“Everything happens for a reason, Josie, is the lamest philosophy – if you can actually call it a philosophy – I ever heard.”
“I’m sorry, I– ”
“–Why do you say such things?”
“I don’t know, Steve. I thought that–”
“–You don’t think Josie. You just repeat stuff other people say. Usually stupid people.”
“That’s a bit strong, Steve, isn’t it?”
“Stay out of it Mark. Unless that is you’re planning on sleeping with Josie tonight? Then this argument, in Josie’s blinkered view of her own existence will in itself justify her so-called philosophy that everything happens for a reason.”
“I knew exactly what she was getting at,” Mark said.
“Really Mark. You understood did you?”
Lisa got up, pulled on a sun hat. “Steve.”
“Keep it down will you?”
“Karen might hear you, and she has no idea that, well…?”
“Mark has a thing about Josie?”
Lisa pushed her toes into the first pair of flip-flops she came across. Steve followed her outside. His barefoot progress across the crazy-paved patio, like a mystic traversing hot coals.
Mark watched them go then turned to look at Josie.
When Gary saw Lisa appear on the patio he got out of the pool, came over and kissed her. Lisa handed him a towel.
Steve dipped his feet in the pool before hobbling over to a low wall that formed the boundary of a semi-circular terrace which overlooked a stony track, snaking through an olive grove. He sat on the terrace wall.
Mark was a prize prick to even think he understood Josie better than he did.
“Meles meles,” he said.
Gary wandered over to him. “Who’s Mellors?”
“My friend. I looked him up on Wikipedia.”
Gary laughed. “You mean the badger?”
“Yes I mean the badger.”
Steve pointed. “He”s down there now, see, rooting around as per usual.”
After a minute or so watching disinterestedly, Gary drifted back towards the pool and his wife, Lisa.
Villa Manzanilla, a four-bedroom luxury Spanish rental property, stood two kilometres from the main road, up in the hills, around sixty kilometres north of Ayamonte. It was Lisa’s idea to reunite four couples, old friends from university, for two weeks in the sun.
An idea she had begun to regret.
Lisa had her back to Steve when she spoke to her husband, Gary.
“You catch any of that in there?”
‘The back end of it,” he said, “after I heard raised voices.”
‘Well?’ Lisa said in a low voice.
“Steve can be a right bastard at times.”
“And Josie is a fucking cow, full stop.”
Gary ran his arm around Lisa’s waist, kissed her on the neck.
“Made for each other you might say?”
“It’s Mark I feel sorry for.”
“What about Karen?” Gary put in.
“I don’t know why you stay with Steve,” Mark said to Josie, “he treats you like shit.”
Josie hauled herself into a sitting position; was there really another whole week of this wretched holiday left to endure?
Mark studied her. The truth was, he loved Josie not Karen; if only he could make Josie see just how much he loved her, she would love him back. He felt sure of that.
“You don’t love Steve.”
Josie picked up a magazine, flicked through it. Mark watched her wet her thumb every time she turned a page.
Bad-mouthing Steve was a waste of time, he knew that of course, but he couldn’t help himself.
Josie looked up from the magazine and said, “I’m going to take a shower.”
She looked over her shoulder at Mark. Caught the look in his eye.
Lord, Josie thought to herself, what a pathetic specimen Mark is.
Under the cover of candy-striped awnings that straddled thick wooden poles driven deep into a whitewashed stone wall, Henry turned steaks on the barbecue. His wife, Bernice, reclining on a moulded plastic sun-lounger within splashing distance of the water, kicked off her sandals. Henry watched his wife remove her sunglasses before fishing another San Miguel out of the cool box.
That’s my girl, he said to himself.
Gary, idling by the poolside, trotted over to Bernice when he saw grab another beer. Without a word he took the bottle out of Bernice’s outstretched hand, flipped the bottle top with his teeth and handed it back to her. Bernice took a swig and placed the beer on the patio. She leaned forward and unhitched her bikini top, eased it clear of her breasts and dropped it into a beach bag.
Gary turned, ran back to the pool and dived in.
The badger disappeared from view down a rocky crevice. When Steve turned to face the pool he saw Bernice drizzle factor ten suntan oil onto her richly tanned breasts; Lisa light a Gitanes and cough back the first inhalation of smoke; Gary surface from the water; Henry drain another beer. His sixth since their midday meal. Penne pasta in a spicy Arrabbiata sauce, salad leaves with a garlic dressing, olive bread washed down with five bottles of Tempranillo of which Henry had consumed at least two to himself.
