There’s not much to tell really, but before I explain what happened, there are two things you need to know about Jacko. First, he’s very good-looking...no, not just good-looking – really handsome. Tall, dark and handsome. Like a Mediterranean-style Latin lover. Or a movie star. He’s done quite a bit of male modelling – online advertising, catalogues, local promotions, you know. He’s even been in a couple of bands round here: lead singer, though he can’t hold a tune. And he’s with a film agency, so whenever they’re filming a TV series round here, he’s often one of the extras. I don’t think he’s ever had lines, but you can easily spot him in the crowd scenes. The second thing is that he’s not too bright. Oh, he’s not stupid, more immature I suppose – he doesn’t always realise when people are joking, now and again he can be selfish, and he sometimes misunderstands what’s going on. I’ve wondered if the two are related...you know, because of his looks maybe he doesn’t have to try as hard as other people, maybe he thinks he’ll get what he wants or things will come to him anyway.
As a result, a lot of people don’t always take him seriously. I don’t mean that they laugh at him or they dislike him. Not at all. I’d say they tolerate him. He amuses them – up to a point. He can be annoying for sure, but there’s no malice in him. His real name’s Sean, except that his parents spelled it Shawn and when their mistake was pointed out to him, he started to call himself Jacko – don’t ask me why – and the name stuck. Everyone in town knows him, and he knows everyone. Not surprisingly, given his looks, he has a reputation as something of a ladies’ man, although it’s hard to find many girls who’ve actually been out with him. He’s a year or two older than most of my friends, so when I ran into him that Friday night and he asked if I wanted to go along to a party with him, I was a bit surprised. But I went.
‘Whose party is it?’ I asked, as we dodged the cars racing across the newly-opened bypass.
‘Oh, a couple of girls I know.’
‘Will I know them?’
‘And you’re sure they won’t mind me coming?’
‘Course not...you’re with me, aren’t you?’
‘Shouldn’t we take some drinks?’
We’d stopped off for a pint at The Green Man, and it was nearly ten o’clock when we reached the flat, which was above a hairdressing salon. The girl who opened the door stared unenthusiastically at us.
‘Hello, Jacko,’ she said. ‘Forgotten your drinks again?’
‘Oh, hell! Blame him,’ he said, turning to me accusingly. ‘You said you’d bring something!’
He walked up the stairs, leaving me and the girl in the doorway.
‘I’m sorry,’ I muttered. ‘It wasn’t...I mean...’
‘It’s OK,’ she smiled. ‘I’ve known Jacko long enough to know what to expect.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, nodding. ‘I’m Simon.’
‘Is Garfunkel with you?’
‘Never mind. I’m Cressida. And before you ask, no, Troilus isn’t here either. It’s my party. Come on in.’
There were maybe thirty-odd people, sitting, standing, talking quietly, in small groups around the large living-room, and it took me some time to realise what was different. It was the music. Instead of the insistent bass rhythms of heavy metal and punk that smothered most of the parties I went to, I heard the music of Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, and others whose melodies I knew but which I couldn’t name.
I turned to Cressida.
‘It’s an anti-party,’ she explained. ‘I thought, just for once, wouldn’t it be nice to go to a party where you can actually talk to people, where you can have a proper conversation, where you don’t have to shout to make yourself heard.’
‘And where the neighbours don’t complain,’ I added.
They were a few familiar faces and I wandered around from group to group, joining in the discussions. It was pleasant enough, but to be honest, it wasn’t the most exciting party I’d ever been to, and after an hour or so I was ready to go. I looked for Jacko to tell him I was leaving and found him talking to Cressida in the kitchen.
‘Hey, come here,’ he called to me. ‘You won’t believe this! Cress – Water Cress – has four aunts. Tell him their names!’
She glanced at me and raised her eyebrows slightly.
‘Oh, you tell him,’ she said.
‘OK. You ready? Jane, Jean, Joan and June!’ He clapped his hands and laughed. ‘Isn’t that great? Jane, Jean, Joan and June! Who would call their kids that?’
It was the Water Cress line that irritated me.
‘You’d be surprised, Jacko,’ I said. ‘I’ve got four uncles – Barry, Garry, Harry and Larry.’
‘You’re kidding me!’
I shook my head.
‘It’s true.’ I turned to Cressida. ‘Maybe we should get them together? Sounds like they might get on.’
‘It’s worth a try,’ she agreed.
Jacko said little on the way home, but when we reached the crossroads where he turned left and I turned right, he looked at me curiously.
‘These uncles of yours,’ he began. ‘Are they your Mum’s or your Dad’s brothers?’
‘I was just joking, Jacko.’
‘Oh.’ He paused. ‘What about the aunts?’
‘I think she was joking, too.’
‘Well, I’m not sure. But probably, yes.’
We stayed there for a few minutes in the orange glare of the streetlights, watching the traffic. Although it was a clear night, he hunched his shoulders as if to ward off some invisible rain, and thrust his hands deep into his pockets. Several times he seemed about to say something, but never quite managed it.
‘Funny thing to joke about,’ he muttered eventually, and walked away.
Several days later, I spotted Cressida coming out of the library and we stopped to talk for a while. We saw Jacko coming towards us, and waved to him. He hesitated for a moment and then crossed over to the other side of the road, his eyes firmly on the ground.
‘Should we go after him?’ she asked.
But I said nothing, and we simply stood and watched him go.
I’m not sure what happened to him after that. I did hear he’d gone down to London, and a couple of people told me they thought they’d seen him – or someone who looked a lot like him – in a TV advert for a Do-It-Yourself store. Someone else thought he was working as a rep for a package holiday company in Majorca. Another person said he was a steward on one of the big transatlantic airlines. And Cressida’s younger sister was sure she’d seen him singing onstage as one half of a folk duo in Newquay.
‘They weren’t very good. And he’d changed his name,’ she added. ‘It wasn’t Shawn, or Jacko, or anything like that. Something foreign. Something Greek or Middle Eastern. Stavros, Spiros, maybe. The girl was called Celeste, I do remember that. Stavros and Celeste! That was it! Would that be him, do you think?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I think that might be Jacko.’
(c) Ian Inglis