Sunday, 25 September 2011

...Joe - Chapter 4

Give me silence and I will make it my music

Chapter 4

These last 48 hours have really taken it out of me. Why does life have to be so brutal? It doesn’t feel like I slept last night. My eyes are sore and my neck is stiff, a sign of a bad night for me. After getting Jonie to bed I just lay there staring at the ceiling, thinking. 

The kettle whistles and I instinctively pour hot water into two mugs and let the tea bags steep. I arch my back and rub the back of my neck in an attempt to relieve some of this stiffness; it must have been the weed. I rolled a “final” joint before bed, it must have been that. I rub my aching head and try to dislodge some of the sleep from my eyes and grab the milk out of the fridge. 

I spin round and Jonie’s standing in the doorway.
“Bloody hell Jonie, you scared the life out of me”
“Sorry Joe”
“It’s alright, how you feeling?”
“Yeah, good I guess”
I doubt it. She looks like someone sprayed pepper spray in her eyes.
“Yeah cheers”
I finish making the tea and hand her a mug.
“So, what do you want to do today?” 

We need some adventure, some excitement after all this darkness. I try to come up with a few ideas. Zoo, trampoline, paintballing, cinema, theatre, arcade, gallery – museum? But they all sound lame and take way too much energy, which I, of course, have none of. Jonie’s staring at me and I realise I haven’t spoken for at least 15 minutes. I’ve been so caught up in my own thoughts.

“How about we just go to St James’s Park?”
“Yeah, that’s a great idea”
Jonie always has the best ideas.
“Ok so how about we leave in an hour? We can pick up some more beer and you know food and pack a blanket and music or books or magazines, you know or whatever you want to read...”
She’s rambling which means she’s nervous and she doesn’t need to be, it’s just us, Jonie and Joe, no matter what happens.
Jonie turns swiftly, tea in hand,
“I’m going to have a shower ok?”
“Ok” I call back.
I put some bread in the toaster, Jonie’s going to take awhile in the shower, I might as well get something to eat. 

45 mins later she’s out of the shower and giving me that “why-aren’t-you-dressed-yet-look”. I grab a clean towel from the cupboard and jump into the shower, there’s so much steam I can barely breathe. I turn on the water and it’s cold. For fucks sake. How the hell do you use all the fucking water? I’m so angry but I need a shower so I brave it. Fuck me it’s really fucking cold. I’m gulping down air, I feel like my body's going into shock and I swear my balls are freezing. I’m in and out in five minutes a record I think. I wrap a towel around my middle and ruffle my hair in the mirror, it looks good. I look like a young Jimmy Hendrix – minus the talent. I grab a pair of boxers and jeans of the floor and drag them on whilst frantically looking for a t-shirt that doesn’t smell as if I live on the streets. I find a green Fred Perry polo shirt under a pile of papers in my wardrobe and pull it on. It smells ok; if I spray it a bit under the arms no one but me will know.
By the time I finish getting dressed Jonie is standing in the hall, waiting for me. She looks agitated; she’s clenching and unclenching her fists. By her feet is my battered blue rucksack, practically bursting at the seams – what the hell could she possibly have in it? 

“Hey Jo what’s in the bag?”

I sound like a game show host. 

“Oh you know a couple packets of biscuits, a few cans, those portable speakers you have – by the way do they work? And my iPod, your iPod, a blanket and that book you told me to read – you know the one about a tiger or something? And an umbrella, just in case it rains you know?”
My heads swimming, how can one person fit so much into a sentence? And how the fuck did she get all that into a rucksack? I stare at her in disbelief and all I can think it’s that one day she’ll make a terrific mum.
“Cheers Jo. Err you’ve thought of everything”
I smile, she smiles, all is right again.

We walk to Balham tube station with Jonie struggling half the way with the rucksack before she finally lets me take it off her. We wait forever for the tube – I fucking hate the northern line it’s a load of bollocks, the trains are always packed and there is always some fucker on there vying for your seat. Every time you move, even if it’s just to scratch your arse, they twitch, ready at any moment to pounce.

