by Deenah Vollmer
Every day Jenny took the F train to get home from work, but she could take the L train too, if she wanted. Sure, it was a slightly longer walk to the train, but the L ride was quicker and the weather was not so bad this time of year.
She began having these thoughts early one fall, after meeting a man at a party at her co-worker’s house in Carroll Gardens. They were neighbors and worked in the same part of town, kept the same hours, and had had the kind of dinner party flirtation where one drinks too much wine and talks too much about the condition of the publishing industry (or something like that) to whomever one happened to be sitting next to. With purple lips and goat cheese crumbs on her pants she had, she decided the next day, met the man she would marry.
They rode back to the East Village together on the F train that night and he walked her home to 7th Street and told her he lived just two blocks away, on 9th Street. She said goodbye feeling self-assured and when she walked into her fifth-floor walk up she fell over onto her bed, overwhelmed with the realization that they had not exchanged contact information.
She sat up because it was not hopeless. She knew some things. He worked in technology on 8th Avenue and 14th Street and so he would probably take the L train to get home from work. She worked in publishing on 6th Avenue and 22nd Street. She could take the L train home from work too.
On Monday she got home five minutes sooner than she normally would. On Tuesday she made sure to get in the first car on the train so that she would be positioned near the only exit at the 1st Avenue station. That way she could see every person getting off, though it was a little chaotic at rush hour. She felt relieved the station did not have more than one exit. On Wednesday she walked down his street though it required her to walk two avenues and one street out of her way all together, and she got home twelve minutes later than she normally would.
She knew which building was his because he had told her it was next to a place he would get coffee sometimes. She knew that place and she would get coffee there sometimes too, but now she might get coffee there more than she usually would. So on Thursday she got coffee there and sat in the window seat. She watched every person walking by and after twenty minutes she left and got home thirty-three minutes later than she normally would. On Friday she walked down his block twice, making a 180 at the corner, flourished by a “I forgot something” gesture to no one in particular, then she went home to her apartment, washed one dish, looked in the mirror for twelve consecutive minutes, and met a friend for a drink two hours later.
On Saturday the weather was good and Jenny felt happy about living in New York because life really happens on the streets here, she thought, while watching her favorite homeless man construct a hat out of plastic bags. She sat on a bench in Tompkins Square Park near the Hare Krishna Tree with a book of short stories and a sweetened coffee that wasn’t from the place next to his building. She was not waiting for him to walk by, she thought out loud by accident, but every few minutes she looked up thinking he was standing there. “Oh, hi,” she practiced.
Wondering what she would say when she finally saw him again kept her from her book. She would tell him things that made her feel strong, something that happened that day, or the day before, or before that. How many days can you go back before it no longer counts as what’s new? Is a week too many? What about two? It probably depends on the scale of the news. You could probably say you’ve won the lottery for at least a whole year, but if you found five dollars on the street, you probably shouldn’t tell people about it for more than one day after it happened.
She continued to think these things every day she got off the train and walked down 1st Avenue. She touched her hair and corrected her posture before turning onto his red brick block. Every day something in her chest plummeted when she arrived on 9th street when she suddenly hoped that she wouldn’t see him, not today. She looked bad today, the wrong clothes, simply the wrong time. Her lips were chapped and as much as she tried she knew even though she couldn’t see them that she couldn’t get her eyes to look aloof enough. I need you, they said. Isn’t that funny, she thought, I don’t even know him.
Relief came when she reached the end of his block, but she knew of course that he could be coming home from the other side of the block and the relief went away. And then the relief came back because she didn’t want to see him today anyway. But she did want to see him. Wasn’t that what this was all about? And then she wondered, was he in this corner store? Should she go see? Was he meeting someone? Was he going somewhere interesting that she didn’t even know about? Was he, all this time, standing outside her building? Maybe she should go home and check.
When she walked by his building she made sure she didn’t look into his window, assuming it was his window. She picked out a window for him on the second floor facing the street. She would walk by with purpose, but not with intensity, as if walking a Labrador. Still, she always looked, couldn’t not look. Was he there in the window, looking out? What if he saw her and ran down to talk to her? Or what if he invited her in with a tilt of his head and a slight gesture of his hand? She might go up there and never leave.
He was not there in the corner store, not in the window, not on her doorstep, and not on the L Train. Maybe he walked home from work she thought with a moment of dread. That hadn’t occurred to her before and it opened too many possibilities. What streets would he walk down, she wondered. Seventh Avenue? Third Avenue? The math made her dizzy. Well, at least it was something to do.
She took the L train home every day from work because it was quicker she told her friends and she believed it too until one day the weather changed and she didn’t have the right coat. The F train was right there and it had been awhile since she had seen that homeless man, which made her think that life wasn’t happening on the streets anymore anyway.