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Thread: Meeting Joanna

  1. #1

    Meeting Joanna

    Meeting Joanna

    WHAT CAUGHT my eye about the advertisement were the first two words: ‘Educated woman,’ and I said something that sounded like “Huhhh …!” to myself.

    I’d known more than a few women in my short life, but never one you could really call educated. To tell the truth, I hadn’t ever found education all that necessary so far as women were concerned. Charm and chocolates, the occasional bunch of flowers, had always worked for me.

    On this occasion I wasn’t actually looking for a woman, educated or otherwise. My mother, who doesn’t see too well these days, had phoned and asked me to check on the funeral arrangements for a friend of hers, and the obituaries were right alongside the personals.

    I read on. She was clearly seeking someone as educated as herself. Someone interested in classical music, French literature, philosophy, the Italian Renaissance. A non-smoker.

    The list went on for seven centimetres of column space. It must have cost her a packet. I tagged her as rich or desperate, as well as educated. Finally there was an agency phone number for interested readers to contact.

    I thought about it for a while over coffee and a cigarette. Why not? I wasn’t doing much else these days. Hadn’t done, since the accident.

    It takes time, everyone said. It certainly does. But I was growing stale. I needed something to buck me up. A little excitement. A bit of fun. So I rang the agency, and they gave me her email address.

    But a moment’s reflection reminded me that I knew precious little about classical music, and nothing at all about French literature, philosophy, and the Italian or any other Renaissance.

    Still, you can research anything on the Net.

    French literature? No worries. I made a list: Balzac, Flaubert, Baudelaire. Ah, yes. Verlaine and Rimbaud. That should give her something to think about. Add a few supplementary notes. Easy.

    Classical music? How about Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Chopin. Throw in Vivaldi for a touch of baroque. Mention the best-known pieces. Add a bit about your suddenly favourite symphonies and sonatas.

    Philosophy? Just pick out some of the better-known names: Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant. Compare and contrast. Say which one you prefer; which one you find hard to read. A little humility provides a nice touch.

    I was pretty good at English in my younger days. English and sport. Still am, at English. So I sat at the computer and composed an email. When I’d finished I relaxed with a cup of coffee and a cigarette and read through what I’d written.

    It wasn’t bad. I’d covered most of the points in her list, even throwing in some dissenting discussion about certain aspects and personalities of the Italian Renaissance to catch her interest.

    I gave her nothing personal, though. That would come later. And nothing about smoking. You don’t give up a pack-a-day habit in a hurry.

    I sent the email, with a three-page attachment, and had another cup of coffee and another cigarette.

    She took her time about getting back to me. I had begun to wonder whether I’d been a tad too clever. Perhaps she was smart as well as educated. Had seen through my little artifice.

    But no. One morning a couple of days later, there it was. Short and to the point. ‘Ring me,’ and a phone number.

    I made a cup of coffee and smoked two cigarettes while I thought about it, and then I rang her.

    “Joanna,” she said.

    Something stirred in me at the sound of her voice.

    “I got your email.”

    “Who is this?”

    “I responded to your advertisement.”

    “Are you … Peter?”

    “Yes.”

    “Ah.”

    There was a momentary silence, then she said:

    “You’re wrong about Savonarola, you know.”

    “What …?”

    “He was a fanatic,” she said. “Obstinate and disobedient. He was not, as you suggest, a forerunner of the Reformation.”

    I felt a tiny thrill of excitement.

    “Isn’t that just the Catholic attitude?” I asked her, remembering my Renaissance research. “They’ve never forgiven him, have they?”

    “He deserved to be punished.”

    “Burning’s a horrible way to die,” I said.

    “He wasn’t burned alive. He was hanged, and then his body burned.”

    “Oh …?”

    “Listen,” she said, “I’m sorry, I have to go, now. But I’d like us to meet. We’ve a lot to talk about.”

    “Yes,” I said.

    “Do you know that open-air restaurant in Martin Square?”

    “Yes.”

    “I’ll be there tomorrow. Thursday. Two o’clock. I’ll be sitting alone. Wearing a brown short jacket and a red scarf. We can have lunch. Will you come?”

    “Yes.”

    “Good. I’ll see you then. Oh, and Peter …”

    “Yes …?”

    “You’re wrong about Verlaine, too,” she said, and hung up.

    I couldn’t sleep that night. I was still awake as the darkness beyond my bedroom window began to pale. I lit yet another cigarette and continued to think about her. Hearing her voice. She was something, wasn’t she?

    Thursday morning dawned cool and autumnal. I made toast and coffee and smoked two cigarettes. Then I searched for the telescopic sight from an old Mannlicher rifle I’d once owned. I could have taken the binoculars, another relic from my sporting days, but the sight was smaller and less obvious. I wanted to approach her cautiously. Survey the situation first.

    I took a taxi to Martin Square just before two o’clock and got the driver to drop me beside a row of shops that bordered the square. I positioned myself so that I was inconspicuous yet still able to survey the open-air restaurant. Then I focussed the sight on the diners.

    Two sweeping surveys and I found her. Sitting alone, though every other table was fully occupied. She was wearing the short brown jacket and red scarf. I adjusted the sight to fullest magnification, and almost at once my hand holding it started to tremble.

    I felt cold, staring at her image. At the luxuriant hair, the calm, perfectly-moulded features. Somewhere in my mind I heard her voice. And all I could think of at that moment was how beautiful she was.

    I knew, then, that it was all over. Over before it had really begun. It had all been a charade, a stupid prank that was bound to end in misery – well, some degree of pain at any rate - for me. Perhaps I’d had a subconscious inkling of that all along. Now, seeing her in the flesh, it was confirmed.

    I’d always been a bit of a con artist where women were concerned. I’m not proud of that, though it hadn’t mattered with most of them. It would matter with this one.

    And even with this one I could probably have made headway. Bluffed my way through. But I couldn’t bluff her about my legs - the legs I’d lost in the accident.
    Last edited by Brahma; 04-01-2011 at 08:51 PM.
    They reckon ill who leave me out;
    When me they fly, I am the wings;
    I am the doubter and the doubt,
    And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.


    Emerson - Brahma

  2. #2
    Registered User Delta40's Avatar
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    Doh! I was so drawn in to the tale and you've decided they won't meet??? what about a dirty rotten scoundrel plot where she turns out to be the one who cons him and make it all the more worse on account of the fact that he's got no legs?? I'm only writing this because you wrote a great piece and ended it abruptly and without real explanation and I like other readers would like more.
    Before sunlight can shine through a window, the blinds must be raised - American Proverb

  3. #3

    Meeting Joanna

    Hello, Delta40.

    Thank you for your very kind comments.

    Alas, I'm not given to happy (or even completely satisfactory) endings. It's a major, and apparently insurmountable, character flaw.

    Perhaps something awful happened to a distant ancestor of mine, and the memory has been incorporated into the genetic strain. Alas and Alack!

    Regards (and commiserations!).

    Brahma.
    They reckon ill who leave me out;
    When me they fly, I am the wings;
    I am the doubter and the doubt,
    And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.


    Emerson - Brahma

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