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Smoke & Mirrors with Jo Withers

Interview by Jason Teal (Read the Story) December 20, 2021

Jo Withers

Jo Withers

Describe couple’s counselling. Will they overcome this budding infidelity?

Couple’s counselling: A form of therapy, suggested by the perpetrator of relationship problems, in which a trained professional mediates conversations between the couple while said perpetrator tries to convince the innocent party that they are also partially to blame.

There will be no couple’s counselling in this instance. Simon has been undermining her confidence for months, hence the stalker’s concern and her utterance, ‘It would be worth running into traffic to feel that free.’ She’s lived with the stomach-churning uncertainty of knowing something was badly wrong without understanding why. To find out all along that Simon, the utter turd, was having his cake and eating a selection of perfectly piped eclairs on the side was too much. He needs to be curbside with the rest of the trash.

What is the valuation of Marvel figures harmed in this story?

I’m glad you asked. The first figure is the Toybiz Uncanny X-Men Wolverine, which circulated around the early 1990s. It’s a particular favourite of Simon’s and was in perfect, crisp, boxed condition. When he arrives that evening the heat from the barbecue has melted the outer packaging onto his tiny plastic mutant face and his skin’s bubbling away like a little person-shaped pizza. The other figure is the Hasbro Marvel Legends Deadpool, which came in a variant two-pack around 2010. They can be pretty hard to acquire so she’s definitely hitting him where it hurts.

Where is the self-help guide handed over by the stalker?

She took the self-help guide home with the rest of the cookies as she’s relentlessly polite. It’s “I Don’t Want to Be an Empath Anymore” by Ora North. When she gets round to reading it, she realizes the stalker knows her better than anyone she’s ever met, including her family. The realisation is simultaneously terrifying and empowering. It’s terrifying that someone can read her so well from going through her trash and watching her routine for a few months, but it’s comforting to know that she’s reachable. We all have times when we feel disconnected and misunderstood. It gives her hope that somewhere down the track, someone who’s not Simon and not the stalker will take the time to understand her.

Who are some of your comedic influences, and why have they been cancelled?

I suppose I have a twisted sense of humor which I think comes across in this piece. I love the situation and sarcasm in Dexter, the scene in Us where the killer is in the house and the Google-type device cocks up and plays the song “Fuck the Police” instead of calling the actual police, and the prolonged “race” between the zombies and Zimmer-framed O.A.P.’s in Cockneys vs Zombies. I like humour with a dash of malignance. I like to explore the dark shadows lurking in life’s lighter moments and the fragile luminescence of hope that fragments the bleakest times.

How do you remove cocktail sauce from a white shirt?

The sauce-stained shirt haunts her thoughts for weeks. Whilst it really irks her that in another world, Simon would have strolled home that evening, thrown the shirt in the laundry basket, and left her to deal with his shit, it was a beautiful linen shirt, and she has an almost obsessive love of tackling difficult laundry stains. She’s tempted to contact him just to get custody of the shirt so she can have the pleasure of restoring its pure, pristine whiteness, then throw it back in his face. She’d dab white vinegar on the spot, then leave it to soak overnight before handwashing with mild detergent. Laundry is my least favourite chore; I’d dye the rest of it red or set fire to it and get a new one.

About the Author

Jo Withers writes short fiction for children and adults. Previous work has featured in The Caterpillar, Molotov Cocktail, Ghost Parachute, Fractured Lit and No Contact. Her short fiction can also be found in Best Microfiction 2020 and Wigleaf Top Fifty 2021.

About the Interviewer

Jason Teal is the author of We Were Called Specimens (KERNPUNKT Press, 2020), which was a finalist for Big Other’s Reader’s Choice and Best Fiction Book Awards. Writing appears in 3:AM MagazineQuarterly WestSmokeLong QuarterlyVol. 1 Brooklyn, and Hobart, among other publications. He edits Heavy Feather Review.

This interview appeared in Issue Seventy-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Four

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