For a few months my step-mother encouraged people to believe my step-sister and I were twins. The matching outfits she bought for us were key. I remember the green, floral print mini-dresses with spaghetti straps and bolero jackets, the white jumpsuits with specks of color splattered all over, and the maroon pantsuits with white trim. N. and I hated dressing alike. N. rolled her eyes whenever anyone said, “Are they twins?” I looked at my feet.
The first day we wore the maroon suits, my step-mother took us to Tampa to go shopping. Shopping in a real city was a big deal. A two hour drive there and a city restaurant too! I might have been to Tampa once before–when my mother was temporarily committed–but I had no memory of that.
Tampa! Such 11-year-old girl excitement.
Then I got dressed in the maroon pantsuit.
We weren’t on Interstate 4 yet when the itching started. First, I spit in my hand and rubbed it under my collar thinking that would work. The itching spread. By the time we were 30 minutes from home my skin was red everywhere the fabric touched. I curled up in the backseat (no seatbelts required) and scratched.
“I think we should take her home,” N. said, folding back my sleeve to look at my shoulder.
My step-mother glanced in the backseat and sighed. “I’m not driving all the home. She’ll be fine.” She returned her attention to the highway. “Just don’t scratch. Jesus, I don’t get to go anywhere.”
I don’t remember shopping and I don’t remember eating, but the sky was gray that morning and the trees we passed were pine. Bumps ran up and down my body and the baking-soda bath I took when we got home after dark was cool.
There are two cats in the picture. One we named Whitefoot. He was killed when I startled him and he bolted into the road in front of a neighbor’s orange VW Beetle convertible. There were whitecaps on the lake and the floor-length curtains I hid behind felt rough on my face.
Description in my fiction makes me curse. I don’t want to be too flowery or too spare. Readers tell me–I don’t know what this character looks like. I can’t picture the room. I stare at the page and wonder where to put these details that don’t trip up my pacing or screw the point-of-view. Maybe it is the way I read. Character descriptions rarely stick in my head unless it is something remarkable or odd–a wooden leg or a scar on the forehead or hair long enough to reach the ground from a tower window. Often I end up thinking a character had brown hair when the writer clearly stated his hair was blonde. Or whatever.
How much description do you want in a story?