Better than Bad

She rolls over to escape the piercing brightness of the early morning sun that has found a breach in the blinds.

“Damnit! It’s my day off! Get OFF me!”

Frustrated at the intrusion into her sleep, she thrashes, attempting to prevent full awake and the sheet winds around her arm and over her head. Laying she grasps at the filmy feathers of dreamy sleep with eyes firmly shut, Emma realizes it’s useless; she’s awake and pissed.

Relenting, she throws the covers off and swings her legs over the side of the bed. Standing up, she arches her back, reaching her arms above her head, with hands bent back; she squeezes up high on her tip toes and flexes her legs taught and yawns so deep it hurts. Light headed from the intense wake up stretch, she works her way to the kitchen to brew coffee knowing once the brew begins and the deep, comforting smell floats into her senses she might shake off her foul mood.

With a cup of coffee comfortingly sweetened with her favorite creamer she creeps her way to her reading corner but realizes last night she’d polished off her last library book. This means she has to endure the suffering of leaving home to get more books. The outside world is tense and uncomfortable so being ready was critical to the success.

Thankful she didn’t have to wear the grocery store’s green apron with the creepy apple emblazoned on it, Emma chooses her “outside in the world” armor. She slides into her favorite black skinny jeans, falling apart but comfortable in all the right places, and an oversized black hoodie with a large paisley fleur-de-lis, shadowy and grey batiked on the back. Old black Chuck Taylors finish the dark cloaked desire to be unapproachable and invisible. At the front door she closes her eyes, mouth tight, she inhales deeply, then twists the knob, exhales and mutters “Here we go” and steps outside to make the walk to the library.

With hood up and hands in the pocket, she glances up and down to avoid people who find it necessary to greet her even when she wears her Sir Lancelot suit of armor. Intent on watching the perils ahead, she crosses the alley and unexpectedly something crashes into her. She struggles to pull her clenched fists out of her jacket to catch her balance. Her feet criss-cross and trip over each other as she grabs at the kid who’s not watching his own path.

Stunned by the collision the boy peers up at Emma wide-eyed looking as if he’s wondering ‘should I fight or run?’ Then recognition washes relief over the fearful “O” of his face when he sees her.

“Oh hey Emma! Whatcha doin’?”

The initial bristles of annoyance are clipped off when she realizes it’s the boy whose family lives in the apartment upstairs from her.

Yanking her hood off, “God Jakey! Watch where you’re going!”

Over time, Jakey has become one of the few granted access to Emma’s comfort zone. With the careless ease allowed by being six, he persistently winnowed his way in, ignorant of her crippling shy fear of people and places.

Neglect, fear and harm keep the boy outside. For him, pain and peril exist at home. When he explodes out of the apartment, he is free and happy, gliding through the world grateful there is an outside to escape to. It’s liberation from the barbwire words and blunt pain his unemployed, red raging dad inflicts.

In spite of the jolt her face fans into a wide grin “The library, wanna come?”

Punching his fist up he shouts “YEAH!”

Putting her hand out he latches on eagerly, leaping in the air, heels bumping his butt with happy and anticipation of the treat Emma was sharing with him. Jakey loves reading (an escape within his walls) and he loves Emma’s wondrous reading. She builds a world around them with enthusiastic words. Her voice takes them on a journey of unabashed happiness and trudges through menacing valleys.

Together they head off. The day began bad. Then it turned a corner and now it’s better than good; it’s great!

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Red Writing Hood – Happy Endings

This week’s prompt asked you to spread a little joy.

You were to write a piece where you or your character overcame a challenge and, even if it’s just for a moment, has a happy ending. We also asked you to surprise us – don’t go with the obvious.

Emma

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.

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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.”