Ms. Friedman’s Stroll by Nina Siso
(2nd place prose winner)
“Now spit,” she said mechanically for the fourteenth time that afternoon. She watched the elderly man lean to the side of the chair and nearly expectorate into the metal bowl. She wiped his face with a cloth, dabbing moisture out of the wrinkles and grey beard. She gave a tight smile and promised him that the Dentist would arrive in a few minutes. Of course it would be longer than that; the office had been short- staffed for a while. Most of the women in the office, herself included, only had this job because of the absence of male hygienists and doctors. She walked out of the room quickly, eager to get home and relax with her favorite radio program. It had been an unusually rough day.
A young child had bit Dr. Shaine’s finger, and he’d had to leave early to get stitches. An hour later, a young enlisted gentleman pinched her rear. He chuckled and said, “I can’t help myself. Haven’t seen a pretty lady like you in months.” She didn’t let him get away with such behavior. During routine cleaning, his gums got stabbed multiple times by accident. “Oh sir, I’m such a klutz,” she’ had apologized.
She smiled politely at patients holding Life Magazine with pictures of Peggy Lloyd or the USSR. She waved to her fellow coworkers, calling good bye as she punched out. 8/14/45, 5:43 pm. Wow, almost two years as an employed woman. The thought caused her to smirk as she closed the offices door behind her, the warmth of the sun heating her hands and face. Her mother constantly sent her plea letters:; Greta, why would a young woman want to work….your sister Hilda just had her second baby…I want more grandchildren. Greta rolled her eyes and began the journey to her apartment. A young woman would want to work to do her service, just like any man. Just like her fiancé had three years ago. It had been tough at first; the only job she ever had. But it made her feel connected to him, even after last June.
She walked slowly, careful to avoid any mud or oil puddles that would stain her white shoes. Fords and Hudsons sped past and the air was dense and clogged, seeping into the bright fabric of her starched uniform. The skyscrapers loomed overhead, tall and imposing, blocking out some of the sunlight she had enjoyed just outside the office. She could taste the suffocating stench of the sewer. Muggy heat wafted up through the man holes and vents. She heard the shouts of a young mother on her own, struggling to discipline a child that probably looked too much like his father.
She took the long way home to pass through Times Square. This route allowed her the buzz of New Yorker energy. Honks, chatter, high heels hitting hard on the pavement–she escaped. She could almost see a time when life was simpler. A time when her friends and sisters didn’t fear the mail man, the ominous threat of a letter concealing the fate of a loved one in a foreign country. She soaked up the hum, but pops of words and shouts drew her back to reality. Murmurs down from 45th street extended across the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue. They grew into shouts, applause, roars. Something incredible must have happened.
“Victory over Japan!” a man cheered. Her head snapped around.
“USA wins!” came a relieved sigh. Greta’s heart pounded her sternum.
“It’s over!” shouted another. Greta froze; it’s over. She spun around wildly, enveloped in the throngs of cheers and celebrations. Her heart raced as she grinned, laughter escaping from her.
“It’s over! We won!” she shouted to those passing by her, joining in to the collective relief of a city plagued with sadness. In her bliss and excitement, she didn’t hear him approach.
Arms as strong as steel beams captured her torso. They turned her quickly, seeming to rip her from her experience and into his. A hand brushed past her face as another dug against the small of her back. A vice grip. Lips met hers as her body froze. The man continued to kiss her and she finally kissed back. She released herself into his embrace, her back arching gracefully, further than she might’ve imagined possible. Trusting this stranger to keep her standing. Uniform to uniform, the man’s name badge scratched against her collarbone. She would learn years later that it read McDuffie, and he was a married man. He continued to grip tightly, as if he wanted to hold on to the moment, fearful it wasn’t real at all, but another wishful daydream. In this moment, two people clung to the reality, the celebration of peace. That’s why she didn’t move.
-Originally published in The Elixir’s 2016-17 print edition
-Photo credit to History.com