You can call me Joe.
It is not my real name, but it is a good name.
It is an everyman name.
Joe can have almost any identity, be any shape, age or size.
Joe steps over the divides we erect between ourselves.
Whether it be Regular Joe, G.I. Joe or just your run of the mill, Joe Blow; there is a space in all our lives for Joe. We can even wake up in the morning and drink a cup of Joe. Anyway I promised you a secret, something nobody knows about me, so to make this easier to tell, we can pretend it is just happening to Joe. Good old Joe, who just lives round the corner.
I want to be someone else. Anonymity has its drawbacks, let’s put a face to the problem.
When I booked this call you explained to me, you are writing a thesis; interviewing and collecting data. Well first things first, I don’t care about that, write whatever you like. I filled in your questionnaire. I am only interested in your promise. You promised me a chance to confess. I hope you understand what that means. A confession is a sacred bond. This is not an open confession but a private transaction between just us two. When I unburden myself, you then own that truth. It belongs to you. It becomes your possession. You own it and you are then responsible for it.
Now, are you sure, you want to continue?
I have lots of secrets but they are not important in the grand schemes of things. I do want to tell you about one particular secret I carry. This one I think you will find useful. I think it fits into your ball park. It is why I answered the advert. You see I have a very unusual addiction.
I have a strong compulsion that grips me from time to time. On and off, for eight years it has become an obsessional pursuit. Now your mind is racing. It is going to all the darkest places you can imagine. Now that is disappointing. You are right, it is dark but you do not have to twist it that way. You see my darkness is internal, well to be precise I carry it on my back, the only person who suffers is me. For eight years I have been obsessed with writing the perfect letter; a very special correspondence.
I have hundreds of failed attempts. I have notebooks full of drafts and redrafts. The longest one I wrote, was eighty pages, it filled an entire notebook, it took me over a week. It covered everything. Some are fantasy, some are tall tales and some are so brutally honest that you can see my tears staining the text. I just cannot get it right. Not one ever ticks the right boxes. This week I collected them all together and they filled a small suitcase.
They are all my suicide notes.
It started because life just stopped being relevant anymore. It just continued being such a slog. It had no purpose, no meaning. I was just invisible. I became depressed. I was fascinated with suicide notes. Do you know only thirty per cent of people who attempt or commit suicide leave a note? It just seemed rude. To do something that, that final; without an explanation. I could not understand it. It upset me. So I tried to write one. Then I understood. It is mega hard. To do it perfectly, to explain why, it is impossible. No matter how hard I tried, I could never find the words that fit. I could never put the explanation down onto paper. So I tried again. It became my Holy Grail; my endless quest.
What was that? That’s a good question. It is irrelevant to your project. I don’t remember my past. I choose not to. If I remember my past I have to live in it. I can tell you it is just full of people who embody disappointment. The world lacks character and accountability. I choose to ignore my future too, as it just holds more disappointment. The present, surrounded by abject apathy, is my world. Expecting nothing and occasionally being pleasantly surprised; it is healthier for me. If you choose to face the darkness the light will never expose your self-fulfilling prophecies. The natural world is teeming full of life in the shadows. Pick up any large rock and have a look. Living in the light can put a target on your back. Life is predatory; only the mad and stupid choose to live it standing on a pedestal.
I don’t remember my past. But, I do recognise it. I recognise it in others, I see the shadow of my past life being lived in others.
You see people name their pain. The black dog is popular. 'Oh, how are you? Not so good, the black dog has to come to stay this week'. I call mine the silent darkness. You see this good old Joe is quite jolly; always smiling and laughing. My silent darkness is behind all that, holding tightly to my back like some demonic monkey. But this darkness is today’s heroin. You can recognise the other junkies; the other sufferers. It is in a look, an aura, a comment. You can see it.
Every Monday, I travel one town over and go to the market. I sit at my favourite café, always at the same time and outside in roughly the same place. I order my favourite coffee. Every Monday I see the same three kids walk after their mother, while she stares at her phone. The front two kids are young boys, always fighting and being boisterous. The last kid is a girl, about twelve. Her head is down, she drags her feet, her shoulders are slumped. You can almost see the dark cloud over her head every week. You can feel her sadness. Sometimes, I wonder was that me when I was younger. Has this monkey always rode my back? Is that why I have survived so long. Have I survived with this for so long because I never remember a time without it? The truth is I don’t know. It is like I said, I choose not to remember.
