This woman rode the subway today.
I did not notice her and her two small kids, wide-eyed and well-behaved, sitting across from me. Most likely, they were on the train when I got on, and it was me who moved to them when seats opened up. Neither she nor her kids stood out: Seattle’s subway is full of spindly Asian women and their quiet children, the women almost always dressed in black. Unlike others who peer open-mouthed into their phones, these women reliably have their noses in books. Do Asian cultures have a phrase equivalent to the colloquial American backhand of “his/her nose was always in a book”? From their over-representation in elite colleges, I doubt it.
From her exit at the Capitol Hill station, and her textbook–entitled Nutrition, I presume she was headed to Seattle Central Community College. Well-regarded in town, and possible to transfer from it to the UW, but hardly elite. I’d guess she was in her late twenties or early thirties. Was she retraining for a new job? Perhaps she was going for a promotion, or something different.
When she turned her head, her black eye blared.
A glance made her hidden eye visible. It was fresh, not even black yet, but the white of her eye burst with brilliant red, and the sharp red circle of a bruise enclosed the eye socket. From a blobby red mass, red tendrils curled around her pupil, like an inverted river delta. She did not cover it, however that might have been done. Cosmetics were not used. She had a black eye and did not hide it.
So. A Friday morning before a holiday, a woman I presume has been hit in the eye sits across from me, with her two children who can’t be more than seven. Is she embarrassed? Ashamed? In pain? She seems muted, but no more so than anybody else. She is intent on Nutrition. Even from my blurred surreptitious picture, there’s nothing unusual visible.
She touches the head of her son. He gives her red eye a penetrating look. The girl at the window mostly looks out the window.
What have I seen? It’s incongruous: a woman with a big black eye on the morning train, going to school with her children. Can it really be a black eye? Would she go out with it so fresh? The bruise is so circular–could a fist make that shape? I have never seen a real black eye. Was it an accident? Symmetrical hepatitis? Her eyes are white and clear, aside from the bloody white.
There is a story here but I do not know what it is.
Little violence against women has been a constant since before we settled down and started farming. Now walking on the Moon is something stuffed in museums and we have supercomputers in our pockets. Is hitting a woman in the eye still little? Is it any bigger than anything else involving a fist?
The doors open. She stands, rouses her boy by touching his head again. Her girl needs no prompting and is ready to go, all business. She says something small and almost whiny–I don’t remember what. The woman’s legs are so thin–how do they support her? But she’s up and moving, all three of them out the door, on the platform, moving away, the little girl’s backpack jostling over her pink coat. The backpack has a little bunny head, arms and legs stitched on, smooth tan fabric with button eyes and thread claws, like the Velveteen Rabbit’s.
Did she see what made her mother’s eye red? Was it a blow from her father, a boyfriend, a relative? Or, did she wake up to see her mother with this blotch, and become afraid? Or was this something that had happened before, and she felt whatever a little girl feels who’s seen her mom socked in the eye.
I do not know how to end this any more than I knew what to say, or what to do.