A couple of weeks ago I posted a very short vignette about a girl I saw through the window of a Subway sandwich shop. It was short enough to reproduce in its entirety:
“I walked past a Subway sandwich shop in downtown Nashville the other day. In the booth by the window sat a lovely young woman in a sequined dress. She had the saddest look on her face–a look that said, “You put on a sequined dress, you expect good things to happen; you don’t expect to find yourself in the Subway eating a sandwich at two o’clock in the afternoon.

“The young woman raised her sandwich from the table, but before she got it to her lips, her courage failed her. Her face crumpled, he sandwich dropped to the formica, and she gave herself over to a piteous sobbing.”

A few of you complained at the incompleteness of the thing. Others asked what happened next. The answer, of course, is that I don’t know what happened next. I witnessed all of three seconds of her story. I don’t know how she got in that state either. So I’m turning things over to you, dear reader. Your assignment for Audience Participation Friday is to tell what the girl was so sad about, what happened next, or both.

  • Dan Kulp
    3:07 PM, 14 January 2011

    She sat at the table desheveled, and now understands what her mom told her – “Subway works in sequential order.” The dress was not necessary. Knowing the bread, meat, and cheese before the dressings is.
    (first off my apologies for potentially leading all endings of the story astray into the realms of silly puns & comedy. That’s where I live, someday I may grow out of it, but not today. I hope someone comes up with something fitting of this poor girl.)

  • Jess
    4:30 PM, 14 January 2011

    The world is deadI went to the funeral today
    It was small and insignificant
    And only me to cry
    For what is lost
    If anything is lost
    If any pain
    Can break through whatever is here
    Blocking me from pain, from joy
    From the world that walks by
    And looks at me
    And stares at me
    And wonders why I sit and cry
    All of you cold figures
    That pass me
    If you wonder why I sit and cry
    I would tell you
    I would tell you if you could look
    And break
    This brittle stubborn stone that covers up
    My heart
    I’d tell you
    If I could just tell myself
    But as I can’t, I will sit here
    And cry for what is lost
    If anything is lost

  • Joe
    6:48 PM, 14 January 2011

    Across the room a woman with graying hair heard the sound of the girl’s sobbing. She was spending the day with her grandson, who also heard the girl and asked, “Grandma, why is that pretty lady crying?” “I don’t know, Billy,” she replied.“She sure is sad. I wish we could help her,” he said with an earnest look in his eyes. “Well, maybe we can. Maybe she just needs someone to talk to.”

    Having finished their lunch, Billy and his grandmother discarded their trash and walked over to the table of the distraught young girl. Her face was down in her arms on the table, and her muffled sobs could be seen by her heaving sides; further animating her distress. Grandma stepped forward. (Billy kept a step back, suddenly feeling shy.) She gently laid a hand on the girl’s shoulder, and in that soft and comforting voice that Billy had heard so many times before, asked, “Honey, what’s wrong? Can we help you?”

    Raising her head, the first thing Billy noticed was the smeared black mascara around her puffy eyes, and tear streaks running down her face. The girl saw Billy as her gaze made it’s way into Grandma’s eyes. She continued to cry and sniffle, and started to apologize for her display. She grabbed a napkin and began to dab her eyes, and mumbled something about looking a mess. Amidst sniffs and halting speech, the girl told a story of dreams shattered and hope deferred. Grandma listened intently, having sat down across from the girl. Billy listened too, stealing cautious looks and trying not to stare. Grandma patted the girl’s hands from time to time as they fidgeted with the napkin, and offered a consoling word as she could. It is hard to know what to say to family or friends in a moment like that, much less a perfect stranger. But Grandma was wise, and knew that it was better to simply lend a sympathetic ear.

    Having regained her composure at last, the young lady wrapped up her uneaten sandwich, and began to gather her things, and thanked Grandma for listening. Apologizing again. This time for how much she talked. “No need to apologize, dear, I was glad to listen.” She smiled at Billy. He smiled back and then quickly looked down. The three rose from their seats, and the girl took a deep breath as if to gain new courage to face life. “Well, thanks again,” she said, and gave Grandma a hug. She looked at Billy and smiled again, while tousling his hair. As she turned to leave, reaching for the door, Billy raced past and opened it for her. “What a little gentleman you are,” she exclaimed as she walked through. “You’re going to make some girl very happy someday.” He noticed new tears welling up in her eyes. She knelt down and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Billy smiled, and blushed.

