Short Story - JJ's Note (Part 1)

It seems that granny's heart was broken by a poetic locomotive driver from Aberystwyth.

I only found this out on the day of her funeral, at the gathering afterward.

Mother drew me apart from the other guests. We stood silently for a while, watching them lose salad out of their triangular sandwiches, then she told me all about it.


His name was JJ, apparently. He had first seen my granny as she waited for her train home from work one cold evening, November 1952. Although, for him, it was love at first sight, it was eighteen months before he finally got up the nerve to speak to her.

She was in Holland Park fingering Yeats. JJ sat down beside her and read a verse he had written in her honour. It was a lot closer to doggerel than poetry but granny nonetheless was very taken by it and by the gentle, soft spoken man who recited it. An affair began within weeks.

"Did granddad know?" I asked.

We both looked over to where he sat, slippered, tartan-blanketed, unaware. Since the stroke, he spent most of his time in the company of colleagues who had died many years before. In his rasping voice, he frequently carried on conversations with them - never with us.

"Father knew nothing darling", my mother said, "and cared less."

Granddad, a successful architect, was considerably older than granny when they wed. The passing years, coupled with her rapidly-failing eyesight, did little to reduce this gap.

By the time she met JJ, granddad had retired from his practice and spent most of his time locked in his study constructing elaborate cryptic crossword puzzles on huge sheets of tracing paper.

Granny, fighting her disability angrily, returned to work late in life and, at fifty, proved she was as good a personal secretary as any of her fully sighted work mates.

"At the time, she worked for the chief planner of some local council. Buckinghamshire, or someplace like that. This was against daddy's express wishes. Inevitably, the void between them grew greater by the day."

Mother paused.

"And then?" I prompted.

"Then JJ asked her to run away with him. They'd been seeing each other - you know what I mean, they'd been going out - only nine months."

Some distant cousin rolled up to us to offer final condolences before going home. I could hardly wait until he left.

"And you knew about all this?"

Mother smiled.

"I was her eyes. I read her his poetry, made excuses for her. She deserved him, he was a good man."

"So what happened. No, don't tell me, he ditched her, right?"

"No, he did not 'ditch' her, Katie," mother winced at my crudity, "She hesitated, heavens knows why, perhaps she was thinking of father and me and how we would react. Whatever the reason, JJ saw at once that she wasn't sure. He wrote her one of his poems and then... well, you'd better read for yourself."

From her pocket mother produced a yellowed rectangle of sharply folded writing paper. She handed it to me. I opened it and read.

1
I love you Faye so very much
I long for you, to feel your touch.
I've asked you now to come with me
but something says that may not be.

I think you need some time to ponder
so I will go off on a wander
and return to hear what you will say.
At this same time a year today.

On the Glorious Twelfth I'll wait a while
and pray to see your loving smile.

2
So if you love me there you'll be
then we will love eternally
If you're not there to make our date
I'll know true love was not our fate

Then I'll trouble you no more sweet Faye
But I'll return on that same day
On every year until I die
to see if you'll come by and by.

3
Where shall we meet?
I've not yet said
but you will know
'tis in your head

and if you don't
then you will find
old JJ by reading
between the lines.

Yours always JJ


"There," my mother breathed, "what do you think?"

I laughed.

"Well...it's crap! It's just like something a child would write."

Mother didn't like that very much.

"Katie, come on! This was above mere iambic pentameter and imagery. This was honest, from the heart."

"Okay, sorry mum. So, JJ sailed away for a year and a day...then what?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing?"

"The story ends with that letter in your hand. It arrived in the post on the Twelfth of August 1953. I took it from the hall into the garden and I read it to your grandmother on the stone bench under the oak, you remember the one."

"Sure. How did she take it?"

"At first, she was furious, then she wept a little and then, oh then Katie - I've never seen such panic in a person's eyes, never! She made me read it all again, and again. She even tried to read it herself but her sight was really too far gone by that time. It was too awful!

"She didn't know, you see. She didn't understand where JJ planned to meet her the following year. The poem said that she would know if she read between the lines but she couldn't, you see, she was blind and no matter how many times I read it to her she couldn't work out where it was."

Jesus!

I read the note again.

"It was obviously someplace well known to both of them, mutual ground. Surely she could have worked through their favourite places?"

