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Joanne Phillips

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Fiction Friday – The Moustache

For you today is a short piece I did for my MA homework a couple of weeks ago. This was a response to Naipaul’s Miguel Street, and the brief was to write autobiographically about a quirky or interesting character from your past who is part of a wider community, including the viewpoint of you as a child. Here’s my offering:

The Moustache

Uncle Dieter lived in a house crammed with people and stuff and noise. He was a sound engineer, and he said he had been on tour with the Rolling Stones. Whenever he said this, my mum rolled her eyes, but I believed him. He had long black hair held together with an elastic band, and this despite the fact that the top of his head was completely bald. Uncle Dieter’s eyes were the brightest blue; the rest of his face was mostly covered by an unruly moustache and beard. His house was like some crazy museum – he owned a Tesla tube and an infinity mirror, and he never threw anything away.

I went to Uncle Dieter’s after school two days a week until my mum finished work. All the folk musicians of the town hung out there, and on any given day there would be four or five or six straggly-haired drop-outs lying stoned on his threadbare carpet, or grouped by the window singing odd harmonies. My mum called them drop-outs – to me they were glorious, exotic, far removed from my mundane life. There was always a Girlfriend of the Moment, but the girlfriends seem to circulate weekly, and I never knew which of the wan, folksy girls would be draped around his neck from one week to the next. They seemed interchangeable. They didn’t seem to mind.

Uncle Dieter built and repaired speakers for a living, and my mum would tell me about the time he’d accidentally wiped her treasured cassette recordings with the powerful magnets they contained. She used to sing in a band with her brother, but now she said they were too wild for her. She still let me go there every week, though. I guess she didn’t have many options for childcare. Once, when I was coming up to eleven, Uncle Dieter let me try what he called his spliff. The musicians crowded round to watch, except for the Girlfriend of the Moment, who was then called Fay and had decided to bake Dieter a cake. I could tell they expected me to provide some kind of amusement, to choke and splutter and cough. But I sensed that Uncle Dieter would be embarrassed by this, so I pretended I liked it.

‘Cool,’ I said. ‘Let’s have another go.’

He never let me smoke again.

One day, Uncle Dieter shaved off his moustache. He bounded down the stairs and stood in the middle of the cramped lounge expectantly, his arms held wide. No one noticed. Except me, of course. At first I couldn’t understand it; his skin had a stretched, newly-grown quality to it, but he looked older. Thinner. There was something about his mouth, too, and I saw that he had a slight hair-lip which had been hidden before. The light shone off his bald head, and his neck rose scrawny out of the tie-dyed shirt, and he looked like a stranger to me.

‘Put it back on, Uncle Dieter,’ I cried.

Then the others noticed, and the Girlfriend of the Moment put her hand up to her mouth, and the musician called Bandolf started to laugh.

It seems crazy now, with hindsight, but it was at that exact moment I realised some things in life cannot be undone. At least, not instantly. Uncle Dieter couldn’t stick his hair back on; that one random act had changed how I saw him forever, and it was too late to take it back.

English: A moustache
English: A moustache (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fiction Friday – Short Story Collection

If there’s anyone out there in the blogosphere who doesn’t know I’ve just published my first ever short story collection, this one’s for you!  A Life Unpredicted and other stories is now available to buy on Kindle, priced at £1.53 / $2.99.

Some of the stories are taken from my Fiction Friday posts (which will be returning very soon), but there are some new ones in the collection too, so please download your copy if you haven’t already. Early reviews will be really appreciated as this helps me get the book in front of more readers. And please tell your friends, reblog, Tweet, share on Facebook, anything you can do to get the word out. Looking forward to reading your comments, Jo x

“Ten short stories from bestselling author Joanne Phillips. Love, loss, joy, regret and the perils of parenting – all these themes and more are explored, touchingly and bravely, in this collection of short fiction.”

A Life Unpredicted – The key to your future might be hidden in the past … Shortlisted for the Grace Dieu Short Story competition.

No Matter What – A baby’s rattle, betrayal and an ice rink – and a young girl’s loss of innocence.

Parenting Class – “‘You need help,’ Gina had said, ‘and I know just the place.’ Gina was my social worker, and the place was Parenting Class, Tuesday afternoons, free to those desperate enough to need it.”

A Careful Man – Is anyone worth dying for? Janelle struggles to come to terms with her boyfriend’s death, and to make sense of his sacrifice.

Joy – “He was a man who defined himself by his possessions; not so much a collector as someone who drew objects to him like a magnet.”

Touch – “They tell me their darkest secrets. It’s because I touch them. No one touches them anymore, they are too old, too crinkled. Combing, smoothing, stroking. I am their confidant.”

So Many Children – It doesn’t matter where you run to, you can never hide from the choices you make.