  • Patrick
    8:08 PM, 14 January 2011

    “Darn him!” she said aloud to herself, trying to make the pain stop. She pulled a folded worn piece of paper from her purse which she read again for fifth time in the past couple hours. Tears stained the page with the mascara they’d carried off down her face, as she tried to make sense of what could possibly have gone wrong.
    Dearest Leighann,
    Happy Thanksgiving from Fort Lost in the Woods! Hope your classes are getting better this week. I miss you so much, and can’t wait to see you for Christmas! What great timing that your last final will be the day after I graduate from MP school! I’ve been talking with one of my buddies who grew up in Nashville, and I’ve planned a special day for just you and me. Please take your prom dress back to school with you after the break- you look so stunning in that dress! You always look amazing, but it will bring back some magical memories from that night too. I’ve made reservations for us at Midtown Café for noon on the 17th. It should be about a block from your school. I’ll meet you there. I’ll have tickets for a couple of surprises that evening, and I’ll have a rental car to drive us home the next day. I’ll be cramming for tests the next few weeks, as I’m sure you will too, so I don’t know if I’ll get to write as often. I’ll try to call you this weekend. Tell your folks “Hello” for me. Write back soon!
    Love Always,

    They were high school sweethearts from Atlanta Georgia. She grew up in an upper-class family, Daddy is a pediatrician; he’s from a working class family, Pops is a machinist in a factory. They were both bright promising students in many of the same classes together. They met when they were assigned to be lab partners in 7th grade, and their relationship blossomed from there. Their friends would tell them regularly, “you two won’t last”, hoping to spare them the pains of the inevitable break up. Leighann was jealous of her friends who went on dates to fancy restaurants and concerts; but she claimed that eating at the McDonalds where Rob worked or the Subway near the dollar theater were just as fine; because she had a better man to spend her time with.

    Neither earned high enough grades to win any scholarships, but they dreamed of going to college together anyway. For Leighann getting there wasn’t an issue. She was planning to go to Vanderbilt in Nashville where her parents are Alumni. Robert didn’t have the money for college, but an Army Recruiter was very impressed with Robert’s ASVAB scores, and told him he could do whatever occupation he wanted, and with a 4 year enlistment he could get a nice sum through the GI Bill to pay for college. By the time of their Sr. Prom Robert had received his orders. He was to board a bus for Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri on the first of August. He would be going to basic and then MP training back to back- OSUT he called it. He seemed so excited, but her heart was already breaking. This isn’t what they planned! He began to talk of a different dream, himself as an active duty soldier for 4 years, while she gets her bachelor’s degree. He figured after he got out of the Army she could be chasing her music career dreams, while he started school part-time while working as a police officer. She kept quiet. She loved him, but this plan was not what she wanted.

    They wrote each other about once a week after they parted in July. She received this letter the week before Thanksgiving, and received a phone call that next weekend. She agreed to the plans for the 17th, and although she wanted to get herself a nicer dress for this date, he talked her into wearing the prom dress. She did look good in it and she knew it.

    Janet dropped her roomie off at the café about ten till, and wished her happy holidays and a wonderful date with the love of her life. Janet gave a wink reminding that she suspected he might propose to her tonight.

    The reservations were made, and the greeter offered to let Leighann wait at the table, but she was too excited to sit. Noon came and went… as did one. The lunch hour was slow this day, but by 1:30 she was informed that they could no longer hold a table for her. But asked her leave a cell number in case they had a cancellation. “If only HE had a cell phone. What was he thinking with these plans when he can’t even afford a simple cell phone!”

    She was sick of waiting and headed back to the dorm on foot. On the way she smelled the delicious scents of breads as she approached a Subway. Famished, she decided to stop and eat. Just as she was about to take a bite of her sandwich she caught her reflection in the nearby window… and lost it.

    She was crying so hard that she didn’t notice the handsome gentleman in army dress uniform who came through the door with a dozen red roses. She was lost in her despair until he spoke, “I thought I might find you here. I’m so sorry about…” as he spoke she ran to him. He dropped the roses and wrapped his arms around her. She kept hers in tight, hit him in the chest, and struggled against him. “How could you do this to me!” she wailed. He began crying too, “this isn’t how I planned it” sniff “I love you, Lea, believe me I do”. She surrendered and wrapped her arms around him too, “I know you do. Please never leave me again.” As they cried in each others arms, Leighann’s phone rang, but she didn’t answer it. Being with her man was better than a fancy restaurant.

  • EmmaJ
    9:02 PM, 14 January 2011

    A few steps past Subway, I was drawn back to a situation too intriguing to pass up. The odor of tuna and questionable lunch meat confronted me as I pulled open the door, but I reasoned that this adventure was worth a possible tummy upset. “Yeah, I’ll take the cheddar cheese. Hold the dressing, por favor. Toasted? Yes.”
    While the cashier rang up my order, I assessed the situation and came up with a plan. Although somewhat more subdued, my sequined-garbed friend was still weeping over her lunch. A footlong sub, I noticed upon closer observation. Things must be pretty bad. Most fortuitously, the table just behind her was empty. I took my tray and chose the seat directly behind her. We were back to back.

