Julie Knotts is writing today. She is a fictional character central to "Overcome," a novel-in-progress I'm working on. Julie is a talented twenty-four year old painter and sketcher who has chosen a career in nursing over one as an artist. This decision, and many others she makes every day, stems from unresolved issues carried over into her adult life from a traumatic childhood. She is writing today unaware of events to come (in later chapters), events that will either force her to evolve in her perceptions, or crush her spirit completely. [Note: This is NOT an excerpt from the novel. It is a writing exercise in which I practice capturing the voice of my character.]
I followed the woman with the fake tan out the gym doors, into a frigid wind gusting around the corner of the building. As if dancing synchronized to the same music, we pulled our hoodies tighter around us and bent our heads, leaning into the gale. I thought she looked mildly ridiculous with such unseasonably bronzed skin, but the second the thought flitted across my mind I scolded myself. It was only January 8th, and here I'd broken one of my New Year's resolutions, again. My mind must have been desperate to fixate on anything besides the freezing air that burned in my lungs as I rushed across the parking lot, because despite the self-reprimand for judging her, I couldn't stop thinking about that woman's skin. What sort of vanity drove women to subject themselves to harmful ultra-violet rays in tanning beds? Granted, the bulbs today are probably improved from back when I used to tan, before nursing school. I hoped that woman limited her indulgence to the bronzing bed where the UV-B rays are less dangerous. Although, considering the deep, rich color she'd achieved, I doubted it.
I reached my car and fumbled the key trying to unlock the door. I started the engine and let it idle a minute to warm up. I hated the idea of cold hand-sanitizer touching my skin, but I cringed more at the thought of how many germs I'd come in contact with handling the free weights. I pumped a generous dallop from the bottle wedged in the narrow pocket built into the driver's side door. As I slathered the product across my hands, I glanced at my pale reflection in the rearview mirror. It would be nice to have a tan.
I made one stop before heading home. With all the paperwork I needed to do, I didn't want to mess around with preparing food for lunch. I swung the car into the spot nearest to the grocery store doors in the Publix parking lot. A tingle of panic swept through me when I dug through my gym bag for my wallet. Suddenly, I wasn't thinking about lunch. What if I didn't have my licence and I had an accident, or was pulled over by the police? The burden of fear lifted as quickly as it'd gripped me when my hand closed on the rigid fabric of the wallet. I pulled it out and sprinted for the store.
The resolution I was managing to keep concerned my diet and exercise regime. I'm used to my friends rolling their eyes when I talk about the five pounds I put on over the Holidays. I'm naturally trim, but hey, when your jeans are snug you're just plain uncomfortable. It won't be hard to shed the extra pounds, most of which is water weight. As if my feet weren't paying a bit of attention to my head, they walked me right down the candy aisle. I slowed my pace and looked longingly at the malted milk balls in the bin candy section. Keep moving, I told myself sternly. My feet obeyed.
In the freezer section, I eyed the selection of Lean Cuisine meals. They all looked nasty to me, but I settled on an Asian-inspired meal, because it included edamame. Next, I walked down the aisle with dietary supplements, and chose a protein bar sweetened with sugar alcohols. At the register, I gathered up my purchases instead of wasting a plastic sack and headed back out into the cold.
I travelled a back road to get home, the sort with two lanes but no lines painted on its surface. Groves of tall evergreens lined one side, keeping the pavement in shadow. It was mid-morning, but the temperature was well below freezing and I could see patches of transparent ice. I felt a little better knowing I had my licence on me, but now I worried about the damage I could do to the car if I lost control and landed in a ditch. I maintained a speed under the limit.
My internal organizer spoke up, and I began mentally outlining the tasks to accomplish today. Most important on the list was completing the weekly report of my work with Mrs. Freeman, the patient with whom I spend most of my time. I'd need to call her, too, to schedule her appointments for next week. On the radio, my new favorite song began. I reached over and turned up the volume. The rapid beat drummed against my chest, and I smiled. I felt like dancing.
I must have pressed the accelerator without realizing it. The song raised my mood, and the car's speed followed suit. Before I realized what was happening, the back end fish-tailed, skidding sideways across a patch of black ice. I stomped the brake, the wrong strategy for righting the car but the one that came naturally to me. The car veered sharply to the left, then caught traction on a stretch of dry road. My eyes flicked to the rearview mirror and, thankfully, there were no other cars around. My heartbeat pounded in my ears, and I blew out through pursed lips a steady stream of air. I cut off the radio with a violent punch to the button, and silence filled the car. In control again, I continued, slower, toward home.