First of all, thank you to Ben, for letting me take over his blog today.
My new collection of short stories, Delusion and Dreams includes two stories that have phobias as a theme. This seems to be a recurring theme in my writing. I’m not really surprised about that as I have had various phobias in my life.
In my novel, Second Chances, the main character, James, has a fear of flying. I used to be terrified of aeroplanes when I was a child. It was only when I finally took a journey by plane that I got over that.
In my short story collection, Love and Loyalty (and Other Tales), I have a story with the title ‘Atychiphobia’, which means the fear of failure. I thought it would be a nice idea to share that story with you all.
Vivienne knew everything. You could always trust her to have the answer to the crossword puzzle you were trying to solve, even when you had been on the internet and ‘Googled’ the clue, but still couldn’t find the answer.
At school she had been very competitive. She once got 99% in an exam, but was sure that she should have got 100%, so she went and spoke to the teacher about it and sure enough her mark was changed to 100%. That was Vivienne. Always right.
The one thing her friends and colleagues didn’t know though, was that the reason she was always right, was because of her deep rooted fear of failure. This fear had increased steadily as she grew up, so much so, that she would study longer than any of her fellow students; train harder than anyone for sports; and would always be reading and looking things up, so she would not be caught out.
Her fear of failure ensured that she got to the top in her profession. She was working as a successful manager of a local estate agency.
On Friday evenings, it was usual for a few of the office team to go for a drink at the local pub, before going home. One particular Friday, Philip, one of the estate agents, suggested that they take part in the pub quiz. Vivienne suddenly felt queasy. She would be facing her worst fear. She didn’t like being put on the spot. She preferred to study things beforehand, to make sure she knew the answer; that was how she had lived her life. But before she could do anything about it, she was sitting around the table with the other three members of her team.
Philip smiled at her. ‘We’re counting on you, Viv. You’re the brains of this team!’
He winked at her, and she felt herself tremble. How can I get out of this? she wondered.
The pub quiz began, and the first question was read out: ‘Which of these wines is a white wine? A. Merlot, B. Zinfandel, C. Gewurtztraminer, or D. Shiraz?’
‘I’ve got no idea,’ said Philip. He looked at Greg and Lisa, the other members of the group, but they had blank faces.
Suddenly, they were all looking at Vivienne, expectant. She had no idea what the answer was, but she couldn’t say that. People relied on her to know everything. She would be humiliated.
‘Come on, Viv, you must know this?’ said Philip.
‘It’s C,’ she said, quickly. She could feel the perspiration on her brow. Why hadn’t she just said she didn’t know? What if she was wrong?
‘Great!’ he said, writing it down.
She looked at her watch. ‘Oh dear, is that the time? I have to get home. I’m baby-sitting my grandson tonight,’ she lied. She stood up quickly, before they could protest, and ran out of the door.
At work on Monday, Philip greeted her at the door. ‘Here she is, the wine expert!’
She smiled. ‘Wine expert?’ She tried to feign obliviousness, as if she was unaware what he was talking about; but that pub quiz question had haunted her all weekend. Had she got it wrong?
‘I only wish you’d stayed. We didn’t do very well in the quiz, we needed you there,’ said Philip.
‘Sorry,’ she said.
‘But, anyway, it’s given me a great idea for the annual quiz between us and Smith’s Estate Agents. We’re going to have a wine-tasting competition. You’ll be our representative.’
‘Er... Phil, I don’t think we’ll have time to enter that this year.’
‘Time? Johnson’s Builders will be at the event this year. I’ve already invited them. You know they’re building that new development? It will be a chance to network, and hopefully get the contract. We need the clients this year, what with the credit crunch. We have to enter, or Smith’s Estates will get the contract with Johnson’s.’
Every year at around Christmas time, Vivienne’s estate agency and their rival, Smith’s, would get together with big names from the property world, in the hope of drumming up business. They always competed in a quiz, and the winner of the quiz usually ended up getting the most interest from prospective clients. Vivienne was well aware that this year, more than ever, the event was necessary, as the firm was losing money due to the lack of movement in the property market and the global recession. But she was mortified that Philip was organising a wine-tasting competition. She knew absolutely nothing about wine, and the big event was less than two weeks away.
