Just submitted this short story to a Flash Fiction contest that has a deadline in 20 minutes, and I just discovered it two hours ago. What a rush!
Who’s that girl?
She looks familiar, that girl who sits on a park bench seeming lost. It is the city of New York, and it is a place where I’ve run into many I’ve known. It wouldn’t be uncommon to even run into a celebrity every now and then.
Just last week I was with my mother at the Carlyle Hotel, and at the table across from us were two luminous beings, even more dazzling in person than on-screen.
“That’s Ed Burns and Christy Turlington!” my mother squealed. I often wish I could squeeze her childlike enthusiasm and intake just a drop. I would try and milk that drop to last throughout life, touching it here and there, a micro bead every so often and only at the most hopeless of times to get me through the rest of my days. I would do this so I wouldn’t feel so guilty. Guilty-for being selfish, for being angry, for being scared all of the time. For keeping on to keep on…..for me? For them? For who? For what?
I haven’t accomplished much and I hadn’t exactly tried. I am a secretary. The most sexist occupation of a female, the very gender stereotype that is portrayed in movies and the media as demeaning. One step up from a housewife. But it allows me my independence, not having to live back there in Long Island. Back there in a town in which I never want to return.
The girl quickly looks around and reaches into her Fendi. She has a Fendi! I don’t know anyone with a Fendi. I once pondered the idea when I visited Rome, to purchase the trendy bag in its homeland. My mother of course, with her overbearing opinions and disdain, tried to tell me that it would be a month’s rent, that I could put it in savings, that I could use it for saving whales, anything but lay down the dough for a sinful luxury.
The girl takes out an object within a paper bag, and takes a swig. Alcohol in the middle of the day? It’s even a weekday! Such a contrast of classes, a paper bag within one that cost at least two grand, easily.
I come to Bryant Park during my lunch hour often to savor the nice weather, because sometimes winters in New York can last eight months, not three. In this city I am somewhat jaded to the kinds of human beings that I encounter daily. I saw someone pull down his pants and start to urinate right in front of everyone. It wasn’t a homeless man. Or at least if he was homeless, he owned a business suit.
So familiar this girl is. Do I know any alcoholics? Suddenly I feel an evil grin creep across my face ear to ear. What if she was one of those girls who bullied me in high school? What if she is so far gone I barely recognize her? She looks terrible. Her eyes are sullen and her skin is tinted an unhealthy looking yellow.
Another wave of impervious guilt rushes through me. Have I really become a person that wishes harm on another?
I hear the echo of that horrible accusatory word that used to be shouted at me from all angles of the hallways of high school. It would ricochet and creep and slither or whatever means it would find necessary, to come to me. If not in audio form, I would see the word under my name…… on lockers, in bathroom stalls, on desks. My name, and that word, together.
I wasn’t a slut. I had only been with one boy by the time high school was over. And I was so in love with him I didn’t want any others to come near me. Unfortunately, this boy’s ex-girlfriend, and her friends…and eventually even my own, didn’t take kindly to my new attention. Why they decided to notice me all of a sudden, I don’t know. I was quiet and didn’t say much and didn’t really want to be bothered. But one popular boy noticed me, and it opened up the way for others. And that is when I got the attention of the females as well. Only a different kind of attention.
“Slut!” That word still creeps on me every now and then, even fifteen years later, even when the girls are long gone. Five years of therapy can’t even get rid of that memory. Or at least ease it.
I watch the girl take another swig, her eyes become more and more glazed over. I don’t feel guilty anymore. If she is one of those girls who did that to me then she deserves to be the mess I see sitting before me.
I glance over at the NYPD cars parked at the corner. Does she want to get caught? I’m sure cops don’t take this kind of thing lightly, especially when it’s done right in front of them.
I glance at my smartphone and see I have twenty minutes until I have to return back to my pencil-pushing cubicle. But this fascinates me. I have to place who this girl is. She is not that far away where I can’t figure it out. And I have twenty minutes to do so. I don’t want to stare. But she seems to be oblivious of me and is just concentrating on her mind-numbing afternoon.
The sun shifts and causes a glare, making it harder for me to see her. I am tempted to almost go up to her and ask her who she is, this way, the curiosity won’t haunt me. I have enough haunting me.
Yes. That’s what I’ll do. I stand up too quickly and stumble on some innocent passerby who looks at me with such pity it is heart-wrenching. I nod apologetically and realize I am face to face with the girl. My lips are sour from the drink I just dropped back into my expensive once-in-a-lifetime splurge. A cop is approaching.
The girl is me, I know. She is not a girl. I am a woman in my mid thirties, trying to place and project all the negativity into a thing of the past, something I will never be again, a girl. The one staring back at me intently into my own eyes, my own reflection in the shockingly shiny suburban, parked right in front of the bench in which I was sitting.