Beth Sherman has an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her poetry has been published in Hawaii Pacific Review, Hartskill Review, Lime Hawk, Synecdoche, Gyroscope and The Evansville Review, which nominated her poem, “Minor Planets” for a Pushcart Prize. Her fiction has been published in Portland Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, KYSO, Sandy River Review and Panoplyzine and is forthcoming in Delmarva Review and Joyce Quarterly. She has also written five mystery novels.
Say you’re on the Downtown IRT – one of the new trains that stretches in both directions as far as the eye can see, lurching along underground like a demented caterpillar, and it’s so crowded people are pressed up against each other and you happen to see a man reach his hand into the Michael Kors bag of a woman standing to your left. You know it’s a Michael Kors because your ex-wife is a publicist whose firm specializes in accessories and one of the perks of her job, which doesn’t pay much and entails long hours, is getting freebies from overpriced fashion companies: Burberry wallets. Calvin Klein scarves, Marc Jacobs belts. Your ex-wife would walk through the door, carrying her latest acquisition and you would look up from your laptop and grin because you were damn glad to see her. Maybe you’d run her bath water or pour her a glass of Chardonnay, the expensive kind because she liked the taste of money.
You can’t identify the precise moment when things changed. There was Before, when she still loved you. And After, when she left – on a Tuesday evening in April when you’d come in from playing softball in Morningside Park, with mud on your cheek from sliding into second base too hard. You noticed the mud when you went to hug her goodbye and some of it got on her forehead. Before and After. But the part that really mattered happened in between.
If you could go back you would search for it in the hollow place in bed where she slept next to you, her stomach curled against your back like a question mark. You would look in the spaces between her smiles. You’d examine the silences that you once took for quiet compatibility but now flash like traffic lights you sped right through. You would have had a beautiful life together. The life you envisioned on your wedding day, standing under a chuppah in the Ballroom at the Plaza Hotel surrounded by 250 people, the men in black tie, the women in tight black dresses, listening to the rabbi saying the two of you were bashert, meant to be, and trying not to worry about how much the evening was going to cost.
Now you question everything. What you see with your own eyes, what you fail to see.
The man on the train reaches into the bag and you’re thinking you could call him out and be a hero and maybe the woman would be so grateful she’d offer to buy you coffee and the two of you would hit it off and start dating and fall in love, the whole process starting again but cleaner this time, more satisfying.
The man’s hand disappears and appears again. You never see the wallet.
At the next stop, the woman gets off the train and so do you, keeping her in sight amid the horde of commuters, like a birddog beginning the hunt.