    The tears had begun to abate, evidently moving into a phase of quieter dejection punctuated alternately by sniffles and long, jagged sighs. It was now or never. I turned to look at her over my should and addressed her in what was intended to be a confidential tone.”

    “Hey, I just wanted to let you know, it’s gonna be okay. My tomatoes aren’t exactly what you’d call fresh, either. But don’t let it ruin your whole day. You can always have something better for dinner.”

    She jumped slightly. For a moment I was afraid she might be angry or offended, but her reply evidenced only a deep well of misery.

    “T-t-t-tomatoes?? T-t-tomatoes? Who cares about tomatoes!?” she choked out. “I was going to be a… a s-s-staaaaaaaaarrrrr!” Her words faded into a renewed outburst of tears.

    It seemed she might be open to further conversation, so I abandoned my sub-standard sandwich on its plastic tray and betook myself to the empty seat at her table.

    “A star, eh? Now that sounds promising. What kind of star?”

    The look on her face was so sad, I nearly started crying myself. Runny mascara had turned her into a raccoon-eyed disaster, but there remained some indication of a lovely young woman underneath. “I-I-I… I was (sniff) going to be the… the… (sniff, sniff) the next Vanna Whiiiiiiiiiite! After another crying jagg, she composed herself again and attempted to continue.

    “But the audition… e-everything went all wrong. All wrong. And now I’ll… I’ll never get to be a… a star. Months of practice, the planning, the preparation. I spent m-m-maxed out my credit c-card on th-this d-d-d-dress, and now look at me – a c-c-complete f-f-failure!” She collapsed into her tray, smashing the forgotten sandwich and drowning an indignant pickle in a renewed outburst of weeping. This time it took a good five minutes for her to regain any semblance of composure. The teenage sandwich makers began to take notice; they looked a bit frightened but I gave them a smile and a thumbs up to let them know that the situation was under control. And I hoped that was true.

    When the volume of her weeping lowered enough to make conversation possible again, I thought it might be appropriate to ask for an introduction. “By the way, Miss… I don’t think I caught your name.”

    “Starla,” came the muffled reply. “Starla Alexander.” She lifted her face from the table, now adorned by a small blob of mustard on her right cheek. “No, nevermind. You might as well call me by my real name. Sarah Mcguffy. Everything was going to b-be (she took a deep breath, holding back another wave of sorrow) perfect. Fabulous. But now it’s all ruined.”

    “So… Starla? Or should I call you Sarah?”

    “Sarah’s fine. Just plain Sarah.”

    “So, if you don’t mind me asking… what happened?”

    She nearly succumbed to the tears again, but managed to hold on.

    “It was Ginger’s fault. No, no, it wasn’t. It was all mine. But does it even matter now?”

    “Ginger?” I inquired. Now we were getting somewhere. She pointed down towards her feet. I hadn’t noticed the pet carrier.

    “She’s a Pomeranian. And you know how they are. Can you really blame her?? What kind of idiot brings snickerdoodles into a TV studio? It was our big chance, and now it’s all over.” Poor Ginger seemed nearly as downcast as the would-be starlet.

    “It was simple. She’s been through all the tricks a thousand times. No problem, right? But I hadn’t counted on the cookies. See, she’s always had a weakness for snickerdoodles, so we used them in her training. Everything would have been okay if not for that woman in the front row opening a bag of cookies just as we got to our grand finale, the Flaming Hoop of W-w-wooooondeeeeeeeeer!”

    A combination of compassion and curiosity kept me at the table. “The Flaming Hoop of Wonder?”

    “I-I-I l-light the ring and hold onto it with a fireproof oven mitt. Ginger does the j-jumping. Simple.”

    While I could see nothing especially simple about enticing a small dog to complete such a daring feat, I urged her to continue.

    “Ginger was running across the stage, preparing for the jump when the bag of cookies was opened. I could see the disaster coming, but it all happened so fast. Desperate to catch her as she made a flying leap into the audience, I lunged for her and dropped the hoop. The stage caught fire, the whole studio had to be evacuated, and my career is in ruins. Public access TV was going to be my gateway to stardom.”

    This was going to take some creativity. Under the table, Ginger sniffed repentantly.

    “Well, the way I see it, Sarah. This is only the beginning.”

    “The beginning? The beginning of what? Abject penury? Disgrace? Humiliation??”

    “No. Success.”

    She looked at me incredulously. I crossed my fingers and hoped my gut was leading me in the right direction.

    “Sarah, this wasn’t your first attempt at achieving stardom, was it?”

    “N-n-no… only the latest. Every disaster has been more spectacular than the last. But I’m through now. I’m going back to stocking shelves in Gigantic Impersonal Mart.”

