You notice him: tired sneakers, brown slacks, quiet green polo. Full-sleeve tattoos. Trimmed beard. Thick curls – a small patch receding from his crown. You know he is neither too young nor too old. His bag is not leather, not name-brand, his eyes are neither lost nor hungry, and you decide, yes, he is a good man. And this is your one good shot. Right here on 51st Street, feet from the mouth of a subway which might part your lives forever. You take the slow steps toward him, dodge each of the doubts hurling toward you like grenades. (What if he runs?) (Ignores me?) (What if I trip?) (Step in dog shit?) It’s only five steps. Your voice is a fire alarm. Will you marry me?
He ashes his cigarette and smiles. Yes. And there you are: a clumsy bouquet in your hands, cake, guests in satin and tuxedoes. The red wine does not ruin your white dress which is white because who is actually a virgin anymore? The dinner is delicious and your friends dance and drink too much and taxis take everyone home safely, even to Brooklyn, and soon you’ve bought a good stroller and your clothes don’t fit except the sundresses which always made you look pregnant anyway. Sooner still, your daughter is two years old with perfect cheeks and yellow curls, and you are in a hospital delivering your second child and the man with the green polo and tattoos is still here, still kissing tornadoes into your soft cheeks which are softer now and you’ve spent half a lifetime quietly waiting for this to go wrong but it doesn’t. It doesn’t ever go wrong.
Now you are old and your children have children and they draw pictures for your refrigerator and the man with the sleepy sneakers is sitting beside you on a cedar porch in a good town, holding your crumpled hands and he says, Thank you and you ask, For what, love? and he replies, Remember the day in the city when you wore the black sundress and the candy-colored beads around your neck? Your blue nail polish was chipped and your sandals had glitter just like your hands with all the rings and I watched you and I loved you right then. And I would’ve taken the subway. Alone. Would’ve taken the train to wherever I was scheduled to go. I was a coward but you were brave. You were so brave.
You are blushing now. Harder than you have ever blushed. You squeeze his hand, but there is only air. You look over at him but there is no one to see. You are standing on 51st Street and traffic is rushing past on Lexington, and the mouth of the subway calls you like a school bell, and he is absorbed into the flock of business suits and taxi cabs, the stir of aimless pigeons and car horns. Gone.
Jeanann Verlee is author of Racing Hummingbirds (Write Bloody Publishing), recipient of the Independent Publisher Book Award Silver Medal in poetry. She has also been awarded the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry. Her work has appeared in The New York Quarterly, Rattle, failbetter, and >kill author, among others. She is a poetry editor for Union Station Magazine and director of Urbana Poetry Slam in New York City. Verlee wears polka dots and kisses Rottweilers. She believes in you.