(WIP) “Peter, Peter” – Introducing Scarlett

During the first revision of this short story, even before I changed the perspective of the story from third-person limited to Wharty’s view to first person limited to Wharty’s view, I was stuck after I introduced Scarlett.

For those of you who don’t know the nursery rhyme, it’s dark (because why not?) and Peter “had a wife and couldn’t keep her.” Most interpretations of that are his wife cheats on him. So I was like OF COURSE I have to introduce her on Halloween dressed as a seductress / sexy sorceress and just put it all on the nose for all my readers.

start — A hush fell across the crowd. Soon, they began to part as though some magic force were separating them. Peter’s eyes were transfixed on the cloaked figure that prowled into view. She wore a dark, hooded gown with red ribbons accenting the edges of the cloth. The cloak parted now and then to reveal a tall, curvy body. Her dress was also laced in the red ribbons. Her long, black hair tumbled loose and wild around her shoulders and escaped here and there from her hood. By the time she reached Wharty, Peter stood transfixed and dumbfounded.

“Ah, there you are!” Wharty cried with the kind of affection one would use when a small child was found at a game of Peek-a-Boo. This informal greeting startled Peter out of his stupor. Wharty began to make an introduction, but Peter could hardly hear. –end

Ugh, right? No wonder I was stuck. The scene in my head was Scarlett shows up in a costume on Halloween. It was okay, I guess, for building up the fact that she’s no good. But, I felt like a fish who thought it was a good day for a swim and couldn’t figure out why I kept slamming into something solid. It was a good scene, right? Right!?

It just didn’t work. I finally realize how over-done and on-the-nose her introduction was. Sure it worked to introduce her as someone we all will easily see as adulterous, but I had nowhere to go from there.

Fast forward to some rework with the change in perspective and a little more research on Pennsylvania in the late 1800s and here is the new scene:

I shuffled into my shop, preparing for my wife to be fretting about in a fit like a bee disturbed from her flower. Instead, I found her behind the counter, a place she rarely stood, vigorously wiping down the already-polished wood. She met my eyes with an expression of warning and went back to wiping.

“Hello, cousin.”

I drew in a slow breath to steady my speeding heart and slowly turned around to face the speaker. “Scarlett?” I tried to form more words, but nothing came.

She dipped in small greeting. I had not taken off my top hat or coat, so I reached up and took off my hat with a slight nod.

“Oh, don’t be so silly,” Scarlett continued. “It’s just me. You look as if you’re staring at a ghost.”

“Forgive me.” I tried to smile. “I just haven’t seen you in so long. And, I thought, perhaps I never would again.”

“Ah, yes, the falling out you had with my father.” Scarlett turned on her heel and began examining the wares I sold on my shelves. “You know I had nothing to do with that.”

“Of course.” I found it easier to speak again as she stepped away and I collected my thoughts. “I did not think you would want to travel so far to see me after all these years.” I finally took in the black veil, pulled from her face, but flowing in ruffles down her sides, and her black dress. “But, my god, you are in mourning. Is he …”

She turned and smirked at me. “Is my father dead? No. My husband.”

“Oh,” I rocked back onto my heels. “I was not told of your marriage.”

She shrugged. “I didn’t think you were.”

“I am sorry…”

She waved her hand at me. “That’s not why I am here. I will be changing out of this ridiculous gown as soon as I retire for the evening.”

I swallowed. “He has been gone for two years? I am sorry my condolences are so late.”

She narrowed her eyes at me, but did not reply. Instead, she turned to continue studying the various items along my shelves. She seemed to disappear into a shadow as she stepped further away from me.

I turned to look back at my wife who had been watching us with her jaw rigid and eyes sharp.

“Your journey must have been long. Do you have a place to stay? When did you arrive?”

She laughed. “I wondered when your manners would take over. I have just recently arrived here in Pennsylvania, though I have been in America for a few months. I stopped in New York first for some business.”

She cocked her head and studied the bags of salt. “Such modest commodities,” she said as though to herself but loud enough for me to hear.

I felt my fist clinch at the words her father had thrown at me. Could she have known?

It needs some brushing up, but wow so much better! It takes the focus off her body and puts it on the power her very presence can have. Her iron presence. I’ll stop here, I still need to work more on it, but I am so excited. Also, it opened up a much easier way for me to keep the story going. Much smoother. The pieces fell into place better.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts?