After the Encore


Today was the day JJ would come through. He had to, thought Sandy, crossing her fingers as pamphlets and bills fell out of the mail slot. Residuals from one of Byron’s songs, some fan paying thousands for a scrap the great genius had touched: JJ had said he could find her something. When she saw the thick cream envelope she lurched, spilling lukewarm tea over her last white shirt without a hole in it.

You promised, JJ, it doesn’t have to be huge. Just enough to get us out of this mess.

It was addressed, as usual, to the widow of Colin Byron Bewley, like she didn’t exist. But if it had a cheque that didn’t matter. A forgotten royalty payment, a sale of Byron’s nail clippings to some collector, anything would help.

The envelope was bigger than usual. Sandy’s stomach lurched, as she remembered other times: money coming months late, having to beg for it.

Sandy poured water over the shirt and sucked on the last of the month’s tobacco, the dust at the bottom of the pack, not nearly strong enough.

She ripped the envelope open, and a letter and wad of papers fell out. A contract. Just like when they’d made her agree to Byron’s assets going into that trust thing. And the letter was from JJ’s lawyers, which usually meant bad news. JJ never did the dirty work himself.

I have people to do that for me, darling.

Sandy had a sudden image of him saying it. Once she would have been impressed.

The clock ticked over. Half an hour until she had to get Alice. Time to agree to whatever JJ wanted this time. As long as it meant money.

She read the long words put in to scare her. But she could put up with that, if it meant they could go to the supermarket.

Then she got to the offer:

…It has recently come to the attention of our client, Mr. Lancaster, that the house of your late husband Colin ‘Byron’ Bewlay is vacant, and that subsequently it would therefore appear that you and your below-named daughter, being the heir of the deceased, may be entitled to the use of the house.

Which should have been our house. Until JJ forced me to sign those papers. I was still his wife, legally. Alice was his heir. I could have sold it, we could have bought somewhere nice to live. Somewhere I could have protected Alice.

No use thinking about that now. She’d signed what she had to, to get some money. JJ had said she’d have been waiting forever otherwise.

She forced herself back to the letter:

This offer, for the avoidance of doubt, is wholly and entirely contingent on your agreeing to the terms in the attached contract, which must be signed and posted back to the above address by registered mail, before you and your child are able to come into possession of the house keys.

Her hand shook so hard the letters scuttled around the page like ants. JJ had promised money. Not this. She swallowed down the heave in her throat, forcing herself to keep reading:

…Our client invites you to make contact at your earliest convenience, either via the undersigned parties or directly with Mr. JJ Lancaster at his email or mobile number or address at…

As if she didn’t know where he lived.

Sandy felt her teeth clatter, remembering that night. The front door shutting on the last of the other guests, JJ closing in on her. Planned from the start, of course. She should have known he didn’t just want to be friends.

But that was another lifetime. She should have forgotten by now.

She heard a noise outside and realised she was standing in full view of the kitchen window. Anyone could see her. She crept into the dingy little hallway.

He hasn’t seen me, he hasn’t seen me, she repeated inside her head.

He had seen her.

“I know you’re in there, love,” he called through the letter box. It was Simon, the creepy one, more hands than an octopus, always staring at Alice. “We just want the rent.”

Which I don’t bloody have, or I’d have given it to you. Along with a kick in the balls to remind you to leave me and Alice alone.

Sandy crouched, thighs aching. She wanted to stand up, she wanted to cough.

The clock ticked over and Sandy remembered the time.

Oh God, Alice!

Alice would be waiting after her appointment. She’d be worried, it would set her back. She needed routine: they’d said it a million times, all those doctors and therapists.

Simon swore under his breath, and Sandy crossed her fingers, willing him to go. Maybe she could complain about him, say he’d tried it on with her: he certainly wanted to. Anything to get rid of him.

It wouldn’t solve the overdue rent though.

She stayed still, until she saw the shadow fall away from the window, heard footsteps. He was gone. Unless he was waiting for her. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d tried that.

But she had to go now. She was already late.

