Storied Women: Assignment 1

This is the first assignment from a free online course I am trying out.  The course is called "Storied Women" and is part of How Writers Write Fiction through the University of Iowa.  The focus is on character and structure and it incorporates women as authors of and characters in fiction.  

The first assignment required that we write a scene or short story about a young girl and to focus on her voice and identity, how she relates to those around her and how others see her differently than she sees herself.  

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Young At Heart

Elli accidentally slammed the front door of her apartment again.  She didn't mean to do so but she was just too excited and was having trouble controlling her body. She knew there would be a lecture from her babysitter later but she didn't care. After several days of near constant boredom she knew today would be the day that Terrence could play with her. They had been planning to build a fort together.

Her slippered feet shuffled along the hallway as she tried to walk calm like her Mom always told her.

“You need to be careful,” her Mom would say.  “You are not as young as you once were!”

Elli always thought that was an odd thing to tell a little girl but adults were always saying things that didn't make sense to her.

The door to Terrence's apartment was open just a little bit and Elli could hear muffled voices.  She scooted slowly closer to the door and the sound of a woman softly crying leaked out of the crack in the doorway. She reached her hand up to push open the door.

“Eleanor!” Her arm was moved away from the door by a tall man in a doctor's coat. “I'm sorry but you shouldn’t go in there right now.”

“But Terrence and I are supposed to build a fort today,” Elli smiled up at the man. “I've been waiting all week for him to feel better.”

The man in the doctor's coat frowned and then looked toward the door as it opened further and the crying woman walked through. It made Elli's stomach feel bad to see the woman crying.  Her eyes were puffy and red and her nose was running freely.  She looked up and smiled at Ellie and the man in the doctor's jacket with the type of smile that Ellie recognized as an adult trying to be brave, even though she was very sad.

“Hello, Eleanor,” the woman sniffled and then looked at the man. “Doctor, does she know? Would she...understand?”

Elli didn't see his response but saw a new frown form on the woman's face. Elli thought the woman looked a lot like her own Mom.

“Hi,” Ellie mumbled while she fidgeted uncomfortably. She wasn't supposed to talk with strangers but this lady knew her name and her Mom always said she should be polite. “I'm sorry you're sad, miss.”

“Thank you, Eleanor. My father has been very sick and he passed away this morning. Please...excuse me,” the woman broke off and walked away quickly down the hall where Ellie could hear her start crying again.  She wondered if Terrence knew the woman's father. He must be sad, too.

“Eleanor,” the man in the doctor's coat turned her back around to face him. He looked concerned.  “Terrence won't be able to play. I'm sorry. I'll take you down to the game room. I think Sarah is supposed to visit you today, right?” He moved to grab her arm again and she pulled away.

“Stranger!” Elli yelled and backed away from him. “I don't know you, don't touch me! Stranger, stranger, stranger!” Apartment doors started opening around them and Elli could see people poking their heads through doorways as she tried to run away from the man.

Ellie turned the corner of the hallway and could see her Mom rushing toward her.

“Eleanor!”

“Oh, Mom!” she sobbed as she clung to her Mom's soft body. “I wanted to play with Terrence but a stranger in a doctor's coat told me Terrence can't play anymore and I think maybe his Grandpa died because a lady that looked like you said her Daddy died and then the stranger tried to take me to someone called Sarah and I was so scared but I yelled out that he's a stranger and don't touch me and I ran away! Mom, I'm so glad you're here.”

Elli looked up into her Mom's face, sure that her Mom would be proud of her for getting away from the stranger, but she was frowning down at Elli. She pulled away and held Elli out at arm's length, looking into her eyes. Elli could see her Mom was trying not to cry.

“Mom? What's wrong?” Her mom sighed and stood back up straight. Elli noticed there was a little boy standing behind her Mom. “Who is that?”

“I...well, I brought a friend for you to see today.” The boy stepped forward looking very uncomfortable, like he wanted to be anywhere but there. Elli was excited at the prospect of making a new friend. She held out her hand to him.

“Hi!” she said as kindly as she could. “I'm Elli. What's your name?”

The boy glanced at Elli's Mom and muttered, “I know who you are. Are you sure you don't recognize me?” He took her hand very gently in both of his hands.

Elli looked at him harder and felt very confused. Why would she know him? The harder she looked the more she thought he might look a little like Terrence.

“No, I don't know you but you do look like my best friend, Terrence.  I think his Grandpa died.”

“Sarah! I'm so glad you're here!” The stranger in the doctor's coat came around the corner. Elli looked up feeling even more confused. The stranger was talking to her Mom.

“Doctor, what's going on?” her Mom said, looking scared. “Why isn't she in her room?”

“I'm sorry, Sarah. I think she snuck out when her nurse was called away. We couldn't get ahold of you. Sarah,” he took her hands. “Your father passed away this morning. I'm so very sorry.”

Elli looked back and forth between her Mom and the doctor, feeling sick and scared. “But my Grandpa died before I was born. Mom, what does he mean?”

Her Mom was crying now, sobbing like a little girl. She pulled Elli close to her and hugged her while she sobbed. Elli felt so confused and her head hurt. She could smell her Mom's perfume. No, her Mom wore a vanilla scent. She always smelled like cookies. But Elli knew this smell.  

She remembered. She pulled away from the sobbing woman and looked at her.

“Sarah? My sunshine, why are you crying? Why are you so sad?” Eleanor looked up into her daughter's eyes. Her youngest daughter; always the sensitive one. “Sarah, let's go sit down in my room and you can tell me all about it. Then we'll go get lunch with your Dad.  Hopefully he's feeling better.” Eleanor slowly led her daughter and grandson past the nursing home doctor and down the hall to her room.

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Thanks for reading-

Jenny