Who Am I Now?

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He was thinking about that rickety set of wooden stairs going up the side of the house. Rickety house. Rickety love. Then the train banked at speed and Bill listed sideways into a much bigger, dark-skinned man sitting a space away. The man hardly budged. Bill was sure he was the only one in the entire car who swayed as far as the train. He mumbled a garbled apology and righted himself again, thumbing his glasses back at the top of his nose. The man nodded without looking. Diagonally across the car was a blonde in a black business suit and stockings. Heels up to wherever heels go. They made the muscles in her calves look hard and sleek. Bill looked at her without turning his head, hoping she hadn’t seen him fall over, wishing he could rub his cheek over her stockings. With her legs inside them. She was thumb typing on the face of her phone. He was sure she hadn’t seen him fall. Sure she hadn’t seen him come, go or exist in between. Fine. He could look at her from there within the dark shadow of his own nothingness and watch lifetimes of passionate happiness spiral out from the aura surrounding her fine, corn silk hair. Fine. She was the type who belonged in a taxi instead of the subway. The train squealed into the next stop and Bill grabbed the seat before he listed into the guy sitting next to him again. A blustery pair of street toughs got on with a few more late commuters. They grabbed a pole and rode standing up even though there were plenty of empty seats. Bill looked at the floor. Then he set his eyes on the blonde’s legs and heels again. Sitting down, her skirt rode high. He wondered what her skin would smell like through her nylons. He wondered if she had a spectacular yet lonely heart, and if she were going home to lie in alone in a hot bath with a glass of wine nearby while she daydreamed of being loved by a man with a perfect soul. But no. Dreams were just those flashes of bright color in the tiny spaces between days and nights of riding back and forth from one mediocre world to another. There was home. There was the office. They might as well have been the same place, except for having to lead a different life in each one. For having to be a different person. Different… No. Nothing was different. He was the same old car parked in a different garage. Running on fumes. Then there were Thursdays and Penelope. Rickety stairs. Rickety house. Rickety love. Never once on a Tuesday. Or a Sunday. Thursday was their routine. It was dependable. Easy. They never went out, as Penelope always complained about her body and not feeling right in the kind of clothes a woman had to wear to go someplace with a man. Bill never minded sitting on the couch holding hands, eating popcorn out of the same bowl, watching romances on Netflix. One of the street toughs started flirting with the blonde. One way all the way. Not getting a response, he finally grabbed the crotch of his baggy jeans and said something about the way his dick was going to blow her emotional circuit board and pop her lights out. His friend laughed like the one, hysterical sounding gut laugh that always stands out in a sitcom laugh track. Bill cringed. He wanted to stand up and grab the maladjusted little fuck by the scruff of the neck and smack his empty skull against the pole until he understood concept of manners. No. He wanted bursa escort to get off the train and walk up Penelope’s rickety stairs without anything happening that anyone would remember longer than a few seconds. He wanted to disseminate molecules and slip through the cracks in the doors and windows into the dank air the subway tunnel. The blonde rolled her eyes without letting them land on the rudeboys. She pulled a canister of pepper spray out of her purse and clutched it while she went on thumbing texts with one hand. “Awww, baby, don’t be like that,” the alpha poodle crooned. “Yeah. Don’t be like that,” his poodle shadow refrained. The train started to bank and slow down. The next stop was less than a bad moment away. The toughs started to move toward the door. Bill looked back down at the floor, but it was too late. They caught him looking. Big sneakers crowed his peripheral vision, but he kept looking down. He wasn’t in this. He was going to see Penelope. They were going to do things together that had nothing to do with anything else. With none of this. Suddenly, one of the toughs yelled “BOO!” next to Bill’s ear and he flinched. Hard. Hitting the back of his head on the window behind him. The rudeboys stood there laughing while the train pulled into its stop. The bigger guy he’d fallen against before glanced at them like something he’d just as soon wipe off the bottom of his shoe. He didn’t look at Bill. Neither did the blonde. A few commuters looked over and watched the idiots laugh. They were practically their own, entire laugh track by now. Bill’s pulse was racing and his ears felt like they were on fire. The train felt like it was taking all week to come to a stop, but it finally did. The rudeboys were still laughing when they got off. There were two more stops to Penelope’s neighborhood. Bill grabbed the pole he was sitting beside and held on. He wasn’t going to list again. He didn’t look at the dark skinned man and he didn’t look at the blonde. There was only his reflection in the window on the other side of train, and a cold, cement wall blasting by behind the veil of his face. The house where Penelope lived was a ten minute walk from the subway stop. The neighborhood didn’t look like the city anymore, even though technically it was. When Bill came up the stairs onto the sidewalk, he set his briefcase down and zipped his coat up to his neck. It was almost cold enough to snow, but that meant the streets would be mercifully quiet. He picked up his brief case and jammed his balled up left fist into his coat pocket. The part inside him that felt scraped out tonight felt raw enough he didn’t know how he could look at Penelope. The last thing he could do was tell her the only thing he could really think or feel or believe right now: baby, I just fell off a shelf and broke all apart and I need you…jesus, fuck, baby I need you…to heal me all back up with your sweet little pudgy hands and those lips outta paradise. It would almost be better to turn around, get back on the train and go home. But it was Thursday. Their day. Everything would feel out of place, and if he got back on the train now it would only feel like he never got off. At least if he waited until morning, as usual, it would feel like the scene of somebody else’s crime. The Pentecostal church on the bursa escort bayan corner of Elmhurst and Woodlawn was lit up and bursting with sound. It was