Corinne raced between the closing doors of the subway train. Two empty seats, one next to a drunk, the other next to a fat woman mounded in shopping bags.
“Excuse me,” Corinne said. The fat woman grunted, lifting her bags as the L jerked and picked up speed.
A shitty day segues into a shitty night. Leith hadn’t texted where they were supposed to meet for dinner. Now, underground, she was out-of-range. Her feet hurt from her new heels; Brent had harshed her out for Paul’s mistakes; her computer was down and tech said they’d get to it tonight, if . . . “If” was right up there with “for sure.” “For sure I’ll text you by five.”
She stared at the back of the woman in the seat in front of her. Blond hair braided into a long, thick, silky rope, like a story princess’s. A braid like that was the work of years and an object of veneration. The woman also had a smooth neck, no jewelry, frayed denim jacket, a strong, un-manicured hand that held at eye-level a piece of paper she was reading. Corinne leaned sideways to get a better look. Scrawled across the top in a man’s handwriting was “10 Things You Must Change ASAP.”
It sounded like an evil fortune cookie.
Change or you are Doomed.
The train swayed. Corinne grabbed the bar along the seat’s edge, her fingers almost brushing the woman’s neck. She pulled away, but read.
#1. Quit asking me to account for my time.
Just what Leith said on Friday night. But did it make Corinne a bitch to ask why he was an hour late at the Clark Bar?
#2. Talk about something INTERESTING, not the kid all the fucking time.
Corinne glanced at the mop-haired boy beside the woman. Luckily he didn’t seem old enough to read. She shouldn’t be reading this either. She leaned forward.
#3. Lose 20 pounds.
Corinne sucked in her belly. Leith had joked about her getting “comfy,” which was . . .
#4. Wear sexy underwear. Victoria’s Secret.
Not that. Corinne had tried sexy underwear at the beginning, but thongs felt like butt floss.
#5. Quit being such a GODDAMN nun.
What kind of asshole wrote this?
#6. Get a haircut. The braid is UGLY.
A gut-punch. This woman would have loved her braid since she was a girl, when someone older had yanked it back and told her to hold still. The woman’s hand hadn’t moved. Maybe her eyes were closed. Maybe she couldn’t bear to read anymore. Corinne couldn’t either, but she couldn’t look away, her eyes locked on “UGLY,” breathing in the woman’s humiliation, and feeling every cut from every man who had ever looked at her and looked away, bored, or who’d looked at her and said, or not said, but obviously thought, that she wasn’t pretty enough or sweet enough or enough fun; every lingering disdainful glance, every man who’d fucked her once and disappeared, every call or text that didn’t come, every “it’s not you it’s me.” Every old insult, felt if not remembered, shot through her. The train rounded a corner, screamed up the tunnel, and rose through scaffolding onto the elevated tracks, shadow and light stuttering through the windows while icy winds from a looping nightmare rushed past her.
The train stopped. Corinne could barely breathe. Shopping bags knocked her shoulder. The woman, her hand, the list in the exact same position. The boy turned to glare at Corinne. She looked away, ashamed. Her phone beeped. Leith. She clicked it off.
Shaking, she stood and whispered to the back of the woman’s head, “Lose the bastard, ASAP.”
Lynn Sloan is the author of Principles of Navigation (Fomite, 2015). Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in American Literary Review, The Literary Review, and Ploughshares, among other publications. She has received several Ragdale Foundation Fellowships and a Pushcart Prize nomination. She has a master’s degree in fine art photography.