As you may or may not know, I've been taking a creative writing class with the wonderful Miss Pamela Des Barres (author I'm With the Band). In this session, we worked on character development with the end goal being a short story. Below is my final assignment...
Tracks trudged down Los Angeles Street, shoulders hunched with the weight of her world. The sun is bright this morning, heating the dark asphalt of the streets. Though she sweats through the many layers of clothes, Tracks is cold. It’s a cold the sun can’t chase away. It’s the cold that is lives in her bones. She trails her hands over dusty windows, stucco walls, wrought iron bars, chain link fences and corrugated metal. “Closed. Closed. Closed.” She repeated. “Stay out.” She stopped to peer through a metal grate into a tailor’s shop. “Stay out.” Yolanda dropped her elbow onto Tracks’ shoulder. “Baby girl, it ain’t to keep us out. It’s to keep them in.” They stood a moment longer, staring at the mannequins, sewing machines and pin cushions. Then continued on their way.
Harlan Haines strode confidently past tinted storefront windows, discreetly checking his profile every few steps. From a distance, he looks like every other downtown-working businessman – dark suit, white shirt, bold colored tie. Up close, the details set him apart. Harlan still wears cufflinks. His son, Hunter, had scoffed when Harlan gave him his first pair. Since when did cufflinks become passé? Harlan wondered. No matter. Harlan liked the glint when caught by the sun at the right angle. He liked the double H monogram – simple, not haughty or tasteless. All of Harlan’s shirts were monogrammed with the double H on the pocket. He and Gwendolyn liked the subtlety of tone-on-tone. Both of them thought flashy was tawdry. Both of them were elegant in simple ways, evidenced in their homes, their cars and their appearances.
Harlan stopped in front of the doors, adjusted his cufflinks and sleeves; gave himself the once-over. He patted at the sweat on his upper lip. Slow inhale. Slow exhale. He adjusted again. He hesitated. Slow inhale. Slow exhale. Harlan walked into the bank.
Inside the Downtown Women’s Center, Tracks and Yolanda ate lunch. The yellow walls and rows of windows, while meant to be warm and cheery, sadly highlighted the age and wear of the building. More bars Tracks observed silently. DWC is one place she feels safe. She wishes they could stay…
“After you shower, I’ma go. I’ll be back to shower before it close” said Yolanda, her mouth full of pasta. Tracks never asked where Yolanda went or why she went alone. She always came back for her. Yolanda always came back…usually stoned and happy, sometimes with money, one time with a black eye and bloody lip. No, Tracks never asked where Yolanda went or why she went alone.
“Good afternoon, Mister Haines.”
“Hello, Donna. Safe deposit box, please.”
“Certainly, Mister Haines. This way.” Together they walked to the far corner of the bank. Harlan filled out the form and signed the entry sheet. The buzz alerted Harlan the lock was disengaged. He pushed through the door. Donna slid a card key through a scanner then entered her key when a tiny light turned green. Harlan followed her into the vault. “5-5-Oh” she said, sliding her key into the bottom lock. “Thank you Donna.” Harlan slid his key into the top lock and together they opened the small door. “I’ll only be a few minutes.” Donna nodded, “Take your time, Mister Haines.” She left him alone.
Harlan removed the box, set it on the table, and lifted the lid. Inside were copies of his and Gwendolyn’s wills, their passports, several envelopes, two ring boxes and an Airweight snub-nosed revolver. He grabbed the envelopes, pocketed the gun and called for Donna.
Tracks was relieved to find the arts and crafts room empty. Fresh air and sounds of the street blew through the open windows. Tracks removed one envelope from the front of her jeans emptying its contents on a table under the window. Pictures, postcards, paper and Polaroids spilled across the tabletop. Pushing her damp hair back, Tracks began to arrange the items – girls here, boys there; smiling, not smiling; groups of people; places. She studied each picture, making up her own story to go along with the faces. She didn’t know why people threw out the pictures; she didn’t care, really. She liked having them; having them close.
Tracks read the labels on the craft boxes – pencils, pens, crayons & markers, glue, glitter. She took the pens, glue and glitter to the table. She found orange construction paper and scissors on a shelf then sat down. Tracks picked up a stack of pictures, thumbed through and selected. In the picture, a group of boys in party hats made silly faces at the camera. On the table in front of them sat a huge pepperoni pizza, 3 pitchers of soda and presents. Tracks carefully cut around the boys, their pointy hats and elbows, the pitcher, the pizza and the presents. She glued this onto a sheet of construction paper. Tracks folded the paper in half so the picture was on the outside and wrote “Thank you for the food” inside. Tracks sat uninterrupted in the arts and crafts room for 3 hours, making cards with most of the pictures, postcards, paper and Polaroids from the envelope. She cleaned up her mess; put everything back into its proper place and walked downstairs.
