Believer – Scene 1

She has been referred to as “wispy”, and it has been commented in jest that she might blow away in a high wind.  Once when she was eleven years old, she did.  That day she was very happy.  That day she also learned why nobody likes stitches.  She stands five feet, eight and one half inches tall, which is approximately four inches taller than the reported statistical average for women in her country.  She weighs between 107 and 138 pounds, depending on what she has in her pockets, and how many helium balloons she is holding.  Her hair has a slight wave to it, curls down well past her shoulders, and is a not altogether completely unique shade of light strawberry blonde.  She plans to continue growing it out until she begins to notice perceivable negative looks concerning its length, as a personal experiment to determine what is considered “too long”.  “Too short” is defined as a length where hair will no longer rest flat under its own weight, plus about one inch.  If one were to observe her face at a close enough distance where, were she of a different disposition, chemical mace would not be found guilty by a trial of peers, one might notice the not-yet-faded ghosts of various skin blemishes which haunt many youths during their later years of education.  Her freckles, however, remain prominent, as do the two pronounced dimples in her nose where glasses currently do not rest and cannot hide a pair of statistically average brown eyes.  She has difficulty reading the exact price of gasoline on a road sign until it is nearly too late to brake without garnering the scorn of more hasty motorists behind her, but she deplores contact lenses.  Her hands are thin.  Her torso is thin.  Her legs are perhaps not as thin as might be expected.  She has been called “pretty” only by a select few female acquaintances, and “beautiful” only by family members.  She has not been called “cute” that she can recall, and if anyone has ever called her “hot” or “fine” they were too drunk for the word to mean anything to her.  She knows for a fact that she has never been called “gorgeous”, “stunning”, or “radiant”.  She also knows for a fact that she does not particularly mind.

Her name is Cecile Lauren Smith.  She is twenty-four years old.  Her friends call her Cecile.  They call her this because they know how to pronounce her full name correctly, because they are her friends.  People that are not her friends call her Cecile.  But they pronounce it the wrong way.

There are a lot of people who pronounce her name the wrong way.

She rests with her back to a smooth brick wall, huddled in the corner of an apartment lobby with a cream-colored knit blanket around her shoulders, looking suspiciously too much like a homeless person trying to keep warm.  Rows of brass-bound mailboxes stretch out above and to the side of her, the numbered stickers which link their generic place in the grid to a more purposeful meaning faded and the laminate over them beginning to peel.  A crossword puzzle is propped against her upraised thighs as a stubby pencil dangles loosely from her lips, like a used cigarette the smoker simply can’t be bothered to toss into the ashtray.  The hum of a vending machine competes with the metronome of an impressively large wall clock for the predominant white noise in the lobby, as the vibrations of the laundry room at the end of the hall continues to run the race in a very distant third.

She looks up and stares at the gaudy chandelier above her: there are two faux candle lights and three spiral-swirled eco-friendly eco-bulbs, hidden behind frosted glass shields.  She wonders when one of them eventually burns out, which of the two styles will replace it.  Her eyes move.  A lima-bean-shaped section of the white ceiling is stained light brown like an old coffee stain.  Water damage; could be a leaky pipe or something of the sort, she assumes.  She wonders if anyone has told maintenance about that yet.  The molding where the ceiling meets the walls is surprisingly ornate; she can’t tell if it’s actually oak or just some cheap substitute cooked to a golden-brown.

Footsteps down the hall break her out of her mental isolation; she watches a portly sweater-clad man with balding grey hair and a thick mustache approach the mailboxes.  Though he stands several feet away from her blanketed form, she pulls her messenger bag tight against her waist, giving him space. It’s a colorful thing, but cheaply made, proudly displaying three young girls that are well-known for fighting spirit and eating their vegetables, saving the world before bedtime and things such as that.  Cecile has only ever seen one episode of the characters’ show herself, but she sees no reason why that meant she couldn’t buy it at a garage sale.

With a few letters that might just be junk mail in his hands, the man turns again and walks out the front door of the apartment, paying no nevermind to the woman in the blanket.  She cranes her neck forwards as she watches him leave out the window, then hums to herself as she flips her crossword puzzle over and makes a tally mark on a scrap sheet she’s paperclipped to the rest of the bundle.

“Another one of them,” she muses, her voice breathy and wandering.  “Kinda makes you lose hope in humanity.  But, still… garage sales, Cecile, garage sales.”  Returning to her puzzle, she picks out the ubiquitous “Vegetable spread” clue on 27 Down and pencils in “O-L-E-O” as any veteran crossword-puzzler has been trained to do.  She circles and stars the clue itself as a mental note to pick some up the next time she goes shopping.

