By: Daniel Goldberg
We stand together, our bodies close. I don’t know your name and you don’t know mine. Neither of us care, and why should we? In five or ten or twelve minutes we’ll be out of each other’s lives, you a little poorer. The people around us don’t care to look at us either. They, like you, are simply on their way home from work, just taking the train, like you. I like the A-Train because it rocks more, juts more, and stops short more. It gives me the chance to get to know your life. I take your things -my dinner -from your pockets. Pockets lined with fur. Pockets full of sand and lint. My hands are gentle and swift. They wait for the short stop, the jerking of our bodies forward and then they’re in. I’m in your life, for a moment. I feel the small note that you left for yourself: “dentist aptmnt on wed at 7 ” or “call Erin.” I poke myself on the toothpick from your steak lunch, and I try hard not to jingle the six keys on the key ring, which opens the door to your warm home where your loving and anxious wife is already cancelling your credit cards. Don’t worry I’m not stupid. I take cash only and the pictures. But it’s not about the money or even the pictures. Usually I don’t find either. You have two or four or six pockets and I get just one shot to guess where you keep what I need. I don’t take phones. I have no use for phones. Usually, I get nothing, nothing except the warmth, of course. And it is all about the warmth. Not just the body warmth that accumulates in your silk pockets but the warmth of the stuff that makes you, you, the warmth of the million things that make you not me. The warmth of your life that burns and kindles the every step that you take: to and from work, to and from church and your son’s baseball game. I can feel it. You carry it all day and everywhere. Even when you have no pockets to carry it, you carry it. And when my hand rides ever so slowly into the pocket of your life I can feel it and know you’re alive and know it deeper than anyone else on the train and I love that, and for that pained moment I feel the ecstasy that pulses through wrong, through vice, and through hurt. When I pull out, even with my next five meals secured, I’m always disappointed. I’ve been in your life and you have no clue, you never will. I feel cheap. I feel used up. Maybe someday, next to my dead or decaying body, wrapped in the denim jacket I always knew would become my burial shroud, you will find this hopeful letter and that will have some value to someone, maybe. People have terms for what I am, but when you look at me you can’t tell any of that. You pretend not to see me at all. But you do. You see me. I know you see me. You must see me because we hold each other’s glance a little longer than we should. I never shy away from these exchanges even though I suppose they could get me into trouble. Now your eyes are towards the windows watching the graffitied subway walls, wondering how anyone could have stood there to spray them, or why anyone would want to, or whether you remembered to bring home all three pieces of Tupperware from the office. Your wife always nags you to bring home the Tupperware. Your mind drifts between whole thoughts and the violate green hum of thoughtlessness. Your thoughts are wholesome and flat, not robust thoughts, they are fresh and real, mundane and good. You never considered re-smoking a found cigarette. You’ve only smoked once in your life: hated it. I smile condescendingly but for no good reason. My life is no realer than yours; it’s just real different. Different real. Badder real, I guess. I finally get the jerking stop I need, and everything happens in slow motion. Every head on the train bobbles in unison with a choreographed perfection that can only be achieved unknowingly. I see it. No one else ever does. My right hand rises to the level of your pocket. My body is flung up against yours. My index and middle fingers extend down into your left pant pocket. I clasp your frayed leather wallet, and then I linger just long enough to learn that you never leave home without telling your wife you love her, ever, and that your son inherited your terrible eyesight. Then as our bodies pull back into our initial positions, I slide your personal pocket shrine into my life. Your eyes quickly turn to mine as your eyebrows tighten to make a crescent in the center or your face. Your thick and unmuscular left hand slowly rises to feel the lump in your pocket. Only there is none. You nervously check your right pocket, then your butt pockets, then your jacket pockets: nothing. Only one other pair of pockets to check: mine. You know I robbed you, but not the kind of knowing that you act on, or, at least not the kind of knowing that you act on. After all, maybe you dropped it, or left it at work. Then again you felt something, and I do look desperate, with sad, wide eyes carrying the mark of a hundred nights sobbed to sleep on a damp concrete floor. But you still don’t know. I don’t cower from your indignant stare. With shaky hesitation you ask me “have you seen my wallet,” which you immediately regret asking. What a terrible way to approach the situation Thomas H. Fenton of 434 Truman Road, Riverdale New York. So terribly weak. I don’t even respond. If you think I took your stuff, say it like a man Thomas H! How are you going to tell your wife, Caroline M. Sloan-Fenton, about this? Say something! The conductor’s muffled voice announces 181st street, the train slows and the doors open. Goodbye Thomas H. I miss you already.