Owen Owen's fantastic painting of a leopard about to ambush something... and Phyllis weaves a tale of eminent commonsense...

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  There's a time to talk and a time to keep silent

   This takes me back many years, when the last of our children started school. I decided to take a mornings only job as secretary to the Managing Director at a family company that sold material, blankets etc. There were three women in the office. Me, a woman who did the accountancy work and the other, a young lady who helped the reps with samples of materials and was the general dogsbody. We all get on well together. The woman accountant, a widow, and myself got on particularly well, no doubt because we were the same age, as were our children. She had a hard life with a husband who had a roving eye and was about to divorce him when he was killed in a car accident. I felt sorry for her because he had no insurance and she had two children to bring up. Fortunately, her parents were there to help.  

 

I gave her the name of Wendy. She often spoke of a friend of hers who was going through some trauma, and how the woman’s husband, whose name was Jack, belittled her in public and often behind close doors physically assaulted her. Eventually they were divorced. A couple of months later, Wendy told me that Jack suddenly turned up at her flat and bled his heart out to her of how badly his ex had treated him and because of his frustration he would lash out at her. Wendy added, ‘I felt sorry for him and what he told me was plausible.  It sounded just like my friend.

 

   Soon she was going on dates with Jack and gradually began to enjoy his company. One day, out of the blue, when the two of us were alone in the office,  she blurted out, ‘Jack has asked me to marry him. What do you think I should do?’ Without thinking, I replied, ‘Be careful, you are vulnerable and  lonely, and a leopard doesn’t usually change its spots. I wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot barge pole.’

 

   A week later she was engaged and making plans for a wedding in a month’s time. I felt guilty because of what I’d said realizing that she would forever think I disliked her husband. By that time I had already handed in my notice because I found working mornings only was fine while the children were at school, but at holiday time it was a bind and not fair on them. After leaving the company, I lost touch with Wendy until about two years later when I passed her in town. I waved and walked on, but she ran after me. ‘I must tell you,’ she said, ‘that Jack and I are divorced.’ She smiled sadly. ‘I should have used your ten foot barge pole.’ This didn’t ease my conscience. What if the marriage had worked? If nothing else, I learnt a valuable lesson. Who am I to judge another person?  Most people didn’t want advice, only a listening ear.   They’ll do what they want to do anyway.

 

   All this came back to me when I read an article in a magazine called the ‘Journalist’. It wrote, ‘By what right can we claim a superior knowledge of what is good for another person? Advice is like cocaine. The only way not to get burnt by it is not to use it.   That says it all.

 

 

booksmonthly.co.uk is published by Paul Norman on or before the first day of every month. Contributions in the form of reviews, feature articles or short stories are always welcome, use the "CONTACT ME" link in the menu to get in touch.