A Bad Day

Amelia is having a bad day.

She often runs—well, jogs—in the park after work, but today was an exceptionally long day, and now she’s here later than normal. Maybe she should have just gone home to her cats and regret, but she’s Amelia. She needed to feel the miles move beneath her feet for an hour. Half an hour. She would’ve taken twenty minutes even.

Her shins are already starting to splint, but the sharp pain is becoming familiar, and she doesn’t have many friends. She notices the darkening sky, but none of the cars have their headlights on yet, and she feels safe.

Her favorite red Asics have a worn out tread but they match her iPod, so she wears them still. And her running outfit is pretty great, too.  The iPod is strapped to her left arm—always the left­—and her keys are clenched in her fist—one key between each set of fingers—for protection. She’ll swing if someone gets too close. She’ll do it, she swears, and don’t you doubt it.

As Amelia comes around the back curve in the park’s track, she feels something change in the air. Maybe it’s fall, she thinks as she stares at the pale sky. But then she senses something else, something reminiscent of the frightening scene in Snow White with the dark forest and the countless pairs of wide eyes and the hunter telling her to run! because he couldn’t bare to carve her heart out of her chest. (Because that’s disgusting.)

She heeds the hunter’s advice and runs faster through this part of the park, reminding herself that the wide eyes belonged to furry creatures that were there for a flash mob, and there’s nothing sinister about that (although, for Amelia, a hunter with a knife would have been more welcome than choreographed dance in public). Her quickened pace impresses even her, but her shins scream. And she begins to slow. And then she’s stumbling over her feet somehow and she’s on the ground trying to figure out how she ended up there.

Luckily, a man in a red, hooded sweatshirt comes out of nowhere to help her up. He must be feeling fall too because his hood is tied up around his face, and his sunglasses are completely darkened, although Amelia isn’t sure how the sunglasses will help with the chill. Must be for the wind she thinks.

“Give me your keys and your iPod,” he offers.

“Oh, thanks, but my hands aren’t really that full. I can get up on my own. I’m choosing not to right now. It’s just been one of those days, know what I mean? Just one thing after an…”

“Lady give me your stuff!” he yell-whispers more urgently. More aggressively.

“Uh, I said I’m fine,” Amelia countered. “What are you, some kind of man-boy scout looking for a patch?”

He keeps asking for all her stuff. Give him all her stuff is all he keeps saying. She doesn’t have any stuff! She has her iPod that works on some days and doesn’t hold a charge on others, and she has her keys. But her keys won’t show him the way back to her apartment, and even she can’t remember where she parked her car.

He’s reaching for her arm now and she thinks he might touch her. Maybe he wants to rape her. She’s frozen. Why isn’t she having one of those out of body experiences with Snow Patrol playing in the background? Wasn’t that how traumatic experiences worked? (She really needed to stop watching Grey’s Anatomy.) Maybe this wasn’t traumatic. Maybe it was just bad luck. Or a joke. Yes. He was just trying to flirt but was really terrible at it.

And then he’s on top of her and he smells like cleaner. And she wonders where he works. He pulls the strap keeping her iPod in place and the Velcro gives way like Velcro does. He stands back and just looks at her, up and down. Elevator eyes. She’d learned about those in her sexual harassment training at work.

She’s almost flattered, aware now of the mesh running shorts squeezing her thighs: oh this old thing? They’re reversible, too. Her hand wants to touch his face, but the hoodie keeps him hidden. She reaches for him still and he pulls out a gun.

And Amelia remembers fear.

“Oh. That changes things I guess.” she says, tears now running down her cheeks. Not frightened tears, mind you. Her tears were angry and she thought he should know that.

“Listen, I’m not scared. I’m mad…at you and at my shins…I had a really crappy day, and…”

He points his gun at her once more.

“Alright, I’m afraid!” Amelia yells throwing her hands in the air as if he’d said stick em up. “You don’t have to be such a jerk, you know.”

He seemed to have decided she didn’t have anything else of value on her and he cursed under his breath. The daylight was going fast now, and he’d wasted time on her. He took a final look at her, breathed the words wrong, crazy, and bitch, and then he was gone. When she knew he was out of earshot, Amelia yelled that he was what was wrong with America. And then she was very alone.

