Friday, October 24, 2008


I started the morning thinking, "Aw, I'll just throw something quick up...I got a busy day."

Unfortunately, everything I began working on got interesting and I didn't want to short change it.


So here's my offer for the weekend. This is called "Jocelyn". It was my entry into a storytelling competition last year.

Hope you enjoy!

It was a nightmare scenario. A lie, twenty years in the making, was about to experience an atomic collapse.

It began innocently enough, and quite by accident, the night Julie was forced to attend some party thrown by friend of a friend of an ancient business acquaintance of her father’s. She was told by her mother “Of course, you don’t have to go, but you should, sweetie. Maybe you’ll make a new friend…not be so alone out there.”

By “new friend”, Julie knew exactly what her mother meant. She was picturing, not some swell and jaunty girlfriend, but a husband for her daughter, who seemed hopelessly single, after having jilted her one romantic possibility from high school, Bill Owenby. It was assumed that Bill and Julie were made for one another (perhaps based on a mutual like of Peter Gabriel’s 1986 Album, So).

Bill was sweet but his sweetness was far from satisfying and she jumped at the first chance to wrench herself away from him when fall arrived. “It’s for the best, really, we’ll both be meeting new people and why would we want to tie ourselves down?”

Six months at Northwestern, and there was Julie on the front steps of a palatial home belonging to a vague parental acquaintance. Julie listened at the door, catching light jazz and laughter from within. She thought it sounded just as a party should from the outside. She knocked and the house’s owner, Glen Powers, emerged. He was a tall man with aggressive build man and his last name, Julie thought, appeared to be no joke. He smiled his capped teeth down at her.

“You Jim’s kid?”

Her father’s name was, in fact Jim, so she gave a little snorting laugh and half nod as he escorted her into the spacious living room. Glen powers brought her to a group of people her approximate age.

“Everyone, this is Jocelyn.”

And that was the moment. Jocelyn? Julie partially opened her mouth ready to give her host a quivering correction, but she caught a glimpse of her audience. As soon as the name Jocelyn reared its head, their eyes brightened, heads cocked and there was the almost imperceptible leaning in. Julie closed her mouth. She certainly didn’t want to embarrass her host. And wouldn’t it prove also that her name was not worth remembering if she had spoken up? Very well. Jocelyn for the night.

And she had a lovely time.

Afterwards, ruminating the bathroom, it occurred to her that all the brightening of eyes and cocking of heads and the almost imperceptible leanings in had given her cause to be more pert, more convivial. She spoke, they listened. She joked, they laughed. She was lively, and ebullient with a hint of self-deprecation, which, in a pinch, will serve as a fine substitute for self-awareness.

Julie was proud of her creation and felt it a victimless crime, considering that she would probably never see any of these people again. As time passed, she all but forgot her night as Jocelyn.

But those who are pert, convivial, lively and ebullient will be tracked down by those who aren’t.

As Julie marched, books crushed close to her through the quad three weeks later, a familiar voice called through the bitter cold.


It took her one or two seconds to realize that the voice was calling to her. She turned. Approaching her were three attractive and fashionable girls from the party - Whitney, Christie and Cadence. They followed her into the commons and Julie was hit with a barrage of high-pitched exclamations, perms and plucked eyebrows.

“My God! We’ve been looking all over for you!
“We had such a great time the last time we saw you!”
Wouldn’t your brother go nuts for her?!”

Then, Cadence blurted out:

“My Dad is taking us to Boca Raton this weekend, and I think you should come and meet my brother! It would be so awesome!’

Julie stammered for a moment, trying to come up with a reason not to go.

“I will absolutely not take No for an answer, JOCELYN!”

Jocelyn. The name hung in the stagnant air of the commons. The name Jocelyn demanded a suntan. The name Jocelyn went to Boca Raton.

The short days at the beach house were spent under excruciating interrogation by Whitney, Christie or Cadence, who seemed almost pitifully desperate to know their new friend. Julie was careful not to make Jocelyn seem too made up, too extraordinary. She told of her parents who had been killed in a car crash when she was just a baby, and her loving grandmother taking her in and raising her as her own only to die just after Jocelyn graduated from High School, leaving her enough to attend college and get started. Julie had been an A student on scholarship to Northwestern as a communications major, but Jocelyn was a gleeful C student, biding her time with a liberal arts degree.

On her second night in Florida, Derek arrived. Derek was Cadence’s brother and a match would be made, like it or not. Jocelyn was reluctant, held back by childhood-created notions that Derek was a terrible name, coming a close third behind Merle and Emmett.

