After two stops on the downtown 1 train he spots a brown-haired girl getting on at 86th Street. She has skin the color of sand and is holding a battered paperback copy of Nostromo and nothing else and now he is in love with her. The car is crowded but not packed—one empty seat next to him, two empty seats across from him. She sits next to him. She smells like his second grade classroom just before Christmas holiday. He is not breathing. The car rattles as it thrusts forward. There are about two inches between the furthermost edges of their respective jeans. He wants to say something, and then thinks about how odd or sad it is that this exact collection of individuals will never again be recreated in all of time and history and then he decides to ask her a question. He might not have much time—she is probably going to transfer to the express at 72nd—of course she is—faster. He slowly turns to look at her eyes, which are currently three inches below his own, focused on the yellowed pages.
“I just finished that a few weeks ago,” he lies.
She does not respond.
The sliding of metal doors and the shuffling of wet shoes at 79th Street puncture the silence. At worst if he fails he will never see her again and the train will keep moving. Unless she is unstable and angry and decides to attack him.
“I—I just finished that—”
“I heard you the first time,” she answers. And she looks up and her eyes are the color of gunmetal and they lock with his and he does not respond. The train shakes as it burrows beneath the Upper West Side and their knees touch for a moment and he stares into her eyes for three more seconds before looking away.
He doesn't speak as the train comes to a halt at 72nd Street. The girl with the gunmetal eyes is transferring to the express train and joins the majority of the car in rushing out onto the platform, and now there are empty seats on either side of him.
He catches a glimpse of Nostromo flapping against her hip and now he can no longer see her.
He does not know that had he responded she would have answered him and then she would have realized that he did not read the book but she would have skipped her stop and stayed on the 1 all the way down to Canal Street and then she would have ripped out the corner of page 89 to write down her phone number and four years later they would get married and they would have three children and they would remain married for the rest of their lives and they would have faced a number of inconveniences along with the occasional ordeal but after eight decades at the very end of it all they would not have dared to go back and change even a detail of it but she is already on the express train and he will never see her again and now he is wondering whether he should get something to eat before or after his appointment.
About the Author: Zachery Morris is a student at Stanford Law School. This is his first published piece of fiction. Find him at zacherymorris.com.
Story Song: "Spanish Sahara" by Foals