We get on and the trains relatively quiet but then we hit Clapham common and its sheer madness – I guess everyone’s heading in to town for some shopping. I’d wish they’d piss off and stop stepping on my fucking feet. The crowd is making me agitated and I can feel my chest getting tight, I look over at Jonie and she takes my hand, running her thumb over my thumb, she looks me in the eyes and mouths “take a deep breath”. I do as I’m told and I feel a bit better but then a crowd of tourists force their way on at Kennington and I wanna get up and scream “there’s no space for God’s sake get off” but I don’t. I grit my teeth and try to focus, the sound of their language making my head spin. The doors close and I’m fucked. The train stops in the tunnel and I remember that it’s a long way to go before we reach Waterloo and I’m sweating, I can smell myself, the odour of my high priced clothing is seeping off me. Jonie keeps stroking my thumb and I close my eyes, concentrating on the rhythm her thumb is making on mine and before I know it we’re at Waterloo and its only two stops till Charing Cross and I can hold on till then, I know I can. No one gets on – there’s still no fucking room, those tourists and their stupid backpacks and their overpriced SLR’s with stupid attachments. It’s Embankment and Jonie grabs my arm and drags me off. It takes my body a while to realise what’s happening but I’m so relieved to be on the platform, I feel like dancing.
“Come on Joe”
Jonie hands me the blue rucksack and weaves her hand into mine, guiding me through the crowds, up the stairs and into the blazing sunlight, fuck that feels fantastic. I blink for a moment, trying to adjust my eyes to the light and I squint at Jonie, relishing the feel of the sun on her skin. She’s so beautiful.

We walk through Charing Cross, past the British portrait museum and the tourists frolicking on the lions. We walk up the mall and I can see the park, Jonie’s mouth is moving but for the life of me I can’t understand a word she’s saying, I’m too engrossed in my own moment.

We picked a good day to hit the park, it’s nice and hot and thankfully it’s not too full. We pick a spot next to the lake and set up camp. Jonie’s still rambling on about “fun St James’s park facts” and all I’ve gathered from her so far are random snippets like “did you know it was named after St James’ the lesser AND a leper hospital?” blah blah blah. I can’t take this Jonie. I need the old one back pronto.
“Jonie please, just shut the fuck up, I’m really not interested in St James the lesser. Can we just crack a beer and play some music and I dunno act fucking normal please?”
Jonie’s silent. Fuck. I’m such a cunt. After everything she’s just done for me. I... shit.
“Jonie, I’m sorry. I just don’t want, you know, talking for the sake of it. We used to be good with just silence.”
“Well things change Joe”
“Fine Joe, let’s have it your way, you want a beer, here. You want music? Something ridiculously depressing right? Well here, have The Smiths. You want silence? You’ve fucking got it.”
I’m stunned. I pick up the beer next to me and drink a bit. I look over at Jonie and she’s fuming. How can I get something so wrong? Whenever I voice my opinions I get shot down. I’m just trying to be honest for fuck sake. What would she rather have? Me pretending like all her nonsense is ok and all the shit I’ve been taking from her for the past couple of weeks, no years is forgotten? Fuck me, I’m only a man.  
I’m pathetic.
“Just leave it Joe. Drink your fucking beer”

She punches me in the arm and I know we’re going to be ok. At least I hope we are, there’s only so much shit this relationship can take, but we have to be ok, we only have each other now and that includes family. Well at least for me it does. Shit. The only idea I have of family is from Jonie. I remember going around her house every day after school and her mum making everybody dinner, from scratch and it was always something delicious. We’d all sit around the dining table and her dad would ask us all about school. He’d even ask me, he wanted to know how I was doing and he cared, he wasn’t just asking because I was there. They were the perfect family. Even there house felt perfect, smelt perfect, like freshly baked bread and whenever I went around they made me feel so welcome, I even had a change of clothes that her mum washed and ironed for me and kept in the second drawer in Jonies room next to Jonies clothes. I don’t think I’ve ever felt lonelier then when I was surrounded by them and their kindness. Not even when I sat at home by myself waiting for my mum to finish work, with only the TV and my dad’s old records to keep me company. Heating up the food she left on the cooker for me. It never tasted the way Jonie’s mums food did. Even when Jonie “came out” her parents were fantastic, there was none of the clich├ęd phrases you know, they were just so happy that she’d figured out who she was.