She couldn’t work out what had just happened. It didn’t really feel like anything had happened, except now her music was missing from her ears and oh look at that her knee was bleeding. And of course, she had been robbed by a Boy Scout at gunpoint in the Forbidden Forest—no that last part seemed off.

After seven minutes or so, she thought she should stand up, and get moving again. It was dark now, there was no denying that, and she needed to get home. Upon standing, she realized she was slightly shaky, but she blamed that on low blood sugar—she really needed to start eating more than oatmeal, tomatoes, and hummus.

She considered finishing her run, but those damn shin splints! And her music was gone; she couldn’t run without music. Instead, Amelia began her hike home and resolved to figure out the rest on the way.

Maybe she shouldn’t live in the city anymore. It wasn’t safe. She could move, but where would she go?

She walked but she didn’t plan a path, and soon all the park’s sounds were behind her. It felt strange walking around in her own shoes, without a matching iPod strapped to her arm. She was muttering about the unfairness of the whole situation when she heard another set of footsteps.  She didn’t turn around. It didn’t matter how hot the runner was, she’d just been robbed, and she was having a bad day.

Then those footsteps had a voice that was asking her if she knew how to get downtown from here. The voice was looking for the harbor, see; he was meeting friends for dinner but hadn’t written down the address properly. She turned her head slightly and saw that the voice was thinned and his beard was unkempt. And Amelia was jealous that he had friends.

She pointed to the tallest buildings she could see and kept going without speaking to him directly. She had a Charlie Brown look about her and the voice asked if she was alright. She considered telling him she was deaf so he’d leave her alone, but he didn’t look like the type to leave a friend in need.

She decided to tell him the truth, that she’d just been robbed and she hated the city. Her day had gone from bad to worse and she couldn’t see how it was going to get better.

“No. You couldn’t have just been robbed…” he said.

“Yes, I know. I’m holding up well considering…” she began. “But I was. And it really sucks!”

“But you’re still wearing those expensive shoes,” the kind stranger pointed out.

“Ha! I guess that is the silver lining here. But they weren’t that expensive,” she confessed. “I got them on sale.”

For the first time all day, Amelia laughed. She felt like the day wasn’t a total loss, because she’d met this nice man and he cared. He barely knew her and he was already pointing out that the glass was still half full. It could have been so much worse. He was right, and she was grateful.

“Give me those shoes and there won’t be any trouble.”

“You’re hilarious,” Amelia said in an even tone. “I was just traumatized and you’re joking about taking my shoes?”

“I’m not joking.” He pointed to an obvious bulge in his pocket. Amelia looked away embarrassed.

“You’re one of those men that really like feet, aren’t you?”

“It’s a gun you stupid bitch.”

That kind of language was just uncalled for! He owed her an explanation. Or fear. She wanted the same kind of fear from this guy as she’d received from red sweatshirt man. She wanted this one to work for the shoes as he had worked for the iPod.

“Show me your gun.”

“We’re in the middle of the street, Lady…”

“Show it to me right now!”

“It’s not even dark yet. There are people all around us…”

“Then you’re not getting my shoes.”

“I’ll shoot you!”

“But you won’t even take the gun out of your pocket.”

“I’ll shoot you through my pants.”

“That sounds a lot more dangerous for you than me, assuming, of course, you’ve got more in your pants than that fake gun. Go ahead. Shoot me!”

“Don’t you know how this works?”

Amelia remembered anger, and she threw her keys at him. Of course she knew how this was supposed to work! This just happened to her twenty minutes ago! Her finger was in his chest now; she was pushing him back into the street.

“You. Are not. Getting. My shoes.”

She suddenly swung at his face but remembered too late that she’d already thrown her keys. He caught her elbow and easily pushed her back. Her face hit the concrete and she smelled wet chalk—she was near campus. May we are not inebriated said the sidewalk. He picked up her keys—that were now just out of her reach—and asked if there was anything else she had hidden in her sweet little sweat suit. I’m wearing shorts! she wanted to yell, but he was already moving on.

He tossed a thanks sweetheart back her way and ran off back towards the park, invisible as anything more than a runner enjoying the fall weather.

Amelia watched him go. Then she stood up and started walking again, silent mascaraed tears running down her face. These weren’t angry tears, mind you; they were completely broken-hearted. And she didn’t care who knew it.