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Vera put her phone away. She took a make-up compact out of her purse and studied her eyes in its mirror; satisfied with the deceptive opaqueness of her expression, she put it away. Again, her eyes rested on the two women, studying them between the shifting barrier of commuters in the aisle. The elder of the two took a banana out of a dirty cloth bag and started laboriously to peel it, making a big show of removing the long fibers with thumb and forefinger. Vera could smell the over-ripe flesh of the fruit — or so she believed, and she felt nauseous, remembering that she hadn’t eaten since morning, and even then, only a coffee and croissant. Suddenly she felt an overpowering sense of fatigue. She was tired, tired of having and keeping, of trying and achieving, of wanting. Suddenly the years weighed down on her. It had always been like this.
Vera looked past the windows, at the black nothingness of the subway tunnel. It had been only a matter of time. I’ve told my wife. She hadn’t answered the text. She didn’t know what to say but she knew what she wanted to ask. How dare you, you son of a bitch? Are you crazy? How dare you compromise me, jeopardize my career? And after the rage, the frightened questions: Is your wife angry? Are you getting a divorce? Oh dear, please God, don’t let them get a divorce. She imagined a nasty hateful divorce. His firm would find out, they would know that he was having an affair with the account representative for the advertising firm they had just signed a major contract with. They might rescind the contract. How could she have been so stupid?
She replayed the events in her mind: it was hardly an affair, it had happened only the one time, out of town. They’d been like two sharks, greedily, hungrily, encircling each other for months. It had been intoxicating, working on a mega deal, with millions at stake, all those endless dollar signs, the promise of a promotion, the hunger. Vera’s stomach growled. Of course, there had been alcohol involved. She had forgotten a file in her hotel room, he came by after to pick it up. They both knew it would happen before it happened. And now? Would she lose her promotion? Her job? God, it would make that ass Ryan happy — smug bastard, he’d step right into her spot at work. And of course, Greg would find out. She didn’t even want to think about her husband Greg finding out. Fuck! He would be furious. She imagined what she might say, how she might turn the situation around. She might blame him, say he drove her to infidelity. She could confess her attraction to other men, hint at exploring an open marriage. It would never work. Greg and Vera knew each other to be possessive and territorial. He would never forgive her.
She had been so stupid. It was the hunger, Eric’s hunger and ambition — on the edge of ruthlessness — that had attracted Vera, turned her on, twinned her in a way Greg never could. Greg, so naturally gifted that he found naked ambition — hers — crass and slightly embarrassing. She could sense it around his friends. It was over between them, her marriage was over, her career was done. Everyone would find out. That would make that bitch Ellie happy. Ellie was Vera’s sister, she was just waiting for Vera to fall flat on her face. Vera felt her pulse quicken, and her face flush with colour. Vera was having a bad day.
She remembered what a girl she once knew had told her. Ordinarily, she would never have known such a person as Latisha, but they were brief and hostile roommates in college and now the memory of her came back. Know what’s wrong with people like you? Latisha had said. Nothing bad has ever happened to you, nothing truly bad. But you know that can’t be. It’s a law of Nature that you’re going to get fucked over, in one or more ways. For most of us it’s shit we have no control over — you’re born poor or physically defective, or both, or your country is at war, your parents are messed up, a lot of things are going to keep your life very far from perfect. But not you. You’re the one percent. You get a tiny rash, you act like the sky is falling down. You have no perspective on what real pain is. You’re the bad thing that happens to you. Because you can’t stand it, you’ve got the looks, the brains, the loving middle-class family, you’ve been upwardly mobile since the day you were born, so what’s it going to be, the big whammy that ruins your parade? You know it’s coming, because it comes for everyone. You’re paranoid, a hypochondriac and paranoid, because it’s coming but you don’t know what it’s gonna be — cancer? Your family go bankrupt? Brick fall off the building and kill you? Catch some disease and die?
So was this it hitting Vera now? The big whammy?