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The Dream Quest One First Writing Prize 

Summer 2010 Winner


Paulette Stewart

of South Cantebury, New Zealand


Emma Parks

          Emma was plain, no other word could be used, she was alright about this. In fact being a realist she believed a person needed to accept life the way it was written, otherwise they lived in fairy land. People, if they were real she reckoned with themselves wanted reality not fantasy. Foolishness! Wasting life for lives, which were unattainable. Since aged three she’d faced the cold truth she was no 'oil painting' as her old grandmother use to say.

One day whilst spying on Thomas Banks her secret childhood crush she heard him say to his buddies,

“Emma Parks is ugly.”

Initially she bawled her eyes out however afterwards when calm, rational she accepted the truth. It was then she formed a philosophy, a vow actually of embracing truth no matter the cost as a friend and if people would adopt, practice it in their lives it would save them from pain, disappointment as well. As the former vow she made a decision, plus forming a belief if a person could not accept a person in spite of their appearance, they were neither worth nor worthy of her friendship.

          Now at the age of thirty, Ms. Emma Parks had no expectations of romance or marriage. Maybe for
another woman whose looks were still on their side there was a slight possibility. At least there had been two. David and Andrew were both nice, except neither right for her. Dave, average in looks, quiet, conservative, steady, not given to impulsivity, very kind and loyal, worked as a clerk in an accountant’s firm. The problem though he was immensely boring. Whereas Andrew, ugly, sarcastic, a vipers tongue, intelligent, interesting, his flaw was his ruthless ambition. Now there is nothing wrong with ambition in itself. The part she could not marry in her mind was his willingness to compromise who he was to get to where he wanted.
Both relationships had been
long term.

          Today Emma Parks was going to her hairdresser, Evelyn, whom she chose because of the name.
Right from the first viewing the name appealed. It was one of the minute highlights in Emma’s life, which made the event an occasion. Later she would have a coffee at an expensive café, followed by dinner at a restaurant she would have read about. Afterwards, she’d watch a movie and sometimes a concert. It was something she did simply for herself every six weeks. After all, there must be some perks for being single. The appointment for the hairdressers was regularly timed for nine thirty in the morning and upon completion she would return home to do chores. Then she’d dress and head off to a café around three o’clock in the afternoon. A routine she kept for ten years.

          Precisely at nine the next morning, Emma sat in her car dressed in tidy grey slacks, a gentle pink top, a
scarf of pink, grey, purple and white background casually flung round her head and neck. She did not realise that today fate was stepping into her life. Some might call it destiny.

The traffic at this time was still steady. She hoped a parking space would be available close to the Salon. Today she was not in the mood for the task of trying to find a park, neither a long walk. Her week at work was tiring. She wanted something easy to happen for once and surely not everything had to be a struggle. A weary sigh expelled from her mouth.

Finally, three quarters of an hour later, she parked and was entering the Salon to meet Jane the

receptionist with the words,

         “Ms. Parks, I’m sorry, Evelyn is unable to do your hair today. She broke her leg and won’t be
working for at least eight weeks. Don’t worry we have someone who is proficient and is up to

speed on your requirements. Is this okay with you Ms. Parks? If not, we can book you in when Evelyn is back or refer you elsewhere.” To people whose lives are pre-dominantly ordinary small things like this are very important yet disappointment was nothing new. She knew it well yet hearing the news had hit hard for a few moments, until gathering her feelings and putting them aside. She replied in a light tone,

“No that is fine, I trust your judgment.”

“Oh! That’s great. I’d like to introduce you to Henry our temporary hairdresser”

Jane turned to Henry and exclaimed,

“Henry this is Ms. Parks, a valued long time client. Please make sure you look after her!”

“Ms. Park’s Enchante, you are in good hands with me I assure you.” Henry answered in a soft sensual tone, shocking Emma Parks right to her core.

“Come right this way Ms. Parks.”

