Emma; a delicate, wispy girl with a tassel of thin, stringy box brown hair. At work it’s tied in a messy knot at the back of her head. On days off, she leaves it hanging down over her face so she can hide. It is her declaration to the world she is shunning it. Her striking hazel eyes with vibrant flecks of emerald green framed in long, thick lashes are often an unwanted conversation starter.
She tries to camouflage her appearance, but in spite of her tormented overly sensitive fear of revealing herself physically and emotionally she has a grace that shines through. If she could find a place in the outside world where she could simply vanish, and be nothing, she would.
The small grocery store where she works stocking shelves turns the key at 7 and 7. The owner runs McIntosh Grocery with the firm belief business owners and employees should have a life outside of their job, so when the key turns at 7 p.m. the lights are shut off and everyone goes home. The store “uniform” is kelly green cobbler aprons bearing a toothy grinning apple face logo (no one is sure if the apple is happy, shocked or terrified) over a white polo and khaki work pants so her attempts at camouflage at work are made difficult and often impossible. Customers approach this timid girl and her shoulders hunch, and arms fold as she appears to roll into herself. She turns her head away so the unnerved look and rising curtain of crimson won’t be seen and she begins an internal chant (please, please, please, please, notme notme notme!). “Excuse me Miss? Where can I find pie filling?” Her stammered “Uh…umm…I uhhh” response elicits confusion, pity, or frustration and the customer either backs away or tosses a rude comment “What is HER problem??”
Describing Emma as sensitive is like saying the neighbor’s weed infested, overgrown lawn needs a little trim. Feelings and emotions are like hot pokers being jabbed at you; they are felt intensely and last long after they are inflicted. She dreads any question or conversation that requires a response because she might not have the right answer or could say wrong thing. Speaking is painful because you have to use words, and for her, words hurt. Her delayed or avoided replies translate as guilt, indifference or hostility depending on what happened to shove her into the world of verbal expression.
When she doesn’t work, her “style” is grungy, dumpy and dull. She chooses anything dark and unadorned because it matches her constant frame of mind – dark, murky, confused and tormented. A hoodie with something ominous printed on the back helps her avoid some of the undesired interaction. “Sometimes you can scare ’em off.”
She prefers to stay home where the chance of human interactions are reduced from “Sunny with a chance EVERYONE wants to talk” to “Foggy and Overcast with a slight chance of emotional cloudbursts”. Avoiding exchanges is defined by what she has to do. A factor in her decision to take the job at the grocery store was eliminating a “day off duty” by the “perk” of shopping on her break. A prolific, voracious reader, her weekly peril into the outside world is a trip to the library. The journey is rife with potholes and jagged edges in the form of people she would rather avoid. Once there, the library is HERS and happily she can hide in the rows and stacks of books. Self-checkout is a dream come true because the library becomes about Emma and her books and no one else.
Time alone is savored and appreciated as a bottle of fine wine delicately uncorked and carefully decanted so not a drop is wasted. With the curtains drawn and fuzz, her beloved childhood blanket, she opens a book and dives into a world where she is welcomed, known and above all loved. The pages are like loving arms. Here she is beautiful, fluent and can embrace emotion with joy. This is Emma’s home.
This post was written for the red writing hood “prompt” at red dress club and is a work of fiction.
“This week’s prompt is all about character development.
We’d like you to write about what your character wants most.”