Monday 29 March 2021

Jean Cast as Grace


by Janet Howson


Jean had turned up early for Colin’s CBT group. Ever since the disastrous evening accompanying her boss to a company banquet in London, she hadn’t slept. She added up the embarrassing points of the whole ghastly experience in her head.

1.       Her dress looked like a charity shop purchase against the stylish, expensive outfits worn by

the other guests.

2.       She was ignored by everyone else on the table.

3.       Dan, her boss, whom she adored and was so pleased had invited her to attend, had spent the whole evening chatting up a beautiful, young employee who apparently worked on another floor of the accountancy firm.

4.       She had drunk too much champagne and wine and ended up having to dash to the toilets.

She knew alcohol didn’t agree with her but she was so self-conscious and nervous that she had just kept on drinking, regardless.

5.       Dan had ordered a taxi for her, very early, and bundled her in to it, obviously annoyed with  her behaviour.

       So all this was going round and round in Jean’s brain as she waited for the rest of the CBT group to arrive.

      She didn’t have to wait long. Colin, the group therapist arrived first. He was wearing his signature outfit of well- worn jeans, a sweatshirt with a logo that meant nothing to Jean and his scruffy trainers.

     “Hi, Jean. You’re nice and early. Sorry I couldn’t get to Midsummer Night’s Dream I had to take the dog to the vet and by the time I got home it wasn’t worth going. How did it go?”

      “Oh, fine. Mine was only a small part but I didn’t flunk my lines. The audience seemed to appreciate our efforts.”

      “I will get to the next one I promise, what is your next production?”

      “You’re excused my next performance. We are doing a Murder Mystery for our director’s golf club that involves a dinner and a prize for the winning table. Golf club members only though. We do one every year.”

       At that moment a few more of the group arrived. Jean’s heart sank as she spotted Deidre, chatting away to a girl she always came with, who was uttering the odd ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ every now and then. Jean hoped Deidre would let some of the other group talk, rather than repeat her tales of woe. Soon the chairs were all filled and Colin opened up the meeting.

      “Hi everyone,” there were several mumbles of ‘Hello’ ‘Okay’ ‘Hi Colin’ and several of the group peeled off their coats and jackets hanging them on the back of their chair. Colin waited until everyone had settled down.

      “At the last meeting, Jean talked about her love of her drama group and how she escaped from her troubles by taking on another persona. I for one was very disappointed that I couldn’t get to see Jean as Hippolita, in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Did anyone manage to get there at such short notice?”

      One hand went up, to Jean’s surprise as she hadn’t expected anyone to turn up. It was the middle aged man in the grey suit who said he belonged to a Gospel Choir at the last meeting. When she was on stage she never looked at the audience but delivered her lines above their heads. It was a trick she had learnt when she first started to perform, it helped concentration and stage fright. So she had no idea who turned up and who didn’t.

         “Oh, good for you, Samuel,” Colin enthused, “I’m glad someone represented the group.”

          “I really enjoyed it. Jean was excellent. I will certainly try and get to the group’s next production.”

        “Samuel, would you like to kick the meeting off by telling us all about your Gospel Choir? You mentioned it helped you with your issues, last week?”

        Samuel, coughed, he obviously found airing his problems and private life in public difficult but took a few deep breaths and began. “I joined the group about six months ago. I didn’t have to audition, which I was relieved about. My neighbour told me about it, she said it was a lot of fun and they wanted new members. I thought I’d give it a go and if I didn’t like it I’d give my excuses and not return. I just kept in the background to start with but after a while I relaxed and sang with more confidence and I was even asked to do a solo. Men are in shorter supply than women so we do get to be chosen more often.” Several of the men in the group responded to this with ‘I must join’ ‘Sounds like my type of group’ and there was general laughter all round.

      Samuel was gaining confidence now, even enjoying it. “I think what the group does for me is get me out of the house and amongst enthusiastic people who love to sing. When I am concentrating on the words of the song I forget about my issues. I just want to belong and be a part of the group as another singer, not someone with problems.”

      Jean could empathise with this. It was exactly the same with the drama group. She would be thinking of her words when rehearsing or in a play, pushing all her depressive thoughts away. She listened to Samuel as he related the songs he had learnt and the concerts they had put on. Jean liked his easy manner. She wanted to know more about him.  She didn’t need to wait much longer as Colin responded to Samuel’s talk.

