I year ago I received a nomination on the shortlist for the first annual BBC Young Writer’s Award. The story below is what I submitted, but not exactly. Even though this piece is what got me my first recognition as a writer outside of my family or school, it continues to change. Every time I go back to it, a change something. Usually it’s just a word, a synonym that fits better than the original. This short story represents, to me, the writing process. Nothing can really ever be complete. Also, admittedly, I’m trying to relive my glory days.
Stars, Sparks and Lighting
Persephone is all sharp lines and cat-like reflexes, inured from decades of mean Russian dance teachers and days on pointed toes. Her voice is as sweet as lavender syrup, conditioned into a soaring soprano through years with voice coaches and musical directors. She glides where I stumble. All the time I’ve spent in the kitchen has made me soft, like the butter I eat too much of, rounding my edges into gentle curves.
The night we met, I was catering with an hors d’oeuvres company. It was a job I hated. I didn’t want to be offering artisanal cheese puffs to sweaty people in black tie. The rooms were always too small, and the odor of hundreds of nervous socialites hung in the air. Persephone was already doing what she loved. She was performing. This night it was with a jazz band set up in the corner, playing Armstrong and Basie. I like music as much as the next girl, but something about Persephone was bewitching. I couldn’t help but stop and watch. Her large eyes were closed, the lids shrouded in dark shadows, and a slinky black dress draped off her sinewy frame. I could smell her perfume, something deep, with hints of sandalwood and musk, coming towards me in small waves as her chest heaved with “Learnin’ the Blues”. I stood, neglecting my cheese puffs, to listen to Persephone croon. It was as though the music possessed her, flowing out of her fingertips and the perfect O of her petal pink mouth. She finished the song, and kept her eyes closed until the band played the last flourishing note. She finally looked up, her nails already tapping out the next song on her thigh, to see me obviously staring. Our eyes connected, and Persephone winked. I turned bright red, hurrying away to replenish my platter and continue the rounds.
I was packing away dishes at the end of the night, when Persephone approached me. “Hey,” she stood with her hands on her hips, towering over me as I kept my head bowed and my hands busy with plates and boxes.
“Hi. Is everything all right? Were the mushroom turnovers too mediocre? Any complaints will have to be taken up with my boss,” I told her, flicking my head towards the fat man smoking outside the door.
“No, actually, I wanted to talk to you,” she said. I kept my eyes focused on her bouncing feet.
“I’m sorry I stared at you earlier,” my cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
“Oh! Don’t worry at all. I find it flattering… I was going to ask you if you were hungry.”
I closed the top to the last box. “I could eat,” I stood with my arms crossed.
“I wanted to see if you’d like to join me for Vietnamese food once you’re done here,” she smiled, and looked down at me through her thick lashes.
“Really?” I was skeptical.
“Yeah. Why not? You seem nice, and I’m tired of eating alone.”
“That’s very sweet of you,” I told her.
“Do you have a car? The place is a bit of a ways, and the band already left with the van. I was counting on you saying yes,” her wide grey eyes crinkled hopefully.
“Yeah, it’s the Volvo out back,” I reached for my bag. We stood uncomfortably for a moment. “We can go,” I urged, leading her out the door.
My station wagon waited for us in the parking lot. We got in, Persephone shifting the seat to fit her statuesque frame. I started the car, wondering what this stunning girl was doing in my passenger seat. She looked confusedly around at the lavender that cluttered the dashboard and hung on the windows. She pointed at it saying, “Is this some sort of vampire repellant?” Out of the corner of my eye I saw her smirking at me.
“Breathe in,” I told her.
She raised an eyebrow, but I nodded, inhaling deeply. Persephone followed. I could feel the sweetness of dried lavender filling my nose.
“Nice. Air freshener,” she said.
“Yeah,” I agreed, smiling slightly. “I like things to smell nice,” I admitted. We drove in silence for a little, down the interstate, Persephone humming quietly to herself as I focused on the road.