Mother nodded gently.

"Everything, we tried everything. The next August the twelfth I drove her to every place she and JJ had ever been together. We couldn't find him. She started to pine for him and went on pining for the rest of her life. Every 'Glorious Twelfth' we spent looking, desperately trying to claw back her one chance of happiness but it was all in vain. They never met again. It was her wish that you should have this letter."

She clasped my hand fervently.

"You've found love, Katie, don't ever squander it"

Mother tended to sound a bit theatrical when she got intense so I pleaded the bathroom and escaped. As I left, I saw Aunt Jessie move in to force a little comfort on her.

I slipped out of the room, stunned by mothers' revelations. Sweet old granny, involved in such a tragic cock-up.

It was beyond belief!




Let me know if you'd like to read the last bit of this. I'd be pleased to post it up next time if anyone is actually bothered where JJ was.

UPDATE: Here's the last bit.

21 comments:

Margaret said...

Well, I'm sure he was in her heart, but no idea where else he might have been.

His poetry is just the sort I write :) . You should read http://eyespi20.com/scent-of-memories as an example.

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hope said...

You are NOT going to leave us hanging...or tell us he's dead, are you?

You know I'm going to vote for "the rest of the story" please. ;)

Matthew S. Urdan said...

Nah, I know JJ was at an ABBA concert.

Ken Armstrong said...

You write better that JJ Margaret, really you do. And thanks again for all your help!

I won't leave you hanging, Hope, don't you worry. :)

Matt: you've got that 'B' the wrong/right way around again. Haven't we discussed this? :)

Angel said...

You had better post the rest!

Jennifer said...

Of course we'd like to hear more! But I think you may have suspected that ...

Kate said...

I'd love to read more! Haven't got a clue where JJ might be though.

Dave King said...

Of course we ******* **** want to know where he was! Post it, man! You can't leave a cracking tale unfinished!

Jim Murdoch said...

Yup, count me in.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thank you my friends! :)

I've built it up too darn much now! I didn't mean to but I just thought it was too much to post all at once.

Anyway I'll post the rest tomorrow - be warned - it's rather silly. :)

Jena Isle said...

They are supposed to meet at the previous scheduled meeting place.

Post the rest of the story Ken, you've got us curious.

Cheers.

jenaisle said...

Ken, I've given you an award at my Working abroad blog. This is the URL:

http://wwwworkingabroad.blogspot.com/2008/09/this-award-was-given-by-mathe-of.html

Happy Blogging.

Rachel Fox said...

No, I'm not bothered what happens next...yeh, right...post it or be damned forever.
That business about fingering Yeats though. That disturbed me a bit. He's been dead a while. Might you change that..?
x

Canucklehead said...

I suspect the answer is TOO obvious - I've tried the first letters of the sentences (ignoring the eyes ... wait! eyes = iii, hmmmm), tried counting spaces ... I'll be back to find out. Great story BTW!

Canucklehead said...

Wait ... is it Aberystwyth? Crap -- I can almost make it work -- but not quite ... the secret has to capilization, but damn - nope, I guess I'll have to wait ...

jakill said...

Yes please, please. I have to know.

Ken Armstrong said...

Jena: As they used to say in an old game show, "It's good... but it's not right." Come back and see tomorrow, eh?

Oh, and thanks SO much for the award. You *are* sweet! :)

Hi Rachel: Glad you spotted my Yeats reference - nothing rude is ever accidental on this page :)

That funny, Linc, I actually looked down the first letter of every sentence in case it did spell something by accident. :)

Jakill, thanks, you *will* know... and then you'll probably want to kill me. :)

(a whole lotta smilies goin' on there but what the hell, I feel smiley.)

Yolander said...

I feel like Gollum trying to get the ring back from Bilbo. Where the heck were they to meet??? It's like An Affair to Remember with a riddle!

Ken Armstrong said...

Yo Yolander! :)
I feel a bit bad because I just really cut the story in half and there's a few salient points in the second bit which might help the intrepid puzzle solver.

Sadly, you're not terribly well-armed with just this first bit. So don't sweat it too much 'my preciooous', tune in later today and I'll have the last bit up.

Edd Story said...

The rest ? It's good.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Edd. There's a link to the second (and last part) at the bottom of the post, headed UPDATE. Cheers. :)