This is It? I Can Start Now?
She wore a baseball cap pulled down to her dark blue oval glasses, an old duffel coat worn at the cuffs but otherwise in good shape and jeans. She loved her coat. She felt that with a wee bit of help her coat was willing to last another 10 years. The jeans were because it was Friday. Casual Day. Monday through Thursday she wore a skirt and a sweater and Dorothy shoes. But Friday was Casual Day.
When she first asked, the smallest of gleams in her eye, about Casual Day she was told: “No shirts with slogan on them”.
“I don’t own any shirts with slogans on them”, she replied, confused and wondering if she should be indignant.
“No ripped jeans”, they told her.
“Oh. OK.” Nod. Nod.
On the Street she preferred to observe the world beneath the brim of her hat and through the patina of her dark blue glasses. She’d tried to get her glasses dyed an even deeper blue but the eye guy wouldn’t let her.
“You’d block out just about everything then,” he’d told her.
“Yeah!” She turned her head from looking at the lenses of the glasses lying on the table and looked up and into the eyes of the eye guy, “Yeah!”
The eye guy shook his head no. “No?”
She made sure.
Consciously fettered, the view beneath the brim of her hat down through the dark tower lens of her glasses was narrow and the color slightly off, but she felt it helped focus the Street reality. On her feet were sneakers, or what might have been called sneakers in another past. Stamped on the bottom in the middle of the shoe the brand name of the sneakers was Simple. Stamped on the bottom in mirror writing at the toe was the word Forward and in mirror writing at the heel the word Reverse.
“Look at this. Look”, she urged her Companion, her Buddy, when she first noticed the writing on her shoes. “Look!”
She was riding the Skytrain working really hard at minding as little business as possible. It was six o’clock in the morning. Not many people on the Skytrain. Not many people up to much anywhere. It was a couple of days before Christmas and lots had fled town with a good excuse. Her baseball cap was pulled down right to the top of her dark glasses and she was slouched in her favorite seat resting, tired first thing in the morning, watching the billboards and the buildings and the trees and the mountains and the blue blue sky go by. Wish’n.
Wishing she could fly to the top of the blue mountain off in the distance over there. Wishing she hadn’t gone to work today. Wishing she wasn’t so tired. Wishing Christmas would come and wishing Christmas was over. Looking out and something wishing and sometimes admiring and from time to time watching people. Passing time. Staring at her shoes. Passing more time.
“Please pass me some time?”
“Certainly”, the white rabbit might say.
“Can you give me change for twenty bucks”, he asked?
She looked up and over to the seat across from her on the Skytrain.
“Got change for twenty bucks?”
There were two men side by side across from her. Behind them were the billboards and the mountains and the buildings and the blue sky. The one talking to her was dark, not a big man but not small either. Maybe 35. Maybe 40. Not rich. Not poor. Maybe he had a good union job? His companion was probably quite a bit older, although he had the look of having lived hard and that makes it difficult to tell. He had the air of a street person who’d had a few good turns. His eyes were wide open and bright. His hair was tucked back behind his ears. Not long hair. Just maybe scruffy like usually his hair wasn’t tucked back behind his ears. He wore a baseball cap too. They were both neat and clean. No alarm bells rang in her head.
“No”, she shook her head. “Sorry I don’t.”
The man shrugged. Something in the shrug. Something in the look in his face.
“I know I don’t have change”, she said. “I got a twenty this morning.”
Something in the look in his face.
“It’s all I’ve got. I know I don’t have change. Sorry.”
“It’s OK”, he said. Magnanimous. “I was going to give you five bucks if you had the change. It’s Chanukah.”
She raised her eye brow slightly and said, “You’re Jewish?”
“Yeah. That OK with you?”
Outside the billboards were rushing past shouting at the people inside the train. Shopping is good. Shopping is good. Like children, they demanded to be noticed. The Skytrain was under the ground. If she had looked a little further she would have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. She didn’t.
“My Mom just died.”
Instead she was drawn back to the man talking to her, and his Buddy.
“I’m going to Vegas for Christmas,” he said and then laughed. Wonderment. “I’ve just come from sitting with her.” Desolation. “I’m going to Vegas.” He gestured to his Buddy. “We’re going to Vegas.”
Two more stops to Terminal Station. The bus station and the train station were there. Not the airport. The man and his Buddy, they didn’t have luggage. The woman watched, confused even through the narrow scope she permitted herself. Blat. Vegas and Mom’s. Blat. Chanukah and death. Blat. Shopping is good. Shopping is good.
“I just left from sitting with her”, the man in the Skytrain repeated. “My Mom, you know”, he said.
“Not your fault. My Buddy and I we’re going to Vegas.” The man sat taller. “Going down for Christmas. I was gonna give you five bucks if you had change for the twenty.”
He looked her over. Measured the baseball cap and the dark glasses. Couldn’t see the writing on her shoes though and pulled out a sandwich of bills, U.S. green. Using his thumb he did a quick rat, tat, tat through the bundle of money. “I’d give anything, you know”, he continued saying, “if I could just go back and my Mom’d be there.”
She knew she was being offered something. Something to do with the money. She looked down at her shoes and back at the man and shook her head.
