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  • Helms Jarrell

Hiding Her Heart on Her Sleeve

Search through your emotional moments and try to find one that can be noted as a fear, anger, pain, or other strong feeling that you run from but want to make "smaller", of lesser importance or power in your life. Write about the attempt to approach it. If you can reach it and gather it up in your hands, what might it become? A flower? A stone? A tiny dragon?


Jolina spent her afternoons in the library. On Mondays, she sat in the cozy red chair at the back corner near the dictionary collection. The bookmark from last week was tucked in the page where she’d left it. Her goal was to finish Mrs Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words in two weeks. Last week, she made it to the P’s. On the bookmarked page, a post-it note scribbled in purple gel pen read, “paramour.” She’d hoped to be at least to the p-o section of the dictionary by now, but she’d been distracted.


For three years, after every school day, Jolina walked from Ramble Road Middle School to the nearby public library. The tranquility and invisibility at the library was soothing to Jolina, it was the perfect respite from her boisterous household. Four older brothers and one younger sister made for a lot of noise, mess, and no stretch room. At the library, there was all sorts of space for her to take up and explore.


In sixth grade, she spent her time with Judy Blume, Jenny Haan, Jacqueline Woodson, and Angie Thomas. In seventh grade, she moved to nonfiction, focusing on travel, greek mythology, and cooking. In eighth grade, she spent the year reading classic literature. She was proud of herself for progress in moving from kids’ books to important works. Now that she was in ninth grade, she could spend an extra hour in the library before her mom picked her up. With this new time, she was sure she’d accomplish so much. Her goals were big. She’d work her way through the really sophisticated publications in the research stacks.


After school on the first day of ninth grade, Jolina walked into the library with excitement. She hurried to her favorite blue chair in the atrium section of the library, only to be surprised that someone else was sitting there. Ms. Page, the circulation desk attendant, explained to Jolina that Mr. Booker comes each day and reads until 3 o’clock. Jolina had not seen him before because she used to arrive fifteen minutes later. Now that she was in high school, her arrival would be 2:10pm. Jolina had to find a new favorite chair.


The change in seating wasn’t the only difference in the library. The light was brighter, there were new people to watch, and a whole new collection of books to discover. It seemed like ninth grade made everything shift. This is why Jolina had only made it to “paramour” instead of the p-o section. There were so many new things to notice: the front desk staff change at 2:20pm, the snack break Ms. Page took at 2:30pm, and the group of guys that all wore the same shoes that came in at 3:15pm.


At first, the “shoe crew”, as Jolina called them to herself, annoyed her. They were a little on the loud side and they sat a bit too close. Apparently, they’d decided to take up residence in the Science Fiction section next to the research stacks. They would barrel in, throw their book bags down and start setting up a board game with figurines and cards. Jolina noticed they always smelled like grass and orange gatorade. There was one who looked at his phone a lot, one who snuck snacks when Ms. Page wasn’t looking, and one who took out a pad and pen from his back pocket and jotted down notes all the time.


After a few weeks of getting used to all the new things, Jolina was able to tune most of it out and retreat back into her hidden world of words and scribbles. Ms. Page had a stack of purple gel pen scribbled post it notes on her circulation desk. Over the years, other library guests would discover the post its and turn them into Ms. Page. At first, Ms. Page chastised Jolina for leaving notes in the books. In time, Ms. Page grew to love the treasures Jolina left behind.


Jolina reread the post-it from yesterday, “paramour”. The definition read, “a lover, especially the illicit partner of a married person.” Jolina wrote on a second post-it “beau, boyfriend, sweetheart.” She thought of the paramours from stories she had read: Edward Cullen, Peter Kavinsky, Khalil Harris, Mr. Darcy, Gilbert Blythe, Laurie Lawrence. Her pen scribbled as she daydreamed.


“Stop getting distracted,” she barked at herself, and she moved on. By the end of the day, she had read half way through the S section. She felt good about her progress. As she was packing up her things, Jolina noticed the boy with the pad and pen. His friends were playing their game, but he was off in the biography section scribbling something on his pad. She had noticed he does this a lot. His friends would be gabbing about The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter and he’d be over in the magazines, the music, the how to’s, or the rare old book collection scribbling away.


