NOTE: I hereby grant permission for all archiving and other uses of this work, public or private, free or paid, in any format whether existing now or to be invented in the future, so long as a copy of this note and credit to "theGreatxIam" is given and no alteration is made to the body of the work. Copyright 2002, theGreatxIam
I was 25 when I got married. A virgin. For 15 years, I never strayed. Not once. Why would I? I loved my wife. She wasn't a classic beauty. We argued sometimes. But she was there for me whenever I needed her. In good times and in bad, just like the minister said. We survived the early years together, the sadness when the doctors said we could never have children. But we shared the joy, too: the vacations out on the coast, that little cabin on the lake.
I tell you this so maybe you'll understand how heartbroken I was when the news came: My wife had inoperable cancer. It was a few months that seemed like seconds and she was gone. "Until death do you part," as the minister said.
I was without solace. Oh, work filled up my days, but the nights stretched on forever. Especially on weekends, when sleep wouldn't come.
I tried reading books or watching TV, but I'd look around the house and break into tears when I saw something that reminded me of her. I had to get out, at least for a little while. But where? I'm a shy person. I wanted someplace where no one would talk to me. I would not bare my soul to strangers, just as I had never bared my body -- gosh, even through all the years of my marriage I don't think my wife ever saw my body completely uncovered; I always put the lights off first.
A movie theater? Much too expensive these days. Walks in the park? Too dangerous.
I began to ride the subways. One token and you can ride all night, and in our city, as long as you look awake and healthy you're fairly safe on the trains; the muggers have plenty of other choices.
So I rode every Friday and Saturday, into the night. In the early evenings it was its own form of torture, trains filled with people rushing to or from parties or whatever. The couples were the worst, smiling and giggling in the corners, reminding me.
I brought books and used them as shields. Mark Twain would keep me preoccupied until the crowds had gone and it was just me and the night and the empty tunnels of the subway.
Until that night.
It was a Saturday. I got a seat next to the door and tried to hide behind my book, but the noise of the crowd sometimes distracted me; snatches of conversations, laughter. I looked up once and saw a young couple kissing as they boarded, and I'm afraid I cried a little.
As my eyes slid back to my book, I saw to my embarrassment that someone had noticed me.
She was about 20, I'd guess. Tall, or at least taller than me. A long oval face framed by a savage sweep of streaked blonde hair that clung tightly to the sides of head and then swept away just as it reached her shoulders. A black leather jacket and tight black leather pants over a dancer's body; strappy, shiny red high heels.
She was looking right at me as I cried, sky blue eyes piercing me. I was paralyzed for a second. She smiled, bright white teeth glittering between glistening red lips. I essayed a thin faltering smile in return, out of habit more than anything else, and went back to the safety of my book.
I got a couple of teardrops on page 218 of "Innocents Abroad," one of my favorites.
I was so shaken by the relatively trivial contact I'd had that I didn't look up from the pages for some time. I know it sounds silly, but, as I said, I'm shy. My wife and I met at a church function. It was actually sort of an arranged thing; the pastor knew her well and me slightly and put us together. Lord knows it took me long enough to figure out what was going on and actually ask her out on a date. I did make the actual proposal of marriage eventually, but she was the driver. Not in a harsh way, I mean; just that she was the one who got us out of the house, the one who kept up our friendships. On my own, I'd have done none of that. As my behavior since her passing showed, I guess.
I thought about this and other things as we rode; I'd read the book so many times before that my attention could wander freely and come back easily to where I'd left off.
When at last I looked up again, I was surprised. The train was emptier now, new faces. But that woman was still there, still sitting across from me. Still looking at me.
I may have blushed a little. But that's all I did.
I returned to my book, but every so often I'd keep peeking above it. Still there. The train ran to the end of the line and back twice. It was empty now except for her and me. Likely to remain that way, I knew, as it pulled its way through the wee hours. What was her story?
The only clue I could find in my furtive glances was a small white circle on the ring finger of her left hand, a circle about the size of the gold and diamond ring she now wore on her right hand, nervously twisting it every so often. A broken romance? A loss of her own? I could only guess; I'd never ask.
Back to my book, but now I heard movement. As I looked up, the woman was standing in the middle of the train, long legs spread across the aisle. She stood just behind the metal pole that ran floor to ceiling to give standees something to cling to.
And then she clung to it. In what looked like a move she'd practiced, the woman threw her right leg around the pole and launched herself high with her left as her arms encircled it. She reached almost the roof of the train as her blonde hair flung out around her. A moment's hesitation at the top, and then she spiraled down the pole, arms and legs curled around it.
Her eyes, as they flashed across me, seemed slightly glassy. She stared off into space and went through what appeared to be a routine. I was mesmerized.
A long leg would be raised until almost perpendicular with the floor, then slid back and forth across the pole like a bow on a violin. Then raised impossibly higher, heel hooked around the pole as she spun around it.
She leaped like a gazelle and grabbed the pole at the very top. Both legs pointed straight out, she spun down slowly, bending her knees as she did and ending in a squat, the pole between her legs.
I experienced feelings I hadn't had since... since my wife passed. Feelings I had never expected to know again, had in some sense never wanted again.
Rising from the floor, she kept the pole tight against her. She caught my eye and seemed to snap out of her daze.
As her left leg snaked around the pole now, she reached back and removed her jacket. Leaning far back, she swung around the pole holding it out behind her so it brushed against my legs.
She let it slide to the floor and unbuttoned her red silk blouse. One button at a time, slowly, now looking right into my eyes.