The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
The Woman Who Was Done with Men
By Meredith Counts
Something snapped on the bus home from work.
A man across the aisle made a point to let Amy know he was staring at her legs, that he approved. “Nice shoes,” he said, though his eyes were focused on her knees, trying to look up between them.
She ignored him, but he leaned into the aisle toward her.
“Nice shoes!” he repeated.
Normally she’d give a pest a quick smile, but this time she didn’t want to.
When she looked away he said, “screw you, babe.”
She’d grown up the baby of six children. Her only sister was the oldest with four brothers between them. Amy’s whole life she’d seen her mother care for her father, her mother care for the children. Her sister, Hanna, had disappeared into the role of the little mother, packing their lunches and doing their laundry while the boys fought and tore up the house.
Hanna had married one of the boy’s friends from town. She stayed close to home, taking care.
Amy went as far away as she could, literally across the country. She and Hanna kept in touch, politely, but what did they have to talk about? Amy relished the different ways people said their vowels here, loved living alone. There was no one else to clean up after. All she wanted was to get home to her little apartment, listen to a radio program she’d missed over the weekend. Have a little supper. She meant only to go home and relax.
It had been a day of invisible difficulties. So many things were expected to be unseen. No one wanted to see panty lines or lipstick on one’s teeth. You couldn’t stink, but there certainly shouldn’t be deodorant on one’s blouse. Repeating “screw you” to the man who’d said it first was somehow inappropriate. Visible dissatisfaction was unbecoming, as was vulgarity. At work that day, she’d almost requested a change in the seating arrangement. But, emotional reactions were almost as frowned on as pit stains. A verbal outburst was as bad as a bra that made one’s back bulge.
Her workstation made her sit with her back to the open office, and there was a coworker named David, twice her age, who gave unwanted shoulder rubs on his way back from the staff kitchen or bathroom. He pressed his whole body on her through the mesh back of her chair. Sometimes he did it while she was on the phone or video chat with clients. He did it with no warning. From nine to five, Monday through Friday, Amy watched her back and came home exhausted.
He never did it to Cora or Karen, coworkers nearer his own age. Amy had tried putting a mirror on her desk so she could watch behind her, but someone from accounts had teased her about her vanity.
It was hard to guess if the bosses would treat her differently, or worse, tell David she’d complained. He was the kind of man who would want to talk to her about it. To explain his intentions. In fatherly tones. As if she didn’t understand.
She’d left for home without saying anything. He was taking his family on vacation in a month. It would be a nice week with him out of the office.
Thinking about David while staring at the man who’d checked out her legs, she grew angrier. Instead of tensing up, her shoulders felt broader, strong.
When the bus neared Amy’s stop she got up to stand by the door. Screw You was still there. Holding on while the bus slowed, she watched him. Her eyes were larger now, her vision sharper. He shifted, avoiding her. The longer she looked at him, the more he seemed to shrink. Somehow, she could heard all the blood thumping through all of the other passengers, she heard his heartbeat in particular, speeding up.
This was new.
Her grandmothers had let the grandfathers decide what programs to watch on the television. They cooked the meals, then handed their husbands the knives to carve the meat at the head of the table. Men in her family doing any indoor chore were met with huge praise. To scramble an egg for a sick wife was reason to erect a monument. The men did chores alone, or with a man friend, unencumbered by children. They lingered in the sun. Mowing the small patch of yard the boys hadn’t run to dirt took all afternoon and a six-pack.
Amy’s father and brothers expected hot meals at seven AM and six PM. When her mother tried new recipes, they’d fuss and fake-barf so she’d stopped trying. They’d liked to send Amy down into the root cellar for cookies then lock her in. Then there was their childhood dog, who had to be put down after the boys got her muddy then thought it would be funny to bathe her with the high power hoses at the car wash. Were they cruel or was it just that not much was expected from them?
Mom asked Amy why she rarely came home, just for weddings and funerals. Her Mom and Hanna looked tired, old. They had all those suits and shirts to press, arrangements to make. Her brothers got drunk and gave long speeches, always more about themselves than the newlyweds or the deceased. They always managed to brag about fish they’d caught. If someone in the casket or at the wedding table ever reeled one in the brothers didn’t say so.
All of the men Amy knew crowded her thoughts as she glared at Screw You. She felt sweaty around her armpits and between her shoulder blades. The bus slowly opened its hinged doors, releasing her. She stepped down. Whatever care she had had for men, she’d left it on the bus, like a heavy old bag forgotten under the seat. She was a wild animal now. Her shoes were gone. One foot touched the pavement, then the other. Her balance felt different, but her legs felt strong.
Little bursts of energy seemed to zip up and down her back. She could see the back of Screw You’s head, and took another step, and growled a low rumbling growl. People at the bus stop turned to stare.
A woman backed away, pulling a fascinated child with her.
Amy cawed. It was a deep, crackling sound that surprised her. When she raised her hand to her throat, her sense of her own body was all off. Her fingers touched her neck several beats before she expected to make contact. When she looked down, she caught another glimpse of that new second eyelid. Her hands had grown long, curving claws, blunt and thick as wrought iron. Her arms grew a protective armor of scales.
One car honked its horn at another, veering as its driver beheld her.
She whipped her tail from side to side. A mace-like bulb at the end clunked on the sidewalk.
When the man riding by slowed his bicycle to say “whoa, lady,” he was offering his opinion about the wrong woman. She snapped to face him, her new eyelids contracting. Flames rose up her long armored neck, and out.
A fireball hit him square in the chest. He fell, his bike clattered on top of him, his shirt on fire, the front wheel spinning. Women dropped what they were holding and rushed to help him. One foot with its little neoprene bootie stuck out as cars swerved and he tried to slap at the fire on his chest.
Amy’s eyes opened. That’s what these new eyelids were for. They protected her eyes from smoke, from fire damage. She settled deep into her haunches, as one does before jumping, pushed down into the earth and sprung up, taking to the sky.
A car collided with a bus. People screamed. Some of the flames had reached a thicket of brush behind the bus stop. The child waved goodbye.
Her wings were fairly intuitive. They had that new car smell. It would take her a long time to get home, but she was strong and angry. Should she stop to visit David from work? No, it felt important that she show her mother and sister what she’d become. Their town was so far away from where she was now, but she was strong. She was angry. She could fly all night.