Today I get to combine two assignments in one. First I revamped my blog based on tips from Blogging 101 – Day 2.
Next – Open University Assignment: Start Writing Fiction 1.4 Portraying a character
Now present your new character in the four different ways outlined in Activity 7. Here they are again:
- Make a summary of what the character is like.
- Show him or her through appearance.
- Show him or her through a habitual or repeated action.
- Finally, show him or her through a speech in a scene.
There was a knock at the front door. Sara had just stepped out of her dress and was about to pull on a pair of worn jeans and a t-shirt, preparing to meet up with some friends a few blocks away for a drink. She wanted to spill all of the details of her date that never was. Her eyebrows raised, she slowly approached the door as though there were some sort of deviant on the other side. She never got unannounced visitors, especially this late at night. Had the elusive Chet tracked her down and decided to apologize in person?
She padded across the dusty hardwood floor in bare feet and peeked through the peephole. It was Amy. Sara stepped back from the door and sighed. Her sister was ready for round two she guessed. Well, she was too. She quickly whipped the door open and could tell she’d startled her, which pleased Sara the tiniest bit. Sara just stared back at her, eyebrows still raised, as if to say, ‘Can I help you?’
Thirty miles away, in a sad little suburb in a sagging house on a toy-littered cul-de-sac, Amy and Sara’s mother, Helen, poured herself her fifth glass of wine of the night. Her husband was settled in in his usual spot in front of the television in his armchair, laughing at some dumb, subtly sexist sitcom. One of those where the wife is impossibly gorgeous and the husband is bumbling and overweight and goofy, but the disparity in their union is never mentioned. Helen often wondered why the reverse was never portrayed. A gorgeous guy dating an average-looking woman? Perish the thought.
Helen stumbled upstairs to her bedroom, settled into her usual spot on her king sized bed that she usually slept in alone while her husband snored away downstairs in his easy chair, and opened her laptop. She had a new email. Unusual for that time of night. She assumed her friends were already asleep. At some point, after her girls had grown up and moved away, most of her social life had disappeared as well. She hadn’t realized that most of her friends were ones of convenience, ladies she could talk to at school events and play dates as the kids ran around. Much of being a parent was just sitting around with other parents, sipping bad wine and complaining about your husband. None of the parenting books told you that, but it was true.
Now she was down to two friends she was in regular contact with. An old college friend with whom she’d maintained her friendship throughout her marriage and the raising of her children, though it hadn’t been easy. Marjorie was single and had never desired a husband or children. It made things awkward when the girls were young, but now it was almost like things were back to normal. They were both unencumbered, not that that meant her life was much more exciting. She and Marjorie did little more than have lunches and talk about books they’d read. They played around with the idea of taking a long trip together, just to the two of them, similar to an epic road trip they’d taken when they were 19, driving from their college in Georgia all the way to New York City on a whim to see some band perform. But now, neither of them seemed to be able to make firm plans. Maybe they both knew those days were behind them.
Her other friend was Nancy, a woman who was the mother of Amy’s long-time best friend, Amber. They ran into each other all of the time, especially at all of Amy’s pre-wedding festivities. Amy seemed to still be under the impression that Helen and Nancy were close, and always included Nancy and her husband whenever she planned family get-togethers. The truth was, Nancy was a friend of circumstance. She didn’t dislike her necessarily, they just had nothing in common beside their girls. Whenever they were left alone they found that they had little to discuss with each other besides mundane things like the weather and fashion. But sometimes they exchanged funny emails, usually stories about something Amy or Amber had done that confounded them or made them laugh.
Before opening her email, she checked Facebook and held her breath, hoping the first image that assaulted her eyes wouldn’t be that of her youngest, Sara, downing a shot of something dark and suspicious looking, which was usually the case. But no, there was a picture of Sara in Amy’s living room, all made up, clearly Amy had done her makeup with a heavy hand, in a lovely dress that made her look like a cinema star from the 1940’s. She looked like Helen 30 years ago. The same chocolate brown hair; Helen’s mane was still lustrous and shiny but now tinged with gray, but she still had the long, lithe body from the Pilates DVDs she used religiously six days a week, and the wide green eyes that she’d bequeathed to both her daughters.
She stared back at her Facebook timeline. Amy must have taken the picture of Sara. Her mouth smiled, but her eyes told a different story. “Off to a double date!” Amy had written in the photo caption, followed by a million little smiley faces and other indecipherable emojis. Sara looked beautiful, of course, both of her daughters were beautiful, but not quite like herself. Poor Sara. Helen knew this whole date thing couldn’t have been Sara’s idea. Her lovely, free-spirited daughter. She envied her a bit. All that freshness and spontaneity and youth. She did what she wanted and didn’t care what anyone thought. Unless Amy was involved. She had a vision, many years ago, of sitting in Chastain Park chatting with Nancy and hearing terrified screams coming from the sliding board where Amy, Amber, and little Sara, only two at the time, had been playing. The slide was for the bigger kids, too much for her baby Sara, but Amy had pushed her, only figuratively she hoped, until Sara had gone down all by herself, screaming and crying all the way. She ran to Sara, where she’d fallen face down in the dirt after the slide had propelled her little body downward at warp speed, wiped the dirt from her face, kissed her still chubby baby cheek and dried her tears. Sara buried her head in her shoulder as she carried her back to the bench. “What a baby,” Helen had heard five-year-old Amy whisper to Amber as they’d both snickered. Sara had quietly sniffled in her lap the rest of the afternoon. Helen had wished since that day that Sara would stand up for herself more when it came to Amy; clearly she’d been bullied into this blind date business, but she tried to stay out of her daughters’ squabbles.
