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by Marcia Eppich-Harris

It was dark and freezing as she rode home, a failure. The el-train stopped to pick up commuters. She knew the seat beside her wouldn’t be empty for long.

She made herself as small as she could. A man in an expensive looking suit sat beside her. He sighed when his back hit the chair. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him pull out his laptop. A spreadsheet appeared. The man saw her looking. Their eyes met; she looked away.

“Long day?” he asked in a low voice.

She nodded.

“Me too,” he said. He paused, then shut the laptop. “You know, everyone wants a long life, but nobody wants a long day. You’d think that one would lead to the other.”

“Some joke,” she said.

“The joke’s on us,” he replied.

They sped past lights and buildings, the rumble of the train drowning the silence.

“I had a job interview today,” she said. “I didn’t get the job.”

“What kind of job?” he asked.

“An administrative assistant,” she said. “Nothing big.”

“Everyone starts somewhere,” he said.

“At this point, I’d take anything,” she replied. “I have … responsibilities, so …”

Her stomach churned with shame. Rescue me, she thought. Reach into your breast pocket, give me your card, and say, “I’ll find you something. Call me tomorrow.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I wish there were something I could do.”

She shrugged, masking her disappointment with indifference.

“What do you do?” she asked.

“I’m an auditor,” he said. “I don’t have many friends, in other words.”

“Why is that? You expect perfection?”

“If people were perfect, I wouldn’t have a job,” he said. “But I make people nervous. People want to make their own rules. I’m in charge of limiting their … creativity.”

The city slid away, like a giant graveyard silhouetted against the bleak sky.

“You make it sound sad,” she said.

He thought for a moment.

“I’m one person,” he said. “There are millions trying to get creative with their books. I only catch a few hundred a year. I can’t tell if that’s pathetic or a job well done.”

Save me, he thought, I can’t bear to go home alone, yet again, and face the gray walls in the gray apartment with the gray bedspread in the gray night.

She sighed, wringing her hands in a clearly habitual way. He saw the ring on her finger. He reopened his laptop, and returned to the quantifiable.

Marcia Eppich-Harris has published fiction in Johnny America and The Avenue (forthcoming). She also publishes scholarship on Shakespeare and other playwrights. She lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and teaches literature at Marian University.