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by Gerry 

Posted: 16 April 2011
Word Count: 993
Summary: University lecturer Jay King meets his nemesis. An attempt to tell a tell in less than a thousand. All comments gratefully received.

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At the whiteboard, red marker poised, King heard his mobile vibrate in his jacket on the back of the chair, sounding like a distant goat. Ignore it, he thought. They'll think it's one of theirs. It’ll keep.
‘So, let’s have a look at ...’ he said, writing the Greek in a big, bold hand. ‘Anyone?’ He turned round to face them.
‘Catharsis,’ said Jackie, smiling, showing him those perfect teeth.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘Jackie is one of the few of you amateurs to have taken my advice and learned a bit of the language. There’s no way you can study Attic drama at undergraduate level without being able to understand it in the original.’ The usual sullen faces from most of the rest; Jackie, though, was leaning forward, pen over her pad; her long legs looking particularly, endlessly, enthralling lovely today in black woolly tights and her Daisy Dukes. ‘So, what’s my point here?’ he said.
Smartarse Ben Brent had his hand up again, back at middle juniors. ‘Catharsis is an Aristotelian concept, of course, not something Euripides would be aware of. Aristotle in The Poetics is only trying to prove the moral value of tragedy. But in Medea ...’
‘Right,’ King said, ‘let’s focus on Medea and its morality. Anybody want to remind us of the story? Give us Euripides’ pitch to the producers?’
Jackie’s mouth was open, her lips so red against the flawless pale skin. ‘Aging hero Jason plans to marry again, take a new rich young wife,’ she said. ‘But his current wife, Medea, sorceress and exile, who’s saved Jason’s life more than once, kills his bride to be, the bride’s father and, finally, despairingly, her own children to spite Jason. And then escapes to Athens. Free.’
‘Excellent,’ he said. ‘The moral of the tale being ...’
Nothing now from them. A broken wall of faces, like Troy on its last morning.
‘Come on,’ he said.
‘Well,’ said Jackie, ‘there isn’t one, is there? She gets away with a stack of murders. And Jason behaves like, well, like a complete bastard, I suppose. But he should behave with nobility. Aristotelian magnitude.’ She was looking at him now, quite hard, too, frowning. ‘Not very uplifting morally,’ she said. ‘Not even a little bit.’
‘But how often does this sort of thing happen?’ he said. ‘How often do people kill their children because their husband destroys their life?’
‘Every day,’ said Jackie. ‘You can read it in the papers, see it on telly, on the net, all the time.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘The miserable human race behaving miserably. And that’s Euripides ...’
‘Especially the men,’ said Jackie, frowning some more now, eyes still on his. ‘So, there is a moral, then.’
‘Yes?’ he said. ‘What?’ And she was looking over now in a way he’d not seen before, certainly not like the other evening ...
‘Well,’ she said. ‘Medea is semi-divine, isn’t she? Maybe she can do what she wants. But Jason, a hero, yes, but still just a man, can’t. And he’ll get old one day, be a sad old bugger – no love, no more princesses falling for him anymore, all his glory forgotten. Medea’s maybe like the moral force driving the first few nails into Jason’s coffin, reminding him that it’ll all be over soon for him and that he’s an ungrateful, selfish bastard ...’
‘But she kills his children ...’ he said
‘They’re hers, too, Jay,’ she said.
He looked at her. So bloody tasty. Bright kid, too. A spark there, a real spark; he’d noticed that from the beginning of the year. Intelligence, certainly, wit as well. Something worth ... nurturing. Really worth it. And all wrapped up in a body that didn’t just blow your mind ...
He glanced at his watch: three-thirty already. ‘OK. Time, I think, to knock this on the head, folks. Antigone and the political debate on Monday. OK?’
As they filed out, he went to his desk, and his hand was on his phone when he saw Jackie come over, the high breasts in her tight top, the slender arms ...
He let the phone drop back into his inside pocket.
Everyone else was gone now. And she was close, hugging that old satchel of hers.
‘How you doing?’ he said.
‘I’m OK,’ Then a hesitation. ‘About the other night ...’
‘Hmm?’ He gave her the wry cheeky-boy smile that had done the business so well for the last fifteen years.
Her weight dropped onto her left hip. ‘Jay, I think I shouldn’t have.’
‘Shouldn’t have?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘Shouldn’t have. I mean, you’re a great teacher and you’re still ... but it wasn’t right, Jay.’
‘Yeah, but ...’
‘Sorry,’ she said, turning. ‘I’ve got to go. See you around.’
He watched her: the neat little rear end swaying in her cut offs, the thick belt showing off the wasp-like waist.
Bugger it.
Sighing, he picked up his jacket, put it on. The gents was just opposite his room.
After a pee, he went to wash his hands, looking at his thick black hair in the mirror: the, yeah, distinguished flecks of grey at the temples. He pulled at the roller towel next to the basin, and remembered the SMS.
He took out his Nokia, punched the button, and read:
Have had enough, Jay. Going 2 school now pick up Jocasta & Haemon. Don’t bother looking for us. Will call tomorrow. Maybe. Goodbye. PS You haven't got a leg to stand on.
He read it through again. And again, left fist clenching.
‘Christ, woman,’ he said, his voice echoing off the tiles and the porcelain. ‘Jesus bloody Christ. You want a fight? Well, you’ve bloody got one.’
Looking up, he saw his reflection again: grim now, determined. He got closer, peering: something there he’d not seen before: like a line, a fold in his designer stubble ...
The beginnings of what was going to be a very ample double-chin.

