Character Sketch: Evelyne Rale

[This is a sketch for one of the POV characters for my current novel. These excerpts may go into the finished product or they may not, but the hope is that they help me understand the characters better. If you want to join me in these exercises, I’ll include the prompts I used to write them. For this excerpt, the prompt was: ‘Write about something your character has lost.’]


Her mother always claimed she hadn’t picked the name until her sister was born. Most babies came into the world screaming. Raised fists and eyes screwed shut, primed and ready for a fight. ‘You looked fit to beat the world, Evelyne,’ she said, laughing. ‘I wasn’t sure it was ready for you.’

Not Eden, though. Eden came out quiet as a breath. The doctor looked worried at first – turned her over, slapped her on the bottom. She didn’t cough anything up. She didn’t cry, even then. She just stared around her with round-eyed wonder. Then her lips started to work, opening and closing, her little brow furrowing. When at last they placed her in her mother’s arms, she looked up and smiled.

‘Like a sunbeam, Evelyne,’ she used to say. ‘She was like a ray of light. And I thought, well, maybe she knows something we don’t. Maybe things are better than they seem. Maybe they’ll turn out alright.’
And she was a sunbeam. She was relentless about her warmth, though she’d never burn you. When they were young, she’d often catch Eden sharing food with other children. Their father didn’t have a good job, but he had a job, so they weren’t on basic. They had more than most of the other families living in the outer ring of the city. You could survive on universal income, but only just. Everything put in their neighbor’s hands went in their mouths in the same breath.

‘Why do you do that?’ Evelyne asked once. She watched a scrawny boy Eden had just fed totter off. ‘We don’t have much.’

Eden really thought about the question. You could always tell when she was thinking: she got that look, that furrowed-brow look she’d been sporting right out of the womb. Existence was a marvelous puzzle she was bent on solving.

‘You know how dad digs trenches to make the water flow out in the field?’


‘It would all get soaked up by the first couple plants if he didn’t.’

Evelyne tilted her head at that. ‘I guess so.’

Eden shrugged. ‘I don’t think kindness builds bridges. I think it digs trenches.’

She never truly understood Eden. Beside her, Evelyne felt like a dandelion blooming next to a rosebud. She’d see weeds in concrete and think that’s what we should be like. But Eden made the concrete her loam. It didn’t matter to her that they were growing up on the outskirts of the city. It didn’t matter that they were always barely scraping by. She turned surviving into thriving, and it was a power so fragile that Evelyne was afraid to question it.

She didn’t want the stem to break. It didn’t have any thorns.

Eden disappeared when she was ten.

They never knew what happened. She went out to play with her friends in the bright light of day. No one saw anything – though there were whisperings that a car had been passing through at the time. Nobody on the outskirts of Osage City had cars. They all took the rail system when they wanted to get anywhere, and they rarely did. Evelyne used to see cars in the distance sometimes: shiny balls of metal that went whipping by faster than a blink, barely skirting the houses, blitzing out into the long empty desert beyond.

Eden’s case got a month’s worth of attention. Then she was filed away somewhere, a couple lines of code tossed into an archive by people with more important things to do. The shrine lasted longer. They set it up on the empty lot where she was taken. It felt like defiance. There were fresh flowers every week for two years, so long that her picture faded and all that was left was her smile.

Her mother staggered in the night the flowers stopped coming. She saw Evelyne down the hall. They stared at each other for a moment, the silence filled with sorrow and the smell of whiskey.
‘It shoulda been you,’ she slurred. ‘You coulda survived without water.’

Evelyne said nothing. Mother went into her room and slammed the door.

Lots of things wilted after that. Mother fell deeper into the bottle. Her father’s pain was more quiet. He threw himself into work so hard even his dark skin wrinkled beneath the sun. He worked until he was exhausted, and then he came home and slept. She figured it was the only way he could sleep at all.
The worst part was not knowing. The never knowing. The gnawing thought that one day maybe they’d find her, maybe she’d walk through the door again and bring life back with her. Sometimes, on nights when her mother went into rages and her father had to keep her from hurting herself, Evelyne wished they would find Eden. It would be better if they knew she was dead. Then they could bury the hope and move on with things, try and forget about the garden.

When Evelyne became an investigator, her father was thrilled. He never said it, but she knew he thought she’d done it for Eden. Maybe there was always a bit of him in her sister. Maybe that was where she got it. ‘You’ll do great things for people,’ he said once, and it was the closest she ever saw him come to tears.
Her mother knew the truth, though. She spoke it in a whisper one night after her husband went to sleep, his blistered hands coated in cream that smelled as antiseptic as her breath. She watched Evelyne walk in the door, gray hair on her temples, dark eyes glittering in the light of the moon coming through the window.