      “Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Samuel. I am now going to ask you all to do an exercise. Not an aerobic one, in case you were getting worried. I want you to get into pairs and discuss the week you have just had. I want you to talk about what if anything has helped or triggered your problems. We will swap partners after five minutes. Off you go.”

      Jean wasn’t at all confident in doing this exercise. She then remembered how she was able to act on a stage. If she could do that then this should be easy. She chose to tell of her terrible experience at the dinner with Dan. As she was telling the story she could feel the heat rising from her neck to her face, the beads of perspiration on her brow. Somehow though, she knew it was doing her good, being able to share such experiences with a group of people who understood, who too had had embarrassing moments. She listened to tales of relapses, secret drinking and the guilt of lying to loved ones and their thoughts of suicide supressed but lingering in the background. Their self-hatred and low self-esteem, all of which she had experiences herself.

      When it came to her turn to be Samuel’s partner she felt quite weary, worn out by the emotions the discussions had raised in her. They smiled at each other. Jean was surprised how comfortable she felt in his company. She thought he must be in his forties or even early fifties, certainly older than her. She had always been old for her years. Her mother used to say ‘You were born with an old head on your shoulders, Jean.’ She hadn’t really understood what she meant, but as time went on she realised she had somehow skipped her teenage years, never being involved in all the trimmings of adolescence, the parties, the clubs, the music, the fashion. She was seen as a bit old fashioned, a bit quirky. She would have liked to have been like the others but somehow it never happened.

      “Well I’ve been boring everyone with my disastrous dinner party with my boss and I am not sure I can go through it again,” Jean began. “I would prefer to talk about our Drama Group. It is very friendly and welcoming and always on the lookout for new members. I was wondering, with your love of singing and performing whether you would…” she trailed off, feeling she had gone too far, the familiar spread of heat making her blush.

     Samuel interrupted her, “I was going to suggest a very similar thing but with you joining our Choir. We too are always encouraging new recruits. You would love it, as long as you had time with all your drama rehearsals.” He too looked uncomfortable, staring into Jean’s eyes as if trying to find an answer to his question. “I hadn’t thought about it the other way round with me joining your drama group. I have always loved the backstage jobs. I was on light and sound at university, when they put on productions. I never considered auditioning for a part.”

      “The same with me and singing. My mother always said I would sing away to myself when I was in my pram. In was too self-conscious at school to try for the choir and over the years the only singing I do is in the shower.”

     Samuel laughed, “Along with ninety per cent of the population.” He paused and lent closer to Jean. “Here’s the deal. I join your drama group if you join my choir. We will then be seeing each other at least three times a week, if we count these sessions.”

        Jean’s blushing had stopped and she felt completely relaxed and confident in Samuel’s presence. Had she at last met someone who liked her enough to want her in his life? She felt like a teenager in love, excited and with butterflies in her stomach. She knew what her answer would be.

    “That sounds like a great deal to me, Samuel, once we have completed the Murder Mystery Evening with me playing Grace, the next play will be on the way. So you can start coming down and I will be honoured to audition for the choir.”

     “Time up everyone. Can we gather back in a circle to discuss how we felt sharing with other members of the group and what you gained, if anything from them,” Colin announced.

        Through the scraping of chairs and people already exchanging comments, unable to wait for the official time, Jean felt Samuel reach out and squeeze her hand. There was no doubt in her mind what she had gained from the discussions, none at all.

About the author

Janet Howson  was born in Rochdale but moved to the South of England when she was seventeen. She loved writing and reading from an early age and wrote poetry and plays. Shejoined an amateur Drama group when she was eighteen and her love of the theatre began. She trained to be a teacher and her two subjects were English and Drama. She then went on to teach for thirty five years in Comprehensive schools in Redbridge, Havering and Essex. During this time she wrote and directed plays for the pupils and continued to be involved in Amateur Drama both as a performer and a director. Now she is retired, Janet has joined two writing groups and with the help and advice she has received here,  started to write short stories and has had stories published in anthologies and  her first novel, Charitable Thoughts can be found on Amazon Books. She intends to continue writing both novels and stories, adapting some of them into theatre scripts and radio plays.  

Published work:                                 

The Best of CafeLit 8 an anthology published by Chapletown Books 2019

Stories included: Marking Time & Induction Day.

Nativity an anthology published by Bridge House 2019

Story included: Solution.

Charitable Thoughts a novella published by Austin Macauley

Can be found on Amazon Books

It happened in Essex: tall tales from the Basildon Writers’ Group

Can be found on Amazon books

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