It’s midnight and I find myself sitting alone in the last car of the last train of the night, the wheels clickety-clacking beneath my legs as the subway train bears down on the final leg of its journey from downtown to the suburbs, where I live.
My car’s been empty for the past five stations. The last passenger before me, an old man hobbling on a cane, threw me a look that plainly suspected that I was up to no good before alighting to go god-knows-where. It’s totally unfair. I’m no thug. I’m just a simple man, trying to make my way in the universe.
As it happens, the universe isn’t being too kind to me right now. My latest effort’s been rejected by the record label and my guitar needs new strings (which I can’t afford).
I’m glad for the peace and quiet. There are times when I crave company, when I like the hustle and bustle that comes from someone sitting next to me and keeping me busy, but tonight is not one of those times.
I’m about to lean back on the wall and close my eyes for a few seconds when the train crawls to a stop, the familiar bell chimes and the cheerful announcer comes over the intercom to announce that THE DOORS ARE OPENING TO YOUR RIGHT, PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP AS YOU EXIT THE TRAIN…
The doors whoosh open and I hear the click of heels on the floor of the train.
Mildly interested as to what forlorn soul could be boarding the train at this time of night, I glance at the reflection of the doorway in the window opposite where I’m sitting. I can see my haggard reflection – the purple bags, the unwashed jacket, the unkempt hair, all of it – but that’s not what catches my attention.
What catches my attention is the person that just walked through the door.
For a split second, she’s just another random woman.
Then I see it.
It’s definitely her.
I can tell, just from the way her shadow hesitates.
The past three years rush through my head. The apartment. Boxes of chocolate for special days. Nightgowns in the morning. Heated nights with the windows open.
Unwashed dishes. Discarded cans. Locked doors. Heated arguments with the windows closed.
Finally, the slam of the door.
The past three years resolve themselves in front of my eyes and gradually fade away to the woman that now seems to have made up her mind and sits down on the other end of the compartment.
The train resumes its steady beat underneath my feet. Clickety-clack, it goes. On and on and on.
For a few minutes, silence fills the void between us, just like it had before.
“You haven’t changed much.”
Her voice hasn’t changed much, either. Still the same, soft stiletto. The same way it undulates through the vowels, the same way it curves the r’s and draws out the ch’s.
Her wavy hair’s stayed the same, too. So has her eyes. Still as brown as well-aged oak and as deep as the Pacific Ocean.
Out loud, I say: “Neither have you.”
She brushes her hair past her shoulder – an old habit of hers whenever she feels stressed.
“What are you doing here this late at night?” She asks. It’s a loaded question. I’m a failure. That’s why she left. That’s why she won’t come back.
“A meeting with my label.”
She pouts her lips in the way she always does when she’s slightly surprised.
“And how did that go?”
She laughs. That’s stayed the same too, although I can’t really tell because it’s been really a long time since I’ve heard her laugh.
“How about you?”
She hesitates from answering, and I know it’s because it has the potential to embarrass her.
“I’m coming back from a meeting with my publisher.” She finally says.
I’m not surprised. She’s always been into writing. And it’s just like her to keep pushing on with it.
Unlike a certain someone else, who gives up at the first sign of danger and switches to something different. Someone who can never keep something together, someone who never realizes what good things are until he loses them.
“How did that go?”
There’s a certain wryness to her voice as she answers: “Not well.”
Silence descends between us again, but this time it’s because of something else.
Silence because I honestly don’t know what to say. Silence because there’s so much I want to say but I know she wouldn’t want to hear it.
Silence because that’s the best way to go.
The subway train whines to a stop again. The chime rings. The cheerful announcer wishes you’ll have a pleasant day.
I realize it’s my stop.
“I have to get off now.”
She doesn’t respond. I didn’t expect her to.
The door slides open, and I step outside without a second glance. Why should there be? There’s nothing between us anymore, nothing to warrant any sort of regret whatsoever. Nothing at all.
As the doors close and the train sounds its whistle and slowly begins to move, I look down from the escalator. I can see her leaning against the window, facing the platform.
Maybe it’s just my imagination, but she seems to be waving. I look closer.
She’s just taking something out of her purse.
The stone wall descends between me and the platform and I direct my gaze upwards, into the night above me.