XIV.

1. Going downtown, the girl wore an impeccably put-together punk look: black jeans, boots, grey hoodie, lighter grey scarf twisted once about her neck, black leather jacket unzipped. Her hair was short and spiky in back, long in front, cutting a carefully-jagged swath across her eyes. You couldn’t help but admire how well it all worked together. She was writing on the back of an envelope, a card-sized envelope, YOU ROCK! and then a heart. Sticking the pen in her mouth and holding the card between her knees, she opened a package of electric blue tissue paper and wrapped it clumsily around a stuffed puppy-dog backpack, then put the backpack into a darker-blue paper gift bag and stuffed the remaining tissue paper around it to give the illusion of fullness. She experimented with closing the handles of the gift bag once or twice, adjusting the tissue around it. Then, after a glance at the blank gift tag attached to the bag, she stuck her card into the top of the bag, closed her pen and put it in her shoulder bag, and left the train at Broadway-Lafayette.

2. In the cafe, the couple was arguing. They were good at it, at explaining how they felt, at trying to understand each other or at least at pretending to try to understand each other. He dreaded hanging out with her friends. She felt her expectations were reasonable. He tried to explain that you can spend time with someone but you don’t have to like them. She’d been depressed. He’d been hungry and cold and not into it but thought she’d been having a good time. She thought his excuses about having to work were just that: excuses; he didn’t get that much work done. He proved otherwise. She needed to go home, and he felt he should offer to go with her. But it’s out of your way, she told him. Not necessarily, he replied. I wanted to tell him: tell her you want to be with her, that it isn’t out of your way because you would change your plans to show her that making it okay matters to you. Better, that she matters to you. But he just left it and the rest was hanging there, unsaid, perhaps implied.

3. I sat down in an unoccupied seat, headphones in my ears. Against subway seating protocol, a woman sat down beside me, vaguely hippie, middle-aged, bundled up. Quietly, she said, Have you seen Lust, Caution? I took my headphones out of my ears. Sorry? Have you seen Lust, Caution? No, but some of my friends have. What did they think of it? They liked it, they said it was good. It’s a very beautiful movie. Did you just come from seeing it? We got on near the Sunshine, where it has been playing for months. Yes, I think it’s so beautiful, I’ve seen it several times now. And you know, the Asian people, this movie is all they have. I don’t remember what I said to that, I think I just nodded. She went on about there being so few movies for them. Everyone else there was drawn in by the sex, the title, Lust… but for the Asians, there isn’t anything else. And Ang Lee… did you see him on the Academy Awards show? He’s so outgoing – not like other Asians. I pointed out that Ang Lee has spent a good deal of time in Hollywood. I think this might have fed her racism but it was too unexpected a conversation for me to know what to say. Luckily, my transfer was the next station.

4. Later, much farther uptown, a family entered the train and sat opposite me: a tired, very young dad with an earphone in one ear and his youngest son sleeping beneath his arm, his 9 or 10 year old daughter and slightly younger son, quiet but mischievous, and an enormous suitcase. I wondered if they were kicked out of the house, or moving in with their mother, or uprooted in some other way. I smiled at the boy and he smiled back wickedly, then whispered something to his sister, and she looked at me, too. For all I know they were calling me ugly but with music playing in my ears, I just caught their eyes and grinned, raising my eyebrows. They grinned back. We kept peeking over at each other and exchanging wicked looks, and then they’d giggle, not sure what to make of this grown-up playing with them on the train.

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