On the Red Line. Rainy as fuck and I’m pretty sure I smell weird– spending too much time in the subway will do that to you and I’m pretty sure ten minutes is too much. Ran into a teacher, my teacher, my former teacher, who after a few minutes of “how are you?” gave me a raised eyebrow like he expected me to ask for some money. I wondered if he’d heard anything, decided he had but probably not the worst of it, just maybe that my ways are mysterious these days, and I am fine with that. I am fine with mystery. I write a letter to a man I loved once and it says in part “I am no goddamn saint.” I want a cigarette badly though I’ve had bad bronchitis all week and I’d spent all week lying in bed listening to myself breathe and imagining that I have emphysema, all the while swearing, I will never smoke again. I had one today, will probably have another one later. The letter says, “I fucking make mistakes.” The coughing all week has made everything sore.
A family of four gets on. Two women, late 20s or full-on 30s, a man, and a baby. The women are probably sisters and the younger one holds the kid in her lap since there’s only room on this train for them to sit in separate single seats. The guy, all shorthaired, blond fuzz with a grumpy face like this guy I know who used to be sort of a streetfighting man before he grew up and started dealing with young boxers, he wears this bad leather bomber jacket, is maybe the father, maybe the husband, maybe neither. He stands with the older of the two women, who holds the empty baby stroller but doesn’t fold it. People have to crawl over it to get through the aisle and she keeps moving it around, negotiating the crowd and the stroller while chuzz gives the passersby a dirty look. Casually gazing, I notice the woman clutching the railing right above me. I notice when her umbrella starts dripping onto my leg. I move it just slightly out of the way of the drip but say nothing and noticing, she fumbles to get the umbrella out of my path. She is the type accustomed to not want trouble. While she’s negotiating her load, I take the glance I wanted to but didn’t feel right taking before. Like her sister, she has this bleached blond hair, kinda short and straight as straw. Her roots are showing but her hair is so like the other woman’s, I wonder for a second if maybe this kind of cheapness is hereditary. Doubtless their mother had the exact same dyejob. She isn’t repulsive, has pretty bad skin like the dude and the sister, which figures, but she’s just plain, and you can kinda tell that even before she got strung out and met up with chuzz and had this kid, she probably never was much of a beauty. Her eyes, like her sister’s, are all washed-out like something that’s been bleached but shouldn’t have been. There’s a cigarette burn on her wrist, and I know that shape instantly. I am no goddamn saint. Part of me wants to see the rest of her arm to see what else I’d find, what she could teach me about mutilation both self-inflicted and otherwise, but it’s cold and rainy today so they’ve all got long sleeves on. I know what I’d find anyway and it’d probably just sicken me. Finally, though I don’t know that I can take it, I look over at the kid. To my surprise, he’s rosy-cheeked, vaguely happy. His eyes are blue like the women but bright and clear, apparently totally unaware of the things that are in store for it. The family gets off at Clybourn, a wicked stop in my opinion, but again, not surprising. The baby shifts hands. The woman fumbles with the empty stroller, and they file out without a word. I sigh and open up my notebook again, take another look at my letter. I cross out the name at the top and finish it, “this is the kinda shit that could scare a woman off of H for a long, long time.” I am no goddamn saint. Not because I can’t be good, either. It’s just that whatever weird quality it takes to die like one… well, I don’t have it.