Derek, however, soon dissolved any preconceptions. He was a tall and chiseled marketing major, with swimming pool blue eyes. His smile dazzled, he was confident and unashamed to be male. At restaurants, he touched the small of her back to guide her towards a table, a trait that ordinarily would have made her skin crawl. But with Derek, she felt eager to fall under his sway.

Months passed, they spent time together and rumors began to swell that Derek might be making a proposal soon. Julie panicked. So often had she the opportunity to come clean, to tell him that she wasn’t Jocelyn, but Julie. She almost told him the night he proposed. She was about to confess when they announced it to his family on New Year’s Eve. She was on the precipice of blurting it out while they were in New York picking out china patterns.

Julie built into Jocelyn a mysterious and secretive trait as her marriage loomed on the horizon. She confessed to Derek that she needed some time away, just a couple of days to clear her mind and relax. Derek conceded, but with some trepidation. “Why would you want to be alone…what could you possibly have to think about?”

Julie raced to her parent’s home and dug her birth certificate out of their garage. She held an artists eraser to the paper. It hovered for a moment, and finally she wiped it clean of her birth name. In an instant, Julie disappeared, and Jocelyn took her place.

The honeymoon was a Grecian excursion. Derek and Jocelyn drank uzo and wore loin cloths on the beach. Jocelyn returned pregnant and nine months later she gave birth to her first child, Summer, followed in short order by Huck and Ptolemy. Time brought Derek’s meteoric rise in the advertising industry, a house in Palm Beach, A flat in Paris and an apartment in New York. The tidy little family traveled frequently, enjoying parts of the world that most regular folk would never see.

Jocelyn took great care to preserve all this. When passing through parts close to her hometown, she would steal herself in the event she might encounter someone she knew. She would take her clandestine vacations away from her children and husband to visit her previous life, talk to her parents. They never showed much interest when she came, assuming that her life had turned out as they had imagined – unwed and desolate. It made it easier for Jocelyn to see them less and less and, at last, not at all.

Insomnia struck, and dreams of searching and unease stormed her sleep. She would wake in the night and stare down at Derek making piggy snoring sounds in his unconsciousness.

Jocelyn’s children developed into stingy and entitled teenagers, she nursed Cadence through her fourth divorce, and Jocelyn’s own marriage became shrouded in loneliness and isolation after Derek had her followed, certain of some imagined infidelity.

And then, in the blink of an eye…

It was the day before Summer’s graduation from high school and Jocelyn, now 38, was shopping in the produce section of Dominick’s. While examining an avocado she heard from behind her:


A chill danced its way up her spine. She froze, the avocado gripped to her nose, her eyes pierced straight forward. There was a full-handed tap on her left shoulder. After a considerable pause, she turned around. It was Bill Owenby.

Time had been very good to Bill. Only a little receding hairline and slight ponch betrayed his 38 years. His eyes were still soft brown and full of comfort and sweetness. Bill appeared so genuinely happy to see her, it was almost unfair. She couldn’t help but smile back at him.

“How are you Julie? I’ve tried to look you up, but it’s like you dropped off the face of the planet.”

Jocelyn swayed a bit and her head felt foggy. There was Bill, the boy she never slept with because she couldn’t be bothered, and with him poured in a tide of what might have been. Jocelyn stuttered and bumbled out a makeshift past…one that did not include Derek or her children, or even the name Jocelyn. She ended it with some half-baked job at a local radio station as a technician.

Bill glanced down at her hand. “You didn’t mention your husband.” He pointed out.

Then, as if by some awful magic, she heard Derek’s voice behind her.

Jocelyn felt the red escape from her face. She stayed focused on Bill’s oddly shaped nostrils. In a weak stammer she got out:

“This is my husband, Derek.”

The two men shook hands. “Singin’ in the Rain” started to play as the misters spit out vapors to keep the vegetables fresh. Everything slowed to a near halt.

“Bill Owenby. We went to high school together”

“Is that so? It’s so rare to meet someone from my wife’s past. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever… “

“Well, actually I was just telling Julie that it was like she had dropped off the face of the planet.”

The words, “dropped off the face of the planet” were intoned exactly as he had uttered them seconds before, as if he had rehearsed for this moment.


Derek’s voice had a sound of true curiosity.

“Julie.” Bill repeated and gestured towards Jocelyn.

Derek looked at Jocelyn, she remained with a steadfast focus on Bill. Wishing, wishing, wishing.

“Julie? Who’s Julie?”


Jan Smelk said...

i want more of this story, plz.

Crazypants said...


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