The Red Line

The girl on the 7:19 is missing. The girl you anticipate
each dawn’s drive past the Kiss & Cry spot to the lot.
The girl whose nails, lips and handbag match.
“Matador Red,” she once said in passing. “Perfect—
for a Bull Market.” Polish chipped, unlike your fiancé’s
flawless French Tips. Today, you’ve summoned
the nerve to introduce yourself. Only her aisle seat
greets you; its faded fabric sags, two frayed buttons
form a blue stare. Where’s the crowded car? The chance
to stand, pretending to peruse her Times, that mole
close to her cleavage, bidding you “read on”
like a catchy byline? The train jerks. You crumple
into her seat. In the past year, she’s never missed a ride.
Is she sick, a cold in her Romanesque nose?The conductor
rips your ticket. Or has some broker whisked her away
to propose? No, better she has the flu, a fever too.

You loosen your tie, open The Journal, focus on figures.
But articles on stocks and bombs bore. Out the window
a blur: one bedroom town, another and another until,
eyes glazed, white-shingled homes become milk cartons
stamped with a photo of the girl’s face—MISSING
and you’re nine on a bus, blushing because your mother
won’t budge. She stands at the stop, waves, smiles that
forced smile long after the others have left. Even the girls
poke fun and the one with budding breasts, the one
you can’t stop staring at, says, “Wipe that smile off your face
or I’ll wipe it off for you.” Slumped in your seat,
you study your reflection, broken by the sun’s glare. They’d be
sorry if you disappeared
… The train’s whistle shocks.
You catch yourself rubbing the worry-spot on your head.
Why is she missing? Forget. Concentrate on something,
anything else … Snapple facts … Fish can drown
Millipedes don’t have 1,000 legs … If you were a millipede,
you’d crawl up her ankle to her knee, under that stretchy
skirt she wears, over her inner thigh’s dimples,
you’d crawl until—“