the idea of owning a person is a million miles from who you are, right?'

'Of course.'

'Those two things are precisely what Lisa wouldn't understand. She’d see your vulnerability as nothing more than a man’s attempt to own and control her, and that’s one characteristic she could never live with.  She wouldn't understand that it's your demon you need to control, not her. And so she would feed the demon, and when she’d brought you to your knees and you’d lost all your strength, will, self-belief, ability to function, and even your sense of identity – which is what emasculation does to a man – you’d do the only thing you know how. You’re at your meanest when you’re down, aren’t you Joseph? You would strike back by stating your own truths more extensively. You would tell her things about herself – things you truly believed, rightly or wrongly, but had kept reined in – that would hurt her badly. I understand Lisa, too. I know how sensitive she is, and I know you’d both suffer more than you could take. Understand this, my friend. There’s no road you and Lisa could walk together and find any sort of happiness, not now you’ve gotten this close to her. It would be a path of mutual destruction. You should never have gotten this close, you know. You should have maintained some distance, detachment, a measure of indifference.’

‘I know. I did try.’

‘Not hard enough, though. Try harder next time.’

Joseph was tired. He looked dejectedly at the bar counter while Louise’s eyes never left his face, nor the smile her lips. Eventually, he asked a question.

‘And how will Lisa come out of this? Will she be OK?’

‘Of course. Her needs aren’t quite as particular as yours, though they’re particular enough in their own way. Lisa's main problem is that she fears becoming somebody else's creation, and that leads her into an obsessively independent mindset that doesn't really encourage things like giving, trusting, or paying too much heed to the needs of others. She'll learn in her own time, and by then you'll be far and away. For now, she’s young, and she isn’t short on physical attributes, is she? She’ll get all the approbation she cares to take. Men are never slow to see a well formed body as a sex object; you should know that. That’s the only thing most men are capable of seeing in a well formed body. It’s why we have strip joints.  She’ll have men making love to her, one way or another, at every turn.’

Joseph felt the knot tighten in his stomach, and an enervating sickness spread to every corner of his frame. It showed.

‘Hurts, doesn’t it?’ said Louise. ‘That’s why you have to go home, Joseph. Now. Alone. Go home and don't come back. If that plane leaves and you’re not on it...’

He placed his elbows on the bar counter, sank his head into the crook of his arms, and gripped the back of his skull tightly. Eventually he looked up to see the bartender smirking at him. Joseph looked back and asked the first question that came into his head.

‘Is there a woman sitting on the stool next to me?’

‘Er, nope.’

‘Have I been talking to myself?’

‘Yup.’

‘You must think I’m mad.’

‘Mad? You mean crazy?’

‘Right.’

‘Ha! We get crazier crazies than you in here every day of the week, buddy.’

Joseph left the drink and headed back to the modest hotel where he’d spent the previous night. He packed his things, paid the bill and took a cab to the airport. The rain was falling steadily again. He was lucky in only having to wait five hours for the next flight back to Manchester where he’d left his car. He spent most of the journey sleeping the sleep of the discontented. 

The woman in the seat behind him slept, too. She had folded her long black raincoat to use as a pillow.

About Me

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I've never had money because I've never been driven by money. I received little formal education beyond the age of sixteen, which isn't such a bad thing since you get a different angle on life that way. Learning what you want and need to learn often reveals things that the system's road keeps hidden.
JJ Beazley asserts his ownership of copyright in all works of fiction and non-fiction contained herein unless otherwise stated. Feel free to quote anything if you want to, but please don't nick a story and claim it for your own. That would compromise my chances of getting an anthology published and I'd be a bit miffed.



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