Sandy snuck through the back door, keeping an eye out, but he really was gone. And he’d been alone this time.

As she ran down the road, heart thumping, throat dry, it struck her between the eyes: she had to take the house. There was no other way. The modelling jobs had dried up, and the last cleaning job had gone months ago, when it had all happened to Alice.

Searching everywhere, calling every police station and hospital, before Alice was found raving, shattered glass all around, fragments in her hands. Of course I forgot my shift, who wouldn’t?

But it was enough for that firm to take her off their books. She hadn’t even got a warning.

Byron’s house, the cold city. Where everything bad had happened.

But with a rent-free house and Byron’s royalties trickling in, they could get by. And it would get Alice away from those kids.

Kids, that makes them sound so harmless. Away from those evil little shits Alice thought were her friends.

She could make this work. Byron was gone and JJ could be kept at arm’s length.

And she could leave this dump, let them whistle for the rent. Almost as satisfying as kicking Simon in the balls.

She ran through the playground to Dykebar Hospital, remembered playing around here, other kids teasing…You’re so mad you’ll end up in Dykebar. She’d probably said it herself. And now she was picking up her child from there.

The hospital loomed over the park, reminding her of Byron’s house: always dark, behind the ten-foot fence, the shatterproof windows.

Byron slamming the front door behind him, Sandy trying to keep Alice quiet, hoping he wasn’t in the mood for a fight. Relaxing as she heard him going to the basement, listening for the squeaking hinge, the bang of the door. Hearing the music thudding from under the floor and knowing they were safe for a while.

Byron’s house, never hers.

The nights I thought he would never sleep, that there would never be a morning. Thanking God when he’d run out of steam by dawn. Just as Alice was waking.

He had been one acquainted with the night, he’d said grandly, back in the beginning when he was still playing the husband. Then laughed, because she didn’t know it was a quote.

The fights that went on all night, when I just had to hope Alice was asleep.

Alice wouldn’t remember any of that though: she’d been so young when Sandy had got them free. Alice never asked about her father anymore, not since she’d got out of the ward, months ago.

The house might not even feel like Byron’s now. Even if it did, Sandy knew she had to take it, no matter what JJ wanted in return. And JJ wouldn’t be interested in Sandy these days: she was twenty years older than the girls he was always being photographed with. She’d make up her mind, if Alice had had a good session. If Alice smiled.

Yes. If Alice smiled, Sandy promised herself she would email JJ. That bastard, promising help, then offering Byron’s nightmare house.


“Alice, love, I’ve got some news.” Sandy sat at the other end of the sofa, not wanting to scare Alice off. Don’t crowd her, give her space, talk calmly.

Alice didn’t move, but she didn’t cover her ears either. Not like the worst days, when she’d screamed when Sandy tried to get near her.

“We’re moving. We’re going to London. Where you used to live when you were very little. With me and your dad, when he was still alive.”

“Where’s my dad.” Alice stated, as if it wasn’t a question.

“He’s gone, love, a long, long time ago. When you were really young.”

Not as young as when you last saw him, when we escaped. I could never let you see him after that. I couldn’t let them know where we were. Byron, JJ, they would done anything to force me back to Byron’s house and the happy marriage fantasy.

Sandy had a sudden memory, photos of Byron’s body all over the newsstand windows, hurrying Alice past so she wouldn’t see. The smashed-up car, the screaming headlines. Byron dead and Sandy finally free. She’d rung JJ up the same day, threatening to go to the papers unless he sent money. JJ had even had the nerve to ask if she’d come to the funeral with Alice, saying it would bring them closure. Typical JJ, copying some talk show host to get what he wanted. All it would have brought was more publicity for the band.

Then Sandy realised Alice was talking.

“… don’t like it here. I don’t like those men.”

She must mean the creeps from the rental agency. Sandy knew Alice had picked up on it, the staring, checking them both out.

“I know, they’re horrible, so we’re getting away from them. We’re going to go as soon as we can, but we have to be secret. You can’t tell anyone we’re going.”