    “Well, I think I have a better idea. Here’s my card, Sarah. How about you come to my office next Tuesday? We’ve got some work to do. And bring Ginger. I have plenty of snickerdoodles.” As the Subway door banged shut behind me, I pulled out my cell phone and called my publisher.

  • Amy
    9:12 PM, 14 January 2011

    The restroom door slammed shut and a tall lumbering fellow made his way thru the tables, carrying a handful of tissue. He slid into the booth right next to his wife, putting one arm around her, pulling her close. He reached across the table to pull his food towards him, but he really wasn’t that hungry. Neither one of them had a huge appetite, but the Subway seemed like a good place to talk before they drove home.
    Overcoming disappointment was never her strong suit. He loved her for her big dreams and her willingness to try, but when she failed, she fell so hard. That’s why she loved him. He picked her up every time and helped her back on her feet. They were together when she had seen the poster advertising the audition for the dance group, and he knew she’d take the bait, hook, line and sinker. The audition didn’t go well, but with her great spirit she would be fine in a day or so.

    They decided to take the food home. They wrapped up the sandwiches, stuffed pockets full of tissue, and headed home.

  • Jess
    9:25 PM, 14 January 2011

    Messy mascara seems to be a recurring theme. What does it symbolize? 😛

  • Jonathan Rogers
    2:48 AM, 15 January 2011

    These are great! I’m loving seeing how many different directions a story can take from a common starting point. Jess, I think you’re the first person to comment with a poem. And I appreciate those of you who envisioned a happy ending for the girl in the Subway. I’ve been worried about her.
    Patrick has either been to Nashville or he’s been using Google maps. Vanna White, a pomeranian, and snickerdoodles…not what I was expecting, EmmaJ. Amy, I was glad you posted an entry, since this whole thing was your idea. I love your twist that the girl wasn’t really alone, only her lunch partner was in the restroom.

    As always, Fridays convince me I’ve got the best blog readers around.

  • Patrick
    3:21 AM, 15 January 2011

    Jess, recurring mascara mess symbolizes:a) amateur writers stating the obvious about a sobbing woman in a sequined dress
    b) the stains on her heart from the struggles she has been through
    c) a Rorshach ink-blot test- I think it looked like a butterfly
    d) all of the above
    Enjoyed your poem, btw!

    Jonathan, You’ve caught me. Although I’ve passed through Nashville a few times, I have never stopped for a visit. Google maps is a great research tool, and I admit to using it.

    Great stories all around! I’m still hoping more will come in though. There are several regulars who have not responded yet.

  • Jess
    4:51 PM, 15 January 2011

    Thank you. 🙂 And don’t be fooled by my seemingly calloused comment on mascara, I really enjoyed everyone’s stories. We need to do more APFs like this one. But I’m glad that the mascara mess does not symbolize her “dark side” or some such nonsense like that. 😉

  • sally apokedak
    7:31 PM, 15 January 2011

    Wow. These are great.
    I loved the addition of the small, repentant, snickerdoodle-addicted dog, but I cannot forgive you, Emma, for dissing Subway, which I have always believed was a health food store. Seriously, we broke the McDonald’s addiction and switched to Subway and I felt like a good mother for the first time ever. And now….

    I’m crying in my sequined dress.

  • EmmaJ
    7:14 AM, 16 January 2011

    Sorry, Sally. I’m not too big on the quick food, but just for the record, if it comes down to a standoff between those ubiquitous golden arches and the subs, I’d join you in voting for the latter.
    But please, cheer up. We’ve all learned a valuable lesson here about the negative impact of weeping on mascara, which effects are even more pronounced in sparkly evening attire.

    I certainly hope that one day you can find it your heart to forgive my callous attack on that relatively-ungreasy purveyor of speedy comestibles.

  • Aaron Roughton
    3:10 PM, 18 January 2011

    Sorry, I’m really late to the game on this. But here is the real story:
    As she sobbed her lips formed the name over and over again. “Jerod. Jerod. Jeh-heh-heh-heh-ruuuuuud!”

    How could she be so stupid? Of course he didn’t JUST eat Subway sandwiches when he lost all that weight. Of course they always had him standing behind counters in the commercials so you couldn’t see whether he’d gained any back on his posterior. And of course his tweet ‘See you at Subway!’ wasn’t directed at her. And only at her.

    Well, this would be the last time she would be his fool, or anyone else’s for that matter. She straightened herself at the table, reached into her clutch and felt the comforting cold steel of a .38 caliber snubnose. With a quick look back at her six inch Subway Club on honey wheat, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, olives, banana peppers, oil and vinegar, salt and pepper, and honey mustard sauce still sitting on the table, she walked slowly out the door to find a real subway. And a real man. And a Dr. Pepper where the carbonation doesn’t smell like a Subway sandwich shop.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get a Quote