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Vera Larsen was accustomed to getting her way. So much so that it seemed the right and proper order of things that negotiations should end in her favour, and when they didn’t, she felt the whole world to be off kilter. As she did now. Except Vera didn't want to think about that, she wanted to avoid self-doubt: the type of contemplation one was susceptible to, sitting on public transit with nothing else to do. So Vera thought about what a winner she was, had always been, excelling at competitions since grade school — she remembered the proud feeling of standing on a podium, being applauded, having a ribbon pinned to her chest, having a tiara placed on her head, being handed a trophy. Then she bristled a little, remembering she had never made it past local championships, she had never won any state competitions, never truly felt like a winner, till at last she became class valedictorian, followed by the next logical step in her sprint towards success: she gained admission to an Ivy League college.
So nowadays Vera had everything, a promising position at a top marketing firm, and even love with Greg, the male version of herself. He too was talented and good-looking — only better-born. By marrying Greg, Vera had ascended to become ‘high-class.’ They had a destination wedding in Hawaii at an upscale resort — all paid for by their parents. Vera sighed. She could still see her friends trying to wipe the gobsmacked looks off their faces. She was transported back to that moment when Vera Larsen had been winning at life, when Vera Larsen was #blessed. She might never fully admit this to herself but inducing envy in others was her main motivation.
The train stopped abruptly, the doors opened to admit two women. Vera could tell they were losers. Overweight, bad posture, poor muscle tone. The younger one was in dumpy old boots with the heels worn down along the inside, drawing the eye to her knock-kneed walk. Into these boots she had tucked a pair of equally ancient sweatpants, and over top of that a musty-looking coat. She pulled off her hat, shaking the snow off it, to reveal her egg-shaped head and thinning hair. She was probably the same age as Vera but looked older, sallow, overburdened.
Her companion had the look of an eccentric senior — utterly disheveled, bag-lady chic — the type of person who speaks to cats and gets into loud fights with customer service representatives, landlords, handymen, family, anyone, over wildly conceived wrongs. Vera felt a tinge of pity and disgust. How do these people get by with their shoddy lives? What would she herself do, Vera wondered, were she born in their situation? Vera glanced down at her cashmere camel coat, the burgundy silk dress peeking out from beneath, and her sleek, high-heeled leather boots that came up to her knees and hugged her calves flatteringly. Vera was on her way to an office party. She would’ve taken a taxi but the roads around downtown were blocked for a winter festival, and the forecast was for more snow.
The frumpy twosome took seats across from Vera. I’d never be like them, Vera shrugged, I’d work hard, get rich, get plastic surgery. These two have always been wallflowers, content in the shadows, not making waves. Most people are dull, Vera reasoned, they don’t hold their lives up to the same expectations that she does, they don’t demand as much out of their lives, as much success, as much satisfaction.
A sudden anxiety sprang up in her, a worry nagged at her, she felt her desires a burden, and for a moment she wished she could be like those two women: simple dolts resigned to their pathetic lives.
Vera fidgeted with her phone again, checking for messages when she knew well enough that she’d get a notification, her phone would light up, buzz and sound, suddenly come to life the moment a message came in. Still she returned to the screen, dejectedly rereading the last message from him:
I've told my wife.
She turned cold every time she thought of it. I’ve told my wife. How could he?