|1.||The First Night of Alien||Read it Now|
|2.||Rasp||Read it Now|
|3.||The Visibility||Read it Now|
|4.||JJ's Note||See below|
|5.||Farenheit (script extract)||Read it Now|
|6.||The Accordion Teacher||Read it Now|
|7.||Winning Streak||Read it Now|
|8.||Long Distance||Read it Now|
|9.||Blessed Martin and the Fridge||Read it Now|
|10.||N(ot) C(ompetent) T(echnically||Read it Now|
|11.||Night of the Frogs||Read it Now|
|12.||Digging a Hole for Myself||Read it Now|
|13.||Stirred and Shaken||Read it Now|
|14.||Horse to France||Read it Now|
|15.||Flat Head Fishing||Read it Now|
|16.||An Elite Among Altar Boys||Read it Now|
|17.||Paul's Talent||Read it Now|
|18.||The City is Now Behind You, the Mountains in Front||Read it Now|
|19.||Bad with Names||Read it Now|
|20.||The J Seat (First 3 scenes)||Read it Now|
It seems that my 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 afterwards. 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 spoke 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 us.
"Father knew nothing darling", my mother said, "And cared less."
Granddad, a successful architect, was considerably older than granny when they wed. 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 even greater."
"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?"
"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. 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, read for yourself."
From her pocket mother produced a yellowed rectangle of sharply folded writing paper. She handed it to me.
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.
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.
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.
"There," my mother breathed, "what do you think?"
"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?"
"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 persons 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, and no matter how many times I read it to her she couldn't work out where it was."
Jesus! I read the letter 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 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!
I found Jim in the study grappling with one of granddad's crossword monstrosities. If mum had been trying to turn granny's legacy into a lesson for me then Jim was without doubt the inspiration. For five years we had co-habitated in splendid non-marital bliss. I suspected that mother secretly disapproved, not so much of our reluctance to wed as of our blatant success in staying together without doing so. If she had calculated that granny's experience would spur me to the altar, she was misguided. All it had done was shatter the illusion of yet another happy marriage.
Jim looked up and grinned as I came in.
"He had a very devious mind, your old grandpa," he said. He had solved only three of the clues and yet I could tell he was inordinately chuffed with himself - his Northern Irish accent was very pronounced.
I handed him the note.
"What do you make of this?" I asked.
He read it quickly once, guffawed loudly, and then went over it again more slowly.
"It's terrible." He said.
"Apart from that."
I told him the story. In the middle of it he snapped his fingers and filled in 3 down in the crossword. I wasn't annoyed - Jim's mind worked on many levels but at least one was always reserved for me. When I'd finished, he got up and bestowed one of his patented friendly bear hugs on me. I must have looked as if I needed it.
"So old Faye was having it off with a Welshman?"
"Guess so, can you figure it out?"
"Well, it is a bit of a mystery, isn't it? I thought maybe you could 'read between the lines' and tell me where JJ has been waiting for my granny all these years?"
He looked longingly over at his crossword.
"He probably wasn't at all. The amorous auld goat probably met some other old biddy somewhere on his travels and never bothered turning up. I mean, if Sophie and Faye went cruising every July twelfth to every place they'd ever been together then surely they would have found him if he was there, wouldn't they?"
"August." I said.
"They went looking on August 12th, not July."
Jim picked up the letter again.
"Naw, look it says the 'Glorious Twelfth'..." he blinked hard and then laughed, "Oh yeah! 'Glorious Twelfth' means different things to different people, doesn't it? To you it's the day the grouse hunting season starts but to me it's Orange day, the Twelfth of July."
"Oh God! You mean they were looking for him in the wrong month?"
It was too much, I sat down.
"Well, it would be an excellent example of how certain phrases can be subject to misinterpretation but, no, it doesn't make sense. Look, the poem is dated August 12th and he says here he's going off for a year. Besides, what would a Welshman know about sodding William of Orange? No, it's not that - it's not anything except an old funeral-day fable and you shouldn't go annoying yourself with it. Here, I'll mind it for you."
I snatched the letter out of his grip, surprising both of us by my ferocity.
"There should be a reason, Jim, an explanation, otherwise it's just too futile. Too...sad"
Before I knew it, I was being bear-hugged again, and crying.
"Get your coat. I'll take you home."
It sounded like a good plan.
I must have been with Jim longer than I thought because, when I came out of the study, mum was at the door seeing the last of the guests out.
I slipped into the drawing room, avoiding them. Granddad sat alone among the fire lit debris of paper plates and half empty glasses. I looked down at him. A string of saliva spun from his lips. I took out the poem and read it once more in the firelight.
...and if you don't
then you will find
old JJ by reading
between the lines.
A low, alien, chuckle made me jump. I looked down to see my Grandfather staring directly at me in a way he had not done in many years. I fell back in shock. His eyes were unbelievably lucid and clear.
"Correk teen fluid." He slurred, the saliva falling away.
"What?" I whispered.
His eyes jerked from me to the letter I was barely holding onto.
"Didn't have such a thing... then", he spat, "wasn't even 'vented. 'Had to scratch...", his hand twitched, as if scratching, " had to... take blade...scratch it out."
Unbelievably, his hand lifted from the armrest. A bony finger momentarily pointed at the open page then fell back.
Mother came in.
"Is he peaceful?" She asked.
Ignoring her and with trembling hands, I held the sheet of paper up before the firelight. Even by that fickle glow, I could clearly see the scratch mark on the paper. My stomach lurched inside me as I suddenly understood. He had changed one capital letter to lowercase, nothing more.
The tiniest alteration, two lives destroyed.
I swung angrily to face mother.
"You were wrong, he knew all about Granny and JJ."
"No, mum, it's not! He must have found the letter in the hall before you did. He was probably going to burn it but, when he saw the golden opportunity it provided, he couldn't resist. He loved his word games far too much.
Mothers pupils were jumping from Granddad to me and back at an alarming rate. She didn't have a clue what I was saying.
"You said granny worked in Buckinghamshire but she didn't, did she?. It was Berkshire, wasn't it mum?
"Why yes, yes it was but..."
"JJ waited for her in the first place that he ever caught sight of her, ages before she ever met him. This poem doesn't say 'reading', it says 'Reading'. Don't you see? The London-bound platform of Reading station - the one between the lines - that's where he was."
(c) Ken Armstrong
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