The following writing is a piece of fiction, lightly inspired by real life experiences in my time working juvenile probation, and in response to this week's Red Dress Club prompt (link up is on Friday): The premise of the contest is to write a piece of flash fiction - it should be no more than 600 words and should take no longer than 3 minutes to read aloud.
And the requirement for this particular one is a character MUST tell a joke and a character MUST cry. One character can do both.
Critique on this piece is welcomed and encouraged.
Some people are gifted musically. Others mathematically. Jo? She excelled kinesthetically. She could watch the movements of others, listen to the flow of their words, and read between the lines. It's what made her so good at her job. Kids would come in and sit in the big brown chair (they always chose the brown chair - never the red), and slump down, staring at the patterns in the rug.
"Nothing's going on. School's fine. Life is boring," they'd reassure. But Jo would feel the unspoken words tumbling through the air. She'd watch their deceptive eyes and lack of hand gestures and she'd feel the real story absorbing into her skin, inhaling it into her head.
"Dad beat me last night."
"My parents are getting divorced."
Simple sentences, heard intuitively. And Jo, never letting on that she knew what lay beneath the surface, would gently prod, "You seem down today. What's really on your mind?" Some of the teens took longer than others, but eventually they learned to confide in her, to think of Jo as a safe refuge from the chaos in their lives.
On this particular morning Jo had already been refuge to two teens, and she refilled her coffee mug and scarfed a granola bar to refuel for her 11:00 appointment. She would need the energy for her toughest case, she thought, her hand lightly resting over the manila folder. Tracy was 13 years old, sullen, distrustful, and suffering from one of the worst cases of borderline personality disorder Jo had seen in her ten years of practice. Borderlines were known for their manipulation tactics, unstable moods, and distortions of thoughts and self. So far Jo had been unable to reach through Tracy's walls to connect with her on a deeper level.
Sighing and taking a last swig of coffee, Jo rose and walked across the rug, opening the door to the waiting area.
"Tracy, come on in," Jo paused as she watched Tracy rise with heaviness, trudging her way into the office in wide-legged black pants, long silver chains hanging and jingling from the pockets. "How are you today?"
"Oh just freaking GREAT, so thrilled to be back with my lousy Brady Bunch therapist," Tracy joked sarcastically, rolling her eyes for good measure. She tossed her emaciated frame into the brown chair, slumping down as low as possible without tumbling to the floor.
Jo eyed the layers of kohl eyeliner, the nose ring, the streaks of pink in the long edgy hair, and she thought for a moment. They'd been at this for weeks and Tracy had proved completely resistent to Jo's softer efforts. Yet unbeknownst to Tracy, Jo was receiving more than her sarcastic words; she was feeling the pain hidden behind the hardened goth mask. Jo decided it was time to switch approaches. It was time to talk about the elephant in the room. She took a deep breath and looked at the droplets of blood oozing through Tracy's white ribbed tank top in at least a dozen places.
"Tracy, tell me about the cutting," Jo said gently. She forced herself to look in Tracy's eyes, which angrily looked away in response, staring at the graduate degree on the wall.
"I want to know. I see you're in pain. I feel like things are so bad you can't let anyone in."
Jo settled in and waited. The clock ticked.
"I can't stop," Tracy whispered, putting her head in her hands as black tears rolled softly down her cheeks.