Prose Writing Prompt of the Week: Write about some sort of metamorphosis, what triggered it and whether the outcome was expected or not.
by Jamie DeBree
They’re all staring. This was a really bad idea.
Mary Coulter adjusted the strap of her new leather satchel for the one-hundredth time on her shoulder and kept walking, trying to avoid eye contact. She’d thought she could do this, thought she could make a clean start and leave her past behind, but everyone knew who she was – it was inevitable in a smallish town. Everyone knew what she’d done, even if they didn’t understand the reasons why. Girls like her don’t change, everyone knew that, and they all took great joy in reminding her of it too – even those who’d taken advantage of her “services”.
Her parents had been gone for six months now, and the need for treatment money gone with them. Her dad had decided it was time to check out, and politely took her mom with him. She still wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She’d kept working for awhile, numb and alone. Not sure what else to do, really.
A man had passed through a few weeks back who hadn’t wanted anything from her, but he’d paid her well to listen to his advice.
What he’d said made sense. But now here she was, the center of attention again in a way that she had no idea how to deal with, and she wasn’t so sure this was a good idea after all. Maybe she should have waited longer. Or just laid low for awhile, until people forgot.
Except people never forget.
“New costume for the clients, Mary? I bet that one’s really popular, but you know you’re not supposed to be on campus…”
Daisy Newsome laughed with her two best friends, Bonnie Spinner and Lila Tate as they watched Mary walk by. Lila had been Mary’s best friend in grade school – they’d been inseparable. She’d hooked up with Daisy in middle school when Mary’s mom got sick (her dad had always been drunk) and she’d dropped out to care for her, and that had been that.
Just keep walking. You can do this, just like you did the other thing. You don’t have to be that person anymore.
She kept walking, ignoring the giggles and not-so-quiet whispers. She’d done what she had to to take care of her family, and those girls would never understand it. But she didn’t have to be that person anymore – the kind that swore and hurled insults right back before she ran off to lick her wounds. Her clothes weren’t the only thing that had changed, and eventually, they’d realize it.
Marry lifted her head at that thought. It really didn’t matter whether those girls ever came around. Thier lives and opinions hadn’t mattered to her in years, and a new wardrobe and new goals didn’t change that. Her own opinion was the only one that mattered. Even if people did point and stare and…whistle.
It came from her right, but she ignored the urge to look. That’s what they wanted, she knew. They wanted her attention, her fear, her prey-like reaction to either run or freeze while they verbally assaulted her just because they could.
Not today, she thought, a small grin flirting at her lips. Today, she had far more interesting and important things to do than spar with a bunch of idiots. Well, that, and last time she’d responded, the police had almost arrested her for rearranging that one guy’s nose. She never did apologize. It would have been a lie, and she tried never to lie.
She reached the large building, the imposing red brick and brown trim looking almost more judgemental than any human she’d run into so far. Taking a quick, deep breath, she marched up the stairs and through the doors, and then up another flight of stairs past people she thankfully didn’t know or recognize. Encouraged by the lack of attention, she found Room 201 and went inside, pausing only momentarily before choosing an empty seat in the third row.
A few familiar faces stared back at her when she glanced at her new classmates, but no one flinched or sneared, so she figured things were looking up.
Then the professor walked in, and they dropped right back down into the gutter.
“Good morning, class. Professor Heinrich had a family emergency at the last minute, and had to leave, so I’ll be filling in for him until he returns. My name is Theresa May, and this is English Literature 101. Please go around the room and state your name and your favorite book.”
Definitely some familiar names. Client’s kids, some of them.
“Mary Coulter,” she said when it was her turn. She made sure to enunciate clearly, not wanting to leave any confusion, and Professor May looked up from her ledger. Her expression was grimm, tired. “The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe is my favorite story.”
For a moment, Mary thought the professor would say something. Maybe ask her to leave. But the next student said his name, breaking the immediate tension, and the rest of the class went quickly and easily.
It had been a long time since she was in school, and listening to the professor go through the syllabus and test dates and everything they were going to study was overwhelming. But it was just one class, and the start of something better, Mary hoped. More classes, more opportunity. One day at a time.
She was tucking her things back in her notebook at the end of class when the professor approached.
“I was sorry to hear about your parents. That must have been very hard for you.”
Mary nodded. “Thank you.” She never knew quite how to respond to that, since it had probably been more good than bad for all involved. But she supposed in this case, a reciprocal apology was due.
“I’m sorry about your husband.”
Ms. May shrugged. “I was angry at the time, but I realize it would have happened eventually. Good riddance.” She stood there while Mary zipped her bag and stood, slinging it over her shoulder. “I’m glad to see you here. If you need anything at all, even after Professor Heinrich returns, please let me know. I’m happy to help.”
She smiled. Not an obligatory smile, but a real one. Warm. Friendly.
Mary couldn’t remember the last time one of those had been directed at her, and she smiled back.
“Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
She left campus to more catcalls, a few giggles, a few jeers, but none of it touched her. When she got back to the trailer – the only thing her parents had ever actually owned, there was a man waiting on the steps. A regular. He smiled when he saw her. The obligatory “I want something” kind.
She smiled back, pulled out her friend’s card and pressed it into his hand.
“I’m sorry. I don’t do that anymore. Call Amy.”
She watched her old life walk away without a backwards glance, and went into the house.
Check back next Sunday for more free flash fiction! And check the writing prompt on Monday’s blog too, in case you might be interested in writing something to submit for this weekly post as well…