By Julia Gerhardt
There’s too much light, shedding.
Shedding on the table, shedding on my face, shedding on his. I hate how much I can see him, and I hate how much he can see me. We sit by a window in a restaurant littered with candles. Whenever a large truck drives by, I’m given a small reprieve from the setting sun dwindling in the corner of my eye. This shadowy respite gives me a moment to ask why the hell am I doing this, again? But I don’t answer because the truck is already gone.
The one thing I take refuge in with the light is that between the candles and the sun still out, it makes it feel romantic without any further implication. Light like this advertises the message: this is a date, but I’m not going home with you because it’s still too early. I like this. It’s like stroking the legs of a girl in your room with the door open and your mom downstairs, knowing you can’t go any further. There’s no rush, just time. Feeling her smooth, weightless black hairs though, is enough. Watching them rise at the touch of your finger when the air of the room is still, even more.
He slides a fry into his mouth, slow, as if he is unaware of all the light that is on him. He wants to be seen, spotted, interpreted, like every other man. His sexual advance was nothing to hide. He sucks on the tip of his finger. “Hey, Ellie,” he asks, holding out a fry, “hungry?”
The vile of an empty stomach creeps to the back of my throat. Right on cue.
“Will you please excuse me?” I ask, leaving before he says yes.
I push open the door to the bathroom and instantly feel safe in a room comprised of black tile and low, fluorescent lights. I elbow in the stall door the same way I learned in a self-defense class a few years ago. It’s the hardest and sharpest part of your body the instructor informed us. I never really think about my elbows much, but it felt good learning that. Knowing that there’s a least one part of me that is always tough, sharp, even though it rarely comes to mind.
I sit on the toilet, taking calm deliberate breaths. I’m rubbing my legs to rid myself of the goosebumps. I look down to the other stall and notice blue, velvet loafers, shifting. I feel mortified now for having so violently attacked my stall door. I see the hem of her jeans move up slightly, but there is no flush. Avoiding one’s stall companion in a public bathroom is the universal form of gambling.
I flush the empty toilet water and stand up. As I tug the bottom of my skirt down I hear the whirring of the toilet next to me. I push open the door and see there’s only one sink.
“Go ahead,” she says.
I turn around to see her standing behind me, she twists her straight, brown hair in one hand and tosses it back behind her neck, smiling. “Thanks,” I nod, turning the faucet on.
“I like your skirt by the way.”
“Thank you,” I say, feeling the warm water flood my cupped hands, “Thrift store,” I add.
“Oh, nice. That’s where I got these,” she points to her toes like a young girl wearing her mother’s shoes. “I just wish I hadn’t worn my favorite shoes for this prick I’m on a date with. Tinder is a waste,” she laughs.
I imagine Alex is still shoving fries in his mouth and I innocently hope he chokes. I can’t stop wringing my hands under the water, wishing I could place my whole body underneath the warm rush, but I know I’m keeping her. “I’m sorry, here, I’ll get out of your way,” I say, plucking a paper towel from the dispenser.
She flicks the water faucet off, “Trust me,” she reassures, “I’m in no rush.”
The hairs on my arms rise like hands, applauding.
Julia Gerhardt is a writer living in Baltimore. She was nominated for the Best Microfiction Anthology 2020 and Best Small Fictions Anthology 2020. She has previously been published in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Umbrella Factory, The Airgonaut, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Cease, Cows, Literary Orphans, Flash Fiction Magazine, Monkeybicycle, and others. Her work is forthcoming in fresh.ink, Okay Donkey, Club Plum, Feminist Space Camp, Rat’s Ass Review, Ghost City Press, and Selcouth Station. She is currently working on her first novel. You can find her at https://juliagerhardtwriter.wordpress.com/