Imagine if the song Jolene described a secret obsession between the singer and the subject. A wife and husband both enraptured by the same woman, their separate curiosities leading to breaking and entering, they find themselves in Jolene’s house. They are in the same space, but worlds apart.

Chapter One - Man

I’ve always known that maybe we lacked something between us, but I have always loved you. I thought we had always loved each other. I think we still do. I think that we still can. But I had another dream that it happened. That you left me. That you left me for her.

Perhaps it started in that idealised childhood sweetheart haze. You were gorgeous. You still are. We were the classic American Dream couple. Maybe it wasn’t your dream. Growing up where we did, you wouldn’t have thought of any alternative. We were fifteen. I pray to God living with me isn’t your nightmare.

I see the way that you look at her. You’re fixated, obsessed. I know that you never look at me like that. I thought at first that it was just admiration. A longing for something you felt that you lacked. A beauty. A strength. A confidence. She is almost masculine but invokes all that is feminine. She owns a room, she commands it. Hell, I felt intimidated by her when I first met her. I could barely get my words out around her.

I remember the first time I saw you stare at her at my after-work drinks, I couldn’t break the spell. I tried to laugh it off. I told myself that I was being mad, paranoid. I don’t know if others noticed it, but there was a magnetism between the two of you. The air felt heavy. It was like gravity was working to bring you together. Conspiring against me.

Did you and I have that first initial stare? The feeling of trepidation of walking across a room to one another? Of trying to think of an excuse for us to be near? Just so that I could breathe the same air as you. Did we have that pull? Did you dangle your hands by your side in the hope that they may touch mine? Diverting your eyes, afraid to make contact with mine - but wanting to at the same time. You probably didn’t think that I could talk like this. You wouldn’t believe that I could recognise the weight of a romance. Believe me, I can. And I know yours is a romance I’m not a part of. And I can feel the weight of it pushing down on me, suffocating me. Pressing down on my lungs.

Was I not attentive enough? Did I not fight enough for us? Is it wrong of me to think of this as a flaw in me, in us, rather than perhaps just who you always were? That you were repressed.

This isn’t something that I’ve been trained to understand. Society has not taught me this. I can contemplate the thought of you leaving me for another man. I don’t know how to understand you leaving me for another woman.

I woke myself up crying Jolene’s name.


I open my drawer to grab a pen and make a note of what I need for the day. Each time I do this I see them - the sleeping pills, to remind me that I’m not right. Their name I can’t quite pronounce. Sleeplessness pervades everything I do. The pills remind me that at any moment, something could slip. I liked to pretend that this is me fully arming myself. That I’m a soldier ready to go to war. In fact, they are a crutch. Clasped beneath the arm of a veteran who hobbles home broken, a man who can’t stand up by himself anymore. Something that can make sure I get through each day at work, but a permanent reminder that I need help.

It’s gotten worse since the night I saw you two together. All meant to look perfectly innocent. But I knew that quick pull away of hands meant something else. If you’ve ever had a night totally deprived of sleep, you’ll know. Since that night I’ve come to hate the people who say, I didn’t sleep, when they really mean, I was a bit restless. This may seem silly, but until you’ve had that night where the four walls don’t change, you can’t understand. No matter how tired you are, how much TV you watch, pills you pop, you’re still trapped. A prisoner to yourself. Wondering how long you’ll be caught in this indefinite torture.

I’ll try to go to work today. Well, I have to go to work. So, I will. But it is trying. It’s such a macho environment. There’s no place for me to say what’s going on in my head. To acknowledge what I think might be happening. I don’t have a safety net of friends like you. Confidantes. I hear you on the phone to your girlfriends and I long for it. For the ability to talk about my day and feelings with someone. For a reply to not be a grunt. I’m left wishing for the friendly pat on the shoulder, the touch of my arm. Fuck, for touch not just to be sexual. For a man to hug another and not worry about how the world sees him.

If I tell this to my buddies, I know what will happen. I’ll be met with comments of lucky boy, wish my wife wanted that, a nice chance to be in the middle of them. And then it’ll be a wink, a playful shove. A diminishing. A demeaning. My feelings don’t matter. Another woman is not a threat.


I go to the bar after work. Same as most nights. The summer has been long, and everything feels sticky with heat. I start to drunkenly talk about you to men I can’t really call friends. I don’t think they listen to me. They see me as some soppy pathetic man.

I talk about you and when we first met. There was something inescapable about you. That blonde hair. That innocence. You had no idea what you were capable of. I’m still not confident you do. You were the prettiest girl in school to me. But not just for your dreamlike looks. You also had an attitude. I think beneath that fear of the world, you knew what was right. I could feel the fight in you, hidden under the surface.

