Sometimes a character will sit in the back of my head for a while. Last Spring, "Elizabeth" made herself known, but she was pretty quiet. She told me she had something to say, but she didn't want to give me much in the way of detail. She gave me title of her story, but that was it. So, I let her get comfortable back there in the shadows. Recently, though, she's been stirring. Last week, she made it known that she has something to say and she needs to say it now. Like right now.
I'll be honest, I am a little afraid to start this project. I'm used to writing genre fiction...horror, urban fantasy...stuff with magic and gore and humor. Christ, I've been writing about zombies for more than a year and a half at this point! The story I know she has to tell is very heavy and very much out of my comfort zone. Hell, it's YA! What do I know about writing YA? But, this story is an important one. I feel that very strongly. And Elizabeth isn't going to let me get off that easily.
So, today, I decided to do a "screen test". This is something I do sometimes to get a feel for a character, a world, a group dynamic... I'll just write something that isn't intended to be canon to see if the idea is valid, see if I can do it or if it needs to cook some more. Today, the character led me through an introduction. I decided to share it with you. This piece will be part of a future novel, working title: "Banning Elizabeth". I hope you enjoy.
Banning Elizabeth - Eli's Screentest
by Jamie Wyman
Mother put her palms on her knees and wiped a film of sweat onto her otherwise tidy skirt. Wrinkle-free and April-fresh, that’s my Mother. Her fingers trembled, regardless of how many deep breaths she took.
“Well,” she sighed, “Doctor Stranger, as I said on the phone, my daughter has a serious problem.”
The psychologist’s cool voice asked, “And what problem is that?”
Strands of silver wove in and out of Iris Stranger’s blonde locks, defiantly showing the progress of time. Mother was probably cringing, aching to find a bottle of dye to cover the loathsome hairs. I could see Mother’s eyes falling over the psychologist, appraising her, critiquing every last detail from her no-nonsense glasses to the un-ironed pantsuit and unapologetic laugh lines.
Mother lifted a hand and dragged it through the air in front of me, presenting all of my flaws to the doctor. “Just look at her.”
To my other side, Dad snorted. If my mother is Order, Dad is Chaos. (Does that make me Mayhem? Mother would say I’m Pestilence, I’m sure.) With one leg crossed over the other and one arm draped over the back of his chair, tie loose and a couple of buttons undone, he looked almost comfy. But, I know my Dad. When his jaw gets like that—all stony, you can see the muscles moving around in his cheeks as he grinds his teeth—and his eyes turn steely-blue, it’s all but obvious he’s biting back anger.
Dr. Stranger’s eyes flicked over Dad. “You have something to say Mr. Reese?”
Slowly, he looked at my shoes—canvas things that I’d drawn on with a bored pen during chem lab—and my sagging jeans. Each button of my blue shirt held his attention for a second as he counted the way up to my face. Though I’d tried to hide beneath a fringe of bangs and a red ball-cap, Dad saw me. All of me. When I saw the first tears well up in his eyes, I looked away and considered my hands. Too small. So girly.
“There’s nothing wrong with my child,” Dad said, his voice soft and controlled.
I could almost hear my skin sizzle as I blushed.
“Nothing wrong?” Mother barked. “Nothing wrong? Just look at her, for God’s sake, and tell me if you think she’s a normal girl.”
Then it started. The old argument. The raised voices and sharp stares like bullets firing over my head. Did they think I wasn’t there? Did they believe I couldn’t understand? In this worn war between the two of them, it seemed I always disappeared even though I was sitting right there between them.
“A normal teenager,” Dad said. “Has it been so long that you forgot what it was like to be a teenager?”
Mother’s eyes indicated that Dad had scored a hit with that one. “When I was her age, I went out with friends and wore dresses to the school dance,” she hissed.
“Things are different.”
“Oh, sure. I didn’t have a cell phone or the Internet to do my homework for me, but that doesn’t mean a thing. She doesn’t take any pride in herself at all.”
Dad shot back, “Because you tell her not to.”
“Because she has a problem, David. Look at her!”
Once more, Mother gestured to me with her hands.
“What are you supposed to be?” she asked. She jerked at the hem of my shirt. “What is this? Are you punishing me? Do you want people to think your home life is so bad? Do you want them to think you’re a…” she paused and then whispered the word, “lesbian?”
I crossed my arms over my chest and sank into my chair, trying to draw my head inside of myself like a turtle. Why couldn’t I have been born a turtle? That would’ve been easier than this.
The doctor’s voice rang clear as a bell. “I’d like to step back a moment. I see there is a lot of emotion between you three. Elizabeth,” she said, her eyes locking on mine, “it is clear that you have two parents who love you very much.”
Against my better judgment, I let out a weak laugh. “Right.”
Mother’s head whipped to me. “Don’t you start, young lady.”
“Carol,” the doctor said, a hand out to settle Mother. “Please. I understand you are in pain, you are scared, but remember that we are all here to help your daughter.”
“Son,” I said.
And just like that, I’d called a temporary ceasefire. Dad sagged in his seat, letting out a slow breath. I don’t know if it was relief or disappointment. Ever the opposite, Mother gasped, her spine straightening.
“Could you say that again?” Dr. Stranger asked. “I didn’t quite hear.”
I looked between my parents for approval. He didn’t look at me, but Dad gave a soft nod of his head. Mother just rolled her eyes.
I cleared my throat and called out the word again in a voice too high for my tastes. “Son. I’m their son. And my name is Eli.”