He gets off the train and goes to visit his Grandmother. She is surprised to see him and her smile gives off a sense of love that comforts him. She makes him a cup of coffee and warms up some pastries for him.
“You need to eat something, you are getting too skinny.” She tells him and softly punching him.
“I love you grandma – why can’t I meet a girl like you?”
“They don’t make them like me anymore – I am like the Edsel only much older.”
“The Edsel was a flawed automobile Grams, you are anything but flawed.”
“We are all flawed Max, no one is perfect. Who wants to be perfect anyway, there is too much pressure to keep up the perception.”
He laughed and said, “Well to me, you are perfect.”
She smiled. “OK through your eyes I’ll accept it.”
He walked down the block and remembered as a kid running ahead of his parents to race them to his grandma and grandpa’s house. There seemed to always be an aroma of baking of some kind – he would sit there with his younger siblings and be treated as if he and his siblings were kings and queens fit to be served the best cookies, pastries and candies. Also, nothing has ever topped the challah french toast on Sunday mornings.
This affair was something that was happening too quick and it scared him. He wanted to be with her all the time. It was as if he was 15 years old again but he wasn’t 15, he was going on 30 and he needed to be able to take control of his emotions. Only, his emotions felt as if they were all put into a blender and were just waiting for the “Liquify” button to be pushed.
He walked up the stairs of the station, went up the steps towards the Manhattan bound side, put an unlit cigarette in his hand. He had stopped smoking a while back but it still calmed him to just walk with a cigarette between his fingers. It was as if he were strengthening his self control.
He checked his phone but the battery was still dead – he hadn’t charged it, so how could it suddenly come back to life? “Just another sign trying to tell me something or is it my irresponsibility reminding me to be more so? I don’t know but I do know I cannot commit to a future so soon. I cannot simply live my life based on time running out or Sophia’s ultimatum. “ He would not give in to anyone’s ultimatum and he told her that on the phone that same night.
“I cannot make a commitment right now – it’s too soon for me.” He told her.
“OK I understand.”
“Can’t we just continue to do as we are doing; getting to know each other?”
“I…I, can I call you back?”
She hung up the phone as tears rushed from her eyes and she fell back onto her bed.
He stood there and wondered what had just happened?
She lay on her bed, phone in hand and tissue box to her left. She pulled one out and dabbed her eyes.
He knew he had made the right decision; no decision made under duress is the correct decision. But there was something about that girl and he had to be very strong to avoid calling her or texting her.
A week or so later he saw from her Facebook page, she would be leaving the next day; so he did send her a text wishing her the best for her trip. She responded with a simple, “Thank you.”
Time did not stop for either of them; a year passed and they each filled their time with stuff that life throws at you. For Max it meant drinking too much and sleeping too little. For Sophia it meant working while trying to absorb the Italian culture as much as possible.
They each dated other people, thought about each other, began to contact the other and then quickly stopped. The feelings of regret, broken parts, missing each other and what ifs, slowly began to dissipate as time kept on doing it’s job as only time can.
Sophia – Rome
Sophia was living in Rome and working for a designer who needed an apprentice. She had an eye for creativity, excelled at graphic design and worked hard. She was given an apartment in the Via del Portico d’ottavia – which was the Jewish Quarter in Rome. The fact that Max had not followed up with her put a damper on the beginning of her year abroad. But the work, the excitement and the whole atmosphere of Italy diverted her heart and mind from feeling anything but excitement.
Her favorite spots in Rome were the Fontana de Trevi and the Roman forum. But her heart belonged to Firenze or Florence. Galleria dell’Accademia with Michelangelo’s David and Il Duomo – she loved to sit outside of the Cathedral and just people watch with a thermos of coffee and some snacks (which the pigeons would swarm to after a couple of seconds).
She made friends but stayed clear of any relationships knowing that she would be coming back to New York once August was over.
Max – New York
He spiraled out of control for the first couple of months; staying out late and slacking in his work. He finally woke up in January after seeing that the profit and loss for his business had too little profit and way too much loss. He began to spend more time concentrating on building up the business once again and by the end of the 3rd quarter of the year he was back to where his company should be.
It was October and he was ready to exhale after a trying 9 months of working the company back into shape. He had his cousin’s wedding that thursday and he was thinking of taking off some days and heading to Miami.
The night of the wedding came and the party went on until the early hours of the next day. It was around 4 o’clock that he went to sleep by his Grandmother’s house and then got up to head on home to shower and change.
He walked on the train and headed home. Sitting across from some Yeshiva school girls dressed in their uniforms and speaking quietly amongst themselves. To the left of them were several Catholic school girls in their own uniforms laughing out loud. A contrast in uniforms – the Yeshiva girls had long dresses while the Catholic girls had sort of a mini skirt look. He noticed an old man checking out the girls with a deranged perverted look on his face – a frozen smile and lots of lip smacking.