When my dad finally figured out who he was, who my mum was, he didn’t want us, he didn’t want me. So he left and made his perfect family in America. I’ve been there once or twice but it made me feel sick. He just looked so fucking happy with his kids, his green eyed, blonde haired, perfect fucking kids. And there was me, standing on the outside, my slightly afro hair not swaying in the wind, the colour of my skin not blending in with his idea of perfect. I saw it, I felt it from him, so I turned my back on him like he did to me and I haven’t looked back since. 

“Joe, why are you crying?”
It’s Jonie again and I’m not 16, I’m 25 and my face is wet. When did I start crying?
Jonie’s staring at me now, her concerned face making me feel worse, more than I do already.
“I’m fine” I lie.
“I don’t believe you. Don’t tell me I actually hurt your feelings? Come on Joe.”
I force a smile. My dad is the one thing we don’t talk about, it’s a rule.
“Seriously Joe, you ok?”
“Yeah, I was just thinking about how big a douche bag you are”
And I laugh and Jonie’s laughing and she’s put me in a headlock, my beer spilling all over the grass and I take those memories, those feelings and I shove them back down, further then before and I lock the door. They will not be allowed out again.
“Jonie off!”
“Make me Joe”
She’s managed to pin me, I really did think I was stronger than her, I guess I should start lifting weights. Her long auburn hair’s tickling my face and that smile, she’s so beautiful. I am very aware of her thighs against mine, her breasts brushing against my chest and her breath, warm on my face. Shit.
“Make me Joe”

I push her off me easily. I’m so ashamed of myself. I try to position my body so she won’t notice, but it’s pretty hard. I’ve gone fucking red. I can feel her staring at me and I’m just praying I go down, please go down. Fuck, I feel like I’m 13 again and just discovered breasts.
Then I hear it. It’s Jonie and she’s laughing, in fact she’s hysterical. I think I’m going to cry again.

“Oh Joe, I’m glad I can still turn someone on. I haven’t lost my touch.”
And she kisses me on the cheek and wipes the tears from my eyes. I want this day to be over.
“Come on” she says and hands me a fresh beer “let’s just have a drink and chill in the sunshine and on the way home we can pick up some porn so you can wank it out”
And she’s laughing again. I take a swig of my beer and thank Jesus I’ve gone down.
“Lighten up Joe. Before I realised I was gay I thought we’d get married”
“Yeah Joe, you’re an ideal catch; you just need to get your head out of the Anna clouds and into reality. Oh and cut you’re fucking hair, you look like the crack version of Lenny Cravitz”
I laugh.
“You’re right Jo, I was gonna ask you to cut it for me”
“I will don’t you worry”
She runs her hands through my hair and I try my best to not think about how good her hands feel running through it.
“I’m thinking we take a bit off here and here and oh definitely here”
Jonie’s tugging at random bits of my hair and I know it’s gonna look like shit once she’s finished playing with it, but I don’t care, I’m just happy she’s happy again.
“Ha ha, you look like a clown that’s been on a clown bender”
“What?” I say laughing “that doesn’t even make sense”
“Yes it does”
“Fine, if you say so”
“Lie with me Joe?”
My hearts pounding, what the fuck does she mean? Have we gone back to biblical times and I’m Jacob and she’s Rachel and we need to lie together to make a baby but we can’t because something’s gone wrong. Something doesn’t work. And shit. I think I’m hyperventilating.
Jonies staring at me again, I wish she would stop looking at me.
“You’re a weirdo today Joe”
I laugh nervously, I sound like a choking bunny. 

“I want you to lie with me Joe and look up, look at the clouds with me. Let’s make pictures like we used to when we were kids and we used to go to Brockwell Park because it’s where everyone said all the cool kids hung out but they were full of shit remember? It was just a park, granted it had its fair share of pissheads but Joe it felt like our little patch, where we could just look at the clouds and make our own memories.”

I do remember; it was a quiet time in a moment of my life that was filled with chaos. Dad was leaving, mum was absent, not physically, just you know, mentally.
I fall on the grass and stare at the clouds.
“I remember”
“Good. You can’t hide everything in that little black box of yours Joe. You need to let your memories roam”
She flops down beside me and hands me my half empty can of Stella and we stare, picking out objects, animals, places and memories, for what feels like hours. 


