I take the uptown 1 train from 72nd toward Spanish music I don’t understand that will herald me back to a home I’m not sure I belong in. It’s late spring so the subway is as hot as the summers Harper Lee wrote about when skin sticks to itself. I manage to find a seat on the train among the regiments of shopping bags and head-hung-low-workers on the way home to wives, husbands, kids, or else just no one. I am one of them and I shut my eyes for no reason — no rest comes when you are rattling along between the thighs of others in a train pulsing with exhaustion akin to yours.
I am a weary traveler and I have read all these signs before and I know where I’m going and how long it takes so I don’t need to pay attention to the announcements. And I am in no mood to feel empathy for the dull and languid looks of others. If anything, their drooping and sweating faces anger me and I’m in no mood. I will only be convinced that they are all useless.
So my eyes pass along the endless trains of the faithless, as Whitman would say (Whitman would also see much more beauty in these commuters than I do but I am not a good man like Whitman), and they settle on a beautiful girl briefly. Then they pass on and I stare back at the ground with her image in my head: she had red hair and had headphones on and was leaning on a piece of wicker furniture. She was not exhausted in the slovenly way of the herds around us, but in a beautiful way. Her hair was tied back and her shirt was a bit wrinkled but her arms fell over the wicker nightstand just so. A man can excuse a thousand million sins committed by a beautiful woman and justify it each time.
That’s all. I glance at her only one more time but don’t do anything else but wait for the train to bring me home and my mind wanders away from me.
I imagine that we get off at the same subway stop and I imagine that she looks as out of place as I do, red-headed and pale all the same. I imagine she struggles with the wicker nightstand. I imagine that I approach her and say in my awkward way (because I don’t know how to approach women): “That looks heavy. Do you need help?”
I imagine she’ll say yes but not really look at me because even in my fantasies I can’t imagine the affection of another with any ease.
So I imagine carrying the wicker up the steps in the steaming humidity of the subway. I imagine walking it over to the station elevator and imagine setting it down beside her. I imagine asking — “so what’s this for?” and she’ll say “the living room” and I’ll introduce myself and she’ll say her name’s Clara. I don’t know why Clara but it’s the first name I think of as the train rattles on toward 181st street.
I imagine saying something funny as we wait or ride in the elevator — something that actually makes her laugh and actually makes her look at me. I imagine brief eye contact. I imagine helping her with the wicker nightstand up to street level. I imagine lingering awkwardly, but I imagine her doing the same. I imagine trading numbers. I imagine considering calling her. I imagine never calling her, but I also imagine marrying her.
But the train stops at 181st and I get up and walk off the train and look at the train and Clara is still leaning against the wicker, exhausted, and I will never see her again and that’s the end of this story.