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Comments by other Members

Becca at 09:36 on 16 April 2011  Report this post
Hi Gerry,
this is a tight piece of writing, and does work as a story fine because there are no words wasted. I could see it as a TV play, I felt it was very visual. It's well constructed. Not 100 convinced about the content of the email in that it sounds more like the kind of thing a woman would say who hasn't been with him all that long. If she was used to his womanising and had decided to leave him finally, I feel she'd say something colder but more adult sounding. Good writing.

Gerry at 09:47 on 16 April 2011  Report this post

Hello Becca,

Had my doubts about the text message, too. I'll alter it.


Cornelia at 10:15 on 16 April 2011  Report this post
I'm keen on Greek drama (all drama) and used to teach, so I liked the setting and found the dialogue convincing. King reminded me of Howard Jacobsons's hero/villain line of lecherous lecturers.

An off-key note, though, was King leaving his mobile turned on. Apart from being unprofessional, answering it would open the floodgates for students. (Have you seen the problem exemplified in the Jamie Oliver school programme on TV?) Besides, sooner or later some snippy student who'd noticed his favouring the good-looking ones and no doubt stung by his insults, would complain to the HOD.

I'd have him hear the phone go off and curse himself for having forgotten to mute it before class.

Having said that, we soon learn he isn't at all professional - and he's a loathable character, who should come to a sticky end.

To my mind just getting older/fatter isn't much of a come-uppance. The withdrawal of favours by Jackie won't bother him because there'll always be another students, as in the last fifteen years -he'l just have to try harder, promise better grades, etc. His wife leaving him isn't enough of a punishment, either, because he obviously expected it and immediately starts relishing a tustle over the children.

This ending is more of a cliff-hanger, and would suit the first chapter of a novel or TV series. It's an idea worth considering because there seems to enough material to expand on.

I loved the children's names in the wife's goodbye note.


By the way, if you intend to continue in the less-than-1000 words vein, I'd recommend flash fiction, for which there are two excellent WW groups with weekly challenges.

Gerry at 10:35 on 16 April 2011  Report this post


The simplest way round the mobile problem, and one I've employed myself, is to glare at the class when your machine goes and tell them to turn theirs off. Always works.

Yes, he's not getting punished enough perhaps. (Then again, his kind often aren't.) I'll see what I can do to him.


euclid at 10:58 on 16 April 2011  Report this post
Loved it, Gerry.

Is there a moral to Jason and Medea's tale?

Gerry at 11:28 on 16 April 2011  Report this post

Thanks very much, JB.

Difficult to say. Euripides' characters generally behave very badly, especially the heroic ones (the nurse and the teacher in Medea seem very sensible and kind). Jason is a lying, vain toad, and Medea does terrible things and gets away with it. Nobody seems to regret his or her actions, have remorse. Jason is taught a lesson, true, but it doesn't, I think, appear to make him a better man (unlike Creon's final change in Antigone). A lot of Euripides is just people being horrible and stupid - like real life, I suppose. Which may have been his point. The Romans loved him.


Account Closed at 13:37 on 16 April 2011  Report this post
Yes, tight and readable, I agree with the comments above. Just one thing:

his hand was on his Nokia when he saw Jackie come over

has an unfortunate connotation.


Gerry at 13:43 on 16 April 2011  Report this post

Indeed. That'll need changing.

Thanks, Jan.

funnyvalentine at 16:48 on 18 April 2011  Report this post
Crikey - I was worried his wife was texting to say she'd killed them.... Really good, I thoroughly enjoyed this - very clever! Loved the ridiculous names too - poor wife!

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