Copyright is held by the author.
A YOUNG MAN shuffles off the platform into the subway car. He arranges his Coleman ice cooler by the door and sits down on it. He’s wearing a grey tuque shoved over his stringy, long hair, and a red parka with soiled cuffs and neck. White plaster patches cling to his tattered pants, and mud covers most of his oversize work boots.
A woman, grey hair tightly pulled back in a bun, is sitting across from him. She is thumbing the pages of a newspaper. She is wearing a tweed skirt and a black, three-quarter length raincoat.
When the next stop is announced, she rises and walks over to the exit.
When the doors open, she tries to move past the young man, but her shoe catches on the cooler and she falls face first onto the platform. The young man grabs his Coleman, jumps off the train and tries to pick her up, but she bats his hands away. She struggles to her feet without his help.
“So sorry, teach. I shoulda moved my cooler.”
He shuffles from foot to foot avoiding the gathering crowd for the next train.
“I’m fine really. You don’t have to fuss over me. How did you know I was a teacher?” She stares straight down avoiding the curious looks of the waiting passengers.
“I dunno…you just look like one…all intelligent and whatever.” His voice is loud.
She turns red. “You are an observant young man.”
The woman brushes off her coat and sees that the stocking on her left leg now has a hole in it. The wound is oozing blood. She pulls a tissue from her purse and dabs at it.
“Where do you teach?”
“Lonsdale High,” she says, without looking up.
“Hey that’s where I used to go.”
“When did you graduate?”
“Well, you’re not alone. I become dismayed when I think that 20 per cent of kids drop out.”
“Wow, that’s news to me. I guess I’m one of those 20 cents.”
“Per. Per cent.”
“Never mind,” she says, pulling her stocking up to hide the hole.
“You all right, teach?”
“I’m fine. You can go now.”
“Are you sure? Maybe I should help you up the stairs.”
“I’m not that old.”
“Wasn’t saying you was.”
“Were,” she says.
“Oh, yeah, right. Were.”
She starts to limp away. He follows her, trying to grab her arm to help her walk. She shrugs him off.
“Listen, I feel so bad. Teach, what’s your name anyway?”
“Glad to meet you,” he says, holding out his hand. She does not shake it.
“I’m guessin’ that you’re OK. Hope you get home without too much trouble. All right, bye. Bye now, Miss.”
She doesn’t bother to turn around and climbs the stairs, swinging her left leg up and around for each step without bending it.
He goes back to the platform to catch the next train.
A woman enters the subway car and has to squeeze by a young man sitting on a Coleman cooler. The young man looks up and jumps to attention, moving the obstruction out of the way.
“Hey teach! I mean, Miss Fletcher. How you doin’? Not limpin’ no more?”
“Oh. Hello. Yes, it seems I healed quickly,” she says, folding her newspaper neatly and placing it under her arm.
“I still feel so bad about it all. I coulda helped you get back on your feet. I didn’t do nothin’. Let me at least buy you a coffee or a doughnut or somethin’.”
“That’s not necessary, really.”
“It’s the least I can do,” he says, taking his grey tuque off and bowing, his stringy hair falling over his eyes.
“I guess that would be fine,” she says, turning her face away from the young man and looking out through the subway windows at the blurry, lime-green trees whipping past.
“Sweet! Let’s get off at the next station. I know a good coffee shop.”
As they walk down the wet sidewalk, the young man strides along while the woman takes small, careful steps. She is carrying a half-open umbrella in case it starts to rain again. The young man pulls up the hood of his red parka.
“By the way, my name is Gino. Gino Lambruzzi.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Lambruzzi.”
“Ha! That’s funny. Nobody calls me mister. It’s just Gino. I feel better when people call me by my first name. It’s like I’m their friend or somethin’, you know what I mean?”
They sit down at a small table and sip their coffees for a while. She crosses her arms and leans back in her chair. People walk by, eyeing the odd couple.
“What kinda subjects do you teach?” he asks, tapping the table with his swollen fingers. They are cracked and dirty.
“Hey, that was my favourite subject. I loved that book, what’s it called? Catcher in the Field or something?”
“Catcher in the Rye.”
“Oh yeah, right. That guy in the book, he was really strange, wasn’t he?” he asks, jiggling his right leg.
“In a way, yes.”
“I could totally relate to him.”
“Well, he was always doing stuff wrong and getting kicked outta school and whatever.”
“Yes, it’s about his alienation from society.”
“He’s from an alien nation? Whoa! I guessed I missed that.”
“No, no,” she says, laughing. “Alienation kinda means that he didn’t fit in too well.”
“Yeah, I know how that feels.”
She leans in closer. “What do you mean?” she asks.
“Well it was like this. My mom got sick last year and she had to quit work. Since we had no money to live on, I had to get a job.”
“Was your dad out of work, too?”
“I ain’t, I mean, I haven’t seen my dad since I was five years old.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Why are you sorry? I hate the bastard for leaving. Anyway, I had this night watchman’s job, and by the time I got home, I was so tired I couldn’t get to school. So they kicked me out.”
“That’s too bad. I wish I’d a known you back then. I coulda helped you get back on your feet.”
“Yeah? Just like I needed to do for you when you fell over my cooler, right?”