          Emma’s mind struggled to take in what was happening as she meekly followed Henry to the awaiting chair. Never in her life had a man touched her hair especially a man like Henry. He looked like Hercules from the television program. He frightened her. She wasn’t sure why, nevertheless he did. Everything about him she was conscious of. He made her feel claustrophobic. She couldn't get her breath and every part of her body was alive. The hairs on her head stood straight, almost like she’d been in a photographer’s dark room and someone came in and turned the light on. All of a sudden bursting into her thoughts, the sensuous, silky voice of Henry asked,

“Has Madame thought of doing something different with her hair?”

Fear, her defence made her reply bluntly,

“What like?”

          “Well Madame has beautiful hair with a natural curl, although it is like a gorse bush gone wild. I could give you a style that would enhance your face shape and tame without spoiling the curl.”

“Okay that sounds good as long as it’s not way out.”

“No, I assure Madame, it will not be way out as she terms it. I think Madame is more genteel, however I would also suggest a colour, a rinse to highlight the beautiful gold’s she has already in her hair.”

He smiled gently at her; it was like he was urging her to be courageous, daring. After some moments, in a hesitant voice she answered,

“If you think this is best, it is fine with me.”

The next two hours were two hours of her life she never experienced before. The mixture of emotions she felt in those hours was incredible: from panic, amazement, to wanting to weep and shock.

         The time flew, the proceedings a blur, it was obvious he loved his work, which was efficient and highly competent. There was nothing he did that could be said was wrong, nonetheless he disturbed her greatly. When he finished and placed the mirror in her hand to see the finished result, she was numb. Only years of ingrained politeness helped her function and thanking, paying him she left the Salon.

         The day finished, his labour done, Henry Blackie sat alone in the dark in his flat. He was in a reflective mood, which was unusual for him. His mind was reflecting on women. He was use to the attraction to women. Henry was like bees to flowers to them. It was normal having women desiring, flirting with him except a strange, surprising occurrence happened when he met Ms. Emma Parks. The name rolled on his thick tongue like he was licking the tissue paper of a savored cigarette being rolled. No other woman impacted as much until now. It perplexed Henry. In his life, beautiful women were plentiful, though this woman was not, neither was she pretty. You could not even use the word attractive or the word plain. The only correct word that was apt to describe her was ugly. Over the years, with all the dates, the relationships he had, none affected Henry as this woman today. There was a power she carried within, a power she was oblivious to; she fascinated him. He was pulled to her and he couldn’t pull himself away. The allure of this woman drove him to know her like no other.

         He loved beauty especially beautiful women and all the women over the years he involved himself with were beautiful. It was peculiar to feel this powerful attraction to her, almost beyond his control. He decided instantly to look at the Salon on her card either for her address or her phone number and to make contact with Ms. Emma Parks, as soon as possible. The next day, Emma, after the visit to the Salon, was worn out. It was more than she was use to, the new look. Shocked at having another person working on her hair other than Evelyn. Let lone the person was male physical perfection with olive skin, coal brown eyes, muscled limbs, black glossy hair and full lips. Mmmmmmmm!

          She quivered as she lay in the dark on her bed thinking. Then deciding she never wanted to meet or see him ever as he made her uneasy, frightened. The reason for this she wasn’t able to work out and to be honest she did not want to know the answer.

          Emma was melancholy tonight; her mind was on the relationships with men in her early years and the latter part of her teenage years going into her beginning adult years. Not that there was an a abundance of men but just two serious relationships along, with an odd number of dates, as well as several male friends. The guys she really liked fobbed her off with cliché remarks such as, “You’re a lovely person but you’re not my type? Or ‘You’re a good friend, Emma” The worst statement being, “You’re a good friend, Emma” somehow it hurt the most. It was the perfect answer. Although the person was trying to be kind it in fact was a cruel paradox. Since it damaged the way she saw herself, it knocked her self-confidence. Also, implying her sexual appeal was zero, leaving her feeling undesirable, ugly. Plus this was a huge thing for any woman to handle. It made her feel she weren’t a woman, a nothing, cutting off a massive chunk of her womanhood.
It left her genderless.

