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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
A few of us stuff in before the subway doors pinch shut. A man slides his hand down the pole, clearing a place for me to hold. Clang—metal on metal—my engagement ring. Shhh, mouths a woman, without making the sound of Shhh. A boy with a superhero backpack indicates something with his pinky, something just beyond our pole: a man, reclining. His sleeping form eats up five seats. I never sit on the way to work anyway. I’m not old, yet. Not pregnant, yet.
Anticipate his smell. He has no smell. He has hair on his chin. He has his side body on the orange seats. He has a garbage-bag pillow. He has bent legs, stacked. Between his knees he has a hand. He has long eyelashes. He has all eyes on him.
This morning I came away from the shower without a towel. There you were: on your side of the bed, on the side of your body, uncovered, except for the appropriate distribution of skin and hair. This morning you, too, had a hand between your legs.
The doors open. Passengers exit, enter. No one makes a sound.
This morning I let the floorboards creak, my lungs creak. I want to share every breath of the day that we can. Your eyelids were quiet, though you might have been watching as I untangled my bra from your belt buckle on the floor, pulled last-night’s stockings out from under your pillow.
But then again, your eyes might have been completely sealed.
Not until I leaned over you, kissed your warm forehead with a loud smack of my lips, let the ends of my hair drip onto you, not until then did you stir. When I stood back up, turned toward the door, you removed—from between your knees—your hand. Then used that hand to reach for my hip.
Now a Mariachi band with matching hats steps on with guitars and other instruments I cannot name. Shhh, I want to say. Can’t you see? Someone is trying to sleep.
Before I know it they are strumming, plucking, beating, singing all without sound. All lips, no voice. One player with teardrop tattoos beneath his eye makes his way holding out his hat. For a moment I worry, but we know what to do: keep the fragile silence in one piece. No coins clang. All who give give silent bills.
We turn back to our man, a pleasant look on his face. What dream is he having? Could be breakfast. Unlimited eggs, scrambled, hard-boiled, fried, sunny-side up, and down.
Or a bed, with all the trimmings.
Or a girlfriend’s chest, stomach, lap. A better bed.
He kicks. Could be a fever dream. Someone really should take his temperature, just in case. I could volunteer myself to do it, without a thermometer. I would place my wrist on his forehead to check, then not race to wash my skin. Not until I reach work, settle into my desk, then use the bathroom, following which I would wash my hands anyway. Not until then. One helping, only, of soap. One pump, standard-issue pink. I would not scrub.
But he would not have a fever. Which is why he looks peaceful, comfortable, appropriately tempered. Which is why I do not need to place my wrist on his forehead, not place it anywhere other than where it is, keep my hand wrapped around the pole, the other hand around my pencil, clenching. Pencil tip pressing paper. Notebook balancing against my forearm and chest. So tonight when you ask, as you do, for news of my day I can give you, hand you, this.
Alexandra Sadinoff is a New Yorker who writes stories of varying lengths and widths. Her work has appeared online in The Fiddleback and is forthcoming in Grain and Mid-American Review.