Joanna

JOANNA
a story
by
John S Moore

Waiting on the platform of the south London Underground station, on her way to work, Joanna, 23 year old personal assistant, could not avoid the large poster on the wall beyond the track. Advertising Madame Tussauds, it showed a waxwork of a famous female pop singer, getting on in years, who had recently been building a new reputation for 'raunchiness'. Two youths were posing beside the waxwork, one making as if he was grabbing her backside. The expression on his face showed ineffable stupidity and vulgarity. Something else that struck her was that neither of them looked European.

Joanna was in an irritable mood. The poster annoyed her. She reflected on the new England thoroughly polluted by foreign blood. "Both them half-breeds, especially the indecent assaulter. Look at him! What does it say about his mother? He's the product of a depraved sexual appetite, the desire of the white woman for the black man. He carries it in his genes. His very nature has this degenerate quality".

Her mother often accused her of talking like a racist bigot, saying she ought to exercise more control over her thoughts. "Even if you don't like the coloureds being here", she would tell her. "It's human decency to suppress such feelings. It's for those much brighter than either of us to decide such questions". Her mother had a strong sense of morality. She had been very left wing in her youth. Joanna did not like suppressing her feelings.

She stepped into the crowded train. At first she had to stand, jammed close against her fellow passengers. She recalled how yesterday she had felt a male hand pressing against her own buttocks, and that brought back the thought of the irritating poster. After the first stop she found a vacant seat. She looked at the people opposite her. Blacks, Indians, Chinese, tattooed English proletarians. One man was distinctly familiar. She half consciously thought about having seen a lot of him lately. Some time about a week ago it had come into her consciousness that she recognised him, then she kept seeing him.

She got out at Bank station, took the exit under St Mary Woolnoth, walked briefly along King William Street, turned a couple of corners and went into her office for four hours.

One o'clock found her sitting at a table in a nearby pub, with a group of fellow office workers. It was Friday lunchtime, when such people begin to unwind after a hard week's work, and drink alcohol. Today was someone's leaving do. There was much loutish hilarity, with many coarse guffaws from the men, and giggly shrieks from the women. Joanna did not laugh, and spoke very little. She sipped a dry white wine. She was not amused. She did not really want to be here.

The man sitting at the next table was observing her closely. He saw a very pretty, respectable looking, well spoken girl, with dark brown wavy hair, and sallow skin. "She could pass for Portuguese", he reflected, "were it not for her plummy voice". He felt deep regret for his wasted youth. When he was her age he had been scared of women as beautiful as that. If only he had then had the confidence that he had now, he could have had such a lot of fun.

He was about 45, wearing an open necked shirt, somewhat scruffy and out of place among all those City suits. He approached the table and addressed her directly.

"Excuse me, are you Joanna Hawkins?" he asked. The other people at her table did not pay him any attention, not hearing what he said, laughing at their jokes.

"That's me. Who are you?" She did not smile.

"My name's Roger, Roger Lee. I used to know your mother. I've got some information that I think you'll find interesting, though I need to see you alone".

"Well I don't know about that". Something off-putting about her tone. She looks all right but she sounds a snotty nosed bitch.

"I'd like to see you here, after work, at 6.00, then we talk".

"Why can't you tell me now?"

"I said I must see you alone. If you want to find out you had better be here, because if you're not I won't contact you again. Don't tell anyone else about it".

"Why don't you ring my mother?"

"I have my reasons. I haven't seen her for twenty years".

"Can't you tell me what you want?"

"No".

They were both silent, looking away from each other. She felt a surge of curiosity. He thought she looked irritable.

"Perhaps I'll come", she said eventually. "But don't expect me".

Back at work she telephoned her mother, told her what had happened, and her mother, intrigued, said she had never heard of Roger Lee, but suggested she meet him as arranged.

Joanna told one of her work colleagues about the appointment, and asked her to come along with her. At 6 o'clock they both turned up in the pub.

"I'm sorry," said Roger, seeing them together. "We have to talk alone. What I have to tell you is not the sort of thing you'd necessarily want even a close friend to hear. Anyway, after I've told you you can make up you own mind whether to tell her or not".

Her companion tactfully announced a need for the ladies, and walked off toiletwards.

"I'm sorry but I don't know who you are", said Joanna. "For all I know you're some kind of pervert. Actually that's what I do think you are. I've seen you before, I'm sure. Do you work round here? Do you live near me?" Very poised. Very self confident.

"I've been following you".

"Creeping around like a creep. I should get the police on to you. It's not as if you're some young foreigner. I don't let myself get picked up by strange men, and you're old enough to be my father".

"Easily".

"Why should I sit here and listen to you? My mother's never heard of you".

"She says that because I didn't give you my real name. She remembers me all right. Look, please bear with me. I promise I'm not trying to pick you up or make advances to you. I've got a story to tell you that I think you should hear, a story about yourself, and who you are".

"I'm not at all sure I want to listen to you".

"That's up to you. But think carefully. This is likely to be the only opportunity you have in your life to find out who you are and where you really come from. There is no one else you are likely to meet who remembers all the facts, except your mother, and she'll never tell you".

"What do you know about it? If you haven't seen her for twenty years how do you know what she told me".

"I could see the myth she was constructing. She would deceive even herself. Hear what I've got to say and judge for yourself".

"I need time to think".

"I'm not going to give you time. It's now or never. You must let me tell the story in my own way. Or if you like, I'll go away and never trouble you again. I'm leaving London tonight. I just thought I'd give it a try".

They both sat silent for a minute.

"Why should I want to listen to you?" she asked. He shrugged. Then he took some tobacco out of a brown leather pouch, rolled himself a thin cigarette and began to smoke it. Her friend returned from the toilet. Joanna sent her away, with apologies.

"What would you like to drink?" he asked.

Joanna asked for a dry white wine.

Roger stubbed out the cigarette, went to the bar, and returned shortly with a pint of bitter for himself and her glass of wine. He put the drinks on the table, then rolled himself another cigarette. Neither spoke for a minute or two.

"Who do you think your father is?" he asked eventually.

"Are you suggesting that you are?"

"No I'm not, though I did have the pleasure of screwing your mother a couple of times".

Joanna did not seem to like this. She let out a long high-pitched sneering noise, then exploded. "So bloody what? Am I supposed to be impressed? Your generation has so many hang-ups about sex. Does it matter to me how many people my mother fucked? I don't want to hear. I've had one night stands myself. I know I'm a bastard, the result of a casual fling. I'm not ashamed. My father was a Frenchman my mother briefly shared a house with back in the early seventies".

"That's what I thought she would have told you".

Roger then offered to tell her a long and sordid tale. He said that he wanted to explain to her the psychological factors that had been behind her conception. The story, he said, was an interesting one.

She knew she had to listen. All her life she had fantasised about some day meeting her father. But she must not appear eager.

"Why do you want to tell me all this?"

"Because you were such a prissy little three year old when I last saw you, and you said you didn't like me. My relationship with your mother had an element of mental sadism on my part, I wanted to continue it in this way. It appeals to my romantic streak".

His candour was not entirely repellent, despite his disgraceful admission. He smiled, not at all in an unpleasant way. He wasn't bad looking for his age, she thought. Could she think of him as a father? Perhaps that was what he was hinting at, despite his denial. She could see how nervous he was, poor man, rolling all those cigarettes. Perhaps this was hard for him. She told him to go on.

He then proceeded to tell the grotesque history of her mother's young days. A meaningless tale of the early seventies, of astonishing folly crossed with strains of mental illness, of squalid self indulgence and infantile idealism. He told her the stories of a whole string of characters, whose lives criss-crossed and intertwined with sexual couplings and inevitable jealousy, near murderous hatred, foolish ambition, idiotic arrogance and grovelling selfabnegation. He told of unwholesome lives in foul squats and communes, of barnyard copulations and half crazy philosophies, of neurotic, unreciprocated infatuations, abortions, venereal diseases, nervous breakdowns, sectionings, pathological self loathings, gruesome embarrassments, shameful humiliations, sleeping pill overdoses, quack psychotherapies, idiotic pretentiousness, fantastic gullibility, artificial emotion… of self indulgent, ritualistic, masochistic compulsions. There was even a successful suicide.

"So the upshot is", he concluded as he rolled himself another cigarette, "that you're black, product of a sordid and spontaneous act of self surrender performed by your mother, without even desire, in the bushes of Battersea Park, with a passing Jamaican, a most random pickup, in a ritual commemoration of an abortion performed precisely one year previously. That was the pathetic way her mind used to work. You've got more than just a touch of the tarbrush. You're eligible for special treatment under the equal opportunities scheme".

She caught her face in the mirror beside the table where they were sitting. She knew he was telling the truth. She was stunned and horrified. He carried on talking.

"Well now I've told you, I think you should release me from my promise not to make any passes at you. I think you're delicious. And the name's not Roger, it's Robert".

Joanna stood up, picked up her handbag, swung it backwards then sharply up, striking Robert painfully on the side of the head. Then she walked out into the street. the church clockwas striking seven.

JSM2000

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