Body Language: show and tell

BalloonsU.S. dignitaries captured in photos at the Nelson Mandela Memorial are being judged by their body language during the celebration. I know how they feel. Not because I’ve been photographed at a similar event, because I’m a writer.

My manuscript drafted during National Novel Month 2011 opens with a Celebration of Life service for a student who died from a drug overdose. Without photos, I’ve given one character body language. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of A Time to Die.

Taylor Madrid stood at the back wall of the gym between Sheriff Marc Jameson and Andrew Bjorklund, a school counselor. Students dressed in red shirts filled bleachers that flanked the polished light oak floor. Balloons billowed from basketball posts wrapped in red ribbons, announcing a celebration rather than mourning for Rebecca Givens, her life cut short before her seventeenth birthday.

“You ever wonder about the effectiveness of these Celebration-of-Life events?” Madrid whispered to Sheriff Jameson. Before he could reply, Mr. Bjorklund spoke.

“Students can’t handle traditional funerals. Too much gloom. A celebration remembrance lets them concentrate on the good things, not reinforce the sadness. It gives them closure.”

“Wearing red and pretending that this young girl’s life wasn’t terminated by drugs isn’t closure,” Taylor said, turning to stare at the counselor. “The guilty guy—or girl—who pushed her to the end could be right here now.” Taylor motioned toward the bleachers. “At a funeral,” Taylor said, “I can tell who’s a real mourner and who’s pretending. Not at the celebrations that hide true emotions. Someone masquerading as grieving maybe gloating in satisfaction. For me, there won’t be any closure until I hear a guilty verdict with a sentence that fries the perp.”

The counselor walked toward the Givens family. His spiked blond hair, deep-set Paul Newman eyes, and a straight nose above full lips accentuated a suppressed smile in his tanned face. As Rebecca’s family left, others dispersed. Mr. Bjorklund fell in step alongside a student. Taylor head him laugh as took the girl’s arm and guided her out a side door.

What does Mr. Bjoklund’s body language say to you?

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