Dana (though I don’t know that’s her name yet) is an attractive enough girl by below the Myrtle-Wyckoff stop standards. She has hair that’s wavy and cornsilk blonde. It looks almost crimped, but it’s not. Like most respectable train riders, granted there are few, she waits in silence for the M to arrive. Maybe she’s seizing a rare moment of peaceful solitude in a city that can never seem to quiet itself, to rid its essence of the infinite commingling of energies usually negative. Or maybe she’s simply staring into a blank daze the way she might have used to in a math or science class (those are the banal subjects, no?). But New York wouldn’t be New York without an unwanted and unexpected change at any given moment. And so she is bequeathed by the universe with another platform waiter, your archetypal white terrorist-looking male. He appears to have descended from nowhere. For surely one can’t describe what he’s just done as ascension.
He finds an “organic” way to talk to her by commenting on a graffito in front of them that reads in all caps black lettering: CAN’T REACH. He remarks, “That’s kind of funny, isn’t it? Like, he could obviously reach that spot, right? It sort of doesn’t make sense.”
She laughs politely—more politely than she should—and says, “Yeah, you’re right.”
“I bet you could reach it too.”
“I don’t know…”
“Where you from?”
“A Jersey girl, huh?”
“So you in town for the weekend?”
My skin, all this time crawling, is by this point causing my hair to raise higher than a cat scared out of its wits. Everything about him disgusts me. His pandering, his overt desperation to make a human connection, to enjoy the feel of a woman, even if it’s only for an ephemeral night after he spends at least $200 on her. New York prices, you know.
“I live in the neighborhood.”
“Oh really? I’m just in from Connecticut. Actually headed to Grand Central right now. Branching out.”
She titters, possibly intuiting that this man—Jeremy, as he will inform her his name is—just wants to tell his story. And who’s a better listener than a stranger? Especially a female stranger. So she lets him continue.
“I really love it here. It’s such freedom. The town I’m in, everything closes at midnight. So I’m here basically every weekend.”
“Wow, that’s kind of a lot.”
“I know. So I’m like at that point where I gotta decide if I should move back here or not, you know. Near Jamaica, Queens.”
“Oh?” she inserts, her interest palpably waning. Maybe it’s the case that women can detect poverty when a white male tells them he lives in Jamaica.
“You know, I had saved up a lot of money, kinda started fucking around, bought a camera. I don’t know how old you are”—this is clearly his way of trying to find out—“but if you’re over twenty-one, you know all about the bar scene here. And this city can catch up to you real quick. Caught up to me. I got to the point where I was like, ‘Okay, maybe it’s time to go home.’ So I found this bullshit job and now I’m just kinda tryin’ to save up again.”
“What’s your name by the way?”
“Dana,” she ends up screaming as the train on the opposite track whips past.
“Nice to meet you,” she says, extending her hand—her unflappable aplomb (conspicuous for a girl from Jersey) persists in astonishing me. Had I been in her position, I would have bristled in disgust from the outset and walked away.
“A girl like you could be all the motivation I need to get me started here again,” and he adds a yellow-toothed grin to the end of this sudden, bold assertion.
I can detect in this very instant—the very millisecond that he finishes this sentence—that all Dana wants to do is cut and run. Finally, she’s on my wavelength. But maybe she was still too much of an ingenue to the city to pick and choose when to engage in pleasantries with random ilk. Maybe she didn’t yet comprehend that being “nice” for the sake of adhering to what you were taught as a child–the Golden Rule and all that–is what can serve to be your undoing.
She giggles nervously, Jeremy cracking the very last of her patience. How much longer can she be expected to keep up this veneer of civility? Hasn’t she already exceeded the limits of her duty as a “pretty enough” woman who must put up with these types of flirtations? Hasn’t she? To Jeremy, she has not, and her gradual diminishment of interest in talking to him, subtle though it might be, at once flips some sort of internal switch inside of himself.
As the train at last arrives to collect us, Jeremy grows emboldened and demands, “Can I have your number?”
Dana is officially repulsed, and it’s written all over the furrow of her brow. As she starts to shake her head and say, “Well, um, actually, I have a boyfr—“ Jeremy detonates a bomb that is now visibly strapped underneath his obviously thrift store-bought clothing (oversized jeans and a button-front flannel shirt).
The explosion kills Dana on contact and maims me just as I’m closing my book to get on the train. Jeremy makes a beeline for the Middle Village-bound train (there’s always a higher frequency of those coming for some reason) and escapes. The authorities will eventually catch him at Grand Central, since this is one of many pieces of information I had gathered about him during my excruciating wait. And as I hobble onto the train to ask for help, utterly calm from the stupefaction, my left foot severed clean and some of the fingers on both my hands now just stubs, I can’t stop myself from rolling my eyes and thinking about how so many of life’s inconveniences stem from the wounded pride of men. Or is it that they stem from the women who indulge these men in their short-lived delusions?