The Man Sitting Behind You Is a Serial Rapist
Bess Winter

Of course I turned around.

And there, indeed, was a man. Eating alone: Bald spot. Hunched shoulders. Plaid shirt against a pleather chair back. Sweet and sour sauce and spring rolls or something. Looked like my dad, from the back.

There were things I wanted to know. Was there even a cosmic possibility that this old egg behind me was actually a serial rapist, or did asking the question make me insane? Who wrote this fortune, and under what conditions? Where could I get more of these cookies?

The flipside: Your lucky numbers are 32-8-47-12-6-15-2 ♥

The paper omen curled around my finger like a tapeworm. There on my side dish: the broken cookie, stale and unappetizing. My companion refused to break his own cookie and share his fortune. He stuffed it, still in its cellophane wrapper, into his pocket to enjoy later, alone. Just another reason why I hated him, had to end things with him post-haste. But not that night. That night I may or may not have been sitting back-to-back with a serial rapist.

The restaurant staff was glassy-eyed, stumbling around, mopping tables and balancing plates of food on their forearms in an opiate haze. Yet they also seemed to be watching me. Waiting for my reaction. Their eyes slid around in their sockets like closed-circuit cameras.

And there I was when the possible rapist stood and began to pay his bill, all in loose change. Did I mention that he could have been my dad? Because this paying in change reminded me very much of my father. But he wasn't, thank God. No, he was a bumbler. The little oh! he let out when he fumbled his change, when it all rolled under my seat like tiny wheels: how cute.

Then the awkward moment.

I don't enjoy giving up my subway seat for the elderly. I seethe when I see an old woman clawing her way onto a full streetcar. Aggressive beggars force me to pretend they're invisible. If someone's slightly too far behind me while I'm on my way into a building I don't stand there like an idiot in the breeze, holding the door. People only care about themselves. Get used to it. But a rapist reaching under my chair for his dropped change. A possible rapist.

I reached under the chair. I plucked the coins off the carpet. "Here you go," I said. I plunked them into his hand. One after another. I locked my gaze on the dull plaid of his shirt. I looked at his hand.

But then I looked up.

His eyes were puddles. His face was a doll's: the kind made out of stuffed nylons. His expression — this was the worst — was like he was terrified, his puddles wide and murky and glistening. He said something I didn't catch. Then he left.

That expression. What was that for? And that broken cookie he left behind: what do you think was inside?

Bess Winter is an MFA-fiction candidate at Bowling Green State University and Special Projects Editor of the Mid-American Review. She has work in or coming from Adbusters, Pindeldyboz, JMWW and others.

To link to this story directly:

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of smallestbones.

w i g · l e a F               02-21-10                                [home]