He could see her from the train. She was on the platform, standing at the ticket machine. A glove was hanging from her lips. Her teeth were holding firm to the glove’s index finger. She needed her naked hand for the job, what with the touch-screen and all. The tip of her nose, and a small radiant patch around it, glowed red from the cold. Beautiful? Indubitably. Impossibly.
Her soft grey coat was cut to her figure and it hung almost all the way down to her shiny black boots. A Victoria’s Secret bag hung from her wrist. As she entered the train it was her eyes, more than all the rest, that caught his attention. They were still alive.
He started to think about her in a way he’d told himself (many times!) he wasn’t supposed to be thinking. He wondered if she might also have thoughts sometimes that she wasn’t supposed to be thinking.
Maybe she was kept up in the middle of the night by dreams. Dark, heavy dreams that crouched on her cranium and rapped on her skull. “Don’t sleep,” they probably say, “don’t run away. I have something to show you.” And do they ever. They have to show her what becomes of little girls who follow their dreams. He could see it in her eyes when they locked with his.
She’d always been like this. She came into the world with her eyes wide open. They had to wash the blood out of them before she could see. That’s what people always said about her. “She’s got her eyes open.”
He watched her little foot, in her little boot, fidgeting on the subway floor and thought about how lonely his life had become. So what, he concluded, lots of people are lonely. When he looked back up at her eyes he thought, Maybe she’s lonely too.
He was hot. He was born hot. He was always hot. Hot under the collar, in his shoes and his shorts. His strain of DNA in the species Homo sapiens had never quite adapted from its African roots to the whole “clothes” thing. He’d prefer to have the fur back. He’d made the mistake of putting on a couple of extra layers this morning. People in the news were always panicking about cold weather and the paranoia had seeped into both his outerwear and underwear. Now he was standing in an overheated subway car with a hundred other overdressed,
overstuffed, overdone New Yorkers. He was hot. And she was obviously cold. He raised his puffy red hand to his own face before deciding hers would be a better fit for it. Hers had a slight trickle of a tear on it. Another gift from the cold.
She was like ice. Every cell in his body contracted on contact with hers.
She did something that astonished him: she did nothing. Even worse than nothing, she stared at him with unwavering intensity, like she could read his most intimate thoughts through his big hot hand. He took his hand away. He was cool now.
“Thank you,” he said.
She stared at him and said nothing.
“I was a little overheated,” he said. “I’m sorry. I know I’m not allowed to touch you.”
“Little late for that,” she said.
“Yes,” he answered and considered his situation for a moment before asking, “Is there anything I can offer you in reparation?”
“There’s nothing you want?”
She looked at him for a long time without saying anything. There were a lot of things she wanted, none of which she could see coming from him. “You should probably just quit while you’re ahead.”
He was a little too excited for his own good. “I don’t’ want to quit. I think I’m getting close to a breakthrough here.”
“The word you’re looking for is breakdown.”
“It’s a painstaking process.”
“You’re telling me.”
He nodded. “It’s fine line for me, really. I suspect it is with you, too.”
“I’m sure you do. You probably suspect all kinds of things. You’re a pretty suspicious character aren’t you?”
“Not,” he said and stopped. “No, not really.”
Her expression was an eloquent answer: You could’ve fooled me.
He gathered the forces of his counterattack and lined them up for assault just as the train pulled into the 23rd Street station.
“This is my stop,” she said before he could launch.
“Oh, mine, too,” he said. It was obvious to her that this was not his stop.
“Stay on the train,” she said.