This scene repeats itself several times over the course of the early afternoon, Cecile hardly budging from her little section of wall as she partakes in the comings and goings of a sampling of the apartment residents.  There is a hasty middle-aged woman with curly hair and a grey pantsuit, stopping for no mail or female in her path.  A family of four is escorted by a pudgy college freshman who says “Excuse me” to Cecile while checking his empty mailbox before he leaves, perhaps to go out to lunch or to do some sightseeing with “the folks”.  An Asian girl wearing entirely too much black peeks her head out of the stairwell, notices that she is not alone, and retreats from view.  A young man in designer skateboard shoes with disheveled brown hair and a four o’ clock shadow does a bad job at pretending like he’s not giving her unsure sideways glances.

“Are you, umm, are you waiting for someone?” he asks offhand, glancing at his mail.

She looks up and stares at him quizzically.  He continues before she has time to decide how much of the truth she wants to tell him.

“I mean, it’s just, you were sitting here yesterday too, and it’s, uhh, kind of a weird place to be sitting, is all, you know?”

She looks down at her crossword puzzle, frowns slightly, then looks back up.  “Am I not allowed to sit here?”

The man shrugs.  “Are you–I dunno, I mean, it’s a hallway, so it’s…  I guess it doesn’t really belong to anybody.  I mean, I don’t know who’d actually get mad about it.”

“The apartment manager might get mad,” she comments softly, her eyes drawn back to the water stain on the ceiling.

“Huh?  Oh, well, I guess she would, after a while I mean.  Do you…”  He trails off for only two seconds at the most, not very subtly looking the woman over in a likely attempt to gauge her level of homelessness.  “Sorry, sorry, do you, live here, ma’am?  It’s just, I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you before either.  I’m Cindy.”  She holds out a hand.

He extends his own hesitantly and meets hers for a brief handshake, “Uhh, well, nice you meet you, Cindy.  I’m, Steven?”

She nods her head, not really minding that a lock of hair has worked its way into her face.  “I am waiting for someone, actually.  I’m not really sure who they are, but I figure if I sit here long enough I’m bound to see them eventually.”

“Oh… Really?  Well, I mean, do they live here?  Do you have a name?”

“I’m not really sure…  But, everybody comes by the mailboxes sooner or later, so if I stay right here, I’ll know one way or the other.”

Apparently assessing that this woman is “different” and thus not worth the time it would take to decipher her intentions, he simply nods, mutters something to the tune of, “Good luck with that,” and turns to leave.

“I bought a hammer a couple of years ago,” she suddenly blurts out, no context to speak of.  “Well, got it for my birthday.  And this one time my dad left a heat lamp on in the shop overnight.  Actually, forget that; I don’t own a hammer…  A woman buys a hammer.  The handle breaks, so she gets a new handle.  Then the head rusts, so she gets a new head.  Is it the same hammer?”

He turns back to look at her, confused, like he’s not sure if she’s crazy, or if he is.  He breaks eye contact and stares at a spot somewhere between the floor and her aquamarine plush slippers.  Seconds pass, and he eventually gives up before they’re in danger of becoming a minute.

“That’s a good question,” he responds dully, shrugging his shoulders and nodding.

“Mhm.  I know it is.  You don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to.”

“Yeah, uhh…  I think I’ve heard it before, but I probably gave up then too.  I, uhh…  Well, I guess I’ll, see you around… What was your name again?”

“Sandy.  Or Sandra.”

“Right, right.  I guess I’ll see you around, Sandra.”

“You might.  I’m 213.”

“Huh?”

She points up the stairs matter-of-factly.  “You know, 213.  Like, the room.  I just moved in.”

“Oh, that 213.  Well, yeah, uhh…  Okay, uhh, bye, I guess.”

The young man called Steven walks up the stairs and out of sight, happy to be rid of the increasingly-awkward conversation.  The young woman not called either Cindy or Sandy flips her long-since-completed crossword puzzle around again and makes a tick mark in the third of four columns.  The first has dozens.  The second has several.  The third now has three.  The fourth has a sketch of a stickman riding a dragon.  The stickman has a smiley face.  The dragon has a frowny face.

“He’s probably not the one either,” she whispers to the dragon.  “It’s really not that good of a question., But, y’know, at least he talked to me.  That’s something.”

The dragon does not respond, because it is only a drawing.

 

{The first scene to “Believer”.  At this moment I am not intending on breaking the book up into chapters, though that might come later.}

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