Strangers on a Train

by Bryan

I am, at long last, reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It’s one of those books that I have always planned to read eventually, and as with anything that I think I’ll do eventually, I’m trying to take it up. I haven’t stopped putting things off, but I have started to ebb the tide a little bit. I went to the Strand last week and was about to cop The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao when Kavalier & Clay taunted me from their strategically placed shelf facing the checkout line, and Kavalier & Clay won. All of which means Oscar Wao is almost certainly next.

This morning I was reading Kavalier & Clay on the train. I was trudging through my requisite one chapter per morning, which I can comfortably fit between two three-minute periods of zoning out on my commute. At West 4th Street, I stood on an idle B train and checked how much more I’d have to read before 34th Street—a page and a half. Unless I’m really into a book, it’s hard to read when the train is at a standstill. After five minutes, the announcement came for me and others to stand clear of the closing doors, and two people whooshed on before they shut. One of them grabbed the same pole I held and faced me before pointing her head down toward her own paperback copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

In terms of cosmic coincidences, this doesn’t rate very high. It’s on the magnitude of having a surprise mutual friend on Facebook. Interesting, but not scary. Still, it was a little weird. Our books were almost touching and they were daring us, taunting us, to talk to each other. I don’t know if she had seen my book, so I just turned it down so the words were facing toward the ceiling of the car and finished what I had to finish, peeking for a split second at the page number dangling from her copy: 33. Which meant only one thing to me: She probably hadn’t been looking at the book long enough to immediately recognize its interior design. I had probably escaped.

When I finished my chapter, I whisked the book behind my back and eased myself into frame for the door between cars. She didn’t look up, and I spent the remaining 90 seconds of my ride just as planned: Zoning out. When the train screeched to a halt, I brought the book from behind my back into something of a concealed embrace by my right hip and began to ease by her. If she was getting off the train, she was following me, but I never looked back to check, not even after her eyes did a lightning-fast flicker to my book jacket and back. So now we both knew. Did she know the whole time? If she did, what did she think of me moving away? Was I being courteous and respectful? Or was I being a dick? Or did she not know that I knew?

The possibilities are endless. Or they’re without a visible end. Or I’ve outlined them all here. Who knows? All I know is that was a mere five minutes of my day.

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