Jeopardise by Caroline Jenner

‘Is this seat taken?’ A face, eyes sparking annoyance at the intrusion, peered over a newspaper. It was early. I’d hoped to avoid the pre-covid crush of commuter bodies that I’d remembered with horror as being part of my daily journey to work. I guess he’d placed the briefcase on the seat to prevent people sitting next to him. Yellow Marigold gloves gripped a copy of The Times, a mask made of several layers of dense fabric, could be seen behind a transparent plastic face shield. Grabbing the briefcase, he placed it carefully on his knee, and disappeared behind his paper. 

I perched on the edge of the seat; the number of precautions he was taking made me feel more vulnerable. Across the aisle, a couple were navigating the Metro crossword. 

“Put in a dangerous, disadvantageous or difficult position” 

That’s me right now, I thought, edging further away from the Marigolds ... in a difficult position. “How many letters?” 

“Nine.” 

“Jeopardise,” I spoke out loud without thinking. Eighteen months working from home meant I’d forgotten the rules. I felt a collective intake of breath; a physical turning away, looking elsewhere; a palpable irritation at the breaking of some unwritten commandment. 

The train pulled into a station; I wasn’t sure which one. My ears still ringing with unspoken disapproval, I slipped off the train sensing relief in the carriage. Readjusting my mask, I pulled my coat tightly around my chest trying desperately to make myself smaller. Standing in my designated space, aware of an invisible wall around me, I was suddenly grateful for the little piece of platform I could call my own. When the train finally arrives, I promised myself, I will shut my eyes, block my ears and keep myself to myself. 

Published in Issue #18

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