  1. Hi Rachel,

    I enjoyed this piece, and I particularly like the description of Joe's claustrophobia on the tube – it's a really vivid depiction which not only serves to give us more information about Joe as a character, but also gives you as the writer an opportunity to display the tender relationship between Joe and Joanie.

    I'm really interested in how Joe's feelings for Joanie have changed over the course of the narrative. I really like the way you've added in elements of their shared childhoods, in order to flesh out their personalities and their friendship, however, Joe's feelings for Joanie seem to have come on very suddenly. A few chapters before, he was pining for Anna and now he has switched his affections without so much as mentioning Anna. This doesn't seem very plausible to me. I think it might work better if:
    a) Joe gave more of an indication of his feelings for Joanie in preceding chapters and
    b) Joe compared Joanie and Anna in chapter 4 – to show that he is coming to the realisation that he has feelings for both women.
    This might give Joe's blossoming feelings for Joanie more context and make them seem more realistic.

    A couple of grammatical bits and pieces:

    1. In paragraph 4, the sentence 'But they all sound lame and take way too much energy, which I, of course, have none of.' is a little bit muddled. Maybe try 'But they all sound lame and take way too much energy – not that I have any of that to spare.' Then you're not ending a sentence on a preposition.

    2. In paragraph 6, the word bodies should be replaced by body's so that it reads 'I’m gulping down air, I feel like my body's going into shock and I swear my balls are freezing.' This is because Joe's body isn't plural (he doesn't have more than one.)

    I liked the back-story that you've added to this chapter, it really puts flesh onto the bones of your characters. I'm interested in what will happen to these two characters - my sense of curiosity has been piqued, so that's great. I'm looking forward to the next instalment! :)

  2. I will definitely take on board your comments regarding Joe and Jonie's relationship and his sudden interest in her - I was wondering how to write it and the comparison between Jonie and Anna would be a good way to do it so thank you!

    Grammatical errors will be changed!

    I will keep adding little bits of back story as the main story progresses - I ddin't want the reader to feel swamped by too much information so I'm glad it's piqued your interest!

  3. I must have missed something from last month's posting. I was sure Joe and Jonie were a couple! Anyways, I like this month's posting better than last month's. Your use of language is an improvement from last month and your characters too are a great improvement from last month. I see a soft,even though hurting side to Joe and Jonie.The part where Jonie, rubbed Joe's thumb on the train to keep him calm,shows her strong, perceptive and considerate.This month, I like Jonie. We all want a friend like her,one who knows us from time immemorial, warts and all and still loves us!

  4. Once again you capture a guy's perspective very well. The reeling off of things to do in a vain hope of them will be 'right' or to get some kind of unforthcoming input is a feeling I have experienced often. That said, Joe's internal response 'Jonie always had the best ideas' makes him sound like such a whuss. I'd expect more a sense of relief that the decision had been made and the y could move on.

    I'll join the grammatical train, even though I hate doing it: "Even there house felt perfect" should be their rather than there. Also that sentence seems like it should it should be two sentences.

    I'm gonna disagree, I've kinda felt like there was something between Joe and Jonie (if not reciprocated) for the last few chapters - Principally because he cares so much about her and she can get him so fucked off that he has to care about her. The sexual element obviously comes to the fore in this chapter, but things like that can happen suddenly - I've known people for years without thinking of them that way, and you can suddenly realise there is an attraction there from a look, a comment, or even just a moment of introspection. Yes, it's a quick ramping up of emotion, but I think it works and drives the story along.

    Jonie is also about as insensitive as Joe is, so they work well together, and are (in that respect) totally believable as characters).

    The tube panic section is good. I think it would work well even if you haven't been on the tube specifically, and I've certainly had those thoughts when you get an extra cram of passengers when there really isn't any bloody room! The Jonie reassurance element too is a very strong element of affection, and could be given as a platonic thing, but could quite easily add to his feelings later in the chapter, so I can see why the bit is there.

    As I've said before the strength of your writing is the believability of the characters. We're just following them along in their lives, no mad plots or MacGuffin's, we just see them dealing with things in a snapshot of their existence. Great work, and as ever I look forward to the next chapter.