She went back to her email and saw the new message had been sent an hour ago from Amy. It was link to a hotel confirmation for a resort in the Swiss Alps booked in Helen’s name, a package that included multiple guided hikes through the mountains, and a link to an airline gift card that would more than cover first class airfare for two. She clasped her chest and sucked in a deep breath. Amy. She’d remembered her whispers. Helen could still feel the weight of her smaller head against hers, years ago on this very bed. She’d felt so lost, disillusioned with life and marriage and motherhood. She’d had no one to confide in. All of her mom friends seemed so happy and content. Marjorie would have just said, ‘I told you so.’ She had been convinced since college that marriage was just a sham perpetuated by a patriarchal society set on keeping women from realizing their true potential. Therapy was out of the question. Sara was so young and running wild, never noticing her mother’s unhappiness. But it was Amy who would crawl into bed with her and ask, “Mommy, what is it? What’s wrong?” And she’d told her. Her 10-year-old daughter had been the only person with whom she could be honest. Horrible parenting, she knew, but she also knew those clandestine talks had saved her life.
Helen forwarded the email to Marjorie and said, “I’m in. Are you?” She only had to wait five seconds before she got her response, an enthusiastic, “YES!!!”
Helen closed the computer, steadying herself, then stood and made her way back downstairs. Walter was nodding off in his chair, the television and the dumb sitcom still droning on.
“Walter!” She shook the chair to rouse him. Her husband stirred and slowly opened his eyes with surprise.
“I’m going on a trip with Marjorie. To Switzerland. We leave next week.”
“Errr…okay….” he mumbled groggily.
“And when I get back. I think we should see someone. A therapist or counselor or something. Our insurance should cover it. Maybe not a top-notch one, but someone. I’m unhappy, Walter. I’ve been unhappy for a long, long time.”
Walter looked confused. He was a simple kind of guy. As long as he had his family, his TV remote, cold beer in the fridge and money in the bank, he was a-okay. It was one of the reasons she’d married him. She knew he would be loyal and sweet, only needing her and their little family, nothing more. Unlike her own philandering father. But she wouldn’t think about that now. That would be a story for the therapist. The only thing she had to do now was pack. She hurried upstairs, without stumbling, seeming to have sobered up completely, leaving Walter’s perplexed face behind her.
Back at Sara’s doorstep, Amy was still standing in the hallway, waiting to be let in. Sara saw something that slightly resembled regret in her eyes, and reluctantly stepped aside so Amy could get past her. She’d changed too. She wore her gym gear, a light blue jacket, yoga pants and two layered multi-colored tank tops, her face scrubbed and her hair pulled back. She was such a beauty, so ethereal-looking, with her naturally clear translucent skin, auburn hair warming her face, her cheeks red from the cold.
Amy stepped inside and started to look around. Here we go, Sara thought. She knew Amy would comment on the hastily discarded dress on the floor, the books scattered all over the couch and her bed, since her apartment was so small she could see through the open door of her bedroom from the foyer. There were dishes in the sink waiting to be washed and dried, a basket full of clean laundry waiting for Sara to pick through and find a clean top to wear out. But when she really looked at Amy she seemed to be seeing her humble little apartment for the first time.
And she was. Amy was seeing the wall of bookshelves their father had put up for her, remembering Sara always said she wanted a wall of books in her house when she was all grown up. A declaration she made after she saw the epic castle library in their favorite movie as kids, Beauty and the Beast. She saw all of the keepsakes for her travels around the world, a framed photo of her and a friend in the Andes Mountains, stunning pink and aqua blue coiled sea shells, unusual-looking red and brown rocks saved from various hiking trips, white sand collected from a Thai beach in a bottle, the words Samui Beach scribbled on the glass.
She saw another shelf lined with a collection of used vinyl containing some of her favorite bands and an old-fashioned record player. A well-worn guitar leaned against it, which Sara had spent many hours learning to play as a teen, despite Amy’s telling her it was a waste of time. The living room had a wide open space of empty flooring, the only furniture was a small, dark red love seat with bright throw pillows and a side table. Stepping closer, Amy saw the framed photo that sat atop it. It was her and her sister, arms around each other, the ocean behind them, the wind whipping their hair around their faces. It was during their last sister trip. Two weeks before she married Steve. Of course Amber had thrown her a huge bachelorette bash a month prior, but this had been a special trip just for them. They’d gone to Miami and had the time of their lives. They’d sunbathed every morning, gone running on the beach every afternoon, eaten and drank whatever they wanted, and at night, they’d danced to exhaustion.
She realized her sister was different and free and mysterious, all the things she wasn’t, but that was okay.
“What is it, Amy?” Sara asked, arm crossed, but her face softened a bit.
Amy put her bag down on Sara’s loveseat and pulled out a bottle of red wine. “I’m here to drink wine and dance with my sister.”
A slow smile spread across Sara’s face. “What??”
“Put on Nevermind.” She was still giving her sister orders, but this one Sara didn’t seem to mind. She went to dig through the album collection as Amy braved the messy kitchen to find two clean glasses and a corkscrew, not an easy task, but as she returned to the living room she heard the beginning strains of Lithium. She handed a glass to Sara and started to play air guitar. Sara shook her head and laughed at her dorky sister. When the chorus hit, they both began to sing at the top of their lungs and sort of jump dance around the room. As Amy danced she looked at her sister’s flailing body, her hair whipping all over her face as she sang, then pictured her mother on a mountaintop, her closest friend at her side, breathing in the crisp, cold air and sighing deeply, an expression of profound contentment on her face. Amy said to herself silently, ‘So this is what it feels like.’