Friday, October 12, 2012


"If there is a Mr Phillip Defoe on board will he please make himself known to the cabin staff?" The doors were locked and the plane was begining to move into position for take off. "That's you," said his wife seated beside him, surprise in her voice. He pressed the button above him. A member of cabin staff  having confirmed his identity, handed him the transcript of a telephone message. All it said was "Saw you at the airport. Carmen", followed by a telephone number.

"What is it?" said his wife.

"Nothing. Somebody I used to know was at the airport." He had gone white and closed his eyes as the Airbus gathered speed on the runway.

"Are you alright?"


She leafed through catalogues from the art galleries which they had visited in the last few days. From time to she cast her eyes in his direction. He had never liked flying, she thought, any more than he liked the profit motive. They were returning  to London from a buying trip for their West End art gallery.  Paintings were his love and he had the knack of knowing what would sell. And what sold he usually liked. She was the business partner, her head full of calculations.

He screwed up the paper and leant back as far as he could in the upright seat. Carmen. He couldn't remember her other name. Perhaps he had never known it. But In 20 years he had not forgotten the time they had spent togther. He could find no words for their encounter which did not reduce it  from something to treasure to something mundane, even sordid. For some people it  might have seemed ordinary enough for  two arractive strangers  towards the end of the 20th Century to meet away from home and make love on the spur of the moment.  But for him certainly in retrospect it had been far from ordinary.

They had walked out of the  press party conference in the Ritz Hotel talking, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English,  as though they had known each other for years. She a photographer, he a journalist whose special subject was photography. It was early evening. May. And the warm air despite the traffic fumes smelt of perfume and dark tobacco  people still smoked in those days). They went from tapas bar to tapas bar and eventually to her small flat down a narrow street in the old quarter of the town. The ice-cold fino Sherry sharpened their minds and appetites, both of which in their different ways were to be languorously sated . Could he ever forget  the free play of her laughter and the fleeting moments of intervening sadness when she sat up her arms clasped round her knees her head on one side? Had she cried then? He couldn't remember.

Two days later he returned to London. They didn't communicate again. Perhaps it had had seemed too close to perfection, uncontaminated by familiarity or detail, to be spoilt by further contact. All he knew was that as the years passed their meeting seemed to grow like a knot in the timber of his memory.

In his left hand the note had been reduced to mush by the constant pressure and moisture of his hand. He sensed his wife looking at him. He pretended to be asleep. The plane droned homeward above the clouds.  He kept his eyes  closed wishing that he would not  have to open them again. It struck him  that in the last 20 years he had never stopped pretending.


  1. I think this is the best one yet, Joe.

    Thank you for starting this project. It has spurred my own desire to write again, reawakened the need.

  2. Thank you Crow. I hope you will join the train. I so much enjoy your posts which recently have been all too few.

  3. Pretending. I am still concerned with style - yours as well as mine. Perhaps it's an unjustifiable obsession but the first third of this story has something in common with the few SSs I've read and the even fewer I've tried to write. The narrative bangs and bounces like the ball in a pin-ball machine, seemingly random but satisfying in the sequence of details the reader is offered; a mixture of different sentence lengths helps with this effect.

    It gets harder when the past is summarised. Or when abstractions are inescapable.

    Is pretending a precise enough single-word summary of his life. Should "pretending to be asleep" be closer to "never stopped pretending"

    Overall the sense of a narrative is sustained and that's difficut to discuss, let alone achieve.

    I am tempted to rewrite this on the basis of a tiny change to the note. "See you at the aiport. Carmen."

    Still counting. Fine. He's going potty and in an ironic way. There's this business of the seemingly inconclusive ending which requires thought (on the part of the reader) to create the conclusion. Might he move from counting the past to counting the future? Prediction, in fact. Real craziness.

    His son, the musician, is of course also a counter himself; musicians can't escape it. Best line: "made him smile as he remembered their context".

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Curiosity drives me to say sorry that you removed your second comment. I have been meaning to reply to the first which is full of substance and leaves me inspired to add improvements and afterthoughts. The one consolation is that I can always return to the stories in time to make changes. In the meantime I am continuing to churn them out with the object of retaining a degree of spontaneity in exchange for too much polish, if there can ever be too much polish.

  6. In fact it was an accidental repetition, nothing sinister. I don't exactly understand what you have against "polish" (think of it as revision and you may find it easier to swallow) but at least it seems as if the drafts are open to factual addenda if not to syntactical rearrangement. I am delighted to learn that you are not averse to considering some of my light-hearted suggestions; how much easier it is to come up with these for you than it is to do it for myself. A case of the "author's cage" I suppose.

  7. Nothing against polishing. My problem is that as a compulsive polisher I can polish until nothing remains, probably for want of substance in the first place. Your suggestions most welcome and as you say they point to mistakes which are not immediately apparent to the purpetrator. Regard these stories as part of a dialogue onshort story writing. Another one is on the way. I hope meanwhile that yours will continue though not at the expense of the current novel.