Anyway back to the real matter, I have some good news. My search has come to the end. It had a remarkable simple solution, it explained everything and answered every question. It was surprisingly short. The answer came when I decided to address the note to everyone. By addressing it to everyone, I no longer needed to address it to anyone. You see people have this impossible need to fit you into their narrative. They change your thoughts and actions, distort your words and feelings. This final note silences all those emotional vampires, or at the very least makes their voices mute. It was a revelation when it came to me. It was a perfect answer to my problem and it did it all in four words. It explained everything.
In a world obsessed by identity, I seem to have lost mine. We form our identity very early on. We assemble information from a very young age. We assemble lists of our favourite things. It is what tells people who we are and what we are about. It gives us membership into all of our first social groups and cliques. Then it struck me. There is no one alive who actually knows anything meaningful about me anymore. Everybody in my world thinks they know everything about me. It is all guesswork; judgement and discrimination. I am not secretive. I have even been known to answer questions if asked. The truth is people are not interested, they are just too busy. I have a phrase that describes it, ‘Life gets in the way’. People apologise for being distant or out of touch. I nod and smile and just say, 'it’s ok, Life gets in the way'. Then they borrow what they need off me. Usually a special tool or my time or they need some help or they need some money. Then they disappear off, until the next time, off into the distant future.
I am not that bothered anymore. Lonely Joe is not great company. I always seem to manage to say the wrong thing. I cannot explain what I mean as my language and ideas are not modern enough. The world has moved on and I have stood still. Anyway I digress, you must stop me running off at tangents. It has been a long time since I have had this much to say to anyone.
So here I am finally at the end of an eight-year quest. It is not the perfect note. It does not have a universal property that fits all cases. It is just the right one for me. It is addressed to no one. Just four simple words.
What’s my favourite colour?
No one alive knows the answer to that question. That just explains everything. I have not guarded the answer. I also have no desire to shout it from the rooftops. I am surplus to requirements; I do not fit. I also do not think I want to.
So, good news. I now have all this extra time on my hands. I can reread my favourite book. Watch my favourite films again. No more interrupting questions in the back of my mind, I can enjoy all my other favourite things again. Tomorrow I am going to burn the suitcase. A good fire is very cleansing. No more, dark morbid obsession; addiction quashed.
No, of course I do not intend to do anything, silly. It may have started that way all that time ago. It became, I don’t know, a kind of intellectual exercise. I have a lot of time in the evenings and needed to fill them. I have always been a little pathological. Anyway, I have this really old dog. No one would take him in, if anything happened to me. He is grumpy and smells. If he ended up in one of them euthanasia dog pounds, you know the ones with the concrete floors and horrible drafty cages. Where if you are not adopted in a fortnight they give you the lethal injection. If that happened I would not be able to live with myself.
Well that’s my story. That’s my confession. Can I just say, thank you for spending the time tonight and listening to me. It feels really good to get that off my chest. I can feel a weight lifted, it is like a drug. I honestly feel lighter.
No, it’s okay, that’s everything I feel like talking about tonight. I hope it was useful.
No I don’t think I want to talk again, another night. Let’s just leave it there. Draw a line under it. I think this number is going to be out of service soon, anyway. Good luck with your thesis and I hope the rest of your evening is everything you want it to be. Take Care.
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The strange format is supposed to be the reader hearing one half of a one sided conversation. This is part of a larger piece I have been working on for something else. I have posted it here because I want some feedback on it before I put in the piece for something else. I am not back to regularly posting here and please only comment if you have something to critique. My main concern it is dark, maybe too dark and I have to decide whether I submit this piece or a lighter piece. Please help with grammar as I am still not perfect but have impro...
“It is mega hard.” Feels out of place, too informal. Nice seeing a story from you, even if you’re not back for good. Hope everything’s alright on your end. I’d love to see more scenes in this piece. The part with the girl and her family was great, but that was just about it. Most of this is just monologue—not inherently bad, but too much generalization. What things do people borrow from you? How much money, and who? How does the world lack character and accountability as you put it? The monkey analogy is great. And the anonymity of the na...
