There’s a girl on the subway. She has long hair and a peculiar look on her face that reminds me of that one winter I spent in Western Massachusetts working in the restaurant waiting for the world to end — or at least for a moment of quiet and comfort. She has long skinny fingers with nails that are unpainted or maybe once-painted but are now without design, without thought, simply there for whatever purpose they once served. Her ancestors used them for tearing vegetables, or opening fruit, or perhaps ripping apart meat in some wooded cove in Eastern Europe as the snow gathered in the pine trees. Now they tap along to Jane’s Addiction, or Tribe Called Quest, or Buddy Holly. Barely consciously, I switch off the podcast I’m listening to and opt for Fugazi, or The Shins, or Edith Piaf and gently bob my head along, watching her in hopes she’s watching me.
There are birds that dance like this I tell myself and switch off the music, disgusted by my animal side, disgusted by my desperation, disgusted by my loneliness. I slouch down in the seat and wait for the next station, head on wall, eyes closed, once again rocking to the beat of a discussion on the impact of economic stimulus on developing nations in Central America.
At East Broadway the little old ladies burdened with dozens of plastic bags gather around the subway poles. The effect is marvelous: a curtain of chattering and laughing Chinese women that part as the train rattles along revealing the girl on the subway’s legs, or face, or fingers, or exhaustion. I am hypnotized.
I think back to that time I was walking down the path from the library towards the Yiddish book center on my way to meet the girl of my dreams, full of nervous anticipation. I remember the autumn air that I loved so much, the thick flannel over a thin t-shirt that caused a biting cold/comforting warmth thing I relished in those months. On that walk my mind drifted towards her embrace, her smile, her down-turned almond eyes, the angle of her head, the slope of her shoulders, the curve of her breast, the touch of her hands on my hand as we waited for whatever was next. And then, on the path in front of me: a girl on a tiny orange banana seat bicycle bobbing and weaving down the path from the Yiddish book center to the library.
A single thought: I am going to marry the girl on the banana seat bicycle. And then: What will I tell Naomi, the girl of my dreams?
On the subway we pull into 14th street, the little old ladies get off and for a moment the girl on the train’s eyes meet mine and the hairs on my neck stand up. But she’s looking through me — past me — at the mosaic on the wall, scanning it, trying to make sense of it, squinting through the glass, craning around the suddenly crowded aisle to make sure she’s not missed her stop, which is when I fall a little in love with her.
There would be a first date, a trip to a coffee shop near where she works where I’d sit quietly listening to all about the magazine editor who doesn’t like her work but mostly is a drunk and is terrified of anyone catching on. We’d stroll after too many cups of coffee to shake off the buzz and nerves, then linger by the corner where I’d crack a joke that wouldn’t go over and I’d get lost in my nerves while she stares at the uptown busses packed with people. We’d both have a shudder of terror about the future, then she’d get on the train and I’d walk to Brooklyn.
When she’s 50 we’d take long walks. When I’m 60 she’d get lost in her art and there’d be distance and confusion. We’d talk about poetry and life but there’d be something missing. Later, near old age a sense of peace and warmth would descend and we’d comfort each other with stories about our children and their children and the ways the light has changed from when we were little.
She stands up, the doors closing, it was her stop and now she’s missed it. There’s frustration and weariness, which I recognize but then there’s something I don’t recognize: she doesn’t have down turned almond eyes, and she doesn’t have a familiar curve to her breast, and our future is full of uncertainty and pain and I cannot find the thread I held just seconds before.
When we pull out of the station my thoughts return to that autumn. The girl on the orange banana-seated bicycle getting closer and closer and me falling further and further in love and further and further afraid that I’d have to end things with Naomi because of this perfect angelic creature on the bicycle.
And then: the almond eyes, the curve of her breast, the smile on her face. The bike stops in front of me, and Naomi says: “it’s you!” And we hug and she walks me to the Yiddish book center holding my hand as cascades of relief and joy fall down my back and stomach and legs. I will marry this woman. It will take 10 years, a break up, frustration, pain, and confusion, but I will marry this woman.
Later, long after the train pulls out of the station and long after the girl on the subway gets off at 23rd to cross over or to walk the 9 blocks, and long after I’ll walk in the door and touch Naomi’s shoulders in the way that she prefers it. She’ll look up from her work and put a hand on my hand and sigh, those almond eyes filling with familiarity and comfort. There will be thousands of subway girls but there is room for fantasy, I tell myself, there is room for drifting, if only because the furthest I have ever gone is right back to where I started.
Aaron Wolfe lives in Brooklyn where he works as a film & TV editor, musician, writer, and general trivia whiz. He is a second generation Holocaust survivor, a third generation socialist sympathizer, a four-time college drop out, and a little embarrassed about it all. He records covers and tells stories every night, and makes jokes and observations on Twitter. His band, Wolfe and the Wayside’s lives online. And you can tell him what you think about it all at firstname.lastname@example.org