  5. I really like the fact that we’re getting to see more of Joe in this chapter.

    My only negative is, I think you should mention Joe’s appearance in the first chapter, or at the very latest – the second. Cause an audience will build up their own ideas of what the character looks like if you don’t tell them. Unless, of course, it’s unimportant to you as an author whether the reader knows these things. However, because it seems to me that you’re telling us that Joe’s white father left to pursue a ‘perfect family’ of blondes in the US, I think you should bring it up sooner – cause it’s also about Joe’s feeling of abandonment, security etc and he’d be feeling all these things from the start of the story, so if there is a significant reason for this i.e. his father leaving, that should be brought up subtly in previous chapters. (This is just my opinion, others may disagree, and I’d like to know what they think).

    “I fucking hate the northern line it’s a load of bollocks, the trains are always packed and there is always some fucker on there vying for your seat. Every time you move, even if it’s just to scratch your arse, they twitch, ready at any moment to pounce.” Great description of the Northern Line – and the tube in general.

    Jumping aboard the grammar and spelling bandwagon: “We get on and the trains relatively...” should be an apostrophe in “train’s”. There are a few others that people have already mentioned so I won’t go too deep. I think, like me, you need to read through once or twice to check for errors.

    Other than that I really enjoyed it.

  6. There is a big leap in ability between this chapter and the first. More description, guile, subtly and above all revelation of motivation that for me at least further justifies the relaxed and easy paced plotting. Bravo!

    I have to disagree with Carla in that the 'reveal' of Joe's ethnicity pushes the reader into re-evaluating his character. I have more sympathy for him now and its not so easy to detest his constant whining and self-hate. In a way, Joe reminds me of Steph 'Spiderfingers' Tent! So yeah, this bit was my fav:

    'And there was me, standing on the outside, my slightly afro hair not swaying in the wind, the colour of my skin not blending in with his idea of perfect. I saw it, I felt it from him, so I turned my back on him like he did to me and I haven’t looked back since.'

    Here's another:
    'My hearts pounding, what the fuck does she mean? Have we gone back to biblical times and I’m Jacob and she’s Rachel and we need to lie together to make a baby but we can’t because something’s gone wrong.'

    Was down the pub the other night with Sim and he mentioned that he admires the way you describe boys really well. You've truly observed them well as the whole incident at the park is a chapter out of any boys life. Have you read any of the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend? I used to love reading those stories and man - the T.V series was great in its adaptation of a worrier coming of age.

    @ Leanne: I see what you're saying about this -

    'Zoo, trampoline, paint-balling, cinema, theatre, arcade, gallery – museum? But they all sound lame and take way too much energy, which I, of course, have none of.'

    ...But some if not a lot of people talk this way so I'd say take the Grammar Nazi hat off! Bad grammar has its place.

    I'm keen for an event or incident to happen in the next chapter but I'd like to think your prose has improved even further than this to warrant another 'day in the life' type story.

  7. “I have to disagree with Carla in that the 'reveal' of Joe's ethnicity pushes the reader into re-evaluating his character.”

    Being abandoned by a parent is tough enough, but if what it comes down to is the fact that it’s obviously about ethnicity... I mean think about the implications that would have on a teenager/or child of that age. It would strike a pretty damaging image at such a young age. I felt that this act of abandonment here would ultimately play a large part in his relationships later in life. I just feel that this could great for character development and was merely suggesting Rachael played on it.

    Yeah, I’ll go away now, this is not my story. ;)

  8. I think both points are valid points and before I had even written chapter 4, everyone on here was saying they needed more description about Joe and the other cahracters etc so I wrote his race in.

    You have to bear in mind that Joe thinks his dad left because of Joe and Joe's race but it could have been any reason - one not necessarily to do wiht Joe but as a young child that is the conclusion he came to especaially as his dad started a new family. It would naturally create feelings of abandonment and resentment and a feeling of loss.

    Who knows? We shall see how it unfolds I guess.

    Thanks for the comments they are as always, very usefull.

    @John - no never read any of the Adrian Mole stories - they never really caught my eye. Also the prose is meant to be read how a "normal" person would speak - if that makes sense.