          People could consider and would consider her thick; it took a long, long, time for Emma to learn the clichéd remarks were going to become the normal. It did not help she was a born optimist, nevertheless in the end she learned the lesson. Consequently, her suffering wasn’t wasted. Nowadays her expectations were naught of finding a man full stop. Heaven forbid a man being firstly attractive and the faintest chance of being good looking or else the miracle of perfection like the man at Evelyn’s. The best she expected was a plain man. If she found such a man who loved her she would be content and consider
herself fortunate.

          Henry, six weeks later, put his trembling hand on the telephone. He finally made the call he’d desperately yearned about for weeks. The call had gone well. Admittedly, the conversation at the start was strained although she warmed up as time went on and when he asked her to dinner she seemed fine. What happened, perplexed, hurt, disappointed he was knocked unconscious by a prize boxer.

 He never imagined, expected nor experienced this before; he had been looking forward to this evening more than any other in his whole life. All his hard work to make it magical, right, came to nothing. As pre-arranged he arrived at seven thirty. He’d bought flowers, not the usual date kind of flowers, they were daffodils, glorious colourful yellow daffodils; they represented the power of her sexuality.

          In addition to the flowers, Henry bought a traditional romantic gift of chocolates, furthermore paying extra attention to his appearance. He knocked on the door. Henry felt slightly sick. She opened it wide, let him in and said,” “I will be there in a second.”  Nothing seemed amiss. Together they left her place and walked down to his car. He was a gentleman and opened the door for Emma. Out of the blue she stopped and froze a stone statue for a time. Next, she turned around and ran back up the steps, leaving him stranded on the road bewildered. After gathering his thoughts, finally he called outside her door, his voice shaking from anxiety, “Is everything okay? Did you forget something?”

“Did I do something wrong?”

Silence, loud, answered back. He continued to stand there, thinking she would come back. At least he thought she would let him know what the story was; gradually it dawned upon him she was not going to do either. He felt stupid, embarrassed. Later after what felt like hours he knocked and called softly, urgently,

“Are you okay?”

          Nothing, nothing, no darn response, just nail biting silence answered back. A surge of hot fiery anger came replacing the shock. It sprung him into action; he knocked heavily on the door again.

His voice rose demanding,

“Answer me, you owe me that. I don’t deserve to be treated like this.”

The painful silence lingered on until eventually, in a tight gruff voice, a reply came,

“Sorry Henry, it’s not you, it’s me. I’ve changed my mind.”

Stunned like a rabbit by car headlights at night he answered “Okay’ followed by a long pause.

Then hurt swamped his heart. Next followed confusion flooding his mind for a few minutes, concluding in speech,

“You did not need to do this if you didn’t want to come. All you had to do was say.”

In a weary, sad voice she replied,

“I thought I did want to, I’m sorry, good-night.” He saw the light go out, heard her footsteps, he knew she was going to bed. His extraordinary night abruptly ended tattered.  There outside in the dark, a snail crawling pitifully in shame back into his car he took himself home.

          Meanwhile, Emma in bed in her old nightie thought heck! She nearly made a massive mistake; thank goodness sanity returned before she went on the date. Imagine, well she hated to imagine how it would have turned out. Inside her a gushing river of sadness while a refrain ran through Her sore brain, “If only are the words of regret.” She lie on the bed in the dark, an ice block slowly de-thawing. Relief was seeping in, washing over her leaving a peace. Phew!  She nearly did it again; it was so close. Emma was sorry, really sorry for Henry, the poor guy hadn’t deserved this. He’d been kind, nice, and sweet really. It wasn’t deliberate her actions tonight. They were survival. She’d nearly fallen.  It was dangerous to go on the date. The consequences would have been terrible for both. Sometimes a person had to make hard decisions to be pain free long-term.


          Past history was a teacher. The lesson she learned from her history was never to repeat mistakes and not to begin something you couldn’t complete. The scars left were a visual reminder. A Surgeon was only able to operate on the same scar a few times otherwise the thin old skin tore, similar to a person’s heart, if operated on too many times they bleed and die. No! She could not die in that manner, NO! NO! NO! Better to be on your own she thought. Snuggling under the blankets, a sniffle of stifled tears dribbled down her cheeks like treacle. Life would go on, one thing she knew for certain, did Ms. Emma Parks.

# # #

By Paulette Stewart