Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cheryl's Pick

My pick this week is a new writer to me. And to us, as it was her first time linking up with The Red Dress Club.

It is by Kate of And Then Kate. She wrote a fiction piece based on the prompt about writing from the perspective of someone who gets under your skin.

Kate did a fantastic job of showing. Her clues to her main character's condition are sprinkled throughout. She doesn't beat you over the head with it, but there's enough there to understand there's something wrong.

The internal dialogue was really well-done. It also makes you wonder if you've judged someone the way she is being judged.

I flip down the visor to check my reflection. More eyeliner, I think. Make ‘em look bigger. Friendly. Then I take out the lipstick, one final time. Pink. A bright, creamy pink. Peony Dreams, the saleslady told me, a name that seems kind of stupid now. I get out of the car and head toward the preschool, straightening my shoulders.

I love the line about the name of the lipstick, because it implies she was hopeful when she bought it.

The pick-up line outside the classroom is the same as ever. Chatter about sales at Target on one side of me, gossip about peewee soccer on the other. I stare at the same wall-mounted collages that I stare at every afternoon, creations that the kids made back in winter, sparkly with clumps of glitter and clumsily stuck-on snowflakes. Hallway traffic has loosened the snowflakes on Ava’s collage and a few are hanging by just their corners, fluttering lackadaisically in the breeze of people walking by.

Suddenly someone bumps me from behind, and I turn instinctively.

“Sorry!” the other mom says. “I’m always telling my son to be careful and there I am, bumping into people!” She smiles at me.

Go! I think. I widen my eyes and stretch my pink lips in a horizontal direction. I feel the scar tissue at the corners of my mouth protest in that years-old way, but I keep going. Practice! the doctors always used to say. Your body needs to relearn what the accident made it forget.

This is where we learn why she's wearing so much makeup. The description: "stretch my lips in a horizontal direction" instead of saying "she tried to smile" really illustrates what a difficult process this is. And we get that this accident happened awhile ago. And that something we take for granted - an instinctive smile - is physically painful for this character.

“No problem!” I say. ”Happens to the best of us!”

The woman’s smile falters.”True, true,” she replies, then waits in case I have something else to say. But I see that she’s already pointing her body in the other direction, away from me, so I say nothing. It takes her a second, but then she moves on. They usually do.

Here we learn the way it's affecting her daily interactions. Not sure if the last line is necessary, though because it seems a little self-pitying and she doesn't seem like that.

Finally, the door to the classroom swings open.

“Come on in, moms and dads!” Mrs. Wilson exclaims, something she says every day, even though I have yet to see a dad in line. My neighbor told me once that Mrs. Wilson’s father died in Vietnam, when she was a baby. Sometimes, while staring at the collages, I wonder if losing her dad gave her a soft spot for fathers in general. One probably has nothing to do with the other, but it’s something to think about besides snowflakes.

I like the detail about the teacher's father dying. I think it would work better without the last line, because I found it distracting.

Ava spots me as soon as I walk in.

“Mommy!” she yells, rising from her little chair.

“Hey, baby,” I say, and reach down to hug her. Ava grins, a huge smile that bounces off the windowsills and popsicle-stick windmills and everything else in the room.

This is poignant because it reminds us of the unconditional love of our children. I love the image of her smile bouncing around the room.

Before we leave, Ava asks to use the bathroom. As I struggle to close the bathroom door behind us, a door that has never closed all the way, I hear voices.

“We still on for a moms’ night out on Friday?” one voice asks.

“Definitely!” answers a second voice.

“Is everyone going?” queries a third voice.

“I think so. No, wait. Ava’s mom didn’t say she was going. Did you e-mail her about Friday, Jackie?” says Voice #1.

There’s a brief silence, then Voice #2 answers. “This is going to sound awful, but I didn’t. I know this makes me a horrible person, but…she never smiles when I try talking to her.”

Voice #2 pipes in. “No, that’s not awful. I feel the same way. She doesn’t smile. Plus all that makeup…”

This dialogue is spot-on.

Ava flushes the toilet and the voices fade and then disappear altogether.

“Ready to go, Mommy?” Ava asks when I don’t immediately follow her out of the bathroom.

“Sure, sweetie,” I say. “Let me just check my lipstick.”

But I don’t.

The end makes me wonder if the overheard conversation will affect any change on her. Will she let her "real self" show without makeup so she can get to know the other women - and so they can know her? Kate has built a really interesting character here which is another reason why I loved this post.

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