Julie FitzGerald

With a love of landscape and geography, Julie enjoys writing about location and its effects−how it shapes people’s lives, their attachment to place, each other and sense of self.  She is currently working on a themed collection of short fiction about relationships and brief encounters, set in different countries. As a part-time student, Julie is also using her time on the MA to experiment in life writing and poetry, determined to give it all a go and see what happens in the mix.

Originally from the Wirral, Julie has lived in different parts of the UK, Spain, South Africa, and is now based in London.  She worked for many years for herself, organising corporate events all over Europe.  

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A short story written especially for the Goldfish 2020 Anthology, about love and a virus, distancing and isolation.


last seen today at 12:36                                                              


        “I am here alone,” he says.  “There is no person, nobody here.” 
        He’s on his office balcony, smoking.  I hear him exhaling, sucking in air and releasing.  He tells me the back yard and car park are empty, that the city is in lockdown.  Even the Castle guards are no longer on duty, and that never happens.
        I imagine he can see golden spires from where he’s standing, turrets above red rooftops, a glimpse of the water.  Prague, as I remember it. The Vltava flowing fast with the swell of early spring rains.
        That’s something then.  There are worse places to be.
        I looked him up once, on Google Maps, to see where his small office was.  His address printed on a paper slip with a conference gift, on a business card.  Somewhere. Safari-something street. I remember the name was unusual, wild-sounding.  Exotic.
        “Don’t jump, OK?” I say, letting the thought slip into words.  “Just kidding. But seriously, think about the day, not the debts.  What you can do today, that’s all. Apply for that government loan. Tell the girls you can’t even afford to live yourself, let alone pay them.  You’ve no work coming in, let them both go.”
        “You need to look after yourself now, Petr.”
        I move my head to check the voice call is still connected. 
        He breathes again, heavy into the phone. 
        “I know,” he says, “Don’t stop believing.” 
        “Journey, that is the song.”
        “It is the journey, that’s right.  Now you’re talking.”
        “No, Journey.  That is their song, the group.  ‘Don’t Stop Believing.’”
        “I know that song−it’s terrible.  God, I wish you hadn’t told me that.  I won’t be able to stop thinking about it now.  Like an ear worm.”
        I wonder if he knows the word worm in English, if he only understands me half the time.
        He’ll send a YouTube link after the call, and I’ll click on it and remind myself just how much I hate that song.  And I’ll scroll back through our WhatsApp chats and see that the last link I sent him was Whitney’s ‘I will Always Love You’.  I don’t know why, what brought on that particular pep talk. Under the link I’d typed, This is now, officially, our song by the way.  And he’d replied with emojis−a smiley face, a thumbs up, a red heart. 
        We talk around and around what we mean to say, whatever this call’s really about.  We are friends, that’s all I can claim. We might have been nothing now, if whatever else could’ve happened back then had happened.  I’m grateful for this.
        He apologises again for his English.  He says it’s been a while since he’s had any UK conference groups or clients.  No one like me. “But you are not my client,” he hastens to add. Not any more, not for a long time. 
        I remind him I speak no Czech, so who am I to talk.  Apart from the few phrases I learned from a school friend over forty years ago−you get on my nerves and up your bum, cheers.  I’ve never forgotten, like the lines from Shakespeare learned by rote, how love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.
        “I must have told you, when we first met, that I knew a bit of Czech from a school friend–Alena Pekar.  Probably shortened, to fit in−she might’ve been Pekarova or something, once.” I’m thinking out loud and he’s silent, humouring me no doubt.  Maybe I am still his client. “I told you that, right? Ya-tu-mill-oo-yu. I love you, isn’t that it? I wonder why she taught me that?” Answering my own question, I add, “Guess it’s an obvious one.”
        Part of me believes Alena taught me that line so I could tell this man, four decades later, in his own language, that I love him.  Not to jump from the balcony into a yard and break my heart. I like to think he won’t, that he never would.
        He’ll send me a photo of the yard after the call, of a sand-covered strip of land with no view.  Perhaps that’s all he can see right now, beyond the white railings.
        My life cancelled by virus.  How it feels, he’d said in the text before my call.  Send cigarettes.  XX
        “Yes, I remember you told me,” he says.
        If I were there now, on that balcony, would I reach over for his cigarette and press it to my own mouth and take a drag, taste his saliva on my lips?  Even though I haven’t lit up for sixteen years? And kiss him again, all smoky, deep and hard? Like in Soho that time, when we were both so drunk and I was still single, on his last night in town.  So urgently, I remember, that the lads passing by told us to get a room.
        He had a room, in a 3-star hotel off the Bayswater Road.  I went back there but didn’t stay−not there and not like that, both of us wasted.  God, how we could have been.
        “Can’t believe you like that song,” I say.  “Don’t ever be a DJ. That road is not open to you, OK?  Not even for weddings.”
        I laugh, lightly, and he does too. 
        “You’d get into a groove and next thing you know all the guests would’ve gone.  A swirl of confetti on the dance floor.”
        “I would just play records for myself,” he says.
        Maybe that was the problem−still lost in the music, losing himself in the drink.
        “Have I been of any help?  Lifted you up today?”
        “Not really,” he says, amusement in his voice.  “No, I mean you have.”
        That voice.  Its low notes, the flat of the accent, the rise of his laugh.
        “OK, I won’t ever be a counsellor, or a therapist, if you promise−no DJing.”
        He’s smiling now, I’m sure of it.  But then a lull, a pause, our breath. 
        “I just wish you could see the Petr I see.”
        Though what I’m seeing is an image of him saved in a pictures folder.  From when we were both something−younger, almost enough for each other.
        “I’m definitely coming to Prague,” I say.
        “Not now. It’s not a good time.”
        “Not now, of course.  I know. When all this is over.”
        “And I will come to London again,” he says.

Later, I find the picture of Petr, circa 2006.  Don’t forget this guy, I text and send it to him.  I attach the photo, then regret it.  Isolation playing tricks on me too−my thoughts teeming with doubt. 
        In the slow of quarantine time, I look for him online.  I search for his road again in Maps, to prove a point, for reassurance.  I see the office, still there on Šafaříkova, the name I’d almost remembered.  But when I look up the Czech for I love you in Translate, it’s Miluju tě.  Something different.  And I wonder if what I told him means anything.