For the next fortnight, she worked hard to learn everything there was to know about wine. Her husband thought she’d gone mad when she took a selection of wine home one evening and suggested that he blindfold her in order for her to guess which wine was which. She then booked them a last minute weekend away, to a wine-tasting holiday in Italy.
‘I think you’re taking this a bit too far,’ said Jude, flicking through the travel agent’s brochure. ‘I’m certainly not going all the way to Italy to spit out wine into a barrel.’
But she managed to convince him to go along with her, and they spent a miserable weekend in a cold vineyard. Only one other couple had booked the trip, and they were native Italians who didn’t speak a word of English—so the guide spent most of the time speaking Italian. Jude was hardly talking to Vivienne, apart from the odd complaint about the weather, or to say things like: ‘Why have you brought us here?’
On the plane back to the UK, she felt frustrated. She didn’t know anything more about wine now than she had when she’d arrived in Italy.
On the day of the competition, she considered phoning the office and saying that she was too ill to attend, but she knew her employees were relying on her. She felt trapped.
As she walked through the main door of the office, she could hear raised voices coming from Philip’s room. She closed the door quietly, walked slowly towards the room, and listened.
‘How are we going to have a wine-tasting contest if you’ve only bought one type of wine? Five bottles of Chianti,’ said Philip, angrily.
‘Well, you asked me to get them cheap from my cousin’s warehouse, and these are the only ones he could get,’ said Greg, his fellow worker.
‘When I said I needed five different wines, he thought I said five bottles. Why don’t we just take the labels off and pretend they’re different?’
Vivienne heard footsteps coming towards her from the other side of the door. She walked back to the reception area and opened and closed the door, to pretend she’d just arrived. Philip came out of his room. He appeared startled when he saw her.
She smiled at him. ‘I can’t wait to get stuck into this wine-tasting contest! Shall we be on our way?’ she said, feeling much more confident now, knowing that all the wine was Chianti.
She stood on the stage at the front of the hall, with five glasses of red wine on the table in front of her. On the other side of the stage stood Neil, the manager of Smith’s Estate Agents, with another five glasses in front of him. Philip stood in between them.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the ninth annual Estate Agency event,’ said Philip, into the microphone. ‘Tonight we have a wine-tasting competition. May I introduce, Vivienne, to my right—representing Glass Estate Agents; and Neil, to my left—representing Smith’s Estate Agents. Viv and Neil will taste the five wines in front of them, they will then guess the names of the wines, writing them down on the cards we have given them. Whoever guesses the most correctly, will win. Let the competition begin!’ The crowd applauded.
Vivienne lifted the first glass, sniffed it, took a sip, swished it expertly around her mouth, and spat it out. She wrote ‘Chianti’ on the card in front of her. She did this again for the other four glasses and stood back. She’d finished, whilst Neil was still on the third glass.
‘Aha! I see Viv has finished. This is a woman who knows her wine,’ said Philip, smiling.
They waited for Neil to finish.
‘Time for the results!’ announced Philip. ‘The first wine was a Chianti,’ he said, walking towards Vivienne’s table. He picked up the card in front of the first glass. ‘Well done, Viv.’ He walked over to Neil’s table. Neil had wrongly guessed ‘Shiraz’ for the first wine. ‘Never mind, Neil; the night is young,’ said Philip, smugly.
‘The second wine was a Merlot,’ said Philip. He walked over to Vivienne’s table and turned over the card in front of the second glass, which read ‘Chianti’. ‘Oops, you got it wrong.’ Neil had correctly identified it as Merlot. And so it continued.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner: Neil, from Smith’s Estates, who scored three out of five,’ said Philip, somewhat dejectedly.
Vivienne stepped forward and took the microphone. ‘I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but there must be some mistake. I tasted each of those wines and they are all Chianti. I’m sure of it. I demand to see the bottles from which the wine was poured.’ She stood back proudly, arms folded in front of her. Philip looked nervous. He called to Greg who was backstage. Greg came out with a tray of wine bottles.