Alice just stared and Sandy felt a sudden desperate sadness. Who would Alice tell? There were no friends, no mates from work or college. Just the occasional nice nurse or doctor.

She should be out with friends, shopping, working. Staying out, getting home late, arguing with me. Not like this. Crouched like a statue all day, except when she has to go to Dykebar. Sitting in her room until she climbs out the window to run around in the dark.

Alice crumpled up her face and Sandy thought she might have been happy.

“London… really London.”

“Yes, love.” And for a moment Alice looked so hopeful, Sandy remembered how she’d felt, going to London with Byron for the first time. He’d promised she could go to any band, any gig, dance all night. Promised her clothes, but she just wanted to see bands. He’d promised her every band ticket she wanted.

But then she’d got there.

So long ago, she’d been younger than Alice, so incredibly naive. Another lifetime, no point brooding about it.

And besides, Alice was almost smiling.


Alice climbs in the window, softly, softly, leaving the window open so the night is still there, and Alice can feel as if she is still running, invisible, free.

Alice turns the computer on, her mind still full of the magic night outside, where the world looks like her world.

Then Alice remembers what She said. They are moving to her father’s city.

Going to London Londondondon, Londinium. Where my father lives, where he made the films for me.

She looks up a film: Byron, her father, in front of a blue sign, round and gleaming like a blue sun. Talking about the sign, who it was, Alfred Hitchcock. She watches her father smiling at her, talking fastfastfast like she does. Then she clicks to the next one, a different name, Archibald Gillies. But still her father, talking to her.

She says he’s dead, that he died a long time ago, before I remember. I used to believe Her. But that was before he came back, backbackback to me, before I became the only one, the lonely only who knows he is alive. She can never know, it’s too dangerous. Too dangerous for him. She thinks I’ve forgotten the night She tried to kill him.


JJ shut his sister Tracey’s email, not able to face all the zeroes in the figures and clicked the refresh button on the Chronicle page. Finally, the article loaded up. It wasn’t the top story, as the journalist girl had promised. But if the article was all right, he’d forgive that.

He sipped his vodka and checked the comments. Hardly any yet.


Nightworld announce return to stage

By Daily Chronicle reporter

Veteran 80s synthpop darlings Nightworld have announced another world tour, dates and venues still to be confirmed.

At an exclusive gala event last evening, founding member JJ Lancaster assured us that both surviving members of the 80’s sensations, he and guitar virtuoso Tony Smith, would be on tour by early next year.

The opening was all right. He’d said end of this year, though.

When asked if Nightworld would be covering anything from the band’s early, and some think best days, when troubled singer and songwriter Byron Beaulieu was the main creative force behind the band, JJ promised all the classics.

Byron, born Colin Bewlay, was the founder of Nightworld. The band, then called Forbidden Colours in Southampton’s grim late 70’s suburbs, became a refuge for Byron, an escape from an unhappy home life on the wrong side of the tracks.

Ok so far. Nothing new, of course.

He tried to concentrate on the article: maybe his subconscious mind would come up with a solution if he thought about something else. That hadn’t happened in every other crisis, but there was a first time for everything.

But the band, renamed Nightworld by early managers…

JJ raised a silent toast to the old pervs. They’d got the band some heat and were clued up enough to know why Forbidden Colours would have been the worst band name in history. But the rest was another story: getting the hots for Tony and robbing them blind later.

…took off like a rocket, shocking the country and the band’s still-teenage members. Their ascent was as dramatic as the original Byron, whose name Colin adopted. Like his idol, he woke up one morning and found himself famous.

Did she have any idea she was about the millionth person to use that line? She was going to trot out the standard crap, JJ could tell already: the wicked Svengali (JJ), the mad genius (Byron), the tortured sensitive soul (Tony).

He topped up his glass, vodka perfectly chilled from the ice bucket, sliding into the glass, the harsh icy smell prickling his nose. Like frozen diamonds, Byron had said once. Typical Byron, fancy words to impress someone he was trying to hit on.

JJ swirled it in his mouth, feeling the tangy metallic burn rolling on his tongue like mercury: no wonder it had taken Tony so long to give it up.

