The number one train is eight minutes out. This is what the digital sign said at the 231st Street station. It would be tight. I promised Mira I would be there at 11 a.m. And I knew Mira would leave at 11:05 if I didn't appear. That was Mira.
Staring down from the elevated platform, I could see some students from my literature class hurrying down Broadway. What would they say if they knew what I was doing? One of those students down there--Maria Romero--had definite opinions about unfaithful men. “Men cheat. After they get caught, then they tell you they want to break up. Men are pigs.” She’d go on about it whenever a short story got anywhere near the theme. I felt exempt from the judgment, so I could joke with her. “Is there something you want to tell us about your weekend, Maria?” No more of that.
I tell myself I’ve done nothing wrong yet. I’m just going downtown to see an old friend.
I glanced at the sign again. “Don’t,” it said. Did it really? “Don’t” what? These subway announcements were never helpful.
I looked back up quickly, and now the sign said “6 minutes.”
If my wife asked me to explain what I was doing having coffee with an ex-girlfriend, I had worked out an answer. The invitation was posted on Facebook, after all: “Let’s have coffee sometime!” A public message board. Nothing to be ashamed of -- all in the open. Would they have exchanged messages in public like that if they were hiding anything?
I wouldn’t mention how Mira had gotten in touch with me out of the blue, saying she was a widow and she’d like to meet up. I wouldn’t say that in our Facebook messages, and then email exchanges that followed, that I didn’t mention a wife. Yes, there had been email exchanges too.
“What’s that, Windbreaker?” Dave said.
Bringing Dave was a good idea. He had some shopping to do on the West Side. “Dave needed running shoes. I went with him” -- that was plausible and specific. On the down side, he called me “Howie Windbreaker” because he heard my mother yell it out a third-story window 20 years before. “Howie! You need your Windbreaker!” She dangled it out the window after me. “Howie, Windbreaker!” I never lived that down.
“Nothing. I just thought the sign had some kind message on it,” I said.
“It does: Five minutes,” Dave said, looking at it.
The train pulled up, we got on. He took out a running magazine. I had a book. The usual announcements: “Number 1 to South Ferry Making All Local Stops. Next Stop 225th Street.” This was the conductor with the deep, dramatic voice. A MTA James Earl Jones. He made the stops sound classy, portentous. It was a few minutes, and a bunch of noisy high school kids got on, pushing each other, pulling on each other’s backpacks. Their yells filled up the car.
“You’re making a mistake.”
“What?” I said, turning to Dave. “Did you say something?”
He shrugged. “That was the announcement -- next stop Dyckman.” Two boys were singing a rap song that required them to shout and point at each other like they were angry. They were calling each other “Bitch,” but kept smiling. They weren’t really angry.
“Kids,” I said.
“The youth of today.” It was a thing we said.
“I’m going to let you go ahead to SuperRunners. I have to stop somewhere,” I said, not looking up from my book.
“Oh, yeah? I thought you wanted new Asics.”
“I’ll be there.”
“Where are you going?”
“Nothing. A quick coffee with Mira,” I said, trying to sound casual.
“Mira from high school?”
The kids were still yelling, throwing someone’s Yankees’ cap back and forth. In the background the announcement began “Next stop 145th Street. Mira is going to ruin your marriage.”
“She’s not,” I said.
“She’s not what? It’s a different Mira?” Dave said.
“Not going to ruin my life,” I said.
“Why would she, Windbreaker. Can I come? I used to have a thing for her.”
“I remember,” I said. I remembered that Dave pursued her after we had broken up. I assume it was only after. I’d sometimes park outside her house, and see him leave. We never talked about it.
The high school kids were trailing off the train now at 125th Street, but a mother got on the train, yelling into her cell, taking advantage of the brief time above ground.
“Don’t blame Mira,” David said. “But she’s trouble.”
“Blame yourself, Howard,” the subway announcer said.
I whipped around, expecting I don’t know what: the conductor standing next to me, or everyone looking at me. He wasn’t. No one was. It was quiet now, except for the occasional groan and rattle of the train.
“What do you mean, she’s trouble.”
“You know-- she likes to stir things up.”
There was a blast of static over the P.A. It was partially inaudible, tinny with feedback. The words were hard to make out.
“Do not hold the doors, please. Another train’s behind us. She left you once, slept with Dave. Watch your step. Use any of the available doors.”
I turned to look at Dave. He was reading his magazine. He was so tall and self-confident. He definitely slept with Mira.
“So when did you sleep with her?
He turned and smirked, like it was a joke between us.
“This is not funny, Dave,” I said.
“It’s a little funny, Windbreaker,” he said. “We’re arguing over something that happened in the ‘80s. Let’s argue about the cutest girl on Twin Peaks. I like Audrey.”
“Of course you do. She’s hot. Everyone likes Audrey!” Audrey looked like Mira.
The announcer said “96th Street. Please step in. Next stop 1986.”
“Very funny!” I yelled in the air. A blonde family: father, mother, son -- probably from the Midwest -- turned and looked at me.
“Hey, look, a crazy New Yorker! Score.”
“You know what? I’m coming. I’d like to see Mira.”
“You’re not coming. You’d ruin it.”
“Ruin? Whataya have planned, W.B?. Remember, you’re married and I’m not.”
“Let passengers on, please. Dave should come. It will be like old times. Like Pretty in Pink,” the announcer said.
“And I’m Duckie!” I shouted.
I looked at him “I don’t like how biased this conductor is.”
“What are you talking about?” Dave had been staring at a group of girls who got on at 96th Street. They were now staring at us.
“It’s like he’s a friend of yours,” I said.
“Who’s a friend of mine?”
“Never mind.” He clearly wasn’t hearing any of these announcements. He was only benefiting from them. It was ridiculous. Like the way my whole, terrible relationship with Mira only laid the groundwork for his no-doubt great sex with her. And here I was doing it again. Like I was the savory appetizer prior to his main course. Beets or radishes.
“I’m not beets or radishes. I’m not your scene-setter. I’m not going.”
“I know I should be able to figure that out. But it won’t be the same without you,” Dave said. “I don’t know what you had in mind…”
“I didn’t have anything in mind,” I said in an urgent whisper.
“The MTA reminds you,” the deep buttery tones eased in, “If you’re seeing someone, say something. Don’t assume a suspicious jackass is acting intentionally.”
I looked at Dave, and he looked back at me serenely, waiting for further explanation.
“I’m getting off. Have fun.” I handed him the slip of paper with the address of the coffee shop where I was supposed to meet Mira. “This was a bad idea,” I said. “I’m going back uptown.”
“Watch your step,” said the announcer. “Uptown trains across the platform.”
Rob Jacklosky was a top-ten finalist in the Esquire Short Short Fiction Contest (judged by Colum McCann). A series of his comic essays appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. His short stories have appeared in Sonora Review, Sendero, Dappled Things and Construction.