Rosa's || Robyn Jefferson


by Robyn Jefferson

Gregor tugs Rosa into the alcove between the kitchen and the customer bathroom. ‘Scruffy,’ he says. ‘You’re scruffy, that’s your problem.’ He speaks quietly, under his breath, almost hissing it at her: ssscruffy

‘Excuse me?’ 

‘Scruffy!’ He makes a gesture that encompasses her entire body, as if it’s obvious. 

Rosa looks down at herself. Grey shirt, black skirt, opaque black tights, all clean and creaseless as far as she can see. There’d been a hole near the hem of her skirt, but she’d darned it with black thread, and now you can’t tell unless you’re looking for it. If Gregor wants to complain about her mending instead of replacing when she’s only on minimum wage she’ll tell him where to go, she thinks, although she knows that she wouldn’t have the nerve if it actually came down to it. 

‘You wear the same shirt. Every day, you wear the same shirt!’ 

‘No, I just have several identical shirts.’ Gregor narrows his eyes at her until she blows out a breath and adds, ‘There was a deal on at Asda, three for a tenner.’ It’s a little humiliating to admit that to Gregor – who shops at Harvey Nicks and has a shiny black Audi which he drives to the restaurant even though he lives three streets away – but no more humiliating than this whole interaction was already. The narrow confines of the alcove force their bodies into such close proximity. She can see the open pores on Gregor’s nose, oozing grease, the wet pink flesh glistening at the inner corners of his eyes. She wonders what her own face must look like to him in such unforgiving closeup and fights the urge to take a step backwards. 

‘Well—whatever, whatever. Just stop it. Wear different shirts.’

‘Why? They’re clean.’

‘Because the customers will think it’s always the same shirt. They’ll think you look scruffy.’ 

The service bell dings. As if the customers would ever deign to notice her enough to be offended by her sartorial choices, Rosa wants to say. ‘Alright, fine,’ she says instead, already backing out of the alcove.

‘No, you don’t say, “Alright, fine,” you say, “Yes, Gregor.”’ 

Rosa stops, then gives him the sweetest smile she can muster. ‘Yes, Gregor,’ she says, trying her hardest to make it sound like go fuck yourself.

The bell sounds for a second and then a third time, the last accompanied by a terse, ‘Service, please!’

‘Well, what are you waiting for?’ Gregor says, shooing Rosa out of the alcove. ‘Go, go!’ 

Rosa picks up the food with an apology to Miles for making him wait, then delivers it to the restaurant’s only customers, a middle-aged couple sitting out front by the big window. Light shines through the blue decal letters that spell out Gregor’s, making their skin look pasty and cold. Like dead things, Rosa thinks. The man asks her for ketchup, and then after she squirts a gory puddle of Heinz into a white ceramic ramekin and carries it over to them his wife asks for a cleaner fork. Rosa brings the fork. They thank her, and she heads back behind the bar – smiling, smiling, smiling all the way, as if she isn’t indulging vivid fantasies of pressing a gun against her temple and pulling the trigger, spattering Gregor’s vintage tablecloths with crimson chunks of brain and eyeball. 

‘I’m going out,’ Gregor says, coming out from the back with his coat already on. 


The second the door shuts behind him Rosa turns off Gregor’s Spotify playlist and puts on one of her own instead. The couple by the window look up as Ed Sheeran abruptly segues into Amanda Palmer. Rosa smiles at them, bland and inoffensive, until they turn their gazes back down to their food. 

She isn’t scruffy. She is perfectly fucking presentable. Pretty, even, although she’d allow that her work clothes don’t much flatter her. Gregor’s problem with her appearance is that she is fat, which he thinks reflects poorly on the restaurant, but he can’t say that out loud, so instead he settles for petty, transparent complaints; she is scruffy, or sweaty, or smells bad. Rosa knows what he really means by it, and he knows that she knows, she can see it in his face. She tells herself she’ll leave when she finds the energy to look for another job, or the faith that if she did find one it would be better than this. Thus far, it hasn’t happened.