He put the full glass out of arm’s reach, to force himself to read. And yes, there it was again, in the subheading this time, the last resort of the blindingly bloody obvious:

I woke up one morning and found myself famous.

Nine words she didn’t need to think about.

He didn’t know why he was getting so pissed off about this article – it was no worse than a thousand others. He just had to skim read, check for anything he needed to complain about, make sure there were as many photos as they’d promised.

Of course, he did know why: that bloody email from Tracey. Which wasn’t her fault: she was just passing it on from the nursing home. Because she didn’t have that kind of money. The deadbeat husband walking out, the three kids, the accounts job, a national debt sized mortgage larger than the value of her semi-detached box in Eastleigh.

Poor old Trace. But JJ didn’t have it hanging around either, no matter what the old man thought. JJ looked around his study at his photos. Maybe he could sell off a few of the older ones. But that would be a drop in the ocean. A tour was the only way to raise that kind of money.

He forced himself to open the email again.

Hey, hope you’re well. Bad news about dad I’m afraid. The only place that can do 24-hour care is a private one, otherwise he’ll be on the waiting list forever.

Typical Jimmy bullshit. But JJ knew he’d never convince her. She’d always believed everything Jimmy said, every new start, every “genius” idea, every failed venture that wasn’t his fault. Jimmy had guilted Tracey into taking care of him, and now it was Tracey and Jimmy against the world.

For fuck’s sake, Trace, you gave up your whole life to look after him. You could have done so much.

She was too nice, that was her problem. Especially to Jimmy.

Out of the window JJ noticed the gun-metal sky over the trees, heard birds, the hum of traffic. It would be light in half an hour: too late for a sleeping pill now.

JJ shut the email. He’d answer later, when he’d got over wanting to smash the keyboard.

He went to the article and scrolled down to the comments. 285. Ok, but not great. The usual posts from the tragics about Byron being taken too soon. Over a decade ago, and they still hadn’t got over it. Forlorn posts about Tony, how besotted with him they’d all been. All these deluded old women swooning over someone they’d never met, the dream boy who’d only existed in their minds.

But only a few about the tour. The girl hadn’t got that part right. If she’d been halfway skilled, she’d have positioned the tour better, drummed up interest. Enough to convince Tony they had to tour again, because the fans wanted it so badly.

Still, the photos were all right and no one looked at the Chronicle for the words. She could have written that Byron had been found working in a petrol station in Arizona, and Tony abducted by aliens: no-one would have noticed but the tragics.

It was an ok article, nothing to threaten libel about.

Outside the sky was pearl grey, but fully light. Daytime. Too late for another vodka: only alkies drink during the day

JJ totted up all of Jimmy’s costs in his head until it got too depressing. It would have been nice if Jimmy had some idea of how much JJ was doing for him, but that was stupid. Tracey was the good one. JJ was just a source of funds.

He felt like talking to someone, but it was only 8:05. Too early to ring anyone but Tony.

Trying to cheer himself up, he flicked to the Guardian: feminist rap, desert blues, music intellectuals pretended to like. That journalist girl probably loved that stuff: she probably sat in her bedsit and listened to spoken word rants, reading Jane Austen and picking out the big words to use in her articles.

Thinking of journalists, JJ did a search for the most irritating one: Melissa Smith, Special Correspondent, interviewing some IT millionaire from New Zealand, or whatever passed for IT down there: they probably rubbed sticks together or got the All Blacks to do that haka dance to conjure up the God of wifi. Melissa’s crap always made him laugh. Little Melissa, Tony’s midget wifey, with her readership of 40 people who all worked for the same paper.

He logged into his account with the property managers and checked his rentals, but they weren’t going to be enough for Jimmy. And there was no point selling: no-one was offering what they were worth.

He checked his email again and saw a new one from Sandy. His heart did a little thump, and he felt almost too nervous to click on the email, then shook himself out of it. The effect she still had on him, ridiculous.

She was accepting the house, none too graciously. Some thanks would have been nice, but she obviously still hated him. She had no idea how much he’d had to work to chisel the money out of the trust fund for her.