“Makes you wonder huh?” the man said shoving the rolls of bills back into his pocket. “What’s the point?”
Her brother had died too only a few short days before. She had not talked very much with her brother over the several years since childhood and his death. She had not talked very much with her brother over the several years during their childhood together. They had visited maybe five times over the 20 years between childhood and when the phone calls came to advise her that her brother was in a coma.
“Why”, she asked dazed? “What happened?”
Her brother, the people on the telephone told her, had the flu. Instead of the flu going to his stomach or his lungs the flu went to his brain stem.
He’d been sick for several weeks. He’d had a bad cold that just wouldn’t go away and then at work in the middle of a meeting he’d collapsed. The coma lasted for several weeks.
“It’s the soap opera-ness of it all”, she told those on the phone. “It’s just the stupid senseless soap opera-ness of it all. I’m tired”, she said.
Everyone understood. Nobody had answers. “I’m sorry”, they said. She’d even gone to visit. That made it maybe six times over the twenty years since childhood. She gathered all her strengths around her and then traveled and then talked person to person to her brother lying in a hospital bed, his hair combed neatly, dressed in a white gown, still as death, deep in a coma.
“I’m scared too”, she told her brother. “That’s no excuse. Come home. Come home.”
Later they phoned her, after she’d returned to her own home. Told her he was talking. Slow and hard but talking. Told her he was listening to the radio and watching TV. She thought about watching the nurse abusing her brother’s knuckles with a pen. Rolling the pen hard. Making pain that wasn’t felt. She asked if she could talk to her brother on the telephone but that was not possible.
“No”, they simply said. “No. Come here if you want to talk to him.”
Then he died. One last phone call.
“Oh, I wasn’t saying sorry like it was my fault”, she said to the man across the sky train from her. The billboards, the mountains, the buildings, the other people on the train, early morning, tired, going to work, her brother just died too a few days ago. “I was just…” she ducked her head and looked up under the protection of the brim of her cap and down through the dark passage way of her blue glasses and smiled, “I was just saying sorry, you know, for the way things are sometimes. I don’t know. I don’t have answers for these things. It’s just the deal.”
The man’s companion nudged him with his elbow and laughed. The man gave him an annoyed look and then turned to her gesturing to his friend, “This guy here, he’s my Buddy.”
“Everyone needs a Buddy”, she said.
The Buddy nodded and laughed again showing gaps in his teeth. “Yeah, he’s my Buddy”, the man said shaking his head again. “He makes me mad sometimes though.” The smile from the laughter disappeared immediately from the Buddy’s face as the man pointed down to his friend’s shoes. “His shoes are gone!” He shook his head in disgust. “I bought him new shoes the other day and now he tells me they were stolen.”
The Buddy’s face is properly grave, head bent to his lap, hands folded neatly, eyes darting between the woman wearing the shoes that say Simple and his Chanukah friend.
“I’m on my way to work”, the woman thought. “I’m on my way to work. Six oh three in the morning, my brother died too a few days ago.”
More billboards, more buildings, more mountains, more blue sky. Blue sky even before the sun comes up courtesy of blue lensed glass. Gawd bless the 21st Century.
“Focus”, the woman thought.
The train stopped. The doors slid open. The woman, the man on his way to Vegas, his Buddy, they all looked towards the door. No one got on. No one got off. The doors closed. Next stop Terminal.
“Focus”, she thought.
“I’m going to Vegas. Twenty bucks. Chanukah. My Mom just died. I just come from sitting with her. My Buddy, he lost his shoes last night.”
She looked at the Buddy’s shoes. They were cheap runners. Twenty-five bucks, maybe eighteen at a discount store. They did not say Simple on the bottom. They did not have mirror writing carved into the sole that said Forward and Reverse. The Buddy looked sheepish and she knew the Buddy had sold his shoes when his friend had gone to sit with his mother. Knew the Buddy was taking care best way he knew how. Doing what he could to make sure he’d get home.
Six oh five in the morning. She shrugged. The man who had just come from sitting Shiva with his Mom reached inside his jacket and pulled out dark aviator sunglasses. Gesturing his head to her dark blue glasses, he flipped the arms open and put them on. Six oh five and a half in the morning. Late December.
“I’m an x-ray technician you know”, he told her. “It’s ruined my eyes.”
Again she shrugged and watched the Buddy perking up. Off the hook.
Buildings and mountains gone. Billboards only now. Shopping is good. Shopping is good. The doors opened. The man twisted his head, checking the stop and then got up, his Buddy right there behind him.
“Give me your address”, the man said. “If I make it big in Vegas I’ll send you some money.”
She laughed thinking about the bottom of her shoes.
Gesturing with his hands, the man pantomimed writing down her address on a note pad, all the while continuing his walk towards the skytrain door. Five steps, maybe six, his Buddy right there.
“I’m OK”, she said. “I’m here. Sorry about your Mom.”
They walked through the doors in lock step, the man and his Buddy. The doors closed. They didn’t look back. The train moved on.
Six oh six and a quarter in the morning. Shopping is good. Shopping is good. Mountains and buildings and people and a blue blue sky. Trees and the skytrain and a Jewish x-ray technician and his Chanukah Buddy off to Vegas for Christmas.
The train moved on.
She looked at her shoes.