Henry felt good. A little spaced, but good. He wiped his hands on a towel. From an imitation Tupperware container grabbed a handful of skinless chicken fillets and tossed them on the grill. He dipped his hands in a bucket of warm water. Dried them with the towel. Lit a cigarette. Ash fell from the cigarette onto the barbecue. He flicked at it with metal tongues.
Steve eyed Bernice; Henry watched him do it. Recognised the modus operandi. Wrap-around sunglasses. The head angled deceptively toward the horizon and a declining sun.
If Bernice had spotted Steve ogling her body, Henry thought to himself, laughing at the absurd nature of Steve’s schoolboy-like behaviour, she did not appear to mind. He reached into a cool box, dug out a Guinness. What was he thinking! Bernice loved being stared at.
Mark gave Josie two minutes start. He looked out onto the patio and the sun terrace beyond, saw Lisa and Gary doing the backstroke, Henry tending the barbecue, Steve on badger watch. Bernice sunbathing.
Steve’s vigil had begun a little later than on previous afternoons. It was after seven and perhaps too late to spot the badger and yet Mark thought, Steve was as much a creature of habit as the mammal he hoped to spy and would not budge until he had ticked off another sighting.
Bernice would be next to shower, but not yet with another half hour of sun worshipping left. No one, Mark thought, was on their way into the villa just yet.
His girlfriend, Karen, had drunk far too much red wine at dinner and was still sleeping it off. Would be for a while yet he supposed. He took a last look outside. No one was packing up the suntan lotion, gathering towels, he would be safe… but then he saw Lisa get out of the pool and waited to see what she did next.
After giving her hair a quick rub, she joined Steve on the wall. Steve lit a cigarette, handed it to Lisa. Lisa said something to Steve and Steve laughed. Mark picked up an empty wine glass off the tile-inlaid mahogany coffee table. If anyone followed him he was going to the kitchen for more wine.
No one followed him.
He passed through the dining-kitchen en route to the wet room leaving the glass on the drainer. There was no one in the villa apart from Josie and himself.
Something fluttered past her head.
Lisa jumped up and ran over to her. “You okay?”
Steve stifled a laugh. Henry turned a chicken fillet. Bernice closed her eyes, turned onto her front. Gary swam under water and Mark found the wet room door open, not by much, six inches at most, nowhere near enough for him to get a view of Josie undress, if she hadn’t already removed her clothes.
Never mind, he thought.
When the shower head burst noisily into life Mark reached inside the door. Water blasting noises muffled the click made by the wall-mounted mirrored cabinet door he prised open. He angled the door such that even from his oblique perspective the reflection framed both shower heads and the space below them. Josie stood beneath the one nearest.
For a time Josie kept her back to Mark.
“You sure you’re okay Karen?”
Lisa stood over Karen. “It was only one of those funny little moths, you know, the ones with the fat bodies?”
“I’m fine Leese. Honestly. What time are we eating?”
“Soon I think. Henry’s a bit pissed but I don’t think he’s burnt anything yet.”
“I don’t know if I can be bothered to shower,” Karen said, “I might just have a swim. Swim then read.”
“I don’t think there’s time for all three?”
“Hung over. Went inside to sleep it off.”
Karen cast off the towel she had draped over her legs and swung her feet onto the patio. The lounger was now in shade but the stone beneath her feet still felt hot.
“Here you go.”
Lisa handed her a pair of multi-coloured flip-flops. Karen pulled them on.
“I’ll be back out in a minute, I’m going to get my book.”
“I thought you were going to swim first, then read if there was time?”
“I changed my mind.”
“I’ll go and get your book, Karen. You wait here.”
Lisa disappeared inside.
Karen sat down. The fat bodied moth or whatever ugly creature it was made another pass. She grabbed Elle magazine off the lounger, thought about whacking the insect, thought about going to the kitchen to get a glass of water, maybe have a shower after all?
Mark looked at his watch. Josie had been showering for five minutes. He had witnessed at least four of those minutes. The time he had not spent watching Josie was spent looking back over his shoulder, down a long corridor. Lisa stood in the kitchen-diner. It was a huge room. At its centre an enormous rectangular oak dining table. Lisa picked up a glass and half filled it with red wine. On the wall by the window, which looked out toward the nearby village, she noticed a framed map of Andalusia. They had driven through the village on their way to Villa Manzanilla but not been back since. Lisa tried to remember the name of the village. She couldn’t. She heard Gary laughing. The shower. Henry singing Ole, ole ole ole, Ole, Ole… must have started in on that bloody crate of Guinness he insisted on buying as soon as they got to the airport.
Truth was Lisa liked Henry. Despite his heavy drinking he was a laid-back sort, a lot like her husband, Gary. Very different from Steve, Mark, too, she thought.
