Sorry, I’m not trying to be difficult, I say, boarding myself up in the apology. It’s tight, with pointy corners and a low-sloped ceiling, but I manage, wadding my knees into my chest. I am safe in here. Sheltered from all the awkward coughing and head-cocking, from Joe, my co-worker and the office golden retriever, repeating jovially whatever it was I said and everyone nodding as it all made sense again, from my own terrible sense of urgency to tell him later, Thanks for saving me back there, and his response, No problem, it happens to everyone.
I just need a few days to think.
You say sorry too much, my mentor liked to remind me, it makes you small. But I don’t mind the lack of square footage. All I need is a cushion so my bum doesn’t get sore from sitting all the time and back-copies of the celebrity mag that my ex-boyfriend always side-eyed, commenting under his breath that I should read the Economist or the Wall Street Journal instead, something with more words than pictures. Marcus never started a sentence with sorry. He could fill a room, any room, with things to say, the words popping up their heads like prairie dogs.
Other apologies are stacked above and below and beside mine, a massive honeycomb. All inhabited by women, some with somber resting faces, others sporting smiles pulled tight and high as greased ponytails. No one cares how long you stay. For the most part, everyone keeps to themselves, doing meditation or yoga or sit-ups, painting their toenails, journaling.
Mina checks in next door. She has a habit of twirling the ends of her hair around her finger as though she’s forking pasta. At first, I find her aloof, but she turns out just to be shy and takes a while to warm up. She says she thought the same exact thing about me. While I read aloud snippets like the top five oddest celebrity baby names, Mina does crossword puzzles and interrupts to ask if I know a four-letter word for deluge. I do.
When we grow bored, we swap stories.
I recount the time that I went to a cycling class with Marcus, his fifteenth that month and my first ever. I hadn’t known what to wear, so I went out and bought a pair of bike shorts, really, an overpriced loincloth. As soon as I stumbled into the waiting area and saw everyone else wearing sensible leggings, I lost all sense of who I was before that moment – my winning personality, the library of obtuse song lyrics stored away in my brain, how tourists and little old ladies always flagged me down for directions. I became nothing more than a pair of bare, goose-pricked thighs rubbing against each other in agony.
Sorry, I whispered. To Marcus, for embarrassing him in front of his svelte compatriots. To the instructor bending down to maneuver my feet into position for the pedals, no doubt catching a whiff of the earthiness emanating from my groin. To the woman next to me who had to listen to my unladylike grunting for the whole hour.
Sorry, Mina echoed. To the man on the subway whose fingers kept digging into her side, for what, she didn’t know, it was just hips and flesh, no buried treasure there. She closed her eyes, having been reduced to a metal filing cabinet, and felt him rifling around inside. It was packed, everyone wearing the same expression of weekday constipation, and, unfortunately for them, the sad desk salad she ate for lunch kept roiling and foaming. The train is the worst place in the world to be sick in, but, still, Mina wanted to sing, Glory, glory, when she hit him with spew. Sorry, she said again instead, as his hand retracted in disgust and she finally had her body and the rest of the subway car all to herself.
Sorry, not sorry at all.
With that, Mina tears through the walls of the apology and climbs out, shaking away the cramps. Over her shoulder, she asks me, Coming?