I wished I was a Gatsby type of man for you, I couldn’t say that you opened for me like a flower. It was clunky and uncomfortable. Awkward. None of us really understood sex. Just knew that it was something we should be doing. You know how it is at that age, you don't even know you're still a kid. We’d pretend to be adults, pretend that we knew when people warned us of what could happen. Nod our heads along in a desperate attempt to shut them up. Pretend we were listening. Assume it couldn’t happen to us.

It happened to us. I knew what that meant to you. I don’t know if that pregnancy changed the way you saw yourself. Or the way you feared the world would see you, or how I might see you. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, but did you worry about how God would see you? How any future children might see you? Or what you would say to your mum, what you would tell her about me or about us. I knew this was going through your mind. I wish I could have been there for you. I didn’t know how to say any of this out loud. I still don’t. I’d go and scream it all by myself. My head is still screaming.

When the baby left us, the marriage proposal didn’t.

I remember you crying. But crying doesn’t seem to cover it. It was a howl. Yet, in all our memories together, it feels like I’m not there. I was just floating. Somewhere in the corner. Never quite able to be what you needed or say what you wanted to hear.

I feel myself just slumped down against the bar, head in hands, like I don’t exist as a real person to you. I feel so alone. That I just trudge to work, to meet people who wouldn’t care if I didn’t show up tomorrow. Just to come home, put on the TV and sit. Flicking through channels. Nothing capturing me. It feels all I’m able to do. Not even noticing when evening turns to night.

I have wanted to ask all along, would you have still said yes were it not for the baby? Would I have been the man you wanted to spend your life with?

I think we were happy on our wedding day. You liked your dress, that’s for sure. I remember you strutting around in it. I’m thinking back to what songs we listened to, as they play music in the bar. Let’s stay together; I think I love you; Tears of a clown.

I remember drunkenly clasping each other. Spinning round. All smiles. Pretending there was no other reason as to why we were getting married, other than love. Maybe for a second, believing it. Thinking that we couldn’t feel so good right now, if it was the wrong thing to do.

We both had a bad head the next day. The smiles gradually started to fade. The headache seemed to stay. Life then became about how to make money to get a house. Then, how to make money to keep a house. The excitement of decoration became the constant work of upkeep. With too little money to replace or to play with our house, everything remained a capsule to that dream. Those first possessions to try to make this house a home. Your home, our home. Someone else’s even. An imagination of what our life together could be. As I look down at the glass in my hand I know that now, it all feels stagnant. Everything is slightly worn and has lost that shine. The joy gone and instead, all slowly decaying. Wondering whether those ornaments ever went with the home we had. Wondering whether our house is even a home.

Another child didn’t come. Something we still haven’t spoken about. I don’t know if it’s because you don’t want it enough. I know that’s superstitious to say, maybe even mean. I don’t think you can control that you’re not getting pregnant, but it’s hard thinking you don’t want to. Then again, I don’t think you wanted it when you first got pregnant. It’s time for another drink.

I just keep thinking, if there was something tying to you me, to what would become an us, that might change your mind. A rope around you, keeping you close to me. The thing is that that rope might be around your neck.

The greatest thing you had ever said to me was that you felt safe with me. I’m looking back on this. I don’t know what this means now. I wish that I had the ability to also make you feel all of life’s fantastic dangers. I wish I had experienced them myself. I want to make the hairs on the back of your arm stand up. I want to be everything to you. I don’t want the safety to confine us. I don’t want to just be a comfort zone, something that if you step outside of you’d finally be able to live. I don’t want to just be a safe harbour, I want to be the whole fucking sea. Not just the anchor dragging you down. You feel safe, but you’re still under water. Isn’t drowning meant to be the most comforting way to die? I can feel myself starting to sway in my seat.

I’m not sure if I said any of this aloud. I just know I’m teary eyed and five drinks in. No one is listening.


By the time I get home I’m a wreck. Stumbling about the place. I need to talk to you, Jolene. I need to ask you not to take her from me. I wish you were a man, so I could punch you. We would handle this in a different way entirely, one I understand – even if I don’t like it. I don’t know how else to let this out.

I can’t let her see me. A lazy, drunk husband. Not as exotic as her precious Jolene. Jolene wouldn’t do this to you. She’d touch you with her soft skin, her sweet smell. The tender caress of a woman. She wouldn’t have rough hands and grubby nails. A breath smelling of beer. She wouldn’t fumble.

