Every other Wednesday, on Writing Under Pressure, you’ll find a post based on Today’s Word (from Wordsmith.org). The goal of the exercise is to write something – an essay, poem, or flash fiction – and post it by midnight. Past pieces can be found under Wednesday’s Word on the sidebar to the right.
gamboge. noun: 1. A strong yellow color. 2. A gum resin obtained from the sap of trees of the genus Garcinia, used as a yellow pigment and as a cathartic.
I wrote the word of the day on a post-it this morning, and that alone sparked a story.
Gretchen stood in front of the mirror, armed with pencils: one to line her eyes, one to line her lips, one to add hash marks to her eyebrows in an effort to fill them in.
She was tired of her old self, and she wanted a new look. The woman behind the cosmetics counter had told her that cobalt blue, firetruck red, and burnt ember would bring out her inner beauty. But, after ten minutes of careful application, she looked in the mirror and realized that she still appeared undefined. Colored in, yes, but still flat. In fact, she looked ridiculous.
She ran her finger over both eyes to soften the blue line. She blotted her lips. The eyebrow color was stubborn, so she ruffled her bangs in an effort to tone down the brown. Then, she walked into the kitchen, grabbed a pack of post-its and her felt tip pen, and wrote down her morning affirmation: You are beautiful.
“Blech.” She pursed her lips.
She scratched out the words and tried again: You are special.
She tore off the post-it, crumpled it, and sent it sailing across the room right into the trashcan. She thought for a second, and it came to her: Your makeup does not define you.
“There.” She changed the period to an exclamation point and slapped the post-it on her day planner.
On the bus ride to her office, Gretchen stuck the post-it on the back of the seat in front of her and opened her planner to run through her day. The bus stopped at the intersection of Wright and Capital, and Gretchen looked out her window to see a young woman surrounded by a mass of auburn hair.
The wind must have picked up. The woman held her coffee out in front of her while she tried to brush her hair out of her face. She was laughing, and she was beautiful — her hair lifting and dancing. Her eyes stood out even without liner. Her freckles gave her more color than blush. The woman caught Gretchen’s eye and smiled.
Your makeup does not define you!
Gretchen ran her finger across the words.
The bus jerked out into traffic and Gretchen’s planner fell to the floor. By the time she picked up her stray notes and receipts, the bus had stopped outside her office building. In a flurry to exit before the doors closed, Gretchen left the post-it on the seat in front of her.
An hour later, a man named Richard stepped onto the same bus and took a seat towards the back. The bus was empty, except for him and an elderly gentleman up front. The old man wore a suit and had his arms wrapped around a briefcase. He winked at Richard.
“It’s gonna be a good day,” he said. Richard managed a weak smile in return.
Richard was four months into his release from serving time for his third DUI. He was one year sober and had a medallion in the pocket of his new pants to prove it. He’d gotten help while he was inside, and his social worker had given him a letter that highlighted his changes in that last year. Richard’s grip on the letter was beginning to wrinkle it, so he loosened his fingers.
On the back of a seat some rows in front of him, he saw the yellow paper. He leaned forward, so he could decipher the words. He puzzled over the message for a minute, and then his head bobbed in agreement.
“The past is the past,” he said to himself, “it does not define me.”
He popped some Tums to settle his stomach, said a quick prayer, and stepped off the bus. As he studied the height of the gray office building, the wind kicked up and lifted his letter from his hands. He reached for it and ran after it, but the wind carried the letter higher and higher, the paper twisting and twirling. It sailed around the corner and out of Richard’s sight. He looked at his watch. There was no time to chase after the letter.
He stepped off the elevator at the twenty-fourth floor and told the receptionist he was here to interview for the data entry job.
“Ms. Gretchen Wilson, please,” he said with a smile, as he wiped his forehead. The receptionist led Richard down the hall.
In her office, Gretchen studied Richard’s resume. She paused and pointed to “Felony” and “DUI.” Richard brushed a piece of lint off his shoulder. He rubbed out a scuff on the toe of his shoe. He cleared his throat.
When Gretchen looked up, Richard spoke. He was honest and humble. He said he was willing to start anywhere.
“We can’t hide who we are,” he said. “I can’t make up for my mistakes, Ms. Wilson. I can only make a new future.”
Gretchen smiled. His eyes were telling, she thought — focused, sincere, and kind.
“Well, Mr. Martin,” she tapped his application papers into order. “I like your attitude, and your honesty.” She reached out her hand, “Why don’t we give it a try. You can start on Monday.”
He left the office spirited and full of hope. Gretchen followed him out and told the receptionist she would be back in ten. She stood outside her building. She felt good about giving Mr. Martin a chance. The wind rustled her hair and she closed her eyes. She thought of the woman with the dark brown eyes on Wright and Capital.