She looked over to the doorway that led to the bedrooms and Karen’s book. Put it off any longer, Lisa thought, and Karen might come looking for her.
Lisa drank the wine. Ahead of her a corridor with the main entranceway off to the right. Take a left from there and a long corridor led to the bedrooms with an off-shot corridor that led to the communal wet room.
It was their secret, Mark thought. His and Josie’s. Last time was in Ibiza. The first occasion it happened was when he and Karen were invited round for dinner at Josie and Steve’s and Karen was running late and had texted Mark to say not to wait for her; she’d meet him at Steve and Josie’s place. Then when Mark arrived at Josie’s place, Josie had apologised, said Steve was working late and she was supposed to have contacted them both and put them off till eight-thirty but forgot.
It was seven-thirty.
“I’ve still got to have my shower,” Josie had told him, “help yourself to wine while you’re waiting.”
When Mark could not locate a corkscrew he’d headed for the bathroom. Saw the door was halfway open and gone and stood in the doorway much like he was now, and Josie had caught him in the act but said nothing and neither had he.
Mark ran his forearm across the cabinet door. Rivulets of water scurried down the glass. When Josie’s distorted reflection half turned toward him Mark thought he heard someone moving around inside the villa and looked over his shoulder hating every moment he was not watching Josie shower.
Lisa saw two books on the dresser. A thriller and a slim volume of poetry. If she could ease the poetry book from under a bead necklace which was sandwiched between the two books without the necklace clanking then maybe she could slip back out without Mark noticing her.
She retrieved the book silently, turned and knocked a deodorant off the bed.
She heard the water in the wet room shut off.
Were all men voyeurs, Mark thought? Did it matter that he got his kicks watching Josie shower? He wasn’t harming anyone was he? So long as neither Karen or Steve found out then…
Rather than trying to creep past Mark and get caught creeping Lisa chose to make a run for it. She readied herself, exited the bedroom at speed and very nearly ran straight into Mark.
“God!” he said, “sorry Leese, that was a close one, sorry.”
“No bones broken eh?”
Mark hesitated then said. “That’s Karen’s book isn’t it?”
“She doesn’t read thrillers does she?”
“No,” Mark said, “the Harlan Coben is mine.”
“Yes I thought it was.”
“You just come in?”
“Yes,” Lisa said, “just this second popped in to fetch Karen her book.”
“I had a quick nap,” Mark said, “and then I was on my way to the wet room for a shower but had to head back because someone got there first – Josie I think, so I came back in here instead.”
“Okay well, I gotta dash, Mark, Karen will wonder what I’m up to…I mean, where I got to?”
Lisa scurried away.
“Tell Karen I’ll be out in a minute, tell her I was just…I was just…”
Mark looked back at the wet room door, the steam still escaping it.
Josie had turned to the wall. Away from him. Never done that before, he thought. Had to be guilt. Guilt restoring mislaid morality. Guilt made you do stuff. Not do stuff. No way to explain it, too complex. No two people the same.
He wondered what Lisa was thinking? She must have seen him? Known what he was up to? But then Mark thought; Lisa felt sorry for him, for Karen, too, so she wouldn’t tell, besides he would deny it and anyway, Karen would believe him not Lisa.
Mark went into the bedroom. Karen’s clothes were on the bed. A chair by a small window was similarly festooned with various garments. All Karen’s stuff.
He picked up the clothes off the chair and laid them on the bed. Sat in the chair. He felt bad. Sorry for Josie, too. He guessed she would be feeling cheap, wishing she hadn’t performed for him like that, because it was a performance wasn’t it? All faked for him.
After towel-drying her hair, Josie applied a roll-on deodorant. She went over to the bathroom cabinet and pushed the door to. In the light of a small fluorescent tube situated above the cabinet, made up her eyes, then touched up her nails with a bright pink fast-drying nail enamel, blew on them, and then headed for the bedroom with a towel wrapped around her body.
Would there be a next time?
Mark knew it was becoming a mess. He got out of the chair. Laid on the bed on top of Karen’s clothes. Held one of her vests to his face.
Josie stood in front of a full-length mirror and pulled on a thong.
Karen appeared in the doorway. “You been working out?”
“A bit. Not as much as I would like to but I’m reasonably pleased with my figure. I just need to work a bit more on my thighs don’t you think?”
Josie had a great body. Karen hated her for it. She could see nothing wrong with Josie’s thighs.
“I’m going to check on Mark,” she said, still hovering by the door.
Josie reached in a drawer and pulled out a bra.
“You know what,” she said, “I might not bother tonight.”
“Bother with what?”
