So You Think You Can Write: Juliette
29 Feb 2012 · by Brennan Storr · Be the first to comment!
For this, my third assignment in the Times Colonist "So You Think You Can Write" competition, I was tasked with creating a character in 500 words or less. Descriptive writing was not something I often did and so this was an intimidating assignment, although it was easy compared to the one that followed.
Gliding between Formica tabletops, her slender fingers around the handle of a coffeepot, Juliette remembers when John would take her dancing and, when the diner is quiet, she can almost pretend it’s still spring 1967 and the air smells of gardenias in bloom.
She closes her blue eyes and remembers the summer before John was drafted: drinking iced tea on the porch with her parents before sneaking away to make love by the banks of the Atchafalaya Basin. Juliette trembled in the moonlight, a tall, slim girl even then, and he handled her like something precious and rare.
There have been others in the 30 years since a folded flag came home instead of him but John’s picture is the only one on her nightstand and in her best dreams her breath is quick and two hearts beat under cypress trees spread out against the stars.
The clatter of fallen plates brings her back to the present where Tara, the new girl, has dropped her tray. Julie hurries to help, wincing a little as her knees pop, and shushes the younger girl’s apologies.
Some nights Tara comes to Julie’s Galveston home where the two gossip and laugh until long after the orange Texas sun has dipped below the horizon. The 18-year-old is fascinated by the blonde tresses that hang to Julie’s waist and Julie is fascinated by the girl’s vitality, her ability to talk endlessly about nothing. The house is always too quiet after she leaves.
Julie hadn’t gotten around to having children by the time four long-haul truckers in Beaumont left her bleeding in a pile of dead leaves and took away the option. It was fall 1986, about the same time as the first dead girl was found in the Calder Killing Fields. The thought that there was someone worse off than her was all that kept Julie together in the long months that followed.
Her shift over, Julie hangs her apron in the staff closet, drops her tips into a paper bag from underneath the till and slips on her denim coat. One of her regulars wolf-whistles from the counter when she lets her hair down and she playfully swats him with the paper bag before giving him a delicate peck on the cheek. The old man blushes, the way he does every time.
The chimes above the door announce her arrival into a bright winter day and as she watches traffic zip past along the Gulf Freeway, Julie drifts back across the years. To cypress trees and the heady smell of the swamp. To tears and pain and how even they are playthings of time. To the dead and the living and the thin line she’s walked between them.
Through all of it she’s still standing and with money in her pockets, no less. Juliette breathes deeply and holds her head high. Her smile, as she walks to her truck, is a special one. One she usually saves for the picture on her night stand.