Jolina zipped up her bookbag and waved at Ms. Page as she turned toward the library exit. She stopped at the water fountain just before leaving. This was something she did every day: drink in some water; a last cool, quiet, refreshing sip before heading out into the noise. Jolina noticed every afternoon at the water fountain that the pad and pen boy slowly walked to the circulation desk and passed Ms. Page a piece of paper. Curious, Jolina didn’t know what to make of it. She gulped her water and walked out of the library.


Thursdays are reserved for magazine reading. Jolina gives herself a break from the dictionaries and encyclopedias and reads National Geographic, Vogue, People, Southern Living, and her favorite, Mother Earth News. She imagines herself one day as a homesteader who writes novels and poetry and serves on the town council of the picturesque town where she is based when she’s not in New York City Directing a Play or Curating an Exhibit. She scribbles notes about fashion, growing mushrooms, and the top ten towns so she’ll be ready when it is time to design her costumes, feed her family, and ride her bicycle with a basket on the front to townhall meetings.


There’s a joke page in Southern Living. Jolina always writes down the jokes. She can tell them at dinner and her father is bound to laugh. Why do potatoes make the best detectives?, she writes. “Because they always keep their eyes peeled,” a voice whispers from behind her. Startled by the voice, Jolina jumped out of her seat, slams the magazine shut, and turns to look behind her. Sitting in the window seal is one of the shoe crew, the one with the pad and pen.


“I didn’t think you could see me,” she said and then shook her head. “I mean, sorry, I didn’t see you there.” He grinned and scratched something onto his pad with the pen. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I read that magazine yesterday. Pretty good joke, huh?” Jolina half-laughed, grabbed her purple gel pen and post-it notes, turned to look in the direction of her favorite red chair. She wanted to get back there as quickly and gracefully as possible. It was safer there. She could be hidden. “Well, see ya,” she said, and retreated to the back corner of the library.


When it was time to go, Jolina waved at Ms. Page, stopped at the water fountain, took a sip, and walked out the door without looking back to see if pad-and-pen guy was headed to the circulation desk. At dinner, the two oldest brothers were telling a story about their wrestling match. Jolina’s little sister kept complaining about Mom’s casserole. Jolina didn’t get to tell her Dad the joke. There was too much going on at supper. After helping clean off the table, Jolina climbed in her bunk and reached for her diary under her pillow.


The purple leather bound book had two locks on it. She grabbed one key from a jewelry box on her shelf and the other key from under the cleaning spray in the pantry. She knew her brothers would never find the key there. The only place in the house that she could have any privacy was the bathroom, and not for long. Jolina turned on the bath water and locked the door. She wrote furiously in her diary until someone knocked on the door. “I’ll be right out!,” she said. Then, she jumped in the shower and washed off as fast as possible.


Dear Diary,

I’ve already told you about the shoe crew and that one boy with the pad and pen, right? Well, today was magazine day and I was writing down the joke of the day and all of a sudden pad and pen guy spoke to me. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even think the shoe crew knew I existed. I mean, I know all about snack kid’s favorite treats and cell-phone guy’s favorite instagram feeds. I know pad-and-pen guy reads a lot and likes a lot of different books. I know he spends most of his time in the biography section. I know cell-phone guy, when he’s not on his cell phone, almost always wins that game they play and snack-guy thinks he’s a Slitherin but I think he’s actually a Hufflepuff. I know all about their matching shoes and how they smell like grass and on Fridays, they smell like blue gatorade instead of orange, but I had hoped they hadn’t noticed me.

I didn’t want them to notice that I was watching them. I didn’t want them to see that I’d read the biography of Malcolm X that pad and pen guy picked up the week before. I didn’t want them to notice all the weird things about me, my purple pen, my post it notes. What if they noticed that I was reading that weird dictionary? What if they knew my water ritual? What if they noticed that my cheeks get red when I see him stop at the circulation desk when I leave every day? What if he noticed how I couldn’t help but grin when he spoke to me today?

