Shirl and John Jo - A Classic Love Story

Submitted into Contest #32 in response to: Write a story that includes characters who are aware they are a work of fiction.... view prompt



“It's too much John Jo, really it’s just too much!” 

Shirl was standing on tip toes leaning as close to the window as he could without actual falling out. 

“John Jo,  you listening to me darling. ….. Have you seen them down there?  Look at them all eager eyed and keen…..”

Shirl carried on watching the small but growing crowd that had begun to gather around the entrance to their apartment building.

… like little yapping lap dogs, just waiting for a glimpse of one of us…I mean…it’s just pathetic.” 

Shirl swung round and snapped indignantly at John Jo.

“Are you actually even listening?”

“Yep” John Jo answered.

John Jo’s eyes were still firmly fixed on the TV screen, but he had turned his head towards where Shirl was standing, as if to show some sign of acknowledging Shirl on the other hand, had finally dragged himself away from the window, and was staring intently at John Jo. He had a look of concentrated disdain which was conveyed all too well by Shirl and that air of authority he’d been allowed. The silent scolding John Jo called it.”.

“Yep?  YEP! What do you mean, YEP?” Shirl continued badgering John Jo choosing to ignore the fact he was wasn’t looking at him.

“So…so it's OK with you then the fact they can gather around the front entrance to our apartment building, OUR home John Jo, and just gawp at us while we come and go? You think that’s OK then?”

John Jo looked over to where Shirl was standing. He knew Shirl far to well to totally ignore his accusatory grumblings. He had always done this when he needed the days to stop slipping into weeks of polite domestic routines. He would start to pick fights over things. It was as if he needed to feel the emptiness with something, anything rather than his own acute boredom. His brain would not allow itself rest and Shirl struggled if he was not engaged in some form of mindful exertion. ..

They had been working all summer on one of those new modern TV series. It was based on some of their earliest classics. He remembered how he had laughed mercilessly when Shirl had first called the early stories classics. 

“Classics are you sure Shirl?” he had asked with a questioningly? “I mean they weren’t that good. We hadn’t even had our look settled on back then let alone found our feet in who we should be? I mean we were so shallow the was no depth to us at that point.” 

John Jo remembered getting the ‘silent scolding’ that day too. Shirl had stood upright, and the disdain crept across his face as he had quietly but oh so forcefully, just repeated his statement again. All the time just staring directly at him…. “well let’s see John Jo shall we? Yes that is exactly how they referred to them and you know something….I deserve no less”.

Shirl had that arrogance that came so naturally to the English upper classes. John Jo had also realised that Shirl had said ‘I’ not ‘we’ deserve. It had upset John Jo and he tried hard not to allow the arrogance shown to affect him, as he knew it could have easily destroyed their relationship. He had learnt long ago; it just wasn’t worth the upset of trying to explain that it wasn’t something that you should display to people you cared about. It was the behaviour that was now described narcissistic, well very similar he’d told himself, not actually like a full-blown narcissist, but you could possibly mistake it for that. The trouble was and John Jo was very aware of this, was that it wouldn’t have made the slightest different to Shirl. He just wouldn’t have understood how his behaviour came across, let alone made anyone feel.

All this had all happened decades ago and John Jo knew that he to, had become somewhat self-congratulatory also over the years. Although John Jo knew he was far less ostentatious in his acknowledgement of this. He did feel a tinge of satisfaction and pride in himself, when referred to by others as one of the ‘Elders’ within the literary world they inhabited. He also knew it wasn’t just their world that knew this, he also had heard rumours that ‘the readers’ also described him and Shirl with this type of admiration.

“Yes I am listening actually. However Shirl if you stopped to think about anyone but your egotistical self then you’d see that I am in fact trying to watch this” conceded John Jo. As he spoke he stopped looking at the screen and allowed his eyes to follow the rest of his head and looked at Shirl. He smiled at and resigned himself to having to give Shirl his full attention.  The years of living together allowed John Jo an advantage of knowing exactly what Shirl wanted even before Shirl himself knew. As he settled himself John Jo clicked the TV off and dropped the remote on to the carpet. He knew his afternoon treat of pure indulgent escapism had been snatched from him and he would have to wait to see what Jim Rockford and his predictable antics would be until later. John Jo knew that Shirl was starting to spiral downwards as Shirl hadn’t been the least bit interested yesterday when the theme tune started to ‘Mr Rockford’s show’ as Shirl always referred to hadn’t even stirred him one bit. 

 “I wouldn’t mind John Jo, but I mean it not for us is it? No not anymore.” Shirl sighed wearily “No understanding of style anymore…… they don’t want classic it’s you can’t cheapen classic that’s why” .Shirl had gravitated back to the window again now that he had John Jo’s full attention. 

