Archive Page 3

on the subway

Somebody must have cast a spell. Everyone here is sleeping.

at the deli

I come here a few mornings a week. The clerk knows my face. Today I’m waiting for a bagel to be trussed, and my phone rings. I have a brief, breathless logistical conversation and then hang up. The clerk looks up and asks me how I’m doing today.

I decide to be honest, he’s just witnessed the flurry on the phone. “I’m a little frazzled,” I tell him. “How are you?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” he says, and looks out the window.

I wait until his attention strays back to me. “Would you have told me if you weren’t?”

He’s confused. “I’m fine,” he says again, smiling.

“I know, but if you weren’t fine, would you have told me that?”

He laughs at me, it’s a laugh I’ve seen before, the one he reserves for the florid and broken section-8 housing residents from around the corner who count out their pennies for coffee. “Of course not,” he says, still smiling, “I wouldn’t tell you that.”

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in a restaurant

One of our friends is late to breakfast. She calls and tells us to order something for her, anything. We pick out one of those fancy dishes with eggs.

“How do you want the eggs,” the waiter asks. He’s got a melodious middle eastern accent. I could listen to him all day.

But this is difficult. Eggs are something you can get wrong. He’s waiting. Finally, he says, “Is it a man or a woman who’s coming?”

“A woman.”

“A woman? Ok, then it’s poached. You wait, you’ll see. I’m right.”

He was.

on the subway

It was just like this. A girl on the last page of her book, murmuring the words aloud, I can read her lips only because I know it by heart: it eluded us then, but that’s no matter. Next to her, a woman with a tiny Hebrew bible is mouthing the words of her devotion as fast as an auctioneer. At the other end of the car, there’s a man with thin, unruly hair. He’s slumped over as though he were drunk, or sleeping, one shoulder lower than the other, listing, his chin collapsed to his chest. He’s staring at his open, empty palm in his lap, tapping it lightly with his index finger.

on the corner

A man with a cane stops me, “I’m a bodyguard,” he says. “A second-degree blackbelt in karate. I’m for hire. Got it?”

at the cafe

The blind man and his bull dyke guide are back today. He follows her, half a step behind, his hand resting on her shoulder. He moves timidly, tapping his cane in an arc in front of him, his ears attuned to her whispered translations of what it is like to see this room, these obstacles. But when she moves his hand to the back of the chair, the scene changes key. He straightens up and casts a great smile up at the sky. I wish you could see him. He’s wearing slick wraparound glasses and a shiny red jacket. He looks more like a space man than a blind man. He’s got his knuckles on the table, keeping time, he nods along as the woman talks. She’s speaking ardently. You know, with her hands.

on the street

He’s skinny and old, shuffling along. He looks like he’s seen better days, but his dark brown face shines. I walk past him and he says, “When I grow up, I’m gonna get one just like you.” He’s laughing at his own joke.

I turn around and wave.

“You hear me? That’s right. Gonna get you in a kitchen.”

Now I’m laughing. “You don’t want me in your kitchen.”

“All you gotta do is boil water. It’s easy. That’s all I ask.”

on the block

My neighbor used to be a fireman, and got retired when he fell through a roof. Tonight something is burning nearby, there are screaming trucks and strobing lights around the corner.

He’s out in front of his building, leaning on the fence. “Somebody’s going to work.”

There are people on any block who observe the comings and goings on the street, who keep its pulses. He is one of them, and at first I think he means me, that I’ve been going to an office.

“Every day now,” I say.

“No, I mean over there,” he says, pointing toward the trucks. He rocks back and forth on heels. “I miss it,” he says. “You smell that and the adrenaline gets going.”

Then he closes his eyes. “Smells like victory.”

on the subway

On this line, you never get that chipper automated voice announcing the stops, and on this particular morning, it’s my favorite conductor. The one who sounds as smooth and easy as a 70s radio DJ, or rather, a teenager impersonating one. His voice isn’t quite deep enough. He speaks as though it were not only his duty to inform you of your location under the grid of the city, but also to ease your hard journey through the tunnels, and by consequence through your life.

Today he says, “Good morning, and welcome to day number four of the work, school, and play week. A big congratulations goes out to the NY Yankees.” And then his voice breaks character and squeaks, as though in parentheses, “Yay!”

We’re rushing into a station, he goes on. He knows exactly how much time he’s got until the doors open. “Don’t forget there’s a tickertape parade tomorrow, everyone come out and cheer. It’s now nine am exactly. Have a good one out there.”

Next to me, a woman gasps. “Shit,” she says. “I’m so late.”

on the block

I hear him and his buddy walking behind me first, joking about a hole in someone’s transmission. When they start to pass me, I look over to say hi, we’re passing too close not to.

The one of them stops short. He says, “Hey beautiful.”

I laugh, that’s what I always do. They start walking alongside me.

“How is it I’ve been around here all my life and I’ve never run into your pretty face before?”

“I don’t know, I’ve been living here four years. Maybe you just weren’t looking hard enough.”

The other one laughs. “Good answer,” he says.

“Well, beauty in the eye of the beholder, right? So how long you been beholdin’?”

I laugh again, I have no idea how to answer that.

He swings a hand through the air. “No, I’m just a joker, don’t mind me. Tell the truth I’m a little lonely, that’s all.” He looks at me with soft, honest eyes. He’s handsome in a stocky way. He smiles and I see that his each of his teeth is ringed in gold.

“I can’t really help you with that,” I say, “I’ve got a boyfriend.”

“Yeah, how long you had that problem?” His friend laughs, walking faster past us toward the corner, leaving some room.

“The problem of a boyfriend? Oh, a good while.”

“You know, you can work around that, nobody the worse for it.” He’s pushing me now, the eyes have gone sly.

We’ve gotten to my stoop, I open the iron gate. “I stick to the letter of the law on that one.”

“I used to be a lawyer,” he tells me, “didn’t last long.”

“No? Didn’t like it?”

“I just had attention issues.”

I wave a hand, encompassing the world. “That’s sort of the national diagnosis, isn’t it.”

“No,” he says, the gilded teeth flashing again. “Just too many beautiful women around.”