I see a woman sitting on a bench outside Starbucks looking up into the sky with an expression that makes you think she’s seen God. She’s probably in her seventies and she looks dreamy and excited, bordering on blissful, and you just know she’s been holding that gaze for a really long time and will continue for who knows how long.
I look over my shoulder, up to where I think she’s looking. All I see is the six-story building I left minutes ago, the parapet around its tar roof black against the sky. I don’t see God, that’s for sure. Two girls sitting on the bench next to her are hunched over their phones and apparently don’t see God either. All I can do is hope that by the time I reach the woman’s age I’ll locate my own bliss. I guess you can’t expect to find it in your twenties.
A few months ago I lost my job at Macy’s when some bozo at the store accused me of taking money. They came up short twice in one month and conveniently blamed the new girl, though I swore on a Bible I was innocent, what can you do. So I took this job as a coat check till I could find something else, and since I don’t have to be there until around 4:30 when things start heating up for dinner, I’m able to miss subway rush hour, which is a good thing. You see I’m counting my blessings—Oprah’s sure-fire method for realizing your best life—even though I got screwed at the store.
The restaurant where I work is real fancy with a five-star chef, meaning I have to wear a crisp white shirt and black skirt even though I’m sure I could show up in a Brazilian bikini and no one would notice. The customers spend three-hundred dollars a dinner if you catch my drift, so they aren’t about to start caring about the help. Bright side: fancy also means expensive, so I have my pick of reject-plates, freaking-free of course, and I’ve never eaten so well. Perks are king.
I’m thinking about all this as I step onto the train platform, ridiculously crowded for a non-rush hour. It’s summer so I’m worried my crisp white shirt will get wrinkled and smelly when I get smushed in with all these perspiration-machines. No one seems to know what the problem is, just that there’s DELAY posted on an overhead screen - thanks for the obvious - and that it’s boiling hot and humid. But the train rolls in just a few minutes later—blessings again—and though it’s crowded I get on because I can’t afford to be late to work. Last time I arrived ten minutes late, which was yesterday, Elliot, the snotty maître d’, basically told me it was my last shot. “We’ve been as patient as we can be” was how he put it. So I squeeze past several tight bodies inside the train and claim a spot of floor over a corner seat, grabbing the metal bar above for support.
The AC’s blasting—another blessing, thank you very much—and I hear myself exhale. The woman sitting beneath me looks up suddenly, kind of curious. Then she smiles as if to say, I get it, I know exactly how you feel. But I don’t think she does or if that’s even possible. Because this woman is not even remotely like me.
This woman is poised and unruffled, like an observer of the goings-on around her, but not aloof like a movie star. She’s stunning in an understated way, wearing a long, flowing cotton flower-print dress with a big wide skirt, the kind you see at expensive garden parties with women in big hats. On her lap is a crocheted tote bag, its mouth open wide, revealing its contents along with her relaxed, trusting nature. Her hair is perfect in a tousled but purposeful way. It won’t get mussed by the wind because every strand is exactly how it should be—light brown streaked gently with golden highlights. Kind of angelic. She’s wearing makeup but it’s professionally done, meaning it’s barely noticeable. Worst part is, you know if she came into the restaurant, she’d be perfectly nice to you. She’d talk to you, make you think you actually matter, so it would be impossible to hate her. She’s perfect. And suddenly life seems perfectly unfair.
I’m trying to find the blessing here. I’m seeing perfection after all, like that woman seeing God in the sky, only I get to see Him on the subway, as a woman. But it just doesn’t fit. She doesn’t belong here.
As the train approaches 14th Street, it makes its usual violent turn into the station, jerking the car and throwing me forward, tossing me onto Miss Perfect. I stop myself just short of landing in her lap.
“Sorry!” I say, righting myself. “I couldn’t help it.”
“Not a problem.” Of course she’s unperturbed, day at the beach. “It’s happened to me,” she says. “Same thing, same station.”
“Really,” I say. I don’t believe her. “You don’t ride this train very often.”
Her eyes widen. They’re sky blue.
“You’re too perfect for this train,” I blurt. “You don’t belong here.”
“You’re just making the rest of us feel bad about ourselves.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m sure you don’t intend it,” I say. “You seem like a perfectly nice person.”
The train doors open and I get out, though I haven’t arrived at my destination. Moving toward the stairs, I turn to look behind me. Miss Perfect’s out on the platform, rifling through her large tote, obviously searching for something, her expression frantic with concern.
I pick up my pace toward the nearest exit, fingering my latest blessing - its bulge warm and soft against my hip.
About the Author
CHRISTINE TROTTER, a.k.a. C J Trotter, teaches writing and presentation skills to internationals at New York University, where she also received her doctorate in Arts and Humanities Education. She has published “Unjudged” in Crack the Spine and “Punch” in Following, a short story anthology. She also studied with Pushcart Prize winner Alex Mindt and novelist Teddy Wayne. When she is not teaching or writing, Christine is checking baseball stats, or dreaming about the high that must come from sliding into home base just under the catcher’s mitt.