Harlan sat outside the Starbuck’s checking voicemail. He skipped through the first four messages – Patricia will answer those. At the fifth message – which was marked Private and Urgent - Harlan froze. “Harlan, it’s Jack Leverett. Come see me.” Jack Leverett was the company’s Senior Counsel. He never left a message. His secretary left messages for him. Harlan loosened his tie. Tiny sweat beads sprang up across his upper lip and forehead. Could he…? No. No! Jack? Jack?? No. No way. No way. Harlan closed his eyes. Slow inhale. Slow exhale. Slow inhale. Slow exhale. Harlan took a minute to scan his emails on the blackberry. Nothing out of the ordinary there. He relaxed. Slightly. He pushed 4 on the phone which rang his office.
“Harlan Haines office.” Harlan wondered if she’d heard anything about his call to Leverett’s office.
“Hi Patricia, it’s Harlan. I’m at Starbuck’s – would you like anything?” Did you hear – I took money from the company? I took lots of money from the company.
“No thank you Mister Haines. Would you like your messages?” Business as usual. Does she sound suspicious? Does she sound different? She does. She doesn’t. His stomach cramped. I’ll give you money if you don’t tell. Shh! It’ll be our little secret.
“Yes, please.” She rattled off his messages. “Thank you, Patricia. I’m going to the 17th floor then I’ll be in the office.” He hoped she wouldn’t be suspicious. She didn’t sound suspicious. His head pounded.
“Yes sir. Bye.”
His stomach cramped, his mouth dry, his head pounded. Harlan trudged to his office, shoulders hunched with the weight of his world.
Curled up on a cot, Tracks dreamt of home. The pretty green house with white shutters; rose bushes, flower beds and kids running through sprinklers on the front lawn; a blue hammock in the shade of 2 trees. She’s running and laughing with the children but they don’t see her. She’s pushing the hammock but they don’t see her. She yells and screams. But they don’t see her. She cries and screams herself awake. Vanessa, the Day Center manager, is sitting on a cot next to her. “You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re at the Center. You’re okay. Here’s some water.” She placed the cup of water into Tracks’ shaky hands. “Let’s go outside, Tracks. Come on. Let’s get fresh air.”
Harlan sat in his Mercedes, head on the steering wheel. Relief. Sweet relief! Jack wanted to talk about secretaries. Secretaries! Harlan practically giggled with delight when Jack asked if he could promote Patricia when his assistant left in September. “Of course you can, Jack!” Harlan bellowed. “Of course you can!” No, Harlan didn’t need to think about it. Yes, Harlan will tell her. Great, great. Yes, it’s great. Though relieved, his heart beat wildly. His stomach still cramped. His head still pounded. The bottle of water did nothing to his dry mouth. Harlan pulled the car out of the garage and merged into downtown traffic.
Tracks sat in the shade, against a wall in the empty parking lot - chin on her knees, the tears dried on her face. She rarely thinks of home. She often dreams of it. She can never go back after all of the horrible things she said, all of the lies she told, all of the things Zeke did. Too embarrassing! Her stomach cramped at the thought of it all.
Harlan pulled his Mercedes into the empty parking lot, coming to a stop across 2 adjoining spaces. No one around – perfect. He pounded his fists on the dashboard and steering wheel, yelling and screaming, crying and screaming.
Tracks watched the car speed into the lot and screech to a halt. He didn’t try to park, he just stopped. He was yelling at someone or something. He was hitting the steering wheel. She liked the glint of whatever the sun caught – his watch or something? She stood up, watching the lights dance out from the car.
Harlan calmed himself down. He took the envelopes out from the front of his pants, careful to arrange them on the dashboard. He removed the cufflinks and his watch and wedding band and put them in the envelope marked Gwendolyn. He sat turning the gun over and over in his hand. It was unraveling…he would bring shame to his family, his reputation dirtied by accusations then ruined by the truth. He started to cry...body shaking. His sobs became moans. His façade cracked as his moans became wails. He screamed with the gun in his mouth.
The man’s screams wrenched her gut. He was crying in pain. Tears sprung to her eyes and her body wracked with release. She stood, staring into the car, shaking her head. Tracks said no. No. No, repeating it over and over, louder and louder until she was screaming and wailing. Hugging herself, Tracks rocked on her heels.
Harlan stopped screaming, but the screams did not stop. He opened his eyes and met those of the screaming girl.