She pulls her phone out of her handbag and leans up against the bar, not bothering to pretend to look busy for the customers. Maybe she’d be a better waitress if not for Gregor, but she gets a perverse kick out of breaking his rules when he isn’t around to tell her off for it. She sends a text to her best friend Daisy, my boss is microaggressing me again, send help, lips curling up when Daisy replies quick: nooo gregor we were rooting for u, and then a minute later, he just loves to microaggress, baby.

‘Excuse me?’ 

Rosa looks up. The woman from the table is standing at the bar. She’s dressed simply but expensively, the way rich people look boring on purpose to show that they have taste. Minimal makeup, no jewellery except for the small gold studs in her ears. Rosa doubts anyone has ever called her scruffy. ‘Can I help you?’

‘I’d like another lime and soda, please.’ 


‘No, thank you.’ 

As the woman turns away with her drink Rosa looks back at her phone. Daisy’s texted again, are you still coming to my party tonight? She taps out a quick reply, of course babe! wouldn’t miss it, then slips her phone back into her pocket. Gregor will be back soon, he never leaves her alone for long. She goes to the bathroom and urinates, then sits on the toilet for a few minutes, lingering in the quiet cubicle. The toilet seat is cold and soothing against the backs of her thighs. She admits to herself that doesn’t really want to go to Daisy’s party. She’s tired, the restaurant is stuffy, and her feet feel cramped and sore inside her shoes. What she really wants is to go home, eat the leftover pasta in her fridge, and pass out, but she’s promised Daisy she’ll be there, so she’ll go. 

When she comes back out, the man at the window signals for the bill. Rosa brings it over along with the card machine and smiles while he pays, keeps smiling as the couple push their chairs out and leave. They’ve left a tip in loose change, but not a good one, so Rosa pockets it instead of putting it in the jar on the counter. She wipes the table and picks up their dirty plates, their crumpled napkins. When she carries the plates through to Ayesha in the back she holds them in such a way that the tines of a fork resting on top of the pile press hard into the doughy underside of her forearm. Then she puts Gregor’s playlist back on. Jess Glynne warbles through the speaker, telling her not to be so hard on herself, to forgive, to let go. Rosa looks at the four red pinpricks on her arm and thinks again about killing herself. She doesn’t want to die but the notion of self-obliteration is a comfort to her, somehow, sustaining her when the walls of her life press in too tight. There’s something cleansing about it – the sudden gunshot or the shocking splat of flesh against concrete, a loud noise and a burst of bright colour, purifying her mind like bleach, or holy water. 


Rosa goes straight to Daisy’s after work. Her own flat is closer but she knows that if she goes home first she’ll only end up flaking out on the party, and then Daisy will be unhappy with her and she’ll feel bad. Better to go now, and get it over with.

‘Rosa! Come in, come in—God, it feels like I haven’t seen you in ages.’ Daisy steps back from the doorway to let Rosa in. Her face is flushed and she holds a glass of red wine in one hand, which tilts dangerously when she pulls Rosa into a one-armed hug. ‘How have you been?’

‘Careful—your drink.’ 

‘Oh, don’t worry about it.’ Daisy waves her glass in the air, making the liquid inside swirl and splash. She’s a little drunk already, Rosa realises, her movements languid and careless, her mouth bloody from the wine. ‘Do you want one?’

‘Yeah, thanks.’ 

‘Let’s go to the kitchen, then.’ 

Rosa closes the front door and follows Daisy down the hall. ‘Who else is coming?’

‘Just the usual crowd, really, except Elijah, he’s DJing tonight – hey, Mia, could you pass me a glass from the cupboard? It’s for Rosa, she had a rough day at work.’ 

‘Oh no, what happened?’ Mia’s concern is cloyingly sincere. She’s sitting cross-legged on the kitchen counter, effortlessly sexy in denim cut-off shorts. Her feet are bare, her toenails painted a delicate pastel blue. They look dainty, like tiny, perfect shells.

