This week’s stylist short story is Lickety Split by Ulka Karandikar, which explores one woman’s peculiar fascination with a stranger on her commute
Eunice Tiptree loved bald-headed men. Like this one, who always sat opposite her in between the phallus-shaped armrests of the Bakerloo line. Full attention on his book. Always on time.
Her therapist blamed her parents (yawn). But Eunice knew her obsession was sprouted in cress. Those broken, beige, freckled eggshells on narrow school shelves: cotton wool innards and forced smiles, scratched on with red felt-tip pens. Snip. Snip. Her days of devotion would invariably end in egg and cress sandwiches cut into squares – never triangles – always squares.
Eunice leant forward, pretending to stretch her back, hoping to see what the man was reading. Nevermind. That didn’t matter. She had three more stops to gaze at his beautiful smooth head. It was perfection. Natural. Not shaved. With a fringe like a Laura Ashley valance on a seaside hotel double bed.
She imagined cupping her hand over the warm flesh and stroking and stroking and stroking…
The tube driver announced the next stop.
Doors opened and shut.
A woman with a whippet got on and sat down next to Eunice.
Eunice uncrossed her legs.
The man with the perfect baldhead must have sensed someone watching and glanced up at the dog. The whippet made itself comfortable on the wooden slats next to Eunice’s bare legs. It yelped as she accidentally trod on its tail.
The bald man went back to his book and turned another page.
Eunice started to panic. She only had a few more stops and had just noticed the beautiful scar that brushed around the man’s head. It looked fresh.
The dog growled.
The doors opened and shut again. A pregnant woman got on but there were no seats left. So, Eunice stood up.
The woman thanked her.
From her standing position, Eunice towered over the crown of the man’s head. The scar marked its entire circumference, sprinkled in beads of salty sweat. She imagined percussing the scar with a fingernail. Digging in gently and tunnelling down slowly into his yielding gelatinous brain.
The driver announced they were being held at a red signal.
Eunice imagined the weight of the man’s experience in her hands. If they got stuck here indefinitely the passengers would all survive. There was plenty for everyone. The pregnant woman would have the first bite, of course. Only polite. It might not be allowed in her condition, like raw fish or unpasteurised French cheeses. But she would eat it anyway, for the sake of her unborn child.
Then, it would be every man, woman and child for themselves.
The train started up, again.
The doors opened.
The bald man suddenly got up, flustered. His arm brushed past Eunice’s bare leg, ‘So sorry,’ he said smiling, before running out of the carriage.
Eunice slid into his place, quickly.
He’d left his book.
She flicked through. But each page was blank.
Apart from the inside front cover: a telephone number and a message in red ink,
‘I’ve noticed you watching, 34B (I’ve imagined). Call me. Anytime.’
Stylist publishes a new and exciting short story each week and is open to submissions. If you would like to submit, please send a story (fiction) of no more than 1,000 words and any genre to firstname.lastname@example.org. Successful submissions receive payment of £200, more information is here.