ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Different," a short story by Nick Sweet

Then there was the sound of voices, and Mum came back into the living room with who else but Jeremy Rowlands. He was tall and handsome in a way, I suppose, if you like that type, with his blond hair and blue eyes. His faded jeans and polo shirt fitted him perfectly, too. He had the air of an athlete. He said hello and seemed to blush a little when he looked at me. I said hello and went back to watching the film that was on the tele —Witness, with Harrison Ford. It had just got to the bit where Ford´s character and the young Amish girl are about to get it on. Only they don´t because they come from different worlds, and it´s just so romantic. The last thing I felt like doing was talk to anyone right then. Dad put his newspaper down, though, and began to ask Jeremy how he was doing at the university, and I figured this meant I could be spared having to play the hostess. Mum asked Jeremy if he´d like a cup of tea or coffee, and he seemed bashful at first. He wouldn´t like to put her out. Then Dad said perhaps Jeremy would like something stronger —a beer or a Scotch, perhaps? Dad got up and went and rummaged over in the drinks cabinet, and Jeremy said he´d have a beer, just as, with a great effort of will, Harrison Ford tore himself away from the Amish girl. I felt for the Amish girl, and reckoned I knew what she must be going through. If I´d been on my own in the room then I think I might even had shed a tear or two, such was the power of the scene. It was a case of oil and water…and yet you could feel the tenderness coming off the pair.

Mum came in and offered Jeremy a piece of the cake she´d made the day before, and he thanked her and blushed a little as if with the excitement of having such a fuss made of him. They never acted like this with Leroy, I caught myself thinking. The time I´d brought him round here, Dad had stayed barricaded behind his Telegraph and Mum suddenly found she had a thousand and one chores to catch up on…That was because Leroy was black, I thought. And if I sound bitter then it´s because I am.

Jeremy talked to Mum and Dad while Harrison Ford sorted out the bad guys. Ford needed the help of the Amish people to do it, though. The Amish men were opposed to the idea of using violence of any sort at first, but the bad guys made them change their minds…and when the men from the Amish community all united at the end, the baddies didn´t stand a chance. Then Harrison Ford gets in his car and heads off back to the city, leaving the Amish girl behind. And you can´t help sensing the great tenderness that´s built up between them again.

Dad got up to get a couple more beers, and then, when the credits came up, I sensed that Jeremy was looking at me. Now that the film was over, it was as though he was expecting me to say something to him. I didn´t real feel like speaking to him, though. What was there to say? That I was carrying another man´s baby in my belly?...And that I loved this other man, only he´d left me because he reckoned my parents hated him and our coming from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds meant it would be impossible for us to make things work? Should I tell Jeremy Rowlands that? I hadn´t even told Leroy that he was going to be a father…That was because I´d only just found out the day before, and I was trying to take the news on board...

“You seemed like you enjoyed that film,” Jeremy Rowlands addressed me, interrupting my thoughts.

“Yes, it was good.”

“I liked it, too.”

“I didn´t know you were watching it.”

“No, I´ve seen it a couple´ve times before.”


He asked me what I liked about it, and I told him how Harrison Ford and the girl´s being from two very different cultural backgrounds had struck a chord with me. As I said this, Dad shot Mum a look that was full of anxiety. He didn´t think that I´d noticed, but I did.

“I know what you mean.” Jeremy Rowlands smiled and sipped his beer.

“Do you?”

“Sure…I used to have a girlfriend who was Moslem.”

“Really?...Where was she from?”


“I never knew that.”

Dad got up and left the room, and Mother took Jeremy´s plate and went out with it.

“Were you serious with this girl?”

“Very,” he nodded.

“What was she like?”

He looked at me as though he was astounded by the question I´d just asked him. “She was…” He looked about the room, his features contorting in an agonized expression. “I dunno…it´s impossible to put into words what she was like…I mean, she was different from anyone else I´ve ever met…Yeah, that´s it…she was different.” He paused after he´d said this, so that his words seemed to hang in the air between us.

“In fact,” he went on, “I wanted to marry her.”

“You didn´t, though?”


“Why not?”

“Her father was set against it…he wanted her to marry a Moslem man.”

I was suddenly struck by the fact that Jeremy Rowlands and I had things in common – things I would never have begun to guess at.

“Did you break with the girl?”

“She broke it off.”

“You must´ve been disappointed?”

“I was all broken up by it.”


I found myself looking at Jeremy Rowlands as if for the first time. I noticed the way his eyes gazed past me, out through the window. He had the appearance, suddenly, of a man who has lost everything.

Just then, Mum came back into the room. “Well,” she said, “I can see you two young people are talking happily together, so I hope you´ll excuse me, Jeremy, if I go and do some chores.”

She´d done the same thing when I´d brought Leroy home that time. Only this time she´d done it for a different reason. A very different reason.

On the television a man was talking about the hurricane that was causing such devastation over in America. I looked away, out of the window, and saw that the sky had already grown dark.

Nick Sweet says: Over the past year other stories of mine have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Fertile Source and issues 117 & 118 of Evergreen Review. Previous stories appeared in Cutthroat (summer 2007) and Descant 106, while my first novel, "Gemini Games," received a degree of critical acclaim. My second novel, "Winter Trees," was published last year by New Generation Press, and I am currently redrafting it for a new edition.:

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