‘Just Gregor being a prick,’ Rosa says, and takes the glass of wine Daisy holds out to her. She feels frumpy in her work clothes and doesn’t want to worsen the feeling by telling her friends exactly what it was that Gregor had said.

‘Isn’t he a fascist?’ says Alexis. She’s leaning up against the fridge and her tone is dismissive, a little scornful. She’s had a fringe cut in since the last time Rosa saw her; it’s blunt now, a fiercely straight line that skims the tops of her pencilled eyebrows.

‘Like, a literal fascist? I dunno,’ Rosa says. ‘He was in the military in the nineties, in Hungary. I don’t know if that makes him a fascist, though.’ 

‘Makes him a bootlicker,’ says Daisy, and Mia chimes in with a ‘Hear, hear.’ The two of them clink their glasses together and smirk. 

‘But didn’t you say, that one time –’ Alexis continues, undeterred. ‘Didn’t he say those things about Ayesha?’ 

‘I mean, yeah, he’s a prick, we’ve established that. I don’t know what else you want me to say about it.’ Rosa feels a stab of irritation, and takes a long sip of her drink in an attempt to conceal it. Her and Alexis slept together once, before Alexis’ transition, and ever since then things have been a little fraught between them, as if neither of them quite know what to make of the changing topography of their relationship. Rosa doesn’t know if it’s the sex that has made things awkward, or the fact Alexis had still considered herself a straight man when they’d had it. Rosa can’t blame her, if that’s the case – she feels weird and vulnerable, too, when she thinks about how Alexis knows what her body looks like under her clothes. 

‘I dunno,’ Alexis says, and she shrugs. ‘Maybe you should quit.’ 

‘What, do you think it reflects badly on me that my boss is racist?’

‘That’s not what I said, is it? Just – you know, if he’s a bad person, do you really want to work there? You don’t seem happy.’

‘I think most bosses are shitty people,’ Rosa says, ignoring the rest. 

‘Word,’ says Daisy.

Mia nudges Daisy’s shoulder with her knee. ‘Aren’t you self-employed?’ This is technically true; Daisy is a camgirl, although the site that hosts her streams keeps almost half of the money she makes, so Rosa doesn’t know how different it is, really. 

‘Yeah,’ Daisy replies gamely, ‘because when I worked regular jobs all my bosses sucked, that’s my point.’

Inwardly Rosa wonders if she’s a bad person too. She tries to do good things, but she’d sooner work for Gregor than look for another job even if Gregor is a racist, and sometimes she buys clothes from fast fashion outlets because they’re cheap and stylish even though she knows they’re killing the planet and probably using sweatshop labour to boot. How many things like that can you accrue before the sum total makes you an asshole? Can you balance it out by donating to a stranger’s GoFundMe, or volunteering at a soup kitchen? Alexis would have an answer, probably. Rosa pushes the thought away. ‘Did I leave some of my things here last time I slept over? I’ve been wearing this all day, I’m gross.’ 

‘You’re fine,’ Daisy says, but she shoves away from the kitchen counter and cups Rosa’s elbow in the palm of her hand, leading her gently out of the room. ‘I think I have your silver dress in my room. The sequinned one.’

‘Great.’ Rosa feels relieved to be leaving the kitchen behind. It’s quiet in Daisy’s bedroom, and Rosa sits down on the bed while Daisy roots around in the large pile of clothes heaped on the floor. She looks at the string of fairy lights wrapped around Daisy’s headboard, then at the webcam, set up on a tripod near the foot of the bed with its lens pointed at her. She runs her fingers over Daisy’s bedding, rumpled and unmade and smelling faintly of body lotion. 

‘You know you shouldn’t let Lex rile you up like that,’ Daisy says. ‘She doesn’t mean anything by it.’

‘Maybe she’s right though – maybe I should quit.’ Rosa strokes Daisy’s sheets again. ‘I could start camming, like you.’ 