usually quiet on Thursdays, but tonight it was full of aching believers. As he passed by the front, Bill caught a flash of a man’s voice singing something about not letting the devil drive your car. Sure, I ride the fuckin’ subway, he thought. But the sound was strong even as it was slightly muffled by the church walls and it felt like the man’s voice was penetrating his blood. Bill walked up the steps and found a clear spot in the stained glass window where he could peer inside. There was a full band spread across the front of the pulpit, and the singer was standing in front of them. The man was huge, wearing a mustard yellow suit that draped him like a boat sail. He was sweating with the strain of conviction, eyes closed and gripping a wireless mic. He had to be close to three hundred pounds and was using his body to help push out the words, as if maybe he could fire them closer to god that way. The pews were packed full of people. Heads were bobbing, leaning back, dropping forward. Hands were raised in the air. An ancient woman with a midnight dark complexion in a turquoise dress was on her feet, leaning on a walker and singing along. Bill turned away and sat on the steps. Listening. Except for the icy cement against his ass, he almost felt warm. He almost wanted to go inside, but he couldn’t. He would cease being a ghost. And anyway, there was no devil. Just a thousand tiny little ones that chip away at whatever they can reach in a thousand tiny little ways. Erosion. The devil wasn’t some monster car crash. It was one day after another of the kind of soul-sucking mediocrity you never see coming. He sat and listened until an elegantly dressed couple was suddenly there, walking up the steps. He got up and headed for the sidewalk, giving them a nod as they passed. They called at him to come inside, but he just waved without looking back. It would have been too much like getting back on the subway. A couple blocks down he spotted the orange and silver chimi truck that was always parked for business on the other side of the street. For the first time in three years of Thursdays, Bill crossed the street and decided to see the truck from the other side. There were a couple of people at the window ordering something in Spanish. There was a squat, almost stocky man standing up inside the truck looking bored as he turned to fill whatever the pair had just ordered. Bill read the menu. He didn’t know what most of it meant, but the smell of the food was getting to him. After the couple in front of him took their order away, he stepped up to the window and asked for papitas, not knowing exactly what they were. Two or three more people gathered behind him while he waited. He ended up with a brown paper bag full of French fries. They had some kind of red powder on them, and he hoped they wouldn’t be too spicy. There was a bench only a couple of yards away from the truck on a diagonal from the window. He set his briefcase down and sat to eat his fries. They were only a little spicy. His fingers got salty and a little bit greasy, but the fries were hot and good. Two men and a woman stepped up to the truck. They were laughing escort bursa and speaking rapid fire Spanish. They even got the man in the truck to crack a slight smile. The men were both robust and a little bit paunchy. The woman’s ass looked too big for the rest of her body. It was packed into jeans tight as paint. Bill wondered what it would be like to sidle up behind her and press his body against her ass, touch her shoulder, pull her raven with henna streaked hair away from her neck and be able to tell her things in Spanish that would make her soften and lean back against him. He kept eating his papitas, every so often wiping his fingers on his pants. He wondered how long any of the people standing beside the truck had been here. Even in the cold, they seemed more at home than he felt. One of the men casually touched the woman’s ass while they waited for their order. Looking away, he laid his attention into his bag of papitas. He knew he wasn’t going to finish them, but they were good and he’d already decided to come back and get some more when he came this way again next Thursday. Maybe he’d try those cut up bananas that looked like they had some kind of syrup on them. Getting up from the bench, Bill took the chance of scanning the woman’s ass again as he tossed his half eaten bag of papitas in the trash barrel. The man’s hand was still cupping her extravagant cheek. Penelope had an ass like that, but she wouldn’t be caught dead in anything that tight. He found himself wishing they were the couple standing in front of the window of the truck, waiting for their order with his hand on her back pocket, but she’d probably have a heart attack if he ever touched her ass in front of anyone. Perfectly at home. On the street. In their skin. Bill kept going. He felt the distance between himself and the subway increasing. The church. The singer and the lady with a walker. The chimi truck. The woman with the ass too big for the rest of her. As he drew closer to Penelope’s, he wondered how many more years of his life he would live as a ghost before his time came to become some other kind of ghost. He wondered if sometime he’d even start to like feeling scraped out all the time. Two blocks out from Penelope, he began to feel her scent already in his nostrils. She’d be wearing sweatpants and an overshirt that would cover the exaggerated body she claimed to hate living in. Her hair would have that rosy scent of the same shampoo she’d been using since they met. At the foot of her steps, Bill stopped and wondered what she’d do if he didn’t show up. What if he waited until Saturday? Next Tuesday. What if he weren’t there for their traditional Thursday snuggle on her threadbare couch eating popcorn and watching some chick flick that always seemed worse than the one they’d watched the week before. Then, under the covers in her bedroom. Pale glow of the streetlights from the odd angle of her window. Table scraps of illumination as he saddled his tautly slender body into the space between her full, rolling thighs and…. What would either of them do? In the span of moments it took Bill to climb her stairs, he realized she’d feel as disoriented and lost as he would. His heart started pumping like a fist opening and closing. He suddenly felt as if he were absorbing everything, as if the smarmy little subway toughs had jumped inside him…the big, dark man he’d fallen into…the singer in the church…the man with his hand on the woman with the monolithic ass. By the time he reached the top of those rickety stairs, some kind of quiet, indefinable rage had started to blossom inside him.

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