*Author's Note: This is an unrevised sketch inspired by an altercation I witnessed on this morning's train. Probably not an official story, but here for your reading pleasure.
Katrina's cold was mostly gone but for a tickle in the back of her throat. The tickle forced a wet cough out of her every couple minutes or so and made her eyes water, but she gauged she was well enough to get back to work -a relief, since she was part-time and didn't accumulate sick pay. She dressed quickly that morning, the usual county-issued khaki uniform, steel-toed boots, olive-green jacket. She toted her helmet in her right hand and her lunch in her left -tuna fish sandwich wrapped in aluminum foil, banana, Thermos of chocolate milk, all crammed into a wadded grocery bag- as she half-jogged to the train station in an attempt to catch the 7:45 for once.
She made her train -barely- squeezing in just as the chime went off above her frantic head, and she found an aisle-facing seat across from a handsome man in his thirties who was so engrossed in his iPhone that he allowed Katrina as much time as she needed in which to admire him. She plopped her helmet and lunch-bag to the floor of the train as it rattled out of the station and removed her jacket -stuffy in here this morning. She coughed into the crook of her elbow and settled herself into her seat, letting her gaze roam over the motley assortment of commuters, continually circling back to the man across from her as if drawn by gravity. He looked up at her when she coughed again and she quickly buried her eyes in her arm along with the rest of her face. Of course she was probably much too homely for someone with his looks, but still, there was nothing wrong with a simple morning fantasy.
A large lady in the forward-facing seat directly to her left shook her head wearily and grabbed what looked like a tissue from her bag. At first Katrina thought the woman was going to offer her a Kleenex and was ready to gratefully accept it -she regretted neglecting to stuff a few into her pocket on her way out this morning- but the woman instead covered her own mouth with it. It was a face-mask, like the kind surgeons wore.
Katrina couldn't help feeling a bit hurt -and not a little peeved- by this. Her ears burned and she glanced over at the cute guy to see if he had noticed the big woman's token display of indignation, but he was still fiddling with his phone. As if I can help my coughing. The train trundled on.
Another cough and this time the masked woman glanced over her shoulder at Katrina, her eyebrows drawn down in disapproval. "Cover your mouth," the woman said and her voice suggested a warning.
"I did," Katrina replied defiantly. She wasn't going to let this fat paranoid bitch spoil her day so early. And in fact she had covered her mouth, with her arm again, and she had even turned her head in the opposite direction of the woman. What more did this bitch want?
"Obviously you're not," the woman said, "I can practically feel your germs on the back of my neck."
Now even the guy across from her had looked up to follow the altercation. Ears and cheeks burning she said, "It's not like I can help coughing. People cough."
"And they cover their mouths," the woman retorted. "Gonna make everybody on this train sick."
Silence. Katrina had no retort ready and she stewed in her seat. The man across the aisle went back to whatever action was happening on his phone.
But the big woman would not be dissuaded from having her full say. "I can tell the conductor and he'll kick you off this train. No sense making everyone on this train sick. You're lucky I don't tell the conductor."
"What, for coughing?" Katrina trilled. Her cheeks and throat burned and her eyes watered. "Why don't you just mind your own business? How disrespectful. You are so disrespectful."
The woman addressed the air of the train, appealing to the commuter gods. "I hear this all day every day," the woman said in a rehearsed litany. "All day every day. 'Disrespectful,' but I bet you can't even spell it. Spell it."
Katrina blinked. "What?"
"Spell it. Spell 'disrespectful.' I bet you can't. You can say it just fine, all day every day, but you can't even spell it."
"You are so disrespectful," she said again, uncertainly this time. She could not come up with anything else to say.
"Oh, there's that word again! But she can't even spell it!" The woman cackled. "Spell it, and then maybe I'll respect you."
Katrina swallowed down a burning sandpapery lump in her galled throat. She tried on a sardonic smirk, but it didn't seem to fit her face which was ready to quiver apart. "Why don't you just shut up?" she spat after a moment's rumination. She felt her lungs aching to pant and she breathed quickly through her nose.
The woman cackled again. "Oh yes, I'll respect you plenty if you can spell it. Ha! All day every day! They can say it, but they sure can't spell it. Ha!"
The cute guy across the aisle was watching the verbal volley in what looked suspiciously like pleasure. She decided she would get even more vulgar to try to salvage any public reputation she might currently have as well as to deflect attention from the fact that she might be able to spell 'disrespectful,' but only if she had paper-and-pen and a few minutes to think it over.
"Why don't you just shut the fuck up already, bitch?" she said gruffly. She coughed into the crook of her arm again. Perfectly respectful. Her eyes were watering and she tried to swipe the moisture away as nonchalantly as possible so it would not like she was crying. Who does this bitch think she is? She tried on the smirk again, to no avail.
"Oh sure, sure, bet you can't spell that either," the woman said. "I'll respect you plenty. I'll get down on my knees."
"Get down on your knees and suck my dick," Katrina said. She felt impotent. Her nostrils flared.
The woman guffawed. "Oh, nice! Just nice! All day every day!" The woman got up from her seat as the train slowed for the stop. It happened to be Katrina's stop as well, but she wasn't getting out here, not with this woman.
"I hear it all day every day," the woman said, facing Katrina in the aisle and staring down at her with jolly eyes above the impersonal paper mask. "'Disrespectful," but can't spell it. Ha! Yes. They talk a good game, but don't have the know-how to even spell what they say."
Katrina only shook her head and kept trying to smirk without her face falling apart. She could not look at the woman, not with her eyes red and watery like this. The woman would think she was crying and by default be the victor. "Fucking bitch," she muttered under her breath while the woman continued to chant her catchphrase in the aisle for all the passengers to hear. "Fucking bitch, fucking mind your own business, people cough." She swiped another arm across her burning eyes and sniffed in deeply, keeping remnant nasal fluid from leaking out. Would she ever be over this cold?
The train stopped and the woman got out, loudly explaining Katrina's spelling ability to anyone who would listen. The handsome man got out at this stop too, almost as if in league with the fat bitch, but he had plugged earbuds into his ears, perhaps bored with the thread of conversation. What a shame because this was supposed to be her stop too, but there was no way. Not now.
The doors mercifully cut off the woman's sermon and the train continued on. At the next stop, she scooped up her helmet and her lunch and disembarked. Ten minutes later, a train headed in the opposite direction (and devoid of loud, obnoxious spelling-experts) picked her up and whisked her away to her intended destination. By the time she punched in to work, late again, her eyes had not quite stopped watering.