Rebecca pulls her coat snugly around her. It’s Miu Miu, a deep burgundy with a jeweled collar, purchased during the trip she and Josh took to Rome two autumns ago. She shifts in the subway seat and turns away from the man at the end of the car rocking back and forth. His face is buried in an old Time magazine proclaiming in white letters against black, “The Return of the Silent Majority.”
He looks up and she glimpses his face, as crumpled as the thin magazine he holds. The train car smells of bodies pushed unnaturally together, of sweat and impatience. Once the man catches Rebecca’s eye, she can no longer look away. The man lets out a wail as somebody steps on his foot. It makes Rebecca uneasy, that cry. It speaks of anguish, a pain beyond the obvious. The wailing man looks at her, as if he is accusing her of something. Alcohol, meth, pills, Rebecca counts the possibilities in her head. But those things would numb the pain. This cry was raw, and Rebecca hears her sorrow in it. The other passengers stir in their seats, too. Tourists from the suburbs who were happily chatting just a minute ago are now perched upright, on alert. The college-aged girl across the aisle reaches for her phone and stabs it with her finger. She has multiple ear piercings making a dotted line along one ear, an uncomfortable-looking nose piercing. Rebecca wonders if they hurt.
The girl wears a t-shirt that announces, “We are the 99 Percent”. Rebecca thinks of her college years, the ubiquitous Nirvana baby underwater t-shirt. Josh would never wear t-shirts, even then he dressed like a hedge fund manager. The Occupy Wall Street girl picks mindlessly at her cuticles, black polish chipped at the edges. Rebecca looks down at her own manicured nails, a cherry red called Jingle Bells. It now seems like a garish choice. She turns her wedding ring around, edging it gently with the neighboring fingers, so no one will see the large emerald, bright in its setting.
Rebecca is heading uptown to do some Christmas shopping on Madison and then she’ll meet Josh and they’ll have dinner. She thinks of the gifts she’ll buy, tiny packages wrapped in iridescent ribbon, like silver birds just hatched. It hadn’t been long since she and Josh decided to make a go of it again. Rebecca had wanted to enjoy the afternoon and evening to come, but the mood was now soured. She should have listened to Josh and taken the car service. Rebecca had insisted on the subway, the car service seemed to be an unnecessary extravagance.
She smooths her skirt and rolls her neck side to side in little semi-circles.
Recent events had made her nervous in her hometown. Rebecca remembers the dreamlike excitement of Christmastime. Her mother would take her to the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. Afterward, they’d stop for ice cream sundaes, nestling themselves against the soft pink velvet walls and cuddly teddy bears. Rebecca would have a hot fudge sundae, the maraschino cherry on top, rainbow sprinkles dotting the whipped cream, while her mother sipped espresso.
In an instant, the man stands up and grips the pole. He’s waving the magazine through the air. Rebecca sits upright, a watery sound filling her ears. The signs above her promise Earn your degree from home! and warn, if you see something, say something. He’s saying something and Rebecca thinks it’s intended for her, but she can’t hear it. The tourists sit up too, glancing at each other, backs rigid.
Rebecca thinks of her husband again, happy to have this evening together. The train lurches to a stop. Rebecca looks over at the wailing man, who resumed his rocking back and forth. She clutches her handbag close to her and makes her way out of the train and up the stairs into the stinging air and bright light.
Out on the street, Rebecca squints against the bright sky as a hurried woman collides with her. “I have to get out of the city tonight,” Rebecca hears the woman say into her phone. She catches a glimpse of the other woman reflected against the mannequin in the department store window, red coat, shimmery collar. The shop window is illuminated and sparkling with the promise of glittery things or is it Rebecca’s coat, Rebecca’s collar? Rebecca sees herself reflected in that window. Is she me, or am I her? There is suddenly red on the pavement, red everywhere, the color of cherries and Christmas stockings and nail polish. Red filling her field of vision as she falls, the sound of bells filling her ears, for the last time perhaps. This is the end, it occurs to her, lying on the pavement. But it’s the Salvation Army Santa, setting down his bell, helping her up, his suit a red splash against a gray city. She takes off her emerald ring and drops it in his box. It’s Christmas after all.
More flash fiction by Stephanie Goldman: Category One
Stephanie Goldman is an artist and writer. Her website is www.snowflakesanddust.com. Previous publications include The Bluebird Word, Boats Against the Current, Literary Mama, and the WOW-Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest. Her story The Truth Is previously appeared in Fiction Attic. She writes fiction, poetry, and picture books. She lives with her family in Jupiter, Florida.
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