It is a monologue piece about loneliness. It is a confession in the old catholic sense, one voice in the darkness. Good points about the generalisation. It is at its heart for something else but I have a second piece I could use. There is a dishonesty to his honesty. He wants to confess but he has nothing he wants to disclose. He is emptying his head but still trying to keep things guarded. The borrowing is part of the character and accountability he is talking about. Mega hard was an older british slang phrase from the early 90s connected t...
Tom, this is beautiful and dark and melancholy. I hope this isn’t about you. I know we’ve been corresponding for several months. Let me know if you’d like to talk. -David
It is just a story. My favourite colour is green and everybody knows it. It is a rough working piece for a competition later in the month. Any critical advice? But thank you.
I liked this a lot, but I think that you should add more dialogue even if he's without anyone to talk to, just show us more of his voice and character. Showing us that aspect of him and maybe him interacting with things or people will make him more well-rounded. Also, I think you should show us his suicide notes because you need to give us more of his true tone of voice.
Thank you for the feedback. For this format I think the notes will distract. I will think about where to expand his voice. I don't have time to do it here. I wanted to keep it short because I was concerned about a very long morose piece. Part of his sadness is his loneliness. Good feedback.
I like how the unusual format lends a light tone to a serious, dark theme. Many of the things Joe touches are real and relatable. The world is a lonely place, and even when we meet tons of people all the time, we still feel unseen. Because, essentially, we are. Everybody is too busy keeping his own head up. As Joe says, things get in the way. But then, there is that dog, the dog nobody else wants, and therefore Joe has purpose, and that for me will always be the meaning of life, what it all boils down to. Taking care of somebody else, whethe...
The unusual format is so it could be performed by a single person as an audio piece. There is also a darker undertone. There is a suggestion, that now Joe has completed his quest he is ready. He knows the dog does not have long left. He implies this with how he ends the phone call. It suggests that when the dog goes, so will Joe. He says everything necessary to appease the person on the other end of the line. Anyway, Thank you so much for giving it a read.
Okay, I didn’t pick up on all of that. Apparently, Joe managed to appease me as well. I suppose my subconscious didn’t want to pick up on that. Which ironically proves Joe’s point, I think. You tell them about yourself and they still don’t know ...
Hey, Tom! I am glad to see you come back, even for a visit. As usual, I see a lot more to love here than to critique. Sometimes, though, you can learn a lot about something by hearing what other people like--I know, sometimes, I walk away thinking, "They got THAT out of it?" I enjoy the layering effect at the beginning, where the narrator works into the conversation, through the difficult topic, and finally to the letters, and then ultimately to the purpose of the letters. By the time we get to the conclusion at the end, about what he's g...
There is a prompt this week that fits a competition later in the month so I might be posting again this week. The ending here was supposed to be ambiguous. It was supposed to make you think, he still might. So that ending needs a bit of work. I was thinking in the next edit, should I add the other half of the conversation or does it still work and is ultimately stronger as a monologue? The other question I have, due to other people's comments is Joe too ambiguous? Chapter and verse explanation for me would stop him being an Everyman (the int...
I don't see the story getting stronger by turning it into a dialogue. I think it works as it is in that regard. I also wouldn't make him more specific. You've got enough specifics in there already that make him feel like an individual, even if he is representative of others; more would be too much. I agree that losing the Everyman aspect would be a mistake.
In terms of content that could be removed to shorten the story, I could find two potential passages that might be shortened or excised. In both cases, the narrator calls them out as "irrelevant" or off topic. The first is where they say that they don't remember their past. There are two paragraphs on that, which don't really flow as smoothly within the rest of the stream. The other is soon after, when they talk about going into town every Monday and seeing people who suffer. The latter fits with the theme quite a bit better, but it doesn't f...
that is excellent. One of them was added so the story could fit the prompt so it makes perfect sense. I have posted a lighter piece for this week called 'Ray of Light', sorry it is not about you but I would love to hear your feedback I will catch up on all your old stories this week.