Sneeze Guard, by Holly Burger

Sneeze guard. That stupid plastic thing over the salad bar. I watched as Jim, from work, reached to the very back row for cherry tomatoes; face framed perfectly in plexiglass. Looking down at my own salad, then at the three empty chairs around me, I stabbed a tiny red fruit and ate it. Of improper height, my head had hit the guard, reminding me that I am short. That things are not made for me, or my height or with me in mind at all.

Without heels on, my legs would dangle from this chair. Carrot, ranch dressing. I lifted a corner of my mouth, even as I chewed. No one was going to say I sat alone with resting bitch face. My face read confidence, pride even; I checked it on my phone.

I jumped, my fork fell—flipped from imbalance and a red beet landed on my blouse. With ranch dressing. The hand that tapped my left shoulder moved away as my eyes followed the offender’s arm to Jim’s face. From work. “Yes?” I gave him an even stare before I went after the beet.

“I’m sorry I startled you, may I sit with you?”

What was I going to say? No, you caused a stain, a beet stain? I nodded, a half grin assuring my kindness. There was no way a man, this man, could read me. I knew that. He was one uterus short of intuition. And one stick shift heavy on confidence. Jim, from work.

Submitted by Holly Burger via email, 2015

One Comment

  1. This is a sweet mix of loneliness, pride, and hope. You’ve created a strong and interesting character with your protagonist, and I like how you repeat “Jim, from work.” It makes the story feel more real.

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