Here’s a story about last Tuesday night.
Last Tuesday night I was on the F train heading to Brooklyn. My boyfriend and I had plans to eat Middle Eastern food and watch the ending of Source Code, which he had edited to be, in his mind, what it should have been in the first place.
So I’m on the F train, standing room only, and I’m holding on to a pole with one hand and holding my unwieldy hardcover book in the other. I usually have issues standing and reading, but I made an exception in this case because I had about 50 pages left and was in the middle of a particularly arresting chapter. But I was holding the book in my less dominant left hand, so every now and then I’d feel a twitch in my bicep, or my forearm would start to burn until I’d momentarily set the book down, letting it hang down my side just long enough for me to scan the subway car for any questionable characters, and then lift it up to eye-level again. At some point, maybe around West 4th Street, I decided that, even though I was sort of enjoying what felt like a left-arm workout, it would be easier and require less breaks if I just held the book against my abdomen.
It was maybe a stop or two later that I saw a woman gesturing to me out of the corner of my eye. I stopped reading and looked at her. She was smiling. “You want to sit?” she said, pointing to an empty spot on the bench.
“No, I’m okay,” I said, shaking my head. “Thanks.” I smiled politely and turned my eyes down to the page again, but she kept going.
“No, really. You don’t want to? You should sit. You’re uh…” And then she gestured, with a sort of point, towards either my stomach or the book resting on it. Which one of these things it was, though, I’ll never know.
I repeated my response of three seconds earlier. “No, really. I’m fine.” I was still smiling nicely, but at that point I think my brow might have been sort of furrowed, puzzled-like.
The woman sat and went back to scrolling on her phone and I went back to my book. But not really.
Now I was confused. Why should I sit? Was she so nice as to offer me the spot because I was standing and trying to read at the same time, and a book that was pretty big, at that? That would be above and beyond in this city; people read and stand all the time. In fact, people read and stand more than they read and sit. And there were at least two others in my vicinity doing the same thing as me. One of them, a middle-aged man in a concert T-shirt and sunglasses resting on his head, had popped a squat at the end of the subway car and was lounging with his legs spread out. So she was trying to give me a relaxing reading experience over that guy, who would apparently rather risk bed bug infestation and come into close contact with blood, sweat, dirt, pee, vomit and who knows what else rather than stand up? That couldn’t be it. And then a thought, a horrible, embarrassing, humiliating thought, occurred to me.
Did the woman think I was with child?
Quick, how was I standing? I wasn’t standing up straight, probably. And the book resting on my stomach made it jut out a little maybe? And okay, this dress doesn’t really do me any favors––one of those damn shift dresses that make me look like I’m hiding something, which I am, but not a fetus.
I couldn’t focus on my book for the rest of the ride. I kept peering down my front, wondering if I had a paunch or could conceivably, from a stranger’s perspective, have a paunch, whether real or an illusion created by poor posture and an unflattering fitting dress. What had she been gesturing towards? My pizza box of a book, or a nonexistent baby growing in my womb?
I’ll never know the answer to this question because I didn’t have the gall to ask her. And it’s still haunting me, and it will continue to haunt me until I lose those 15 pounds I’ve been meaning to lose for the last three years.
The woman and I got off at the same stop but walked off in opposite directions. The walk to my boyfriend’s apartment was torturous, me studying my side reflection in car windows, looking for any hint of a pregnant-like protrusion.
To add insult to injury, our favorite Middle Eastern place was all boarded up, with a note taped to the window explaining that the owners would be on vacation until after Labor Day.
And we never did watch that alternate ending to Source Code. I mean, why the hell would I want to watch that?