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Authors: Nora Raleigh Baskin

Subway Love

BOOK: Subway Love
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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

LAURA
remembered the day it was taken, or rather she remembered as soon as she saw the photo, pinned to the folding display panel among all the others. It was a black-and-white picture of
her
sitting on a swing, clutching the chain in one hand, her eleven-year-old face smudged with dirt, and her blackened bare feet poking out from the bottom of frayed overalls. It was taken at the Sunday picnic in Woodstock on the town green, 1969, just three years earlier, and now here it was, for sale.

Laura didn’t say anything. She just stared at herself in the photograph. The other photos, all mounted on the same gray-matte board, revealed scenes meant to capture the time,
this
hippie time that was already passing, that had already passed. The artist, at least Laura assumed he was the artist, didn’t recognize her. He sat on his metal stool chatting with a prospective buyer.

One photo held the image of a young couple in a close embrace. The girl, or woman, or girl-woman, was wearing a long velvet dress with lace trimming the ends of the wide sleeves. If the picture were in color, the dress might have been red or deep purple, like velvet is meant to be. The man was shirtless, his skinny hip bones protruding from his jeans, and wisps of curly hair reaching out of his pants and up to his belly.

Laura turned her head away.

Another photo showed a wildly bearded man sitting on a milk crate, playing the guitar; the varnish was worn where his hand had moved up and down hundreds, if not thousands, of times across the strings. He was looking directly into the camera.

“Can I help you?” The photographer must have lost his sale. He was alone now, without a customer, and he turned his attention to Laura.

“Oh — no,” Laura answered.

He still didn’t seem to realize who she was; that an older version of this girl he was talking to hung on the board behind him, the actual in-the-flesh representative of the 1960s flower children that he was trying to peddle. What right had he to sell this picture, her image, her moment in time?

“You like my work,” he said. He didn’t ask.

Laura answered, “Not particularly.”

She walked away from the man’s booth. It was a huge crafts fair, and her mother had told her these kinds of massive events were going to be big in the future. Laura’s mother said she could make a lot of money selling leather goods, headbands, vests, and fringed pocketbooks. Not that they wanted a lot of money. Just enough to live on. Anything more than that was being a Capitalist Pig.

According to her mother, those people (people like her father) were deluded and misguided. They were squares and they were conservatives. They were Republicans.

When she was in elementary school, Laura used to open her lunch, praying she could be a Republican, praying that there had been some horrible switch, some crack in the fabric of the universe that had dumped her into this life, and that right at this moment, she would slip back into reality, a reality that put a Skippy peanut butter and Welch’s grape jelly sandwich on Wonder bread and a bottle of Yoo-hoo in front of her. If the universe really wanted to be nice, there might even be a Twinkie or a Hostess cupcake. Laura would watch her friends unroll their Yodels and lick the white insides while she bit into her peanut butter (all-natural, unsalted, and awful), banana, and honey sandwich on cracked whole wheat.

“Hey, you,” the photographer called after her. “Isn’t this you?” He pointed to his own work. “It’s you, isn’t it? Just younger.”

Laura looked at the picture once more, as if only just now considering the claim. She had dressed like her mother wanted that day; she ran around barefoot, holding out her hand and begging for food from the other picnickers (because, after all, wasn’t Jesus a rebel, a long-haired freak who loved the poor?), playing the part of the carefree Woodstock flower child.

“No,” Laura answered, “that’s not me.”

The man looked back and forth from Laura to the photograph. “No, it is. I remember now. You and your friend were taking turns on the swing. It was the end of the afternoon, in Woodstock. The Sunday picnic. It was bloody hot. I remember.”

Laura shook her head. “Not me.”

“Oh, yeah?” the man said. “Well, whatever you say, babe, but my work is important. You’re too young to understand, but this is all going to end, and someday people will look back, and they won’t have faith anymore; they won’t remember. But I’ll have the proof.”

Laura wanted to tell him she
did
understand. She wanted to tell him what it was going to be like in the future, but she knew he wouldn’t believe her.

JONAS’S
cell phone dropped into the toilet again. It wasn’t his fault, but of course, it was. It tipped off the toilet tank when he was getting out of the shower.

“Shit,” he said out loud. He was already late for school. Twelve unexcused tardies meant a full-point drop in his GPA. Not that he cared. It was all a load of crap, but for some reason it bothered him. He stubbed his toe reaching for something to dry himself with. Dirty towels were scattered on the bathroom floor, too damp to use, along with a couple of pairs of underwear, stray socks.

“Shit.” Why does a big toe hurt so damn much? You’d think it would be more resilient being out there on the front lines.

Worse, his Droid looked dead. He took out the battery, left the whole thing open on the sink, and hoped for a miracle.

“Jonas,” his mother called up the stairs, “it’s six fifty-six.”

“Thanks for the info, Mom,” Jonas said. If he ran out of the apartment now, he might be lucky enough to jump directly onto the train, walk the five blocks to school, and make it there before they locked the doors. He’d have to be buzzed in then, a surefire tardy.

“Do you want breakfast?”

He hated those kinds of questions. Of course he wanted breakfast, but he was late, and even if he wolfed down a bowl of cereal as fast as he could, he’d be that much later. If he took time to tie his shoes, he’d be later still.

His mother was standing in the hall in her bathrobe, coffee in hand.

“I’ll take some coffee,” Jonas said. “To go.”

His mother smiled widely, as if this was going to be the greatest accomplishment of her day. Being a person’s be-all and end-all is a heavy load.

“Consider it done,” she said. She handed him a thermos. “Light, no sugar.”

It could have been his father’s load too, but even before they split up, it wasn’t.

“Thanks, Mom,” Jonas said. He grabbed his army jacket and headed out.

Jonas missed the 6 train by two seconds, watched the doors closing — faces inside speeding away — and wondered if it was worth it going to school at all at this point.

CHANGE
floated on four-four time from the apartment next door right into their window, and just like that, the world as Laura knew it began to unravel. It began long before they moved to Woodstock, before crafts fairs, before long hair, before any town picnic. It began when her parents were still married, when they all still lived in New York City. Laura was seven, her brother ten.

“It’s so hot.” Mitchell waved his hand in front of his face. He was sprawled on the couch in front of the television set.
Chiller Theater
was about to begin.

The windows were open wide, which never failed to elicit the same debate, whether it was hotter with the windows open or closed. Their mother couldn’t stand the stuffiness. Their father said having the windows open just brought in hotter air from outside, but that day, it brought in music, a rhythmic guitar accompanying a whiny, pleading voice singing about a tambourine and a journey on a magical ship. Laura stood by the window, listening.

BOOK: Subway Love
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