Dear Jean – Seen through letters to his estranged wife, a man goes on a journey of emotional discovery.

Gridlocked – Fish Flash Fiction long-listed story of regret and betrayal.

One To Keep – A story for everyone who’s ever made – or broken – a new year’s resolution.

Coming soon … The Short Story Collection on Kindle

Coming soon to a Kindle near you – A Life Unpredicted and other stories. Here’s a sneak preview …

“Ten short stories from bestselling author Joanne Phillips. Love, loss, joy, regret and the perils of parenting – all these themes and more are explored, touchingly and bravely, in this collection of short fiction.”

A Life Unpredicted – The key to your future might be hidden in the past … Shortlisted for the Grace Dieu Short Story competition.

NEW! So Many Children – It doesn’t matter where you run to, you can never hide from the choices you make.

Parenting Class – “‘You need help,’ Gina had said, ‘and I know just the place.’ Gina was my social worker, and the place was Parenting Class, Tuesday afternoons, free to those desperate enough to need it.”

NEW! One To Keep – A story for everyone who’s ever made – or broken – a new year’s resolution.

Touch – “They tell me their darkest secrets. It’s because I touch them. No one touches them anymore, they are too old, too crinkled. Combing, smoothing, stroking. I am their confidant.”

A Careful Man – Is anyone worth dying for? Janelle struggles to come to terms with her boyfriend’s death, and to make sense of his sacrifice.

No Matter What – A baby’s rattle, betrayal and an ice rink – and a young girl’s loss of innocence.

Joy – “He was a man who defined himself by his possessions; not so much a collector as someone who drew objects to him like a magnet.”

Dear Jean – Seen through letters to his estranged wife, a man goes on a journey of emotional discovery.

Gridlocked – Fish Flash Fiction long-listed story of regret and betrayal.

Some of these have been published on the blog on Fiction Fridays, but there are two sparkly new stories to tug at your heartstrings (One To Keep) and keep you guessing (So Many Children). Come back tomorrow for the link to download for £1.49 / $2.99 once the listing goes live!

Fiction Friday – Dear Jean

I wrote this story a while ago now, and when I read it the other day it had me in tears. Which I think is a good thing! See what you think.

Dear Jean,

I won’t lower myself to comment on the manner of your departure yesterday. I will restrict this correspondence to practical matters only. But I will say that I disagree with you strongly – I am not an ‘emotional vacuum’, as you so eloquently put it. Still, that is your view, and your justification for throwing away thirty years of marriage, so I suppose there is nothing I can do about it now.

Despite your assertion that you ‘never want to see me again as long as you live’, we will need to meet to discuss matters such as the house. (You can’t seriously expect me to sell up and move now I am retired?) Are you planning on telling the children of your decision or shall I? There is also the matter of your blasted dog – you went on and on about getting it for months and now you leave the thing behind! Not allowed pets where you’re going, you said. What kind of place is it, anyway?

No, that’s nothing to do with me. I don’t want to know anything about your new situation. You have made your bed and now you must lie in it. I refuse to feel guilty about having this enormous house all to myself, despite the fact that I rattle around in it somewhat now you are gone…

Your dog is whining to be taken out so I suppose I must comply. I really am perplexed by this whole situation, Jean, and must say you have surprised me. I never thought you capable of such cruelty.

Roger

Dear Jean,

Well! I feel compelled to put pen to paper as you refused to let me say my piece on the phone just now. Where did you pick up these words like ‘entitled’ and ‘recompense’? Have you really been to see a lawyer? Already?

Most of all I resent your accusation that I should have seen this coming. What man can be expected to read his wife’s mind, especially when she spends all her time out of the house going to art classes and God knows what? You gave me hints, did you? Well I’m sorry I was dense but I thought we were happy, in our own way.

The girls are devastated. Although no doubt they’ll take your side when you present your case – you certainly seem to have it all worked out if today’s conversation was anything to go by. There is nothing I can do, it seems, but go along with whatever you want. I put my foot down at selling the house, though. I worked hard to provide for my family and I’ll be damned if I’ll be held to ransom for it now.

As I said, your arrangements are of no interest to me, but I was surprised to find your phone being answered by a man. Was he some kind of trade’s person? If you are in a fix, Jean, I would still be willing to do minor repairs for you, despite how you have behaved.

Yours, Roger

Dear Jean,

I’m afraid I have some rather bad news. Your dog got himself run over yesterday. I would have phoned and told you in person but I feel you would rather I didn’t. Your voice the last time we talked was decidedly frosty.