‘It was rage, you know,’ she said. ‘From the very first moment. You were rage. I see it sometimes in you. All this time, and it’s only been growing.’ She shuddered. ‘You didn’t cry. You screamed.’

Evelyne stared at her. Her face was cast half in shadow, her beautiful black skin ashen. Worn. Tired.

‘Are you gonna make it pay?’ her mother asked. ‘The world? Will you make it pay for what it did?’

The expression on her face was hard to read. If it was hope, it was a crooked sort. A fox’s grin right before it broke the rabbit’s neck. Her mother watched her, fingers curling and uncurling in a way that said she’d do it herself if she could.

‘Yeah, mom,’ she told her. ‘‘Till my knuckles bleed.’

‘Good.’ Her words were a rasp. ‘I love you.’

It was the first time she’d said it since Eden left, and she knew the words weren’t meant for her.


World Ends

My grandmother thought it was the second coming of Christ. We were star gazing, she and I. We had one of those old ratty blankets with holes in it that ‘the chiggers could take if they wanted to.’ She kept pointing out the constellations and I tried to follow her finger as it shook with the onset of Parkinson’s.

“That one’s Orion. You see his belt right there?” Point. Shake. “There’s a bull he’s fighting, you can see off to the side…”

Her red-shellacked nail gave birth to the meteor. It seemed to sprout right out of her wrinkles and surge towards the moon. It was beautiful. I wished for the usual things a kid wishes for; new dolls, new dresses, hell, I was cliché enough to want a pony.

I was just deciding it would be a palomino when it tore into the moon. My happy shooting star turned into an asteroid before my eyes. I was so fascinated I didn’t hear my grandmother screaming beside me at first. I watched as that moon spat out glimmering shards, and somewhere in my head my third grade teacher’s voice reminded me that the light came from the sun reflecting off its surface.

“Sweet Jesus take me!” She shrieked, running down the hill, her sun dress fluttering. “Sweet Jesus sweet Jesus take me home!”

I watched after her and started giggling. When she fell over and her legs started twitching I laughed harder. My mother stepped out onto the porch and started screaming as well, first at the sky, then at grandma, tripping over herself to get to her.

She’d had a heart attack. She died three days later. I guess Jesus said yes.

I remember a lot of news reports after that. Neither of my parents really gave a damn about the news before, but now they were addicted. Men in white coats would look out soberly from the screen, dark bags under their eyes, making predictions like soothsayers trying to read the palm of fate.

“The moon has lost approximately half its mass and its orbit has been drastically altered.”

Collective gasps from mother and father. I continued playing with a box of Legos I’d taken from my brother’s room. I asked him if he minded and he said no, but I could tell by the way his nose wrinkled he was lying. I took them anyway.

“Those closest to the coast should begin evacuations immediately. Massive flooding is predicted, but you still have time. Please follow the instructions of the National Guard. It is imperative panic be avoided…”

The white-coated man was replaced by a news reporter standing in the street. People were running around behind him frantically. They reminded me of what the ants did when I sprayed water down their hole with the hose. They tripped over one another, they trampled each other. I saw one man grab an older woman and slam her head down into the fender of a car.

“Riots have broken out in New York. Businesses are being broken into in broad daylight. Crime is rising unchecked, and it’s not safe to be-”

A gunshot. The video cut out and the audio relayed the sound of gurgling. The scene shifted again and a pale-faced fat man in a suit started babbling about politics.

My mother started to cry. I dropped the Lego-sphere I’d been building and whispered “boom.”

We were in the Midwest. We made our home on the bible-belt, Oklahoma. My father was a Preacher. After the moon was hit, the pews got much fuller. He would raise his hands up towards the stained glass and everyone would start chanting after him.

“Lord, protect our brothers and sisters from the floods!”

“Protect them, protect them father!”

“Lord, may your great hand deliver them from harm!”

“Deliver them, Lord, deliver them!”

They wept. They bowed down. They poured their money into the offering plate and sent it to New Jersey.

One hundred million people died. I guess God said no.

Before everyone was mad about the immigrants coming in from Mexico. My grandfather used to rant about it, talk about how they were stealing jobs nobody else wanted. He had a shotgun he called Bessy sitting right by the door, and he was ready to ‘shoot them illegals if they ever came through his property.’

