She sits in the corner of the coffee shop, shaking as she holds the cardboard tray in both hands, the paper cup wedged into the hollow. She lifts the tray towards her face and her orange lipstick-smeared lips pucker and grope until the straw finds her mouth. She sucks. Pulling back suddenly, she waves an uncoordinated arm and cries out “Jerome, over here, Jerome!”
Even those who try not to notice her, not to stare at the woman with the wild hair and childlike smears of lipstick and eyeliner, even those who pretended she is not here, can’t stop themselves from turning to look. And then we all turn to look for Jerome.
Gradually quiet conversation resumes, as people with fearful smirks and gently raised eyebrows turn back to their companions.
“Did you see her eyeliner? A black smudge, must be half a centimetre thick, way below her eyes?
“OMG! And that fake beauty spot, it’s huge.”
“Shhh…she’ll hear you . She’s right there.”
“Why do you think she’s drinking coffee through a straw? And why doesn’t she take the cup out of the tray?”
“Jerome! Over here. Jerome!”
“Where is this Jerome?”
Silence again for a few moments while we all look uncomfortably around for the poor fellow. Sip our coffees, turn the pages of our newspapers and scroll through previously read text messages. Some people steal furtive glances. She is really quite fat, wearing black leggings. The fat bulges over her waistband and between her thighs so she can’t comfortably close her legs. I look away again with the sense that I’m invading something, someone, deeply vulnerable.
“But wait, guys, what do you think, should I get the Aritzia coat or the one from Eddie Bauer?”
“Well the Aritza one is stylish and will keep you very warm. The Eddie Bauer one is very thick too, and it’s a bit cheaper…”
“She’s just taken a huge hand mirror out of her purse. Who carries such a huge mirror in their purse? She’s putting more lipstick on. Don’t look, don’t look now…OMG! It’s all over the place. She looks just like a clown.”
“Well obviously she’s not.”
The little scene above is not, in fact, a work of fiction but something I witnessed a couple of weeks ago while Christmas shopping with my daughters. The words, “Jerome! Over Here, Jerome!” have resounded in my head ever since then. Who is Jerome? Why would he not come when she called? Does he even exist? And why was that strange looking woman drinking coffee from a cup balanced in a tray and drawing it through a straw? Why was she made up so grotesquely? Had she come from a Christmas pantomime, a home for the mentally unstable, or is there a more sinister reason for her oddness?
I am always excited when my curiosity is piqued by real life cameos such as this because they hold the seeds of intriguing characters and interesting stories. In his book, “On Writing: A memoir of the craft” Stephen King says that, for him writing a story is more an act of excavation than anything else. I know just what he means. It is in asking the questions, and allowing my imagination to provide the answers, that the story emerges.
All I had when I started my novel “Mungo Joudry” was a mental picture of a man waiting in the early morning on a boat. This was not even a scene I had actually witnessed; it was just a figment of my imagination. In asking and answering questions about why he was waiting, I have now written over 50,000 words and I am fascinated every day to find out what will emerge on the page next.
Cultivating the art of observation, and seeing past the obvious to the potential, helps a great deal when it comes to crafting interesting and credible characters. This is a skill which, as a writer, goes everywhere with me and relieves the tedium of standing in the queue at the grocery store or sitting in the doctor’s waiting room.
Join me in this fun exercise. Who is Jerome? And who is the bizarre woman who was calling him? Drop your thoughts in the comment box and let’s allow our imaginations out to play.
Click on the link below to read an excerpt of Linda’s novel “Mungo Joudry”.
White Cup Of Hot Coffee And Photo Frame