After being as quiet and subtle as a drunk man thinks he is, I realise that you’re not home. I look around for signs of where you could be. Though by this point the signs are doubling. I’m just praying it’s not with her. Hearing the typical line echo in my head, my husband won’t be home for hours.

I wonder what will happen to the house if you leave me. What will happen to the photographs of us? Do they get thrown away? Will you keep them, as happy memories of a man you once loved, or thought that you did? Would you live with her, would she come live here with you? And take my space in the bed.

I know I shouldn’t, but I imagine the teasing. How I won’t be able to go back to work. I won’t be able to go into town. They’re going to think what type of a low-life man lets his wife leave him for another woman? If this were a movie, I’d get my gun. I don’t feel as soppy anymore. I can take back some of this control. I can tell Jolene where to go.

If this were a movie.


I wake up from an alcohol induced half-sleep. Drool crusted around my mouth. Head pounding. Clothes still on, stinking of beer and sweat. This worry of losing you has made me the worst version of myself. I’m tired of feeling passive. I don’t want to get mad either. I feel so pathetic for letting myself get that way last night and thank God that the keys to the gun cabinet are still hanging on the wall. I hope to God I only said it all to myself. That this wasn’t the one time someone decided to see if I had something interesting to say. I hate myself so much. This, this is why you would leave me. She is just an option, but I’m providing you with the reason.

I see you sleeping next to me. God knows how you crawled into bed next to me. I’ve got to have a man to man chat with Jolene. I’m going to go today. That’s it.

Chapter Two - Woman

I see the way he looks at you. You fucking bitch. He may be a piece of work, but you have no idea what we have been through. I won’t lose him.

I’ve been thinking that ever since we first saw you, he’s been acting funny. He’s not sleeping at night anymore, but sure as hell is he sleeping in the day. He’s like a love-sick teenager, the way he dawdles around the house, always in a slump. He’s spending longer and longer away from me. This just gives me more time to stew, to think of you. To think of how gorgeous you are.

I look at you and I see what I lack. I just wish I could be prettier. I look at every damn detail, the way your nose moves when you talk. Your perfect, straight, elegant nose. I didn’t think noses could be so beautiful. The gentle freckles that touch your skin, not too bold, but just a reminder that God has chosen to grace your skin in every way he could think of, just to touch you for a moment longer.

It’s how you command a room with your body. The movement of your hips, showing a woman that is truly free. Free from herself. A woman who is not scared of every step she takes. You’re not trying to walk so as not to knock into anyone or get in the way. The only time I felt even a glimmer of that was in my wedding dress. But still, I was clutched to the arm of a man. I don’t know how to walk like that alone. I don’t know if I could learn that. Or whether I would want to.

The crazy thing is, in all this anger, I want you to like me. I want you to want to spend time with me. To teach me how to move like that. You could mentor me. That’s it, if you met someone and got married, then we could be friends. And be in each other’s company. Double date even. Then we could both look at you, and my husband would know he could never touch you. That ivory skin. He’d never to get to know how soft it is. I touched you once, at the after-work drinks. I felt compelled to reach out and touch your hand. I wanted to see if you were a real person. Pretending it was just as you had said something particularly funny. My God did I jump when he walked back into the room. Seeing his plain old wife come so close to this otherworldly creature, he jumped as well.

When you open your mouth, I feel your voice sprinkle around me. Soft, warm, and enough to remind me that I’m alive. Why would he want me over you?

I go to bed. Turn to see him flat out asleep. Back facing me. I hear a murmuring, that sounds more like a cry. I think he’s saying it again. He’s calling your name. With an attraction so deep, it almost sounds like rage.

He says your name.

I start to weep.


Ann Brady Mon, 13/06/2022 - 13:23

An enjoyable diverse interpretation of one of my favourite songs. Needs some slight amendments but nothing drastic. Am interested to see where this story is going to go. One could forecast the ending; yet... it may be that the author will leave us guessing and finish on a twist?

Nikki Vallance Sat, 18/06/2022 - 19:38

This piece is really strong. Full of emotional depth. Setting off questions in my head about how it will go. All the miss-reading of eachother. All the assumptions. How communication would solve everything, and sensing that is the least likely outcome... I fear these two will not end well.

Tara Avery Tue, 28/06/2022 - 02:23

This story has so much potential, and your writing is compelling. That said, I find myself wondering if there's enough material to sustain an entire novel. Since we only get a little of the woman's first-person POV, I can't say for sure, but I feel like her voice may be too similar to the man's. I'd definitely have kept reading, though!