Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Flash of Inspiration

Lightning flashed, illuminating Scarlett’s living room.  Snick-BOOM – thunder followed it like a best friend.  Her windows rattled, and a few books fell off of the multitudinous shelves, bouncing around.  Scarlett slowly raised her head from her place on the couch at the commotion, eyes bleary.  Tissues were scattered all around her green velvet sofa, on top of the handmade, patchwork quilt in which she’d burrowed herself.  A half-empty bottle of cold medicine tilted on the edge of her chestnut side table, just within reach.  She hadn’t moved from her burrito place on the couch in three days except for bathroom breaks, and she wasn’t planning on changing that anytime soon.  It took too much effort for her overtired, sick body.

            Unfortunately, the universe had other plans. A knock sounded at the door.

“Scarlett? Are you okay in there?” Jenn’s concerned voice floated through the room. 

“Ungh,” Scarlett groaned quietly.

“Scarlett? Scarlett! If you don’t answer in ten seconds I’ll pick your lock!”

But sick as she was, Scarlett couldn’t react that fast – and anyway, she was more concerned with Jenn’s newly revealed skill set.  “She…can pick locks? …Where did she learn that?” Scarlett murmured to herself.

“Alright, I’m coming in!” Jenn announced just as the door popped open. “Oh honey, you look like shit.”

“Thanks,” Scarlett attempted sarcasm.

“Alright. I usually only deal with sick pets, but you can’t be that different…” Jenn pondered.  “Up off the sofa you go – some fresh air and nutritious food will do you good. Let’s go out and eat!”

Scarlett glared and pulled the quilt up farther over her nose. “No.”

“You’re sick. That’s not half as intimidating as you think it is,” Jenn sing-songed.

“Exactly. I’m sick. People with the flu don’t go out in raging thunderstorms.” She tried to roll her eyes, but all it did was make her headache worse. So Scarlett settled for muttering, “Do you kill all the sick animals you work with?”

As if to prove her point, lightning flashed again, far too close for comfort, bouncing eerily off of Jenn’s eyes.  Out Scarlett’s window, a fire started to smolder where the bolt had struck.

“And just for that, you’re coming with me.” Jenn bent down from her position standing next to the sofa, wrapped her arms around burrito Scarlett, and hauled her over her shoulder to the bedroom despite Scarlett’s angry struggles.  Once there, she pelted clothes at Scarlett, playfully harassing her to get dressed.

“Seriously? You have literary quote pajamas? And all of your clothes are either neon sports apparel or have books on them.  You have no fashion sense.  Did you have any friends as a kid?”

Scarlett, who had reluctantly been chuckling along despite her inflamed throat’s protests, sobered instantly at that last question.

“No. Now get out.”

Jenn looked taken aback.  A shadow passed across her face, but she didn’t take offense. To Scarlett, it was almost like she knew better.  Could she know…?

“Fine. But once you’re dressed, holler. You’re not getting out of dinner with me.”

It was only when they were in the foyer of the Steak House Buffet, soaked to the bone – you’d think in this torrential rain they would’ve remembered umbrellas – that Jenn brought it up again. 

“I didn’t, either.”

“You didn’t what?”

“Have many friends.  Grew up on a farm.  Is that why you read?”

Scarlett considered Jenn for a moment, serious. “Yeah.  Learned to love it.  Books never pretended to be something they weren’t; they always told the stories as they were.”

“So that’s why you became an English teacher?”

“Partially.” A neon flash caught Scarlett’s eye through the doorway. “Wha– is that a jukebox?”

Jenn chuckled.  “Yeah. It’s one of the reasons I love coming here. It’s never busy – I don’t know how they stay open – and the music choices are your own.”

They strode through the dark, wooden restaurant to the antique box together and peered over the selections. Jenn dropped a few quarters in and the gestured towards Scarlett.

“Pick your poison.” After a few careful moments of deliberation, the opening strains of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire came on, tinny over the loudspeakers.

Having gotten their steak, salads, and baked potatoes from the buffet, Jenn and Scarlett relaxed in a booth.

“It’s surprisingly good. But I don’t think I can eat all of this,” Scarlett said around a mouthful, chewing slowly. “You know, Jenn, Ring of Fire reminds me of teaching – it’s a love-hate relationship.” She shook her head.

“So you teach…but you don’t like it?” Jenn asked, brow wrinkled.

“Yup.” Scarlett tried to pop the p, tiring quickly – she was still sick.

“So why don’t you do something else? I don’t know you that well yet, but even I can see that you love to read and write. You have a knack for getting people to tell you their stories – and you don’t judge them.  Our town is kooky enough – why don’t you gather people’s tales and write a book of short stories?”

Scarlett’s bleary eyes brightened as she thought about it. “Jenn, you are a genius! I could kiss you!”
“Please don’t. I don’t want the flu.”