Subway Tales

The young man was sitting by himself at one end of the subway car. He did not read or day dream like many travelers, for he was an observer of people, had always been, even when his parents had taken him to the museum. He would look at the exhibits, then at the people looking at the exhibits, pretending they were all placed there for him to observe. Of course it was more challenging now, with everyone including himself wearing facemasks.

He smiled inwardly, evoking the challenge of picking out various masked people to observe. He had learned the secret of staring at someone without being noticed. He put on sunglasses, which were no more deviant on the subway than other affectations people threw out. He would hold a book or newspaper in front of him, having learned to hold his head down as if reading while lifting his eyes to gaze at his subject.

The young man’s name was Dave, and he wanted to be a writer, having talked his way into writing a weekly column for his college’s newspaper. His byline was,”The Inquiring Voyeur “ which he thought provocative; it offered him a wide range of topics. His name soon took a prominent place at the end of his columns.

Dave decided he would give ten minutes to observe and speculate about the middle aged man sitting catty corner to him, a man hunched down in his seat, wearing a blue hospital mask, a tan golfer’s hat, and a brown overcoat. He wore black leather Florsheims. You don’t see men wear overcoats these days and David surmised the man had taken his look from his father who he tried to emulate, but with less success than he imagined. Dave decided the father had been a lawyer, recently retired, while his son, the man slouching before him, was some type of bookkeeper or more likely, he was an accountant who had not been able to pass his CPA exam. His father would be vaguely disappointed but not surprised. He was not the kind of man who spent much time or energy thinking about the lives of others, even his only son. Dave imagined the father’s pockets being full of expensive cigars which he would enjoy in the small smoking room he established in his McMansion. There would be a well equipped bar as well. His son would not be able to endure being in the smoking room with his father for very long during his visits, preferring to sit at the kitchen table talking to his mother. They would drink darjeeling tea.

Dave thought of the man as being named, Thomas, and gave him the full name of Thomas Carpenter Rollingfield II. It is a wealthy man’s name, a name which would tend to hold Thomas back because it engendered undue expectations of him by others. Dave looked again at Thomas-across-the-way and he detected in the man’s body language and especially in his rubbing both hands together, a nervous and benign rage which, Dave knew, would lead the man to even more self-destructive behaviors than he was presently engaged in. He suspected Thomas’ father was not self destructive, but inclined toward being destructive toward others.

Dave shifted in his seat and settled next upon two young women in their early twenties, sitting together, each wearing the same multicolored mask, each engaged in animated talk, their arms extending toward each other as if to make a point. They could be sisters, but Dave thought they were not. He decided, the dirty blond haired girl with a squared off face and slanted eyes she emphasized with blue blush, was the more gregarious and therefore the one holding more power in the relationship which Dave realized was a romantic one. He now noticed the young women were not so much using their hands for emphasis but to come in contact with the other, a gesture Dave found pleasing to observe.

The dirty blond’s name would be Jessica, and in Dave’s rendering, she would work in an office in a medium sized company located on a lower floor of a mid-sized high rise, a job she secretly liked. The other girl was prettier, with a thin face whose angularity was emphasized by the facemask. She had the body of a girl who waited impatiently for years in hope her hips and breasts would grow. She would not realize how attractive she was to others. She would not work for the same company as her close friend, Jessica, although she likely worked in the same building, allowing them to meet most days for lunch. They would have moved in together a few months ago, during the early days of the Pandemic, thus accounting for their traveling to work together each morning. Dave wished he lived in their apartment house and could make friends with them. He was sure they would welcome a young man’s company for dinner or drinks now and then.

Dave looked at his watch and saw he had nine minutes left on his trip. He turned around the other way, searching for his final human, as began thinking of everyone he saw, having been impressed by a popular book he came across about the “Humans of New York.” He settled somewhat tentatively upon a man and his young son, a fidgety boy looking less than pleased to be traveling to the city with his father. He looked about seven or eight; it was hard to tell with children wearing facemasks, for their masks frequently covered large portions of their faces, leaving everything to the imagination. Dave imagined him being taken to his father’s workplace, the father having been unable to find a last minute sitter for the boy and thus having to drag his son along with him. He probably hoped he and the boy could leave early.

The boy might wish he could have gone with his mother to her job rather than with his father, she being the more fun parent with the greatest understanding of children and with the patience needed to succor them. The father would be someone like an architect, the one on the team who drafted designs and not the one inventing them. The boy’s home school teacher could not come today for it was Columbus Day. He would be glad for that, for he would dislike sitting before his computer all day, especially with a teacher looking over his shoulder, both of them wearing masks. The boy liked to imagine he was someone else, someone needing a mask to hide his true identity. He would hope the teacher would be unable to learn his true identity.

As the train entered it’s last minutes before reaching its stop, Dave’s mind leaped ahead to his premonition of how today would be an unfortunate one for the father and son. The father and son would be eating a delivered lunch in the father’s office, the door closed, when the father would answer a telephone call, listen to the message, his face would turn white and his shaking hand would drop the phone, and he would slump forward onto his desk. The boy would put on his mask, then run out of the office for help.

Dave exited the subway and walked along the somewhat busy street, the mostly masked people looking down as they walked past him. He headed for the city library where he would choose a computer with which to write down the stories he had encountered on his trip. He would type fast, to keep up with the onrushing sentences in his head. There were a thousand stories being lived on each city block; they crowded his mind as if it was a city tenement brimming with souls. Later he wondered whether he would use any of the three vignettes, as he termed them, or whether he would write others on his trip home.


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