“It’s all tits and arse now isn’t it….no substance…. all fur coat and no knickers as my Nanny would have said” 

John Jo couldn’t help but splutter and it was accompanied by a strange noise like a high-pitched squeal. “Bloody hell Shirl I nearly choked then. I wasn’t expecting to laugh and be shocked at the same time.”  John Jo was still laughing as he tried to repeat what he had just heard “fur coat … no knickers…..” the words where being choked by his laughter.


John Jo stared at the wall, smirking and trying to stop laughing. He turned to Shirl once he had composed himself and calmly responded quietly with “oh I don't know Shirl we are luckier than most”.

John smiled at Shirl using his best caring, smile. This smile depending on how John Jo decided to play it would often come with a twinkle in his eye also. It was a character trait he had been using for a long time now. It was originally written into one of the later novels when John Jo was being ‘developed’. In fact John Jo’s story lines had become a bit boring and the lothario angle had been toyed with but dropped. Although  John Jo had kept that character trait and he often used it to his advantage. 

Shirl had always found it a bit bizarre when John Jo used this smile on him.   It was obviously supposed to imply something, but Shirl seriously couldn’t fathom what. So while John Jo smiled he became more and more confused and angry. John Jo kept smiling; Shirl kept staring at the floor. He suddenly realised just how upset he must have been as the carpet pattern had started to swirl round and round and this he took as a warning that his very stretched temper was about to snap. Shirl really didn’t want really didn’t want to have another hysterical episode that had become prone to of late.


However, he really needed to say something to John Jo. Could he not see how upset he was? Was he destined to be alone with his understandings of how his lifestyle, his world seemed to be crashing down around him? Looking up he almost hissed at John Jo  “Luckier, LUCKIER, for the pity sake what's wrong with you man, do you not see what I see?”

“Wrong with me” John Jo retorted in a somewhat exasperated manner. John Jo’s voice filled with frustration and he could hear his words being to break and he heard croaks instead of words while he tried to finally stop this ridiculous evening so full of frustration and anger from becoming a cheap gothic style nightmare.  

“Wrong with me? How dare you imply it is ME. There is nothing is bloody wrong with me you arrogant prig” He stood there looking around and around his head felt as though it was spinning, and he couldn’t focus on anywhere or anyone with a rage starting to rise within. 

“Can’t you see that we are bloody lucky that we have been deemed Classics” John Jo let out a groan of frustration while he put his hands up to his temples in a desperate attempt to help the right words come forward.  

“Yes I know it’s upsetting for you and a bit frightening if we were truly honest. However is it really all of the Readers that you worry about or just the younger generation?”  Shirl looked up at John Jo and felt a wave of comfort run through him.  “Shirl darling everything changes. We need to remember that although we may see our world changing around us, we are changing too.” John Jo knew he was starting to break through Shirl’s despair and frustration. He spoke slow and softly reminding Shirl of how there was nothing to fear.

“Look at how the Readers the older of them look at the younger generation. Do you not see that they too are embarrassed? Why are you fearful of the Readers Shirl? Didn’t we used to speak of how we saw the Readers as a proud intelligent type of people? We always existed with each other. We gave them a different escape and they gave us existence”. 

John Jo began to lighten the mood and he began to talk with more of a bounce in his voice.

“I mean Shirl, remember how we panicked when TV first arrived? But look, we are still here and stronger than ever if you believe those reviews. I know we have had a lull, but we are entitled to one, we work hard.”  

“Yes your right darling, I do agree” 

Shirl stood up and disappeared into the kitchen. While John Jo stood up and stretched he couldn’t help feeling a little relieved he managed to stop the situation escalating.

“I mean we have staying power us two don’t we?”  

As Shirl wasn’t saying much, John Jo kept talking. He started to raise his voice, as if Shirl's silence represented a deafness of some sort. He got out of the chair and started to head towards the kitchen.

“I mean really how many other novel dwellers started in Victorian publication and are now in a modern TV series. Not many I can tell you?”  

John Jo waited still no response. John Jo started to panic. He started to clamber across the room towards the silence that filled the kitchen. 

“It is real Shirl, look at us, films, TV series, as well as…”

“Tea John Jo?”  Shirl appeared out of the silence holding two cups of tea. “Nothing that a cup of tea can’t rectify eh! John Jo did you get any of those lemon puff biscuits I asked you for. I really have a craving”

John Jo felt that feeling again, the one that filled his chest. He knew now it was love.     “Shirl you are such an old goat at times, I do love you dearly but really  I have no idea how I put up with you”. 

