“These are the best we could do?” Arianna murmured doubtfully as yet another potential suitor — smug and dark-haired, just like all the others — left the dining hall. “These are our best and brightest? This parade of arrogance and swagger?”
“They have every right to be proud,” her mother chastised sharply. “Pride is not the same as arrogance if it’s earned, Arianna. These you men are high born and highly skilled.”
“So their parents have money and they’re good with a sword,” Arianna said dismissively. “I don’t see how that sets them apart from me in anyway, and yet I’m constantly being told to be humble.” She side-eyed her mother, boredly.
“I can only assume that humility is to be the ‘lady-like’ counterpoint to my husband-to-be’s arrogance. Oh, apologies — pride. What a quaint arrangement.”
Her mother let out a long suffering sigh as Kiara, one of the servant girls, entered the room with an elaborate tray piled high with pastries and a gilded teapot. She waved the young woman in, rubbing at her temples.
“What would you have me say, Arianna?” she asked. “We have traditions, we have expectations and social mores. You are expected to find a husband, to be taken care of, to have children. Do you not want a secure life?”
“I don’t want that life,” Arianna sniffed. Her mother shook her head in frustration as Kiara poured her tea in a delicate china cup. Her mother took a long sip.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” her mother huffed, placing the cup back in it’s saucer with a little more force than strictly necessary. “You’ve not lived long enough to know. Your life will be long, God-willing, and what a horrid thing it would be if you were to live it alone.”
“I never said I wished to be alone,” Arianna aid airly. Kiara set a pile of sweet cakes on a plate before her. Arianna winked at her surreptitiously. Kiara’s face turned bright pink as she turned away, grinning.
“I only said I don’t wish to have a husband.”
Five a.m., and they pulled off the highway to eat, not a leisurely breakfast but a desperate devouring of the last remnants of the meal from the previous night; ham and cheese sandwiches kept cold in the front pocket of Erin’s Jansport with a sweaty dollar store ice pack. They rinsed their mouths with flat coke, tore into packets of Little Debbie swiss rolls with their teeth, and leaned themselves and their old bike against the guardrails on the highway as the turned their faces east.
“How much further to go?” Kelly asked, her voice hoarse from disuse and the road. Erin took the last swig of Coke and shrugged.
“Miles or time,” she said, tossing the bottle over the guard rail. Kelly clucked her tongue disapprovingly. “Which is more helpful?”
Kelly shrugged. “Time, I guess.”
“Probably another five or six hours.”
Kelly chewed her lip thoughtfully, scuffing the road with her well-worn leather boats. Dry puffs of dust rose from the pavement in diaphonous clouds.
“That’s not so bad,” she muttered.
“No,” Erin agreed. “Not after everything else.”
The sat in silence for a moment, Kelly picking absently at the blood stains crusted on her jeans, the flesh still tender under the bulk of the bandages. She forced herself to stop worrying the injury, sat on her hands to keep her promise. The cold pavement against her hands, and the pressure of her weight was comforting, in a way. She turned to Erin and chanced a smile.
“At least we get sun today,” she said. Erin glanced over at her, her face unreadable. The corner of her mouth quirked, and she dipped her head in agreement.
“Yeah,” she said. “Yup. At least there’s that.”
She felt the gentle swish of her shirt in the path of approaching footfalls, but was still startled when she felt a hand on her back
“Naomi!” she signed. “Don’t sneak up!”
“Sorr-” Naomi started before catching herself.
“Sorry,” she signed. She pushed a stack of books out of the way with her foot and sat facing Zara. “I thought you had your hearing aids.”
Zara pushed her hair back to show her the buds in her ears.
“Turned them off,” she signed. “People never respect the silence of a library and I am beside myself trying to get shit together for my thesis.“
Not going to lie; this might be my last year doing A-to-Z. I might take on some other monthly challenges, or seriously rethink how I handle this challenge, but I feel more and more — and I felt it a little bit last year, but hooo boy, is it full force this year — I feel more and more that it’s actually hindering my creativity more than helping me.
Actually, no; let me rephrase. I’m actually happy with what it’s doing for my creativity, because I was running out of ideas and also because I tend to stick with very similarly themed and similarly composed drawings, so this has been good in helping my generate scenes I normally wouldn’t consider drawing/painting. It’s hindering my productivity, because despite how rough the sketches are — and yeah, I know, they are rapidly degenerating before our eyes — it takes time and effort to conceptualize what I want to do for the sketch and what the story behind it is.
I already have a few front runners for what I might want to work on next month — and that’s exciting! — but I’m not getting much else done right now, and while I was a-ok with that at the start of the month, I’m regretting it a little now.
Because I hadn’t banked on the fact that, hey — ideas generate naturally, as well. They develop organically.
I have non-A-to-Z art ideas now, but I really can’t devote the time and energy to them that I’d like to, because I have to shift gears and conceptualize something new every day.
Next month when I’m not on a timeline, I can work on multiple projects at once and can easily do some of my own ideas alongside those generated by A-to-Z, but right now, my fingers are just itchy, man, ya know?
Hope all is going well for all other participants. Stay safe and sane.