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Pretty Girlfriend


by Con Chapman


Park Street was good, he thought, the best. Lots of girls there. There were benches where they sat while they waited for the trains, you could go right up and talk to them. Not like Boylston Street. There it was too dark, girls got scared if you came up to them. Government Center there was no place to sit, everybody had to stand up, you couldn't sit down next to a girl and just start to talk. You had to go up to her and stand in front of her, make her look at you. They thought you were rude when you did it.

 

No, Park Street was the place. He walked up the brick street to the Common and headed straight for Park Street Station. He didn't turn left to Boylston or right to Government Center. Park Street was it.

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He stood at the light, waiting for it to turn green so he could cross the street. He noticed other people looked to the right and, when they saw a break in the traffic, would run across the street. Not him. He'd been taught that you cross at the green and not in between, so that's what he did. The traffic stopped and he felt foolish standing there waiting for the light to change, but it was the right thing to do. That's what he'd been taught at the school, before he went out into the world.

He made his way through the crowd outside the station. There was a familiar man there, one who wore a sign that showed what hell looked like. The man said everybody was going to hell unless they changed their ways—he wasn't angry, he said it like he was just trying to help people, to save them from burning up. The sign showed people walking on a very narrow bridge, with flames on either side of them. He thought it looked very dangerous, people could fall in if they weren't careful.

The man with the sign knew him by sight and held out a pamphlet as he passed. He looked at it and smiled to the man to show him he didn't want one today, he didn't want one in his hands. He wanted his hands free, he was looking for a girlfriend, he didn't want a woman to think that he was trying to give her a pamphlet when he started to talk to her. It might scare her, she might think he was crazy. He wasn't crazy, that's what they told him at school. People who thought he was crazy were ignorant, they had said. He liked that word, he liked to say it when boys would make fun of him. “Ignorant!” he would say.

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He walked down the stairs into the subway and got out his ticket. He liked to stick it in the slot and watch it pop out. It always made him happy, as if the station and the subway was a toy designed to be fun. When his ticket popped up he didn't take it at first, he waited for the gate to open.

“C'mon,” a man behind him said.

He took the ticket and the gate opened up. He put the ticket back in his wallet, slowly and carefully, making sure it went back in the plastic slot where he always kept it.

“Geez,” the man behind him said as he pushed past him on one side.

He made his way down the long walkway between the train tracks. He was careful not to step on the yellow line close to the tracks. If you slipped on that, they'd told him, a train could run over you, you had to be careful. He realized he was still holding his wallet in his hand, he'd been so busy concentrating on getting through the gate and not losing his ticket. He stopped and, as he was putting his wallet back in his pocket, a woman bumped him from behind.

“Excuse me,” she said. She pursed her lips in a smile to show that she was sorry and didn't mean it. He smiled back at her—she was nice.

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He started moving again, more slowly than the woman, who walked down the platform to where the D and the E trains stopped. She sat down on one of the benches, tucked her skirt under her legs, and began to look at her phone. She was pretty.

He decided since she had smiled at him he would try her first, try to make her his girlfriend. He headed in her direction, uncertainly, walking pigeon-toed, the way his feet made him do it. As he got nearer he hoped she would look at him and smile again, but she didn't. She was looking straight ahead. She sighed—maybe she had a job too, a job putting things together like his. Maybe she was very tired like he was.

Since she was looking straight ahead, he would have to come around in front of her. He slowed down, which caused people to flow around him, some of them cutting off his view of her. He hoped he could talk to her before her train arrived.

The people surged past on his left just as he came abreast of her. She was looking off into space, waiting for her train. He decided to smile at her. He had noticed that when you smiled at people when they weren't looking at you it sent out rays of your thoughts to them. When the rays reached them, they realized you were looking at them and they looked back at you.

It happened with her, just as it had in the past. She realized he was standing in front of her for a reason, looking at her, not just waiting for a train. She didn't smile back, though. Her face took on a look of fright. He didn't want to make her afraid so he lifted up his hand in a wave. He was glad he hadn't taken a pamphlet from the man, she would have thought he was crazy.

“Girlfriend?” he asked.

The woman clutched her purse, inched to the end of the bench, stood up, and walked around to the other side. An older man moved to sit down where she had been so he couldn't see her at first, the man blocked his view. Once the man sat down he could see her again.

He waved again and said “Pretty.”

The woman looked nervously around her, then walked around the bench as a green train pulled down to the sign of the D. The train stopped and, as soon as people had gotten off, she climbed aboard and moved to a single seat close to the conductor.

He waved at her through the glass but she couldn't see him. She was facing the tunnel wall, not the platform, so he couldn't catch her eye. The rest of the people who were waiting got on and the doors closed.

The train began to slide into the tunnel. He stood there and watched it go.

He knew he had done something wrong. Next time, he thought, he would say “Pretty” first. Then he would say “Girlfriend?”

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