Accessible Excerpts: Masks
This is an excerpt from my novel, By Wingéd Chair, one in a series of posts in which I try to show how I use disabilities in my writing. Click here for my intro to the series. This is the first scene of the novel where we are introduced to the main character, Miss Merry Janson.
Madam Francine turned to me. She was too well-bred to tap her foot, but she did put her hands on her hips. “Merry,” she said. “I think it's time we reevaluated your place at our school.”
I crossed my arms and cocked an eyebrow at her, wondering if I was about to be sent home in disgrace. Again.
"Has my performance been unsatisfactory?” I asked. We both knew she couldn’t find anything wrong with my consistent top marks, but I wanted her to say it out loud.
“No,” she said, her eyes sliding away from mine. “Your class work is exemplary, as usual. But your...situation is unique. I'm not sure what your father was thinking when he sent you here. What is it you hope to accomplish by studying with us?”
I opened my mouth to respond, but Madam Francine liked to answer her own questions.
She continued as if I weren't there. “Most of our girls leave here with the training to become exceptional wives and mothers. Or, if they haven't received a proposal, they become governesses for influential families. However, I don't see you fitting into either of those roles. You are obviously not suited for marriage, and no respectable family would hire you to teach their children.”
My face burned, and I snapped my mouth shut before I blurted out my dream. Why was I surprised? Most people thought I was useless, and I had trained myself not to let them get to me. I set my face in the cold, hostile mask I’d perfected just for stupid, cowards like Madame Francine.
“My father is paying for my education,” I said. “Not for your opinion.”
I yanked on the wheels of my chair and pushed myself out of the park, not looking to see if she followed. Saints help me, I only had to deal with Madam Francine for another month. Then I could ask her for my recommendation, and I’d be on my way to the University.
These few paragraphs are supposed to accomplish a lot right off the bat. I'm establishing Merry's disability and how the people around her react to it. I'm also introducing Merry as a character and letting you see how she handles the reactions. Which is not particularly well here at the beginning.
Merry's struggles are deeply personal for me (as if you couldn't guess that already) but this is one I was really anxious to get on paper from the start. After my injury, the only way I knew to deal with people, to cope with the constant sympathy and encouragement (encouragement can be strangely discouraging), was to put up a mask. An expression or a personality I could wear that would hide what I was really feeling from the world. My mask was a smile and an eternal optimism I didn't necessarily feel all the time. Merry's is cold hostility. In some ways I think hers is a lot more honest than mine was.
As always, comments and criticisms are appreciated. What did you think? What did you like, what did you dislike? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?