It's Just A Smile is my latest short story as part of the ongoing Twelve challenge.. Make sure you're signed up to the newsletter before Wednesday to get your free copy of this story in full, and you will receive all the other short stories to come.
This month's short story, It's Just A Smile is very short. An avid people-watcher (hey, aren't we all?) the narrator is sitting in a coffee shop looking at a woman who is crying . She then studies her, trying to determine what is wrong with her.
Yet again, this story idea sort of came from nowhere but the words really flowed from my heart - quick, raw, confused and in need of lots of editing! While it's nice to write fast, it's not always effective to write so quickly because they usually need a lot more re-writing, but I have to say that these stories carry more weight with me... of the emotional variety.
There's a woman crying in the corner of the coffee shop.
Heavy tears snake down her face leaving faint white lines in her slightly too orange foundation. Not that her make-up can hide the grey half-moons under her eyes or the new translucence of her skin. After they have travelled the length of her face, her tears take their time to leave her completely, hanging onto the cliff edge of her chin. Once they've finally given up all hope, they drop into her cappuccino and sink into the foam. Her head tilted down, she seems to be watching them intently as if counting each one. Occasionally she looks to her left and her glance hints at lingering but then quickly pulls away. She doesn't look up very often so I can stare at her as long as I want.
Normally I'd prefer to size up someone a bit more mysterious as it's pretty easy to see what's going on here. She's exhausted. Her lack of sleep is breaking up her brain cells, splitting them into lesser versions of themselves. Physically, I suspect she's also not the woman she used to be. Whatever she's going through has altered her body, has pummelled it to a softer pulp and forced her to face a tricky conundrum; embrace the changes either indignantly or proudly and say goodbye to her firm thighs and Egyptian chin, or resolve to do everything she can to claw back a stomach that doesn't fold in on itself, even if right now she finds that just standing up makes her dizzy, let alone sit-ups or squats. It's slightly more intriguing to wonder what exactly is making her cry. Is it a man? A big fight? A bad break-up? I always like to consider the reasons a woman cries over a man. Me? Men have made me cry for all the usual reasons - cheating, commitment-issues or simply ignored text messages and phone calls. Of course, there I am jumping to two stereotypical conclusions. Firstly, that she's attracted to men, and secondly, that a man is to blame for her tears. But she doesn't look like a lesbian, even in those sagging leggings and that XL T-shirt she's wearing.
It's nice not to have to cry over men now. I'm glad I found one who doesn’t have that effect on me. So what if he's sometimes a little difficult to live with on account of a therapist's jackpot combination of OCD and ADHD? He's a good man, he takes care of me and the sex is wonderful... once he finally gets into bed after tapping the door handle twenty times.
"Hurry up, love," I whisper to her in my head. "You need to drink that coffee before it goes cold. Soak up that brief buzz the caffeine brings you and treasure the small joy of an overpriced hot drink made exactly how you want it."
As if she hears me, she lifts the cup to her mouth and eyes closed she takes one long sip, then a second, because raising the drink to her mouth again would be too much effort. I can almost taste the warm liquid slide down her throat and the thin line of steamed milk coat her top lip. She takes her time licking it away.
Rather than pinning the cause of those tears on a single incident, my conclusion is rather that she's depressed. I recognise the slow movements and half-closed eyes of a deep, indefinable depression and the kind of suffering only those who have experienced it can relate to. So yes, I can relate to her. I can feel that cloak of darkness droop over her like a broken marquee, its hood often blocking her vision, heavy as if burdened by recent rain water.
But what exactly was it that brought the rain into her life?
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Frances M. Thompson
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