God knows if she can even add; they probably didn’t teach that in Scotland. Or not if you left school when you were 12 or whatever she did.

He’d tried to be friendly when she first came down, having to translate everything she said from Glaswegian. His mind filled with images of Sandy then: unbelievably beautiful. Of course, he’d tried it on, if only to make up for Byron.

He wondered what she looked like now. She might be forty stone, a different person.

He had a stab of regret at giving up Byron’s house so easily. It could have been rented to some Byron fanatic, to help fund Jimmy. But it was done now. She’d accepted. And there was no risk of her going to the press to rehash all her old complaints, like some girls he remembered: the contract was watertight.

JJ flicked over the latest Nightworld accounts. Merchandise sales were miniscule. The last album of rarities and B-sides had done ok, but they couldn’t do that for another few years, even if he could convince Tony. Most of the royalties went straight to Tony or Byron’s trust. All very well for Tony, getting money for songs he wrote before he was old enough to drink legally.

And no new albums with Tony not writing anything… They had to tour, no matter how much Tony hated the idea.

JJ checked the article in the Chronicle again. 315 comments. About average. A few more about the tour, which was promising, even if they were mostly from two or three well-known crazies, Ada Lovelace and Netherbabe, their usual embarrassing rants over any mention of Tony or Byron.

He opened the email from Sandy again. Then he flicked through the pictures in the article, trying not to think about money.

He only lasted about five minutes before his mind zinged back. He was going to have to convince Tony to tour, maybe by pleading bankruptcy, which would be true enough with Jimmy in that home. Tony would have to be persuaded. And that was only possible if JJ could get him without his unbearable little wife.


Tony autographed the last CD and turned back to the computer. It was the great timewaster, googling for every mention of Byron. An addiction, apparently. A displacement activity as one shrink had called it. Fancy words aside, it was no different to practicing for hours, playing each magical song over and over to learn the chords and breaks by heart. From chords to clicks, repeat, repeat, repeat.

It was in the Chronicle, of course, JJ’s forum of choice and Melissa’s most loathed newspaper, top of her list of Worst Things about the Old Country. An article about another Nightworld tour, a tour JJ hadn’t bothered to mention to Tony. A few quotes from JJ, then Byron, photo after photo.

The man who became Byron Beaulieu was born Colin Bewlay to a night-club singer mother, June, who met his French father, 20 years her senior, performing in Northern France. By the time she was pregnant, June had been abandoned by her lover, and returned in shame to her disapproving parents. Colin was raised by his grandparents while his mother toured the country singing in clubs.

Melissa clattered in, too fast for him to shut the page.

She looked over his shoulder. “Why are you reading that rubbish?”

“It’s about us. I mean the band, sorry.”

“According to JJ, of course.” Melissa leaned on the armrest; russet curls pushed against Tony’s nose. “What’s he promising now?”

Tony inhaled the faintly vanilla scent, felt her warmth against him. This wouldn’t last, he knew she’d get to the bit about the tour in about five seconds.

Melissa leapt away from Tony, glaring at the screen.

“He’s unbelievable! A tour? Did he even bother to mention it to you?”

“Maybe he forgot.”


“Maybe he was misquoted.”

Melissa sighed with a force like a bellows, her tiny body turned into one great soundless roar, showing what she thought of JJ and his latest idea.

“Yeah right, bro,” she mumbled in the ultra-kiwi accent that usually made him laugh.  “You know what a control freak he is with journos, telling them what words to use.”

She stomped around the room, and threw herself into an armchair, as if she was landing on JJ, then sat up, perched and energetic.  “And then he’ll mention it like it’s a fait accompli, and then he’ll be all “I’m not angry, I’m disappointed” when you don’t immediately bow to his wishes.” Melissa stomped back to the computer screen.  “It’s typical JJ. And you put up with it every time.”

“Oh, he’s not so… “

But Melissa was already pushing his lips together, like a child would, as a joke.  “You’re too nice to him! And I’m not just saying that because he hates me.”