“Oh John Jo I’m sorry.  You know I get so bored when we arent in novel or working at all” sitting down Shirl looked wistfully at the photographs on the mantelpiece “I miss the old days you know. It’s not like it was anymore never will be I suppose. But I do I miss it”

“Right OK” declared John Jo “Let’s do it, it’s about time. Let’s organise one of our infamous dinners”.

“OK darling but please can we add a bit excitement for this one. It was a bit flat last time. I mean the Finches all of them. Why did Atticus feel that it would be suitable for the children? Huckleberry sulked all night if I remember because of it. God it was tiresome.”   So no children OK.” 

“I tell you what Shirl as we’ve been talking about where we came from let’s go British this time.”

“Oh John Jo this, is why we are special; therefore we are still here. Yes what a really splendid idea”  

John Jo saw Shirl fill up with enthusiasm again he couldn’t help himself, even though he knew Shirl felt uncomfortable with touching and kisses. “love you for eternity my love” and lent over and gave him a small kiss on the top of his head. 


“How about Jean again, you liked her last time she was over. She certainly added a little colour to the evening.” John Jo chuckled. 

Shirl stared in horror at John Jo. “I swore that Miss Jean Brodie would never, ever set foot here again. Not while she has some young tee shirt clad bike riding type with her. My god can you remember. It was so hideously embarrassing wasn’t it? It was completely outrageous though John Jo. 

“Outrageous yes, should we say outrageously shocking or outrageously hilarious” I couldn’t look at her the next morning. She had to ask us where she’d left her……”

“John Jo I do remember it all too clearly, please therefore allow my blurry recollection of her still asking us to all play hunt the… well you know what… in the morning as it is a far and distant somewhat blurry memory. I will say one more thing about the whole sordid situation. That being

I really do feel that yes it was so outrageously funny”.

“OK so no Miss Brodie then but I was thinking of Eddie and Henry” John Jo looked up and smiled 

“Who? Your friends obviously John Jo, am I acquainted with them”

“Oh come on Shirl we saw them about a year ago I think, Eddie Hyde and Henry Jekyll. They had a trial separation but sorted it out. You remember”

“Oh yes of course I do”. Shirl responded excitedly “let’s ask The Count he is always such great company. . He is amazing on the Karaoke and always happy to bring a guest or two. . 

“Yes the Count of course, of course it will be thoroughly uplifting for us both, to be able to entertain again. So that’s six with the Count if he brings a guest.”

“John Jo let’s ask Miss Blaise I really would love to see her again. We haven't seen little Modesty for in years now”.

“Didn’t she have a spot of bother and spent some time in Sicily the as a guest of a Nunnery?” 

“John Jo you know full well why she had to excuse herself. It was going to only be months initial, but I think when she was able to come back, she found she didn’t really miss the publicity. She’s engaged to a Marquis I believe old Sicilian aristocracy. He is said to have written a few novels just so they can be together. She must bring him along.  It would be great to help launch them back into society!”

“I’ll crack on with the invites then and send them out. But Shirl, can I then watch a little of Mr Rockford?”

Text Box: You are cordially invited to spend an evening
with Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson

Drinks from 7.00pm
Dinner at 7.30pm

Dress code:  Cocktail Party
RVSP by telephone or post.

2635 words

March 13, 2020 21:17

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Elise Henry
13:54 Mar 18, 2020

One of my very first that I have ever submitted. Absolutely first with this much dialogue.


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Daniel Nest
13:05 Mar 19, 2020

Great twist in this one and I liked the battle of "old" vs "new" (books vs. films, older vs. younger generation, etc.) I think you can stand to trim the dialogue and stage directions quite a bit. It pads the reading time and doesn't always advance the story. For instance, "he had asked with a questioningly?" (If he's "asking," it's clear that it's "questioningly" ) Same with "John smiled at Shirl using his best caring, smile" (It's hard to smile without using a smile ;)) Thanks for the read!


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Grace Hibbins
18:39 Mar 18, 2020

I like what you've done with the characters. I like how they know and interact with each other, I think it comes across as very natural.


Elise Henry
03:59 Mar 19, 2020

Thank you Grace I appreciate your feedback very much. It is hard to see how the story flows when it's your own.


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Mal Reynolds
18:31 Mar 18, 2020

Outstanding work with a great twist


Elise Henry
04:02 Mar 19, 2020

Wow what great feedback. I really hope you enjoyed it. I have not really got feedback before and I appreciate that. I do love to put a twist in my writing and I have found most of my stories that I enjoy have a natural twist at the end. I wondered how my writing would come across being British and if I was using particular British turn of phrase.


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