Thursday, March 18, 2010

500 Words—Miss Bernice

Here is this week's 500 Words story as assigned by Dive. his week's sentence was taken from E.M. Forster's 'A Room With A View'. It was: 'It tasted partly of the paper in which it was wrapped, partly of hair oil, partly of the great unknown.'

Miss Bernice Takes A Job

Miss Bernice sat with her feet pressed together and her knees spread apart, and her mint-green floral skirt draped in the gap like a swag. Her garters were slipping, so she tugged at them through the cotton fabric when she thought no one was looking. She adjusted in her seat, straightened her shoulders and held tightly to the purse on her lap.

She would wait for her name to be called and would prepare her answers quietly in her head. It was always a good rule to follow—be ready when called, and know what you want to say before you open your mouth to speak.

Bernice was good with children, she thought, because she’d raised five of them on her own. Pulled them up by the stems into adulthood—tall, stalky sunflowers. She understood the importance of discipline when teaching little people, but she knew they needed comfort even more. Her ample, soft lap was the perfect cushion for a frightened child; and her big, wide arms wrapped around them like wings.

“Bernice?” A young woman stood in the doorway with a clipboard, and she scanned the room looking for the next applicant on her list.

Bernice stood and marched over to the woman, reached out her hand for a shake and said, “That would be me, Miss Bernice. Bernice Haversham.”

“I am Claire, and I’ll be interviewing you today, Miss Haversham.”

“It’s Miss Bernice.”

The young woman led her into the small office and guided her to the chair beside the desk. “Have a seat, then, Miss Bernice, and let’s get to know each other. As you know, we’re looking for a morning aide for the preschool children. Our adult students upstairs bring their kids here while they are in class, and we need an extra hand to help us out. Tell me why you’d like this job.”

Bernice didn’t need the money like some of her widowed friends. She’d been wise with her spending for years and had plenty to live on. She wasn’t lonely or bored, and she had grandchildren who needed her doting and warm cookies. “I want to spend time with children,” she said, “children who don’t have many people being nice to them.”

She told Claire about her theories of how people need soothing and smiles and gifts handed to them when they are young because such things help mold empathetic and loving hearts. “I’m handy with arts and crafts, and I make candy in my own kitchen.” Bernice dug around in her purse as she spoke, fishing for a treasure she was sure was hiding at the bottom. She pulled out a piece of candy wrapped in waxed paper and handed it to Claire.

The woman took the candy, carefully unwrapped it and slowly put it in her mouth. It tasted partly of the paper in which it was wrapped, partly of hair oil, partly of the great unknown. Suddenly delighted, she shook Bernice’s hand and hired her. Bernice would start tomorrow.


dive said...

Oh, hee hee hee, Robyn! Those poor kids! I cringe for them, having known a lady just like that when I was a kid; ever handy with the revolting home-made treats.

I love "Pulled them up by the stems into adulthood — tall, stalky sunflowers." I wonder what K&E might think of being described that way. Hee hee.

I'm always glad when you find the time amidst your journalistic duties to write a 500 Words tale, especially as you came up with the concept in the first place.
More, please!

MmeBenaut said...

Within every piece of prose there are often two or three gems of descriptive language and Robyn, you've added some beautiful gems here.
Dive has identified one - what a superb metaphor for raising children, sunflowers!

This is lovely Robyn. I do like it when you write for us and I agree with the sentiment in Bernice's method too!

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