“The Pros of a Matchstick”–Installment I – 22 April 2014
I’ve been working on something since October. I say something because it started out as a short story, but now… I’m not sure what the hell it is. I guess the closest thing to it would probably be a novella, but even that sounds a bit ambitious.
But the fact remains. It’s been titled “The Pros of Matchsticks” since I began it (a title I’m still not sure about), and at present it’s about eighteen thousand words, and maybe two-thirds complete. It’s become an important project to me, the first thing I’ve written that I’ve lavished so much care and attention on. As I said, it’s something that I’ve been working on for about six months. But I like this piece, and it’s only now that I feel comfortable enough to begin posting it here.
And still the fact remains–it’s a long piece. I’d like to give it to you all in installments, once a week. This is the first one.
A cloudy Saturday morning in late November.
Linwood Rouxlard stood on the platform at Lexington Avenue and 59th Street without standing out at all—just another tall, lanky body wearing worn, faded jeans and a solid blue shirt. Over it was a blue raincoat, of a lighter hue than the shirt; unbuttoned and with the hood up, it covered the mass of blonde hair he hadn’t touched since the day before. As always his desert-colored canvas backpack hung from his right shoulder. He loped toward the platform’s edge, rubbing the sleep crust from the corners of his electric blue eyes as a train, clad in American flag livery, pulled into the station—The Q train, about time—and a line formed behind him.
“Hey! Hey you!”
Startled into tearing off the hood, Linwood whirled around to see a half dozen kids jump the turnstile, yelling and cursing as a couple of transit cops chased after them doing the same. The crowd of people moving about the platform made their escape that much easier and before the cops could drag them from the train it was full again and ready to leave, and it did. With an impatiend, frustrated sigh Linwood checked his watch.
One cop, tall, dark-skinned, and wearing glasses, laughed the incident off while the other, short, squat, and ruddy-faced from running, fumed. The taller cop called ahead to the next station, alerting the transit officers there of the stile-jumpers, then turned to his partner.
“You know, you gotta calm down, man. How many times’ve we gone through this? Every year you get just a bit slower and the kids get faster. That’s life, right? They’ll get ’em at Fifth Ave.”
The squat cop stopped in front of Linwood, bent over with his hands on his knees, sweating as his skin returned to a color like wallpaper paste. He wiped the perspiration from his huge graying mustache as he caught his breath. “That’s not the point, man. These shitty kids think they’re so goddamned hot. If I could I’d beat the shit outta each and every one of ’em… The fuck you lookin’ at, dickwad?” He rose to his full height, shooting arrows of hatred and frustration from his eyes toward Linwood who, in mock shock, raised his hands and took a step backward in surrender.
The black cop laughed. “Don’t mind him, kid. He’s just mad he’s gettin’ so fat, is all.” He turned to his partner. “Come on, I’ll getcha a cuppa coffee.” The white cop mumbled his assent, and the two moved off together as an N train arrived. Linwood put his hands in the pockets of his jeans and lined up to get in the crowded train, finding a clear space to stand as it pulled away from the station.
The train wound through its tunnels beneath the streets of Midtown Manhattan, stopping at one station, then the one after. As passengers alighted at 49th Street Linwood snagged a seat, between a fat guy in a suit reading the Wall Street Journal—emblazoned with a front-pageheadline about the latest ENRON misstep— and a little blond girl clutching a pink backpack to her chest as if it would anchor her to her seat. Slipping his backpack from his shoulder and placing it between his black-and-white Chuck Taylors Linwood closed his eyes, lulled into a strange sort of comfort in the crowded, smelly car. When he opened them again a woman stood in front of him.
She couldn’t have been more than thirty. She had an au naturel look, deep purple lipstick the only stitch of makeup she wore. She wore blue jeans and a tight-fitting paisley-patterned sweater. Her bright red hair was tied back in a ponytail. Her sleeves were rolled up to reveal burnished copper forearms and smooth, perfect wrists. Her stomach lay flat and invisible underneath the sweater, and through a dent in the fabric her navel stared Linwood in the eye. With her right hand she held onto a small black purse and the handrail above him; Linwood could hear the charm bracelet around that wrist jingling above and through the rattling of the car and the babble of chatter inside it. With the left she had a hushed discussion with someone on her cellular phone, in a broad voice that carried above the murmur of the other voices. Linwood couldn’t tell if she wore a wedding band or not.
“Yes… yeah, I know that. But until we get confirmation from Hewlitt on what he wants to do our hands are tied… Well, what do you expect me to do, Sandy?… I’m… I’m on the way there, now. I can’t believe we’re doing this on a Saturday. God help you if it rains before I get there… Yeah. Yeah, I got it… I’ve already made the reservations at Renduto’s. It’s a great atmosphere, it’s expensive, and there isn’t much more we can do… Nine sharp, yeah.. Yeah, I’ll bring the damn bagels, Sandy… Okay. Okay. Yeah, bye.”
The woman sighed heavily, put her phone in the purse, and smoothed out her ponytail just as the fat guy farted loud enough for the dozen or so people around him to hear, and smell. Linwood and the red-haired woman and the little girl looked in his direction, but he only hid deeper behind the paper. Then the girl began laughing, and Linwood and the woman and a few others around joined in. The train stopped at Times Square, and whether it was the station he wanted or not the fat guy jumped up quickly, snatching up his briefcase and paper, and with great effort abandoned the car and disappeared in the flood of passengers.
“That just made my day,” the woman said, brushing a tear away from her hazel eyes. Her gaze met Linwood’s for a beat just as two old ladies entered the car, small, white-haired identical twins. They wore the exact same flower-print dresses, the same white gloves, carried identical white patent-leather purses. The pleasant expression the twin on the left wore and the pasted-on scowl of the one on the right was the only discernible difference between the two. They came to a stop behind the woman and from either side of her both locked eyes with Linwood. The smile lingering on his lips slid from his face as he rose to give them the space on the seat. He moved next to the red-haired woman in the snug paisley sweater. The train began to move again.
This is a Coney Island-bound N local train. The next station is 34th Street—Herald Square.
She wore huge hooped earrings, the left one silver, the right one gold. He noticed the wispy scent of her jasmine perfume which, now that he was so close to her, won out over the dissipating aroma of the fat guy’s fart. His eyes drifted down to her high breasts poking from the close-fitting paisley sweater, and stayed there.
“You’re looking at my earrings,” she said, as Linwood nearly jumped ten feet out of his skin. “I like to keep them guessing. It’s also a great conversation starter. You are looking at my earrings… right?” Before he could stammer out an answer the twins seated in front of them giggled, startling Linwood again.
The train began to slow, and the woman leaned closer. Linwood stood several inches taller, so she craned her neck to reach his left ear. Her breasts brushed his shoulder, an earring became ice against his neck. Her jasmine perfume and the scent of her skin itself were almost cloyingly overwhelming, but not quite so. And then in a warm rush of moist air against Linwood’s earlobe she whispered an invitation, a challenge:
“If you told me you were staring at my tits, how do you think I would have reacted?”
The woman flashed him a teasing smile and slipped out of the car with the river of passengers. He looked down at the twins, still tittering, and the little girl watching everyone stream out onto the platform. Linwood realized this was his stop too, and a beat after realized he sported an erection, which he hid with his backpack as he fled the train in embarrassment just as the fat guy had done. He went up to the street, searching for the red ponytail in the crowd the entire way, but she was gone.
And it had begun to rain.