Anyway, the blasted animal got away from me on the main road by Sainsbury’s. Before you start, it wasn’t my fault. I had to go shopping; the cupboards were empty and I’d run out of those flimsy ‘ready-meals’ Sandra brought in. It was most distressing, finding my way around that huge warehouse of a store, and I was in quite a state when I came out. The dog (I refuse to use it’s given name – Tinky just isn’t the thing for a grown man to call out in public) was in a frenzy of excitement and what with all the shopping bags and my walking stick (yes, the Arthritis has flared up again), I lost hold of him.

The vet said it would have been instant so there’s no need to upset yourself over it. I must admit, the house does seem even emptier now. Anyway, I thought I’d have a little ceremony for him on Sunday. He’s in a bag in the shed at the moment. I thought the spot under the cherry blossom would be suitable. Perhaps you’d like to come along, say goodbye properly. You could pick up those things you said you needed – I didn’t mean it when I said I wouldn’t let you in, Jean, and I haven’t changed the locks really.

Anyway, must go now. All the frozen ready meals I bought have defrosted on the dining room carpet.

Yours truly, Roger

Dear Jean,

First of all I must apologise for my behaviour on Sunday. Whatever the provocation there is no excuse for that kind of childish display of temper – and tipping a drink over you was unforgivable. I hope your dress isn’t ruined. Wherever did you buy it from, Jean? I’ve never seen you in anything so – becoming.

The girls have told me that I must ‘move on’. I’m not quite sure what this means. I hope it’s not another veiled reference to selling the house because I am remaining firm on that. I have put years of work into this garden, and now Tinky is buried here as well – you can’t expect me to hand it over to someone else at my age.

The girls also tell me you have a new ‘friend’. I am not so stupid as to be incapable of working out what this means, and I suppose this ‘friend’ is also the person who answers your phone whenever I call. For the record, I don’t think calling one’s own wife two or three times a day counts as stalking!

Perhaps you could ask your ‘friend’ to keep his opinions to himself. Also his hands – you are still my wife, Jean, and we had thirty years together and two beautiful children. Was I so terrible as a husband? I worked hard, I provided well – maybe you could enlighten me as to what I did that was so wrong?

Roger

Dear Jean,

I wonder whether you could see your way clear to calling round one afternoon, maybe on the way back from your art class. I realised the other day that I have never seen any of your drawings and I would like to. I am aware that I should have shown more of an interest before.

The thing is, Jean, I need to ask your advice about something. I’ve had a letter from the council about some bill or other – it seems it hasn’t been paid. I’m afraid I have no idea what to do about it, it was you who used to take care of that kind of thing. I never realised how much work it was, dealing with all these bills and direct debits and goodness knows what. Maybe you could give me a brief lesson, now that I am on my own for good. Am I, Jean? Am I really on my own for good?

I’m not sure I can do this anymore, my love. I’m afraid being brave isn’t working quite so well. Sandra told me to wash my clothes the other day and I had to tell her – I had to admit to my own daughter – that I have no idea how to use the washing machine. She said I wasn’t coping without you. She also said that you are coping perfectly well without me. That doesn’t surprise me, Jean. It is clear to me now that I always needed you far more than you needed me. I just wish I’d noticed it sooner. I wish I’d appreciated you. I wish…

Oh, Jean, please come home! I can’t bear being here without you. All those years of working late and not being – what was it you called it? Emotionally available. All those years of not being emotionally available to you were for this – for our retirement. So we could spend time together in our lovely house, drinking tea in our lovely garden, shaking our heads at the rest of the world. I must have lost sight of it along the way somehow. I must have forgotten how to talk to you, how to show you my feelings.

But I remember now, Jean. I remember how beautiful you are first thing in the morning when you look out of the window and see a robin on the bird table. I remember the sound of your laugh when you hear something funny on the radio. I used to find it funny too, Jean. I had just forgotten how to laugh.

I’m sorry this page is ruined by the little splashes of water. Please ignore them and think only of this – we have a solid foundation, you and I, and if you are willing to give me a second chance I promise I won’t let you down. Please come home, Jean. If you decide you really can’t then I will sell the house if that’s what you want. I couldn’t live here without you anyway.

Yours, with love, Roger

Dear Jean,

Thank you so much for meeting with me yesterday. You looked beautiful, and I felt proud to be in the company of such a clever, accomplished woman. The lunch was very nice and yes, I would like to meet there again next week. I had thought of suggesting we went to the museum after – only if you have time, of course. There is an exhibition by a local artist and I thought it might be of interest to you.

I hope you liked the flowers – I know roses are your favourite. I have planted a new rose bush in the garden – near to where we buried Tinky – and it should be flowering by the summer. Maybe you will be home to see it. I know you said you couldn’t make any promises, my darling Jean, but I am going to allow myself to hope. I felt something new yesterday and, by the look in your eyes, you felt it too. I felt – happy. Thank you, Jean. Thank you for giving us the chance to be truly happy.

All my love, Roger

The end

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