They didn’t like the immigrants from the east and west either. At first we welcomed them, but then the food started running short. There wasn’t enough to go around, and the weather was changing fast enough that things stopped growing. My father started handing out gift baskets instead of letting folks inside. Most took them gratefully because it was more than others offered. Then one night a big guy with three kids tried to break into our house. He gave my mom a black eye, and my dad chased him out with a shovel.

After that, we didn’t open the door when someone knocked. Dad dusted Bessy off and kept the bullets next to the cross on the mantle.

He didn’t preach anymore.

It got really cold. People stopped flooding in and out of our town. Instead it was just us, and whatever neighbors decided to stick around. Rumors started flying about bunkers the government was building. They sounded to me like the promise of Oz being just over the rainbow, like any second the Tin Man would come traipsing over the hill asking for oil for his creaking joints. Mom hung on every word. She stopped eating and started giving me and my brother her portions. Her eyes would get that gleaming faraway look, and she would ask people to tell her more about these magical places where she would be safe.

Then one day Dorothy turned into Judy Garland. Mother downed a bottle of pills with a glass of straight whiskey. Dad said it was an accident and we buried her in the garden where the tulips used to bloom.

I’m sixteen now. We’re leaving. My brother’s face looks grim and tired, and I’d almost think he was older than me if I didn’t know any better. We’re packing the canned goods we have left and the smoked deer jerky my dad brought in with Bessy. It’s still pretty fresh. There’s a bloody stain on the cement in the garage where he peeled off its skin.

“You think it’ll really be better in the South, Jason?” I ask, stuffing my backpack. “You think we’ll make it down there?”

He’s looking out the window. Across the street, our neighbor trudges through the snow towards the mailbox. He puts the flag up as he opens it to stick in his letter and removes the one he put in yesterday. His eyes light up, like they do every day, and he tears it open, weeping at the sight of his own handwriting and at the signature he forged at the bottom. His son’s.

“Yeah, Amy. We’ll make it.”

His nose wrinkles a little. I can tell he’s lying.

Written March 2015.

Ready. Set. Go.

And you came out shrieking. The womb opened up and set you free, slick and hideous. Your face was scrunched. Your head was a malformed cone from being pushed through your mother’s chute. The doctor slapped you on the ass or stuck a tube up your nose for suction. You sputtered, snorted, and began to bawl. You wailed red-faced and beat your fists at the air.

Round one. Begin.

You learn to crawl. Learn to walk. Learn to defecate in the toilet instead of in your pants. Your bones ache down to the marrow with growing pains. Time shoves you on the rack and starts cranking the chains to make your limbs longer. You’re a gangly thing. Together with others like you, you find people who are less or more gangly and laugh at them. Camaraderie.

Round two. Get in the ring boy, you ain’t done.

Say goodbye to the nest. It falls out from under you and you don’t have wings. Walk along the ground pecking at the breadcrumbs tumbling from higher perches. Get shit on by the birds sitting on those higher perches. Wait until the fat cat comes along and eats one of them. Watch the feathers float down. Hop out of the way of the blood spatter. Climb up and take their place. Corporate ladder.

Round three. Broken? Boy, please. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Find the love of your live. Give her your love without reserve. Reach your fingers into your chest and rip your heart out. Fall to your knees before her and hold it up still beating. Keep smiling as she plunges her acrylic nails into the ventricles with quiet pops. Keep moving until you find someone with packing tape and a defibrillator. Settle down, but mostly settle.

Round four. Tired already? Oh, there’s no throwing in the towel now.

Hate your job. Work it anyway. Enter the data you don’t care about to get a result that is meaningless to you. Turn in that project. Start another one that looks exactly the same. Give yourself ulcers with coffee to keep yourself awake. Pay a doctor to remove the ulcers. Pay a therapist to tell you why you still never wake up. The alarm is shrieking. It’s Monday again.

Round five. Relax. Put some ice on it and the swelling will go down.

Retirement has come. You’re back in diapers and have a rash. Turn on the TV and watch wheel of fortune. Notice your wife is knitting and wonder when she learned to knit. Look in the mirror and think about offering to play the crypt keeper if they ever do a remake. It’s half past five. Swallow your pills dry.

Round six. Push it to the end, baby.

Look around you. You’re in a hospital bed. People are smiling. There’s the kid you shoved a bully off of. There’s the guy you gave a job. There’s your kids who were never wanting. There’s your loyal wife.

Ding ding. That’s a match.

Written in May of 2015.