by Philip Berry
On Monday, I saw a young man with wispy, fair hair floating towards me on the downward escalator. The music in my ears lent the encounter an intensity of feeling it could not have. I tried to pierce his indifference with projected feeling, but he did not turn.
Tuesday, same track, same time, same man. His hair looked dry and unbrushed, as though buffeted by a gale topside.
Wednesday. Different track. He was not there. Interesting.
Thursday. I made sure the right song played as I ascended. We met halfway. We met in space and time but not in spirit. I turned around at the top and followed him down.
He entered a pedestrian tunnel connecting two metro stations. Passing a vivid poster for a new production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? his grimy right hand flicked to the side and touched the wrinkled paper. Drawing close in his wake, I saw that he had bent Martha’s accusing index finger to the vertical.
His wind-blown hair bobbed among suited shoulders. The song played on.
He passed a niche, a missing brick in the long wall, and when I drew level I saw that with a stroke of his pale hand it been filled.
The song died and I lost him in the crowd.
Friday. There he was, descending, staring forward. I reached out, but could not touch him. At the top I turned and hurried down. He passed the poster and turned the letter F on its head. Then he touched a man’s scarf and reversed the color sequence of its stripes. Just playing. Cheap tricks in a busy world.
At the brick he recreated the niche and popped in a ball of light that made the entire wall glow. Only I could see it or feel the faint warmth. When I stooped to look inside, I saw a dying sun.
I swerved against the morning rush, came up behind him and grabbed a shoulder. He turned, and there was anger. “It’s too late!” He tried to wriggle away. His pale hair shivered. It smelled of dust and oil. I held him. Passersby hesitated, but concluded that we were in a relationship and this was near-normal behavior. Then he screamed, “It’s too fucking late.” The song began to fade, and he began to fade too. I touched a button to start it over again. My nostrils filled with black particles.
I knew then. The song had been playing when I ignored him. He was the one with the mussed-up hair who was struggling with his boyfriend at the end of a metro carriage at ten past midnight, six years ago. He was the one whose distress I put down to near normal behavior, a tiff, a jealous rage. He was the one who was thrown onto the tracks while I strolled home along quiet streets, far from the screeching of the brakes.
He was the one I left to defend himself while I designed justifications among fading chords.