Perv man walks off and three Asian ladies and a man, walk on in pairs; one pushing a shopping cart filled with empty drink bottles; she must have a 100 of them in that cart; she is accompanied by another lady who is carrying a plastic bag with what looks like some sort of leafy vegetable. The other is a elderly couple who scramble onto the train and sit in the first open spot as if it’s a race. She says something to him in a scream and he screams back. A conversational shouting match has broken out and Max just looks away.
As the doors open there are a lot of people who come on as if exhaling from holding their breath. Max hears one of them speaking on their phone, “This bum came on the train with an odor which is like a combination of shit, piss and dead animal. It was putrid.”
He has experienced that in his travels more than one time.
Max takes the cigarette from his pocket and places between his fingers on his right hand, pulls out the napkin from his pocket and winces. He hadn’t noticed the napkin until just now; the same napkin that Sophia had written her name and phone number on a year or so ago. He felt a twang of pain within and realized that he hadn’t thought about her for a while. But now that he had he remembered what they had for that short period of time. He thought about that last night together, on the train riding between Manhattan and Brooklyn, alone on the car.
A man in a suit walks on the train, looks like a typical self-important nobody who inherited his mother’s looks and his father’s bank account; yet acts as if he worked in the coal mines for his whole life. He keeps glancing over at Max and it makes him feel uncomfortable; although the man does look familiar he could not place him. He stares at the napkin, he crumples it into his palm and looks wistfully out the windows across from him.
A young girl pulled an Indiana Jones and made it through the closing doors. She was a pretty girl and was listening to something on her headset when she sat beside him. He said to himself, “Screw it.” Took out his phone and dialed Sophia. The call went straight to voicemail. He hung up instead of leaving a stupid voicemail where he knows he would step all over his words and sound dumb.
He sat down and closed his eyes. Why the sudden urge to call her? He knew why; despite all the girls, money and distractions – when he was with her was when he felt best. He didn’t know if she still lived where she lived the year before on Prospect Park; but he was going to find out.
15th Street–Prospect Park
He stood up, looked at the napkin and he crumpled back into his pocket and walked off the train. As he made his way to the stairs he noticed an Orthodox woman pushing a stroller and guiding two kids onto the train.
What he didn’t notice was, two cars ahead of the car he had just been sitting, Sophia had just walked on.
He walked quickly to her apartment and ended up running into Sharon, he roomate as she was leaving.
“Hey Sharon, is Sophia still home?” He asked her.
“No, she just left like five minutes ago.” She said. “Have you spoken with her?”
“Not for a while, everything ok?” He asked her.
“Yeah but she hasn’t spoken about you in a long time so I thought you were old news.”
“That can still be the case – thanks – tell her I was here, ok?”
He turned away to leave and walked knowing that he should call her; he tried and got her voicemail. Awkwardly her left a voicemail.
“Shit.” She said under her breath. The train doors opened and she went across the platform. She had forgotten her phone and needed to go back and get it. She stood there waiting for the train to come and it felt like hours. She was late for work and since it was her last day there she was antsy to just get there and get it over with. After around what seemed like 4 hours, the F train came slowly creeping into the station.
She got on and saw the train virtually empty save for a sleeping man on by the front.
Prospect Park/15th Street
She jumped out of the train as soon as it mercifully stopped, ran up the stairs and was outside.
Max had stopped to get a coffee and was walking slowly towards the station. He was feeling strange and decided to sit on a bench across the street by the park.
Sophia ran up the stairs to her apartment, grabbed her phone, threw it in her pocketbook and headed back to the train.
Max was reading something on his phone when he felt a stirring in the street. He looked up and saw a person lying in the street by the corner of the entrance to the train station.
Sophia stopped and decided to check to see if she had any alerts on her phone. She noticed a voicemail pending.
Max ran across the street to see if he could help. He quickly dialed 911 and began to speak with the man on the floor. The driver of the vehicle was there as well and was just as shaken up as the pedestrian.
Sirens rang out and then an ambulance stopped a half-block from where she was. From where she stood she caught a glimpse of Max sitting on the floor. She felt herself jump and ran.
As the EMT’s came towards the man who was hit by the car; Max stood up and saw Sophia running towards him.
“Are you ok?”
He ran towards her. “Yes I am. I am also so sorry.”
“I am sorry…”
They both laughed and kissed.
Beneath them they could feel the vibrations of the F train going towards the city.
Beneath them they felt the ground shake and a soft breeze of autumn brought a soft chill. Max pulled off his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. She took his hand and nothing else mattered. Work, phones, trains and the poor guy who was laying on the floor nothing seemed to even have a pulse other than the life that was now rushing through them – like a runaway subway train.