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Random first line writing prompt from Writing Exercises: She stood out from the crowd because…

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NO row house

She stood out from the crowd precisely because she didn’t. Her blue jeans were tattered at the bottoms from wear and tear, not cut and shredded at the knees like today’s teenagers’ were. Her shoes were once-upon-a-time-white sneakers. They’d seen better days as well. The ends of her big toes stuck out through worn holes at the tips. She wore a plain navy t-shirt with a tan cardigan over it. The cardigan was beginning to unravel at the cuffs. Over her shoulder was the strap of a small hobo bag. She clung to the strap with both hands as if afraid someone would take it from her any moment.

Around her the world swarmed with colorful costumes. In the midst of the Mardi Gras festivities, it was apparent she didn’t belong. No beads, no mask, no bottle of beer in hand. She picked her way through the crowded street avoiding human contact as much as possible. She paused in the doorway of the Walgreens drug store to catch her breath. For the life of her, she couldn’t understand why she’d grown so fearful of people. Her dad had always teased her about being such an extrovert that she never met a stranger. After a few moments she slipped back out into the flowing river of people dancing their way down the street and sidewalks

Clipped in a pixie cut, her auburn hair blended in with the rest of her. Her bangs fell to the middle of her nose, but there was no mistaking the huge brown eyes they shielded. Eyes that darted here and there and all around like the light of a lighthouse. Her chest heaved as she moved. Her breath coming faster and faster. She tried to make herself as invisible as possible. Damn, why’d I have to work this night of all nights. Fuckin’ Krogers. An older man covered in a dozen strands of green, purple, and gold beads swerved drunkenly into her path and she nearly tripped on a hump in the sidewalk trying to stay out of his way.

The street was a cacophony of musical instruments, noise makers, and laughter. She wanted to put her hands over hear ears and run, but she couldn’t. Not without letting go of her purse. So she stayed as close to the store fronts as she could and eventually found her way to Adams Dr. where she turned at the corner beneath the street light and headed home, thankful that Adams was off the beaten path and the merriment never seemed to spill over to her side street.

That’s the way Mardi Gras was in New Orleans, even in the suburbs. You’d think she’d be used to it, but she wasn’t. She wasn’t a native. She was from Iowa, for God’s sake. She asked herself for the hundredth time, Why am I even here? She could have answered that question two years ago. Her grandmother, a spry 74-year-old, had purchased a run-down house off the main street of Jefferson on the west end of the boulevard. It was her dream to renovate an old Victorian. But something had happened to her. Within a few months of moving in her health began to fail. Her quality of life had diminished to the point she needed someone to stay with her.

That’s why she was here. At the urging of her mother she’d come from the farm in the middle of nowhere to the noisy, cluttered city to help take care of her grandmother. She’d been 21 for hell sakes. She should have been beginning her life, not playing nursemaid to a grandmother she barely knew. But as it turned out it wasn’t for long. Vivianne had deteriorated rapidly and passed away only three months after her arrival.

The noise and commotion followed her down the street, but her pace slowed, as did her breathing. Three doors down on the left she opened a wrought iron gate and let herself into the yard pulling the sagging, screeching metal shut behind her. She ran up the steps to the porch as fast as she could, cursing herself for not leaving the porch light on. I’m so stupid, I’ll never learn, she accused herself looking around to make sure she wasn’t followed. That was unlike her, too. She’d always been such a positive person.

Struggling with the key, she finally found the lock, slipped quickly inside, and slammed the door. She threw the deadbolt shut with a loud clank, then, back against the door, she slithered to the floor, every part of her body shaking. Thank God for timers. At least the living room lights were on.

She didn’t have the ambition to get up just yet. Every time she walked into the house she felt as if the energy were draining from her. It was the most unpleasant old house she’d ever been in. Eerie. If houses could have a soul, she’d swear this one was evil. She had been truly baffled to find her grandmother had left it to her – and little else. What money Vivianne had left her had gone into the unfinished refurbishing of the place in the hopes she’d be able to unload it quickly. It’d been up for sale for 20 months now with not a single bidder in sight.

Sighing, she finally pushed herself to her feet, hung her sweater on the coat rack by the door, and dropped her purse on the foyer table next to the lamp. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror that hung above the table, she ran her fingers through her stubby hair. She’d had to cut it short months ago as it had begun to thin and pull out in her comb. Under her eyes, sunken and glassy, were deep, dark rings from not sleeping. “Worrying about this damn house has sure taken a toll on me,” she said to herself in the mirror. She guessed she’d better get something to eat before she fell down asleep. It had been crazy busy at work today and her feet were killing her. She kicked her shoes off at the bottom of the coat rack and headed for the kitchen.

Upstairs in the attic, louvered shutters opened and closed, purring like a cat. A wooden sigh expanded the boards as the girl’s energy drained away, the creaking boards making the kinds of attic noises that scared the girl to death. How long, the house wondered, would she be able to keep THIS one alive?