When a fish swims up to you with a barrel and rifle already attached, sometimes it almost feels wrong to go out of your way to shoot it. Nonetheless:
So it has come to this.
You must speak to the woman who is wearing headphones.
I am so, so sorry.
You must pray that she is single and looking and will wish to hear your words.
It is not enough for her to be single
She must also be looking, or there is no hope for you.
But you already know this.
You have seen what happened to the other men who tried to speak.
The whole Panera is littered with what remains of the men who came before you.
They tried to speak to the Woman Who Is Wearing Headphones.
Remember the training and you may yet survive.
Remember what they told you.
You must be confident, relaxed and easygoing.
You must show no fear.
If you show fear, she will strike.
Speak calmly, they said.
Do not blink.
If you blink, she will know.
If you blink, she will move from 1 to 1.5 meters away to much closer, so close that you can hear the whisper of what is in her headphones.
That is much too close.
You have no choice.
These are your instructions.
You can talk to anyone, you tell yourself.
It is only a woman, you tell yourself.
But you know that it is not.
Women were something different.
Your comrade made the awful mistake of talking to the Woman Who Is Reading A Book On The Subway. You watched it happen.
He made her look up from the book and her basilisk eyes fell on him, unblinking, and he melted.
You still remember the screams.
They were so horrible that the city lay awake for days trying to forget them.
You do not know how it happened.
But the women who stood there politely and were receptacles for your words are gone.
They once smiled politely and they laughed even and sometimes they would make a spark with you.
But something changed in the air or perhaps the water and the women do not stand there and listen any longer.
The city is full of men who have been turned to stone.
You opened the door to your neighbor’s apartment and there was a startled deer standing inside wearing a college sweatshirt. You think it used to be your neighbor but you are not certain.
You have changed your route to work so that you do not have to pass the stone men with their open, screaming mouths.
Yesterday half your comrades were ordered to shout “Smile!” at the Woman Who Is Walking.
And the woman did. Too wide.
So wide that her mouth engulfed the street and became a vast cavern.
Six of your friends were devoured.
You could hear the unladylike slurping sounds from blocks away as you beat a hasty retreat between the Scylla of the Woman Who Has Put Her Bag Next To Her On A Bar Stool and the Charybdis of the Woman Who Is Just Jogging.
You did not attempt to speak to either of them.
They passed you.
You were left unscathed.
But that was before they came to your apartment and gave you the orders.
So here you are.
It has come to this.
You are about to talk to the Woman in Headphones.
My God, I pity you.
You are close now. Almost in range.
Before The Woman and behind her the ground is littered with shoes and hats and pick-up manuals and AXE body spray.
She sits patiently gnawing on a thigh bone.
You do not think she is single or looking.
You cannot make out the words she is listening to.
You know how this will go.
You know what the headphones mean.
You know what will happen when you ask her to remove the headphones.