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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Charade (08/14/08)

TITLE: It's in the eyes
By Amanda Gray


She didn’t realise she was shaking until she tried to apply her lipstick. At a delicate point she wobbled. Annoyed, she grunted. This turned out to be very unhelpful as she ended up with the permanent painted smile of a clown, but only on one side of her face.

Not quite the look she was aiming for - though the ridiculousness of it did bring out an involuntary giggle. And this would have been helpful in calming her nerves if it hadn’t ended on an equally involuntary sob.

This is ridiculous. It’s only Church. I go all the time. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, that was the wrong question to ask. Her over-stressed mind began turning over the dreaded possibilities.

She’d turn up, only to find out she’d got the time wrong. Too early. Too late.

Or she’d be wearing the wrong clothes. Over-dressed. Under-dressed.

Or she’d turn up and find out she wasn’t welcome.

Or people would find out who she really was. Was she weak? A failure? She’d be left alone in a corner. Ashamed. Blamed.

Or she’d get there and be lost in the crowd. A stranger among strangers. And no-one would know.

By this time her breathing was coming in ragged gasps. Feeling stupid for making such a big deal out of something so pedestrian, she slumped onto the end of her bed and did what she had been told to do.

Deep breath in through the nose. Hold. Out through the mouth.

Deep breath in through the nose. Hold. Out through the mouth.

Repeat until calm.

Think positive thoughts.

This last was thrown out of the window as she glanced at the clock. She’d be late. She hated being late! (Deep breath in through the nose. Hold. Out through the mouth.)

Pushing away the niggling thoughts that a Church service wasn’t worth all this effort, she wielded the lipstick to attempt a transformation from clown to beauty with her still unsteady hand. She gave up (Deep breath in through the nose – hold – out through the mouth), deciding it was more important to get there on time than try to do the impossible.

Rushing out of the house, she jumped into the car feeling dishevelled (despite what her frequently visited mirror told her) and feeling like she had left something important behind. Driven by anxiety, she arrived just a touch early.

Her equilibrium destroyed, and feeling as though she was being watched, she surreptitiously took a few more deep breaths while pretending to look for something in her handbag. Having nerved herself for what she now felt was going to be a huge ordeal, she stepped out of the car.

And bumped into Grace and Kyle. “Hi, Jen! Looking lovely as usual!”

Annoyingly, she blushed. To cover the blush and her inarticulateness, she laughed with enthusiasm.

They stepped into the building, and Jennifer was almost surprised to see that it did not match the image in her head. Instead of a confusing rabble of strangers, staring at her with malicious intent and contempt, there was only Nell coming towards her with a welcoming smile.

“Hi, Jen! Good to see you! How’s things?!”

Scenes flashed through Jennifer’s mind.

Migraines, body aches, infections and colds. A panic attack in a busy mall. Sleeplessness. Tears. Loneliness. Fears. Overwhelming tiredness. And then the diagnosis.

But she chirped in reply, “Not bad, not bad.” Inside she was screaming “Life’s awful, horrendous, I’m terribly sad!”

But Nell didn’t hear this.

Nor did any one else.

Quickly seated, Jen blended in well. She sang. She prayed. She listened, carrying off the charade.

She was just like everyone else.

But she felt all the time like she was watching from a dark place inside. A foggy film separated her from these happy people she sat beside.

She felt very alone. Her mask was slipping. Then after the service she met Nikki.

“Hi, Jen! Love those shoes!”

“Thanks.” Jennifer desperately wanted to drop the facade.

“So how’s life been treating you?”

Was this the time? Tentatively, sheepishly she smiled, “Oh, well. Not so good.”

Her heart beat quickly. Would the response be distracted, the cues undetected? Would Nikki care and give a listening ear?

All around her people were milling. Business. Movement. Smiling. Connecting. Greetings were made. Farewells waved. Hugs exchanged. Lunch plans arranged.

Would the moment pass by?

Nikki looked in Jen’s eyes.

Her heart stirred, she chose to care.

“Let’s talk somewhere quiet, away from here.”

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This article has been read 520 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Carole Robishaw 08/21/08
Very good approach, I could easily feel myself in the MC's shoes.
Heather Sargent08/21/08
This story hit home with me. The MC reminded me so much of my grandmother in her last days. The frustration of a once independent woman trying to do the once simple things such as putting on make-up. It was always so heartbreaking.

This was very well done. I am so glad the MC finally gets to be real with someone.
Anita van der Elst08/21/08
I think I was holding my breath all the way through reading this. So happy at the end that I actually said outloud as I finally took a breath, "Oh, Thank God!" You've captured perfectly our desperate need to be heard from the hurting places.
Valarie Sullivan08/21/08
This was wonderful! You could really get into what she was feeling. Spot on!
Marlene Austin08/22/08
Compassionately written. Details clear and complete.
This reaches out to all of us at some level. Very nice. :)
Jan Ackerson 08/22/08
Very, VERY good--one of the best I've read this week. Love your use of repetition.
Patrick Whalen08/22/08
I was holding my breath alonside the main character. I can relate, as I am certain everyone else can, to similar experiences. I am glad hers turned out well. Good setting, mood, rhythm, and story.
Judith Gayle Smith08/22/08
This is soooooooooooo good! Moving. I slipped into her shoes immediately, and walked all the way with her. Sad, isn't it, when we have to put up our facades and accept the charades of others, when within, we are all screaming KNOW ME! Thank you for this most excellent treatise on the condition of nominal Christianity and opening the hearts of caring Christianity.
Chely Roach08/23/08
You completely nailed the internal agony of anxiety disorder. Very well written...I hope this ministers to those that need to read it.
Sherri Ward08/23/08
This is really good. It's sad when we're afraid to be real at church, but so good when people really do take the time and have what it takes inside to listen and care and share a burden.
Beckie Stewart08/25/08
I liked your story. It kept me reading the entire time. How nice to see someone really cared.
Patty Wysong08/26/08
This is great! You captured the emotions and offered hope at the end. Good job!