When I see you again, for the first time in months, I’m surfing the waves of the Red Line. Feet planted, hands in my pockets, I refuse to reach for the train’s handrail to keep my balance. I refuse, just flat-out won’t do it—even when the vision of you threatens to sweep the legs out from under me like you’re Johnny and I’m the Karate Kid.
It can’t be you, I think to myself, not with that smile. No one smiles like that. No. Not after God gives you more than you can handle and only a surgical oncologist can take the weight off your shoulders. (Or your breasts, as the case may be.)
It can’t be you. But it is you.
Those are your keys twirling around that finger that must be yours as well. And that’s your knee pressed up against that old codger’s thigh. And those are your eyes staring at him—rapt, as he raps to you about a dream he had last night. I’m rapt, too. It’s only when he stops speaking to wiggle a tooth that I look away.
And that’s when I spot the green lipstick stain on his collar. The stain you must have left there, because that’s the shade—the chartreuse—that I ran down to the Dollar Tree to buy for you last Halloween. You were going as Poison Ivy to my Penguin, and nothing you had in your makeup case was gaudy enough. And even though I offered to go to a real store, with a real selection, you were like “No.” Trash was what you were going for, so trash was what you were going to get.
Or what I was going to get for you, I guess.
I wonder if the codger you’ve been kissing runs errands for you now, or if he’s just another fling—just another wild oat you’re looking to sow before you’re sown into the earth yourself.
In my mind, I see the two of you in bed together, your ripe body wrapped around his withered one. And then I see myself, reflected in the darkened window of the train’s closed doors. I’m in the suit that’s my uniform once again, rather than the flannel and jeans you dressed me in each morning of my unemployment—the costume you cobbled together to make me look like the kid you knew back in the day, the one who still had something to offer the world. Even if it had been twenty years since I did.
Your old man’s dream is about teeth, I finally discern, after he stops wiggling and gets back to wittering.
I bare my teeth at my reflection, feign a scream to complete the image, and read the words on the chapped lips your kissing these days:
Mentally emaciated, he says.
I’m emaciated just thinking about this. But only mentally, of course. I’ve still got the paunch you swore was the best pillow upon which you’d ever lain your weary head. I’ve still got the dad bod that’s supposed to be en vogue these days—even though the last lady I hit on told me I was never gonna get it. Never. Gonna. Get it.
The train stops, and I follow an elderly couple out onto the platform, daydreaming all the while. I dream of your fingers plugged into holes where my teeth should be, of a village without pavement from one of the books my dentist kept in his waiting room when I was a kid, and of the tunnels you used to dream of all the damn time. Back when you were the dreamer, and I was the one who listened. And it was my knee pressed against your thigh.
But now the train is leaving, and I bring myself back to reality to watch it go.
And here’s the thing: it’s empty.
Where did you go? I wonder. Then I look around the platform, and I can’t remember where I am. I can’t remember where I’m supposed to be.
Maybe it’s not you whose gone missing. Maybe it’s me.