I’m working to write every day through NaNoWriMo, though not necessarily aiming at 50,ooo words. I want to finish this story, and I want to edit it properly as I go. That slows me down a lot. I’m also a seat-of-the-pants writer, so I don’t really have an idea what direction this story will take. Here’s the latest bit. Feedback is welcome.
Am I Pretty?
“Butterfly Twinkle Power.” Twyla held the small jar at eye level and peered at it closely. The substance inside the glass appeared white and creamy, not powder at all.
“But … ter … fly … twink … le … pow … der.” She repeated the name again slowly, enunciating each syllable, as though that might help her discern the contents of the unknown product. She rubbed her fingertips over the Chinese glyphs that danced across the surface of the glass, pressed into the jar when it was fired; they were not at all helpful, as Twyla had only her English to fall back on.
Across from her, an old man leaned on the scarred wooden counter that separated him from his potential customer. He took the jar from her fingers. Balancing it on his fingertips, the old man held the jar high so it was illuminated by a shaft of sunlight cutting through the dirty windows of his shop. He held the jar with reverence, as though it was a relic. A slight glow highlighted the jar: the contents appeared to be luminescent.
“With this,” he whispered in a voice cracked with age, “you can restore anything.”
Twyla’s gaze followed the jar into the sunlight. Around her, the rest of the old man’s store faded into the background as she focused on the jar of powder. Dusty shelves that were filled with curiosities, medicines and bric-a-brac from around the world seemed to vanish in the dimly lit store. The entirety of the moment dwindled, until that Twyla saw the jar of twinkle powder, balanced on the old man’s fingers. She blinked her gray eyes slowly and licked her cracked lips.
“Anything?” she murmured, more to herself than the old man.
Twyla stared at the jar for a long moment, her eyes unfocused and glittering. Then she slowly returned her gaze to the old man’s face. His head was cocked at an odd angle, as though he saw something above the jar of the twinkling, creamy powder. She examined the old man closely, looking for any sign of deception. If he was lying, Twyla reasoned – if this was a con – she would see it somewhere in the lines of his aged face. It’s hard to hide a mistruth if a listener is aware and pays attention. Like any poker player, every con man has a tell: hitches in the voice; twitches in the face; tiny hints in awkward body language can give a lie away every time. All Twyla had to do was take her time and watch the old man’s every move. Silence stretched out long and thin as seconds ticked by. Yet, as she examined every minute gesture and tic, Twyla saw nothing that indicated that the old man didn’t believe everything he said. He was convinced of his own words.
Though his neck was twisted and his head bent to the right, Twyla tipped her chin to meet the old man’s gaze. His eyes were filmy, yet they appeared to have been brown at one time – chocolate behind a thin covering of cream. Cataracts, she decided. That’s what obscured the old man’s vision. In that moment, Twyla wasn’t sure whether the old man could see at all, though he seemed to track her movements well enough when she entered the store. His face was the color and texture of old iron, pitted and made crusty by long years and a life in the sun. The old man had no teeth, and his lips curled into his mouth when he spoke. His age was impossible to guess – anywhere from 60 to 100. Slight and stooped into himself, the old man’s clothes were ragged and dirty, effectively hiding his withered frame. His hair, too, was filthy, and it stuck out at odd angles, as though a high wind blew through the shop. The old man’s hair was brown despite his apparent age, and no silver traced the edges of his hairline.
Twyla wasn’t certain what a lie would look like on this old man’s face, but she believed it would show in the wrinkles around his puckered mouth. She paid extra attention to his quivering lips when he spoke.
“Anything at all, missy,” he said, wiping imaginary crumbs from his wet mouth. The old man lowered the jar and carefully unscrewed the cap. A sudden whiff of honey and vanilla hovered in the air between Twyla and the old man. “It’s not really powder, you know.” Dirt crusted the old man’s fingers, and it contrasted sharply with the cream inside the jar. “The name is translated from Chinese, and it has something to do with they way they make the stuff.” He moved the jar in small circles; the aroma of Butterfly Twinkle Powder filled the shop.
Breathing deeply, Twyla closed her eyes and contemplated the sweet smell of the cream. She hugged herself for a moment as a slight tremor rocked her body. “Restores anything?” Twyla met the old man’s apparently sightless gaze and pushed back the red kerchief that covered her scalp, exposing skin red with lesions and dotted with patches of gossamer-thin hair. “Will it restore this?” Her words were raw, as much a challenge as they were a plea. Twyla had to swallow before she could whisper: “Can it regrow my hair?”
The old man’s filmy gaze followed Twyla’s quick movements, though he had no reaction to her ruined scalp. He pursed his lips, and then held the jar at arm’s length across the counter. “Anything,” he said again. The jar dipped and twinkled in yellow sunlight. “Try it yourself.”
Twyla inhaled the scent of the Butterfly Twinkle Powder. Her eyes watered, though it was tears, rather than the aroma of the Chinese concoction that caused the reaction. With the powder, the old man offered her hope, something that had been missing from her life for a very long time. Twyla took the jar from his fingers. She pushed back from the counter, standing in the gloom outside the ray of sunlight.
More later as I figure what’s going to happen.