This flash-fiction story was longlisted in a contest by Liars’ League in March 2018 and passed on to a multimedia site called .cent, who (Liars’ League said) wanted to use it. After poor communication from .cent, and the appearance online of a mutilated version of the story (with the last paragraph missing) I asked them to remove it. Few publications accept previously published work, so that was the end of the line for ‘Joy, 1980’- apart from any new readers it may find here.
Joy, 1980 (339 words)
As she walked away, the young man yelled after Clare: ‘I love you!’ And although they were in a public place, and she knew it was unkind, she shouted back: ‘Must dash, late for a hot fuck!’
She shouldn’t have stopped to talk to him in the first place. The pamphlets in his hand should have warned her. It was cold, and she was in a hurry; she was on her way not to a sexual assignation but to the cinema to see Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which this youth would certainly consider blasphemous. It wasn’t even that she pitied him; on a busy Saturday afternoon in Leeds city centre, there were plenty of other people for him to pick on. But she had been unable to resist his opening line: ‘What do YOU think is the biggest problem facing the world today?’
She was twenty years old, halfway through a theology degree, and thought she was the dog’s bollocks. As rookie psychologists like to imagine themselves mindreaders, Clare thought courses in Mahayana Buddhism, Sufi mysticism and the Dead Sea Scrolls had equipped her to X-ray the human spirit. At the young evangelist’s question, she put her head on one side and said: ‘The biggest problem? Ignorance’. And they were off, he steering the talk back to Jesus at every turn, Clare swerving in the other direction with pompous references to Kant and Marx.
Frustrated, the young man said: ‘But if you’d just open your eyes, there’s so much love waiting for you, so much joy!’ No doubt this had worked for him before, the promise made and bam! Another recruit for the army of heaven.
But Clare had left an ecstatically sweaty bed that morning, and would be returning to it later on. The delights of Monty Python awaited, probably accompanied by more groping in the back row. And afterwards, at an Italian restaurant on the Headrow, there would be pepperoni pizza, and red wine, and hot chocolate fudge cake with whipped cream.