‘You could.’ Daisy stops rummaging and looks at her. ‘Do you want to, though?’

Rosa shrugs. She envies Daisy sometimes, because Daisy is blonde and thin and people look at her and desire her, and every day at her job people tell her that she’s beautiful, she’s sexy. She won’t tell Daisy that because she knows that it’s a naive thing to want. Besides, Rosa is pretty, and plenty of people have wanted her, and most of the time she likes her body. It’s good enough.

‘Here,’ Daisy says, balling up Rosa’s dress and tossing it to her. ‘It might be a bit crumpled, sorry.’

‘No, that’s fine. Thanks.’ She turns her back to Daisy and takes her shirt off, then pulls the dress over her head. When it’s past her hips, she rolls her skirt down her legs and leaves it crumpled on Daisy’s floor. She keeps her tights on. The whole time she feels conscious of the camera, and even though she knows it isn’t attached to anything she imagines someone watching, enraptured. 

‘Do you want to go back out?’

‘Yeah, just give me a second.’

‘Sure. I’ll go see how everyone’s doing.’ Daisy walks past her to the door, then pauses, turning with one hand on the frame. ‘Hey – I’m glad you came tonight, you know? I missed you.’ 

Rosa looks at Daisy and smiles softly. She can see the tattoo on the inside of Daisy’s wrist, a tiny stylised rose. Rosa’s, in the same place, is a daisy. In school they’d called themselves the Flowerpuff Girls, along with Florence, who they weren’t friends with anymore because she’d said horrible things about Alexis when Alexis came out. Rosa remembers how much Daisy had cried when Florence blocked them all on Facebook. She feels guilty for envying her friend, suddenly, for coming to her party and being grumpy and standoffish. ‘I’m glad too. I’ll be out in a minute, okay?’


Daisy closes the door behind her. Left alone, Rosa sits for a moment, feeling her body expand and deflate with her breathing. She’s put on a little bit of weight since she last wore this dress, and the waistline is cutting into her stomach. She knows she’ll have a mark there later when she goes home and gets undressed. She visualises the indentations her clothes are leaving on her body – red lines at her hips, stomach, breasts – and imagines them filling out again, her flesh puffing up like dough until the marks are gone. 

There’s a buzzing near her feet. It’s her phone, she realises, still in her skirt pocket. She reaches down and picks it up. She has a new Twitter message. It’s from Adam – they met at Mia’s birthday party last year and although they haven’t seen each other since, he likes her tweets with an almost religious fervour and often sends her strangely hopeful messages that she only sometimes replies to. This one says: noticed you haven’t been online much today lol. hope you’re off somewhere having fun! 

It’s a weird message, Rosa thinks, weird and a little stalker-y. Still, she likes feeling as though someone out there is paying attention to her enough to be bothered by her absence. She replies: yeah, at a party, and then before she can think better of it sends Adam an old picture of herself from her camera roll wearing nothing but heavy makeup and a satin teddy. Her nipples are visible through the fabric. 

Wow, Adam replies after a minute. Heart-eyes emoji, you look amazing.

Rosa doesn’t feel anything. She looks at herself in her phone’s front camera and thinks, with a calm clarity like the peal of a knife striking the rim of a crystal glass, I am very deeply unhappy. She wonders if her body will ever feel like hers, or if it’s just her job to pilot it around while other people look at it and touch it and tell it what to do. Maybe later – maybe when she goes home and takes her clothes off in the privacy of her own bedroom and waits for those little red marks to smooth themselves out, maybe then she can be for herself and no one else. 

Rosa locks her phone. Then she gets up, blows a kiss into the camera’s unblinking eye, and goes out to rejoin the party.


ROBYN JEFFERSON (she/her) is a short story writer, poet, and aspiring novelist from the South West of England. She writes fiction about women and bodies that often focuses on the lived experience at the nebulous overlap of marginalised identities. Her work has previously been published in MIROnline, Makarelle, The Phare, and The Fat Zine. Find her on Twitter @apocryphai

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