“A bra. I reckon I could get away without it in that strappy blue dress of mine.”
“Yes,” Karen said, “you could I guess, well, I think I’ll see how Mark is, if he needs anything for his hangover.”
“Shouldn’t think so,” Josie said, “he looked perfectly happy with himself last time I clapped eyes on him.”
Mark headed for the en suite the moment he heard Karen approach the bedroom. He was sure it was Karen. Something about her presence preceding her actual being.
He closed the bathroom door, got down on all fours and vomited down the toilet. Karen paused at the bedroom door when she heard Mark retching and ran back outside to join the others. Josie put on the blue dress, sans bra and then flipped open her notebook. Under her last notation she saw Steve had made his customary mark but not left a comment.
Josie found a pen and began a new entry:
What I give, I give freely. I expect no reward where others often do. Rewards are never guaranteed and yet they are invariably greedily received in what is a never-ending reciprocal cycle driven by duty yet fuelled by guilt. I suffer no duty. I carry no guilt. Such comforts as I give to Mark are rare but necessarily sordid in nature, at once beautiful and destructive. There are no foundations strong enough to sustain in me, love. Only pity and desire. Everything happens for a reason…
17 thoughts on “Everything Happens For A Reason by Adam West”
Hi Adam, on reading this I was left reflecting on how much of our past stays with us. The emotions of love beyond friendship for one. Poor insecure Mark, who perhaps has developed his tendency to voyeurism towards a dangerous , or at least embarrassing level, and doesn’t seem to realize how much Josie is teasing him or perhaps using him. ‘Everything happens for a reason’ and her reason I fathom is to generate some spark into Steve. I could possibly be way of the truth here, but then this is a story that plays with the mind of the reader. To me there are subtle motives involved here between the characters that are left unsaid and leaving each reader to create their own suspicions about what is happening in the same way the characters might. Like Henry noting Steve staring at Bernice and getting a kick out of that and what is Lisa thinking when she spots Mark lurking? A fun read. James.
As always James your observations are intuitive. Often the motivations of characters are far too transparent and little is left to the imagination. Like yourself I enjoy reading stories where I am allowed to ponder and draw my own conclusions. Thank for reading, all the very best – Adam
A larger than words type of story. Very interesting characters and the way the play off each other. Well done, my friend!
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Cheers Tobias – I was aiming for lots of big spaces between the lines and for once I was satisfied with the result.
A fascinating story of eight very human beings. Most enjoyable! June
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Glad you enjoyed the story June. I like to have my characters flawed and thoroughly messed up. That’s human beings isn’t it?
With such a large cast you did a very good job of setting the scene and introducing snatches of their history together. I saw Josie, with another week to go of the wretched holiday, deciding to introduce a bit of mischief and entertain herself by teasing the sop, Mark. It had happened before. The behaviour and possible motives give the reader plenty to ponder. I did enjoy the brief look at the other characters, particularly Henry and Bernice, and for this reason the story felt like a snatch of something longer. With the strong characters, tight description and super dialogue this could have run much longer and in any direction!
Thank you for reading and commenting, Richard. I knew I was breaking a golden rule of short story writing with the bloated cast numbers but thought I would give it a go and see if it was doable? I had the notion of being a director and cutting from scene to scene which made it a rather unique writing experience – all the best – Adam
It certainly was doable! The writer directing…I am a camera, that was Isherwood, I think. You’re in good company!
I have not read Isherwood, Richard, where would I start?
I wouldn’t bother! All you probably need to know is that Isherwood wrote Goodbye to Berlin (and a couple of other Berlin stories) on which the play I am a Camera and the musical Cabaret are based. He then buggered off to the USA with WH Auden while WW2 was going on, where he met Truman Capote who, it has been said, based Holly Golightly ( breakfast at Tiffany’s) on Sally Bowes from Cabaret.
Great dialogue, believable characters with realistic human failings and interactions. Whether you were breaking any cast size golden rules or not this is a really good read which I enjoyed revisiting. A fine story to kick off 2015
Thank you, Nik. Maybe not this lot, but one day I hope to engage with another similarly bloated cast list…
Hi Adam, I remember mentioning about voyeurism when I had read this before. It was quite a surreal piece of work as the reader really does seem to be looking on. This is a difficult discipline to do but you managed it with ease. A very entertaining slice of life that gave us enough to ponder on their histories.
Cheers Hugh – some ‘truths’ are hard to swallow but to an extent we are all voyeurs whether we care to admit it or not…
I just wanted to say what a delight it is to see your name on the site once more!!
Hope you and your family are happy and well.
All the very best my friend.
Yes – I second that xx