A woman is sitting in a crowded coffee shop, completely alone. It isn’t until she’s been there for a few hours that she realizes the person sitting next to her, a stranger, is wearing her shoes. They even look like they might be the same size, and they are dirty in the same way and in the same places. This feels like solidarity, even though she is probably the only one aware of it. Just last night she learned that her boyfriend of six months slept with one of his high school friends when he was in Las Vegas two weeks ago.
A woman is sitting in a crowded coffee shop, completely alone. Though it is crowded, no one is looking at her, which means she can very easily slip her hand under the waistband of her pants and touch herself without getting in trouble. She doesn’t usually masturbate in public, but she feels disoriented, and the small world she inhabits—a collection of trains, bars, and neighborhoods—is growing more surreal each minute. Last night, she learned that her boyfriend of six months had wild crazy animal sex with some girl named Amanda. Nothing is fixed in its place. Anything is possible.
A woman is sitting in a crowded coffee shop, completely alone. She would never write the word “surreal” because it is vague and overused. Since she learned that her boyfriend of six months cheated on her, the dogs walking down the street have sprouted reptilian eyes. Gigantic intestines hang from street lamps and parking signs. The traffic lights, which never seemed to move in the past, now sway to the beat of a song playing in her head. It reminds her of the time when a song was stuck her head in for seven hours. She was in a tent in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and this song was so unrelentingly sticky that she couldn’t experience anything else—not the sounds of the woods, the smell of the river, or even the darkness, which was like no darkness she’d ever seen. Not that she noticed. It was two in the morning, and all she wanted was to fall asleep, but the song was so loud that it hurt her ears and kept her awake.
A woman is trying to fall asleep in a tent in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. At this point, she has no way of knowing that her boyfriend will cheat on her with a tiny, decorative Texan named Amanda. At three in the morning, after lying there with open eyes for almost five hours, she wakes him up and immediately regrets it. She feels guilty for making her problem his.
A woman is sitting in a crowded coffee shop, completely alone. She feels nothing.
A woman is trying to fall asleep in a tent in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Let’s imagine for a second that she has huge breasts, loves listening to The Replacements, and never cares about literally anything. She just doesn’t care! About anything! All she wants to do is have sex and read obscure philosophy literature and cook delicious meals that don’t have too much garlic. Garlic hurts her boyfriend’s stomach. Too bad it’s delicious and definitely her favorite spice. Is garlic even considered a spice? She can’t be sure. He probably knows, though. She should ask him.
A woman is trying to fall asleep in a tent in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She looks at the man sleeping next to her. She likes him because he’s smart and listens to music she’s never heard of. She likes the clothes he wears and his stupid sense of humor. She likes his tattoos. But she also likes him for reasons she can’t explain. It’s like the two of them are sewn together somehow, and not in a creepy way. The best part is she’s pretty sure he feels that way about her, too.
A woman is sitting in a crowded coffee shop, completely alone. A couple of months ago, on a camping trip in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she and her boyfriend shared a small tent. She woke him up at three in the morning because she couldn’t fall asleep. He was nice about it, but she never forgave herself for interrupting his dream. She also never forgave herself for the time she went out with him and forgot to wear deodorant. Or the time she brought up her fear of getting pregnant immediately after they had sex. Or the day when she played the guitar for him but picked a slushy, sentimental song and sounded terrible. One night, he was in a really bad mood, and even though she couldn’t figure out why, she never forgave herself for that either. Added together, it isn’t all that surprising that he cheated on her. It actually makes perfect sense.
A woman is sitting in a crowded coffee shop, completely alone. Anyone who looks at her will see her straight, stoic-looking mouth, black clothing, and dyed hair. She looks like the kind of woman who has a lot of male friends and goes out to bars by herself. Some people might use the word “unflappable” to describe her, but she wouldn’t, because it sounds like an old person word, and this woman will never grow up. Men always go crazy for her in the beginning, because she likes cheap beer and weird music and taking risks, but somehow, every single time…
A woman is sitting in a crowded coffee shop, completely alone. She doesn’t care that men go crazy for her in the beginning but drift away as soon as they really get to know her. That’s actually what she wants. It’s on purpose. It means that she can meet lots of interesting people but never get to the part when she’s all hairy and emotional and needy and boring. This is why she has so many male friends. This is why her friend’s boyfriends all smell the fresh breeze of possibility whenever she’s around. It’s the only way she’ll ever feel powerful, so she can’t stop. She just can’t.
A woman is trying to fall asleep in a tent in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In the midst hearing that silent song play over and over and over again, she mentally whacks her head against a metaphorical wall when she thinks that maybe this time it will be different. They are going on a trip together, after all. Maybe this time it will be different. Jesus Christ. Those words sound pathetic even in her head. She erases them and starts over.
A woman is sitting in a crowded coffee shop, completely alone. She hopes that someone will notice her writing not on a computer but with a pencil and that when he does, he’ll think she looks stunning.
Claire Stamler-Goody is a writer, scientist, and photographer living in Chicago. Her previous work has appeared in TIMBER Journal, Linden Avenue Lit, and Birds Piled Loosely. She can be found on Twitter here.