Creative Nonfiction: Elbow Room by Lindsay Brown

Photo by Lindsay Brown; processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I was taking the No. 913 bus from the Mercato Trionfale up to the weaving hilltop of Balduina—the neighborhood in Rome where I studied for a semester of college. We made a stop. An elderly man stepped on, moving slowly into the bus, shuffling along with creased loafers. He looked like a nonno, an Italian grandpa, with charming suspenders and a hat with the brim tipped up so you could see into his sun spotted face. 

Nonno decided to sit next to me, and I moved my mesh tote of strawberries, milk, and cheese to the floor to give him space. Then, before I could understand what was happening, I felt him plant one ashen elbow firmly into my thigh which then moved to find a tender resting place nestled in the crook of my pubic joint. I opened my mouth, but no sound came out. I looked at him, hot-cheeked, shoulder blades pinched back. He looked straight ahead, and then pulled his left hand up to his face, plonking a hairy-knuckled index finger into his nose. While he excavated one, then both nostrils thoroughly, that alien elbow of his nudged my vagina happily as we bumped along the road past umbrella pine and flowering grove.

I pressed myself as close to the window as I could, cooling my cheek against the pane of glass and hoped for this too, to pass. I wondered if he could be mistaken. When he would look down, cross himself, and say shyly, “Mio dio, mi dispiache.” But the apology, the acknowledgement, neither the son, the father, nor the holy ghost ever came. 

Now, years later, perhaps it is an appetite for revenge or maybe because I’m good old fashioned American swine, I wish I’d done something instead of sat there helplessly. What I wish is that I’d reached for that mesh tote of strawberries and gorged on them by the fistfuls, making the juice bleed over my clothes, my chin and neck, turning my teeth and tongue a garish, pulpy red. I wish I’d taken that carton of milk and gulped it as fast as it would go down, burping cheerfully as I went. I wish I had torn into that brie and gnawed on it, just the same as a rat, and pushed that entire wheel through my gullet in one go. And then, I wish I had turned to the gentleman beside me and asked, dairy-breathed, strawberry seeds bedecking my teeth, “Please, sir? Could you please spare some room?”

Lindsay Brown is currently enrolled at American University’s MFA program where she serves as Editor in Chief for Folio. She is a Kenyon Review and Juniper Institute workshop alumnus and seeks to make the grotesque beautiful in her writing. This is her first publication.

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