The six-nineteen pulls into Penn Station right on
time, all in a clatter of whooshing winds and flashing lights and hot steamy
air that makes it hard to breathe. The
doors glide open and the passengers disembark, shoving past the crowd, glancing
at watches, holding cell phones to their ears as they stream as one body
towards the escalator.
Judith can spot the new ones easily enough. This one wears a cheap polyester suit,
pinstripe, the jacket folded neatly over his left arm. He’s got shiny leather shoes. Carries a leather bag that his father
probably bought for him after he graduated college with a degree in accounting
or perhaps international finance. There
are two pens—blue and black—tucked in the pocket of his dress shirt. A thin tie, baby blue, covers the line of
buttons tracking down the front of his shirt.
This one doesn’t look at his watch.
This one has stopped, dead still, in the middle of the busyness of the station. She smiles.
She enjoys the new ones. She
likes seeing people surprised by the city.
She smoothes out her quilt. Holds out her paper Starbucks cup. Shakes it to rattle her two lucky nickels that
she’d dropped in the bottom of the cup moments ago. She’s learned over the years that people
notice a cup with a few nickels more than they’ll notice one with nothing to
rattle. He approaches the stairs. She rattles her cup. She wrinkles her nose: his cologne is
Again she rattles her cup
and this time, he glances at her. His
eyes widen. He stares. She rattles the cup. And then someone jostles him out of the
moment and the crowd steers him away. As
he passes, she notices that the back of his dress shirt is wrinkled and
The years pass.
He acquires a laptop and a Blackberry.
He abandons pinstripe polyester in favor of tailored
He doesn’t ride the train for two weeks and then
suddenly reappears, a gold band adorning his ring finger.
For eight years, sits and watches him sweep
off the train and swoop up the stairs, cell phone pressed tightly to his
He no longer stops and stares. No. In
eight years, he has adopted that distance; developed that immunity that
seasoned veterans of the city exhibit.
For him, there is no wonder.
Every day he walks past her, as ignorant to her
presence as he is ignorant of the beauty of the city.
For eight years, he has walked past her. For eight years he has watched.
The ring disappears. The
Blackberry goes next. He acquires holes
in the soles of his shoes. The back of his
shirt is wrinkled and untucked. Worry
lines appear at the corners of his eyes.
One day, he steps from the six-nineteen and stands there. The crowd rushes up the stairs, jostling him
as they walk past. As she watches, tears
stream down his cheeks. She studies
He sees her watching. Yanks a hanky from his pocket and mops it
across his face. “I don’t have anywhere
to go,” he says.
She nods. She understands this.
“I’ve been laid off.”
Again, she nods.
“Outsourcing, they say.”
A third nod.
“Are you here every day?”
“I am.” She
smoothes her blanket, suddenly shy.
“My wife left me.”
“My husband did the same.” She reaches into her cup, fingers the lucky
nickels. “Took my ten year old son and
left me here in the city without a home.
Without a job. Without so much as
two nickels to rub together.”
“What did you do?”
She can tell he’s shocked by this news.
He would never, she suspects, consider himself capable of such behavior.
“Couldn’t get a job.
No one wanted to hire a girl without a diploma. I’ve spent my entire life looking for my son. Waiting for him.” She smiles at the memory. “When he went away with his daddy, he told me
he’d be back to the city to find me someday.
He said he’d take care of me.”
“Did he ever come back for you?”
“I thought I saw him once, eight years ago.” She met his eyes then. “But he just looked at me before walking
away. He was too busy for a mother back
He dabbed at his eyes again. “You’re never too busy for a mother.”
She hands him her cup. He sits on her quilt, traces the stitches
with an index finger. He gives the cup a
gentle rattle. “This place is really beautiful
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, lisa gave me this prompt: For 8 years she'd watched him and he never once noticed her. Well today he'd have no choice but to notice her. I gave Barb Black this prompt: Lake Shore Drive, 1966
Labels: Fiction, Scriptic