She inspected the labels: Chianti, Merlot, Shiraz, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. ‘Well, you must have switched the labels,’ she said, adamantly.
‘Er...’ Philip did not know what to say.
‘Hey, why don’t we get an independent opinion!’ shouted a voice from the crowd.
Vivienne was feeling flushed and wanted to get off the stage as soon as possible. What if Greg went out and bought some wine after his conversation with Philip in the office? she thought. She felt embarrassed, and looked out at the crowd of people waiting on the edge of their seats for a final decision. Many of them knew her, and they were expecting her to be right.
‘Does anyone here know anything about wine?’ said Philip into the microphone.
A hand went up.
‘Please, sir, join us on the stage.’
There was a round of applause as the white-haired man walked up the steps onto the platform.
He walked over to the table where Vivienne was standing, and took a clean glass. He tasted each of the wines and spat them out into the bucket, like a professional.
She could feel her heart beat faster with each moment that passed.
Finally, the man approached Philip. ‘I can’t be sure either way. I have to admit they do all taste like Chianti,’ he said, and walked back off the stage.
The colour drained from Philip’s face. ‘Well, ladies and gentlemen,’ he said into the microphone, ‘I’m afraid we have to make a decision on this, and as you can all see—please feel free to come and inspect the bottles—there are five different types of wine here. As much as I hate to say it, Neil is the winner. Sorry, boss, you can’t be right all the time.’
Vivienne began to laugh, just a giggle at first, but then it became a much louder laugh. It was infectious. Soon Philip was laughing. Neil and Greg joined in. The whole room filled with laughter.
Vivienne felt the weight of pressure lift from her shoulders, realising that the whole crowd was laughing with her, and not at her. It was okay to be wrong sometimes. Eventually the laughter died down. She took the microphone and spoke to the audience. ‘Well, they all tasted pretty much the same to me!’ she said. The crowd exploded with more laughter, and this time applause. She had never felt so liberated.
Later that evening, as she was walking out of the door on her way home, she heard Philip’s voice, and noticed he was standing outside talking to Greg. She was sure she’d heard them say her name, and felt embarrassed for a moment remembering her defeat in the wine tasting contest, but then she took a deep breath and decided to listen in to their conversation. It would do her good, she thought, to hear what people thought of her now—now that they knew she was not a born genius. She was glad she had drunk a couple of glasses of wine; that would soften the blow.
She stood behind the large industrial waste bins, and tried to catch what they were saying.
‘I just don’t believe it,’ said Philip.
‘I know,’ said Greg.
There was silence. She was sure they must be disappointed in her, and she felt a bit guilty for ever having tried to lead them to believe she was something better than she was. Her whole life had been a bit of a sham, she realised. She felt a stronger determination to change and to accept her limits.
‘I mean,’ Philip continued, ‘how did she know they were all Chianti? She really does know everything. Maybe we should have owned up? At least then we would have won the competition. Now Smith’s have all the glory, and their man didn’t know much about wine.’
‘It would have been more embarrassing to own up, though,’ said Greg.
‘I’m not sure. I have to admit, I was really nervous when Viv sent you backstage to get the wine bottles. Where did you get those other labels from?’
‘I stopped by my cousin’s warehouse on the way here and he gave them to me.’
Vivienne couldn’t help smiling to herself as she stood in the shadows, behind the bins...
Twelve stories of betrayal, greed, revenge, deception, dreams, and courage.
We all struggle to find our way. What you see isn't necessarily all there is. This collection takes you into the grey area, because the world is never just black and white.
Life is all about perspective. One person's delusion is another person's dream.
Includes five bonus stories.
Maria Savva lives and works in London. She studied Law at Middlesex University and The College of Law. She is a lawyer, although not currently practising law. She writes novels and short stories in different genres, including drama, psychological thriller, and family saga. Many of her books and stories are inspired by her years working as a lawyer, although she has not written a courtroom drama to date. Her most recent novel is Haunted, a crime fiction/psychological thriller.
Buy links for Delusion and Dreams: