by Janet Howson
Coffee in a Flask
Jordan woke with a start. He was surprised to find he was still lying in the Alexander technique position he had been taught years ago when it was all the rage. His head raised up on a firm pillow and knees in the air with feet placed hip width on his orthopaedic mattress. All to relieve the constant pain he suffered with, caused by his arthritic hips. He was sixty one but felt eighty-one some days, particularly in the winter when the cold and damp got into his bones. He had never bothered to install central heating into the 1930’s council house that had been his childhood home and then became his own when his parents died and his three siblings left home to marry, have children and make new lives.
He felt groggy and wondered why. Then he remembered he had taken the strong pain killers prescribed for him by Doctor Elias, only to be taken when the pain was unbearable. However, it was getting to the point when the pain was always unbearable. He had managed to get through the day at work but not without two tablets in the dinner hour. It was a sedentary job in an office near Liverpool Street. He knew they wanted him to retire but he was determined to hang on until he was at least sixty-five, so he had learnt to pretend he was as fit as a fiddle. It exercised his acting skills; very useful as he belonged to an amateur drama group. The thought of this made Jordon sit up. He knew there was something different about tonight’s rehearsal. Then he remembered it was the dress rehearsal, the final practice before the run began on the Thursday through to the Sunday. They were performing ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and he had been cast as Oberon. He had been thrilled when Shirley read out the cast list. It was a part he had always wanted to play.
Shirley Jordon sighed as he managed to get himself off the bed and wander to the kitchen rubbing his hips as he moved along. He had always admired, Shirley. They had known each other for years now right from the time he had joined the group, in an attempt to meet people. He had always found it hard mixing with others and he had generally been content with his own company but then the years slipped away and he found himself alone at home, feeling isolated at work and without any interests. He had seen an advert in a local paper advertising a new drama group that was in need of members. It appealed to him that everyone would be starting off new together so he rung the number and spoke to a lady who told him where and when to meet and it all started from there.
Jordon put the kettle on and spread his script on the kitchen table. He would go over his lines then attempt to collate his ideas for the group’s next venture, a Murder Mystery Evening. This had turned out to be Jordon’s forte. He had always loved performing in them, then, he started to write them and direct them. He was rather proud of his achievements.
He sighed again, lent back on the chair and stared into space. He knew where the inspiration for this Murder Mystery had come from. Shirley had confided in him over the years about her unfaithful husband. She had also admitted recently that he had started to knock her about. Nothing that would result in obvious signs of violence. Just the odd push and slap. Otherwise it was mainly verbal bullying that was meant to make her feel inadequate. He could never understand why she didn’t leave him. “He is the father of my children,” she would say, “I owe it to them to stay.”
Nothing Jordon said would persuade her to get out of the house. He said she could stay with him and he would look after her. She knew he liked her. Perhaps it was too soon for her to think of another relationship. “He would come to your house, Jordan and I dread to think what he would do to you.” Jordan wasn’t at all aggressive and avoided confrontation but he would defend himself and Shirley if it came to that.
He decided to write down the cast list whilst he was in the mood and go over Oberon’s lines afterwards. The plot was to be centred on a family and close friends’ gathering. The celebration was the Ruby Wedding Anniversary of Joseph and Fiona Hollingsworth. The family guests were their children, Samantha, Louise and Amanda, Fiona’s mother, Dolly, and her sisters, Sylvia and Grace. The friends were Richard, a shy bachelor who was in love with Fiona, Caroline, a school friend of Joseph’s and her husband Tim and Courtney a friend of Joseph’s from work. Both Caroline and Courtney were Joseph’s lovers who knew nothing about each other. Fiona though knew about both the affairs and had not told anyone but her good friend, Richard who she relied on to keep it a secret.
Joseph had decided that they would all gather at a three star hotel in town and would stay the night after the celebratory dinner which would involve a lot of wine. However, the following morning Joseph is found dead outside in the car park.
The first scene is held in the lobby where the announcement of the death is made with everyone shocked and trying to guess how it happened.
The second scene is the dinner where after a lot of champagne, the characters reveal their relationship with Joseph and the two lovers find out they are not alone in his affections. It becomes obvious that everyone has a reason to hate him.
The third scene is the murder itself.
Jordon stopped writing for a moment. Who should he chose to be the killer? Should it be the spurned wife? Or one of the lovers, having found out about each other? Or the husband of Caroline who had discovered his wife was unfaithful? Maybe, Fiona’s mother, furious with her wayward son in law? He decided not to have one of the children as the killer. No, he would make Richard, Fiona’s friend, the killer and he wanted that part. He wrote out the proposed cast list using as many of the drama group as possible.
Fiona – Shirley
Joseph – Sean
Dolly – Nina
Sylvia and Grace – Jess and Jean
Caroline – Debbie
Tim – Patrick
Courtney – Val
Richard - Jordan
Jordan had already asked Lauren to direct and she had agreed. He then set to and worked out the first scene. He had promised Shirley he would bring this along to the dress rehearsal and they were meeting early to discuss it. He loved meeting her on her own without the others all wanting her advice or giving her their excuses for not learning their lines. Lines! That reminded him he must quickly go through his. He glanced at the kitchen clock and saw it was six o clock. They were meeting at seven so he still had time to brush up his part and eat a quick sandwich whilst he was doing it. He put the script in an envelope and saying his lines out loud with the appropriate cues he was able to eat, tidy up and make up a flask of coffee for the evening ahead.
A thought suddenly struck Jordan. Why couldn’t he ask Shirley for a drink tonight? He could say it would be a continuation of the Murder Mystery planning? Yes that is what he would do. He had been thinking about it for ages and never had the nerve to do it but for some reason he felt more determined tonight. Perhaps it was writing about unfaithful husbands and a murder that had done it. Fiona would be free of her unfaithful husband in the play and he wanted Shirley to be free of hers. Murder might be a step too far although the way Shirley’s husband treated her made Jordon feel tempted to ‘do away’ with him.
Chuckling to himself at the ridiculous image of him as a cold blooded murderer, Jordon put on his pullover, coat and flat cap. He polished his glasses collected his paperwork and keys, then with a quick check to make sure he had turned the gas hob off he set out for the church hall.
The hall was in walking distance so Jordon left his car in the drive. It would mean he could have a drink if Shirley agreed to go with him to the pub after the rehearsal. He ignored the pain in his hips feeling buoyant at the thought of seeing Shirley.
There were no lights on when he arrived. He didn’t have a key. Shirley was the only member of the group who had one. He sat on the wall of the church to wait, rehearsing what he would say to Shirley, how he could persuade her to go for a drink with him.
After about ten minutes, he saw Shirley emerging from round the corner at the end of the road. It was a misty night and it wasn’t until she was standing in front of him that he could see she had been crying. Worst still, once she had unlocked the hall and let them both in he could see the vivid bruise on the side of her face. She had unsuccessfully tried to cover it with make-up but it was still a visible. He wasn’t sure whether to mention it but it wasn’t necessary.
“Oh, Richard, I am so sorry I was so late. Jamie and I had a terrible argument. I confronted him about his latest affair and he accused me of snooping through his personal possessions and that I was just a sad, jealous, pathetic excuse for a wife.” She wiped the tears from her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t know what to do, Richard.”
“Did he hit you again? That is a nasty bruise.”
“He gets so angry with me. He is always sorry after he has done it. It’s like he has to get the anger out of his system then he is calmer. I know he doesn’t mean to hurt me.”
Richard was astounded. How could she be so forgiving He knew this had been going on for years but it was getting more violent.
“I think it has gone too far, Shirley. You need to report it to the police. This is abuse. I am really worried he will hurt you badly one day and you will end up in hospital.”
Shirley looked at Jordon through watery eyes and smiled for the first time. “You are a lovely man, Jordon, but you have never been married or had children you don’t understand the ties. I keep thinking he will change and get tired of living a double life and come back to his family.”
Jordon paused for a moment. “Okay, well here’s the plan. It is a bit late now to try and go over the Murder Mystery so we might as well wait for the rest of the cast to arrive for the rehearsal, but what about we go to the pub afterwards and discuss it then?”
“I could do with a glass of wine so that would be great.” She touched his arm. “Thank you for your concern.” She smiled at him, a smile that melted his heart.
No one else arrived at the allotted time of seven thirty and after a quarter of an hour they decided to split the cast in half and each of them ring their half to see why they were late. The result was catastrophic. Not one of them could make the dress rehearsal.
Shirley found out that Stacey was in hospital with a head injury and wouldn’t even be able to make the actual performances. Debbie and Annie said they had a commitment they couldn’t get out of but would be there for the opening night. Sean had texted her a message apologising for his absence but would see her on Thursday for the first performance. Jason was waiting for the police to arrive as he had had a break in at his flat but he would definitely be there for the performance. Lauren had left a voicemail to say she was with her father in hospital but he was pulling through and she would make the opening night.
Jordon found out that both Jess and Patrick were involved in a family incident but not to worry as they both would not be letting the group down on the actual play run. Nina had to stay in with her daughters but again would be there tomorrow. Jean had a work commitment and apologised profusely and would see them all for the first night. He was shocked though to hear of Val’s daughter’s accident and there was obviously no possibility of her appearing in the play.
So when Jordon and Shirley compared notes they had two members of the cast who would not be able to play their parts throughout the run. Stacey, who was playing Titania and Val who was playing Hermia. Shirley immediately sprang into action. Titania was not a problem, she had played the part numerous times and knew the lines still. Her daughter had been Hermia in a school play and could probably manage the part if she took the script on with her. She was sure the audience would be very sympathetic in the circumstances. She rang her as soon as the idea entered her head and she agreed after a bit of persuasion from her mother.
“Don’t look so worried, Jordon. We will treat the first night as the dress rehearsal. In the meantime we will go over your script for the Murder Mystery. Did you mention a drink? I think we could both do with one now.”
“Yes lets walk round to the pub.” Jordon was thrilled his plan to go to the pub with Shirley had worked out. He gathered his belongings and helped Shirley on with her coat. “The show must go on!”
About the Author
Janet taught Drama and English for 35 years in several Comprehensive schools, directing a lot of plays, some of which she wrote herself. She was spurred to start writing again when she found a folder of forgotten poetry she had written years ago. She is now enjoying writing short stories and is honoured to have been chosen to be published in The Best of CafeLit and also Nativity a Bridge House publication. Her first published book Charitable Thoughts is now out at last and available on Amazon Books.
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