“Oh, he doesn’t…”

“He thinks I’m this jumped up colonial who’s going to break up the band like Yoko Ono. Strewth, that’s pretty stink, eh?” Melissa put on the accent again, but Tony was still thinking about the tour.

“Oh, he’s just… the band’s everything to him.”

Melissa leaned against Tony, the gust of rage blown out. “You can be nice to him without giving in to every silly idea he has, you know.”

“I know love,” but then Tony’s eyes were caught by the next picture: Byron outside Mask, the nightclub in Southampton where Tony had first seen them, and where they ended up being the opening act. Tony remembered going there, 14 years old, thumping with nerves, way too young but the bouncers waving him through.

Melissa saw what he was looking at. “That was a long time ago,” she said softly. “Don’t let it get you down.”

“So, don’t think of the elephant.”

“Don’t think of that elephant. Do something. Play guitar. Cook.”

“I did get an email from someone wanting me to do a DVD. One of those Unplugged things.”

“That sounds good,” said Melissa, making going movements, checking her hair in the windowpane, looking out at the grey London sky outside. “I need to go into the office. Will you be ok?”

With a juddery little clutch around his heart, Tony felt the panic, the lurch in his stomach before he focused on his breathing to control it. “I’ll be fine.”

He’d been alone in the house before. They were under control, the panics: the walls closing in on him, the drowning clamp on his lungs. Because he wouldn’t actually drown; he knew that now.


After Melissa left, the stillness descended and Tony padded around, controlling his breathing, listening for things that set off the panics. He just had to breathe consciously, each inhale, each exhale, breathing from the diaphragm.

He picked up a guitar and played a few tunes, trying to trick himself back into hearing them again, the flow of melodies and hooks that had once felt as natural as breathing. But he couldn’t hear anything anymore. And he couldn’t breathe naturally anymore either. He needed to find a new metaphor, or simile, or whatever they were called. Melissa would know.

Melissa would be home tonight. They would have dinner. It would be ok. And the cleaning lady would be here in about half an hour. Thirty minutes.

Just break it down into manageable pieces and wait them out. You can stand it, alone, for a minute. You won’t die, the walls won’t close in.

Tony looked out the front windows, checking everything was safe. Wandsworth Common was out there beyond the drive, vast, empty. But that was ok, if he didn’t look at it.

Twenty-seven minutes. Tony re-read the email about the DVD.

Twenty-four minutes. He went back to the article.

…But the pressures of fame were too much for Byron and he began to retreat from the band, the fans and even his new wife and child, making erratic appearances, sparking rumours of drug addiction. Later he signed a deal to make a tv programme, talking about his favourite landmarks, the blue plaques that commemorated London’s late and great. But the programme was never aired, and as Byron’s mental state deteriorated, he could be found wandering the streets of London in a daze, talking into a handheld camera.

Of course, they had to go over that. Mad old Byron, the joke, the punchline.

Nineteen minutes. Just breathe, slowly, in, out, focus on something good.

He glanced through the comments, skipping the embarrassing ones about him.

Fifteen minutes, well, fourteen and a half. Past the halfway mark. It was going to be all right this time.

Then, at the bottom of the screen, one of Sandy when she first came down, not a day over 17. Beautiful, scared Sandy, who knew where she was now. Or Alice, that silent little doll of a child.

I didn’t protect her or Alice, thought Tony feeling the panics rise. I knew what was going on: I should have done something, even if it did hurt Byron.

He stared at Sandy and gasped for breath, the efforts of the past fifteen minutes, all the breathing and conscious thoughts, dissolving into the panics again.

Jacqueline Owens lives in Wellington, New Zealand, with past lives in London, Los Angeles (doing a Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting at the University of Southern California), and Japan. A young adult novel set in Japan, Bluest Moon, was published in the 90s. She won a manuscript assessment for After the Encore from the New Zealand Society of Authors, and recent screenplays have been a finalist and won the New Zealand Writers Guild best unproduced screenplay award and been quarter-finalists in the Nicholl and Blue Cat Screenplay competitions.