A man with more spaces between than teeth enters our car. His pack is black and strong, worn in the places it’s spent nights on pavement.
The two tones sound; this line is not fancy enough for the new cars that direct us — in the most un-New York voice ever — to, “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.”
“We’re all going to pray together!” His shout makes everyone on the train tighten.
We’re all going to die. He doesn’t pull a gun, though. He doesn’t even pull a knife. What he does pull out is a tattered Bible. He begins to read.
My second thought sounds like the me I keep away from this boy. This boy who positioned himself in such a way as to let me know he’d protect me. He has already relaxed back into the half slumber the rocking train always brings. I keep my mouth shut.
It is too late to deal with death or God. My evening has left me tired and counting the stops to Ave M. I’m looking forward to the walk through the crisp air, waking me up. By the time we walk the three blocks I’ll be ready to crack a bottle of wine and let the rest of our night unfold. This is the part of the night I like best: the anticipation of being alone. Alone where the attraction between us is clear. And primal.
My curated facade, the one I hope will make this boy finally call our weekends together a relationship, cracks. “Shut up,” my sleepy voice whines, weaving itself into woolen peacoat shoulder. Suddenly, the man is going to save my soul.
“You have evil in you,” he hisses, his eyes are made into slits to match.
Did my mother send him? She is not pleased with me although she has not said it outright. But early one Saturday she heard this boy — who I want to be my boyfriend (but isn’t) — in the background when she called to tell me something inconsequential. I stumbled too long to say, “He’s here picking me up to [insert mom-approved, non-sexual date activity possibly involving a library here].” Instead, I didn’t say anything even when she asked, “Is that Nate? Kind of early.”
My mother and I were suspended there for a second, swinging on opposite ends of a coiled phone cord, neither wanting to say nor hear the answer. “I’ll talk to you Monday,” was followed by a click. Sharp scissors on strong cord. Our morning calls ended.
I lean into Nate, place my lips near his ear and whisper, “Beer’s not evil.” Everyone else is acting normally now that I’m the target. Now that we know the subway preacher is not violent. Nate has his left hand on my knee, his right reaches for my hand. Whispering always gets him. I need to make up for the lightning strike he witnessed earlier. He turns his head, kisses me in a way that indicates the night ahead. Maybe it turned him on. I only get sassy behind closed doors.
Avenue H. I perk up a little and notice the preacher. His eyes flick between me and his dirty fingernailed index finger as it feverishly guides his mumbles. Will he follow us?
At Avenue J he lifts the bag, heavy as if carrying the sins of the world, onto his back and leaves. He pauses by us but we don’t look up. “She misses you.” His final words take root.
Our hands are connected as squeezes send messages: lovers’ morse code. But I can’t get my mother out of my mind.