Diary, this is awful. I don’t want them to know. I don’t want him to know. What if he doesn’t like coming of age novels? What if he thinks The Iliad and The Odyssey are stupid? What if he thinks Don Quixote is childish? What if he thinks I’m childish? Oh, Diary, this is terrible! For just one moment, Diary, allow me to write in as dramatic a tone as Anne Shirley? “I can't cheer up — I don't want to cheer up. It's nicer to be miserable!” (L.M. Montgomery)


Jolina’s brother banged on the door. Jolina jumped out of the shower, locked up the diary, hid the keys, and stumbled her way to her room. Her sister lay on the floor playing with barbies. Her brother’s drumming practice seeped through the walls. Jolina put on her pajamas and went to the living room. She and her mom and brother watched a baking show episode before going to bed.


That night, Jolina dreamed she was walking inside the pages of a book. Everywhere she could see, books and pages made up the landscape. The words took the shape of a path, trees growing, grasses bending. On the horizon, far off in the distance, she caught a glimpse of a large dragon-like creature. The creature’s body was made of orange and pink paper squares. It was breathing purple fire from its mouth. The underside of its wings displayed a beautiful collection of images; foods, gardens, beaches, and cityscapes. The creature’s tail was made of a long scroll of paper. On the paper tail were words written in alphabetical order: character, coherence, distinctiveness, ipseity, particularity, singularity, uniqueness.


Still far off, Jolina could see that the dragon was magnificent. Jolina walked toward the dragon. She passed a glossy magazine paper garden and pond. She tread past story book creatures she’d recognized from children’s books. As she got closer, the dragon’s spiked red spine began to look softer. She’d thought it was sharp and pointy, but as she approached the dragon, she realized the spikes were made of red fabric, bending as the dragon moved. Upon closer look, she noticed the dragon’s large shadow on the ground was filled with words like delight, darling, dear one. The dragon’s breath was not fire but instead a soft cool mist.


Jolina took a few steps closer. As she did, the dragon got close, bent down its head, and looked her straight in the eye. Face to face with the Dragon, Jolina looked into its eyes and saw something she didn’t expect. In the eyes of the dragon, Jolina saw a mirror. She blinked and shook her head. When she opened her eyes, the dragon was gone, but the mirror was still there.


The next morning, Jolina woke up to the morning soundtrack of her household. One brother was burping the alphabet while the other two argued over who got the last bit of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Her sister was whimpering over whether she’d get pigtails or a braid. Dad read the headlines while drinking coffee and Mom played the morning pep song.. Instead of some hand me down flannel shirt she usually wore, Jolina chose her favorite purple sweater she got with a birthday gift card. She packed her lunch and tossed in a few extra bags of Takis before heading out the door.

She arrived at the library at the usual time and placed her bookbag by the red chair. Before getting started on the S-L words, she walked over to the science fiction section and placed four books onto the table. She opened the books wide so that they opened and stacked just right, making a fort. Inside the book fort, she placed the Takis.

Jolina made it to the word “suspense” just in time for the shoe crew to arrive. The guys sat down at the table and started to remove the books. Snack-guy jumped up and down when he saw the Takis. Cell-phone guy and snack guy looked at each other with confusion and dismay. Jolina could feel the corners of her mouth form a smile. Just then, pad-and-pen guy looked up and made eye contact with her. He smiled a knowing smile and winked at her. She looked down. Her cheeks started to feel flush.


Later, Jolina was buried in the T words when from above her head rained down hundreds of pink and orange post-its. She looked up as pad-and-pen guy said, “I have something to show you.” All around her feet and in her lap were purple scribbles on colorful squares. Pad-and-pen guy stooped in front of her and reached into his pocket to pull out his pad. Scratched on to page after page were observations: “Today, she wore a blue plaid shirt.” “Thursday is magazine day.” “She’s made it to the H’s today” “Read Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes.” “Maybe she’d like the biography of Annie Leibovitz.”

Jolina looked up. “Hold on one sec,” she said as she glanced down to grab her pen and post-its, “I’ve just gotta write this one thing down.” Dear diary, I thought I was hiding. Apparently, I’ve been wearing my heart on my sleeve all along. I thought I’d be scared. Close up, I see. I am scared, and it’s not all that bad.” She folded up the paper and wrote on the outside, “put in diary when you get home.” Tucking the paper in her pocket, she stood up, reached out her hand, and said, “Hi, my name is Jolina. What’s yours?”





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©2019 by Helms Jarrell. Proudly created with Wix.com  Photo Credit: Jennifer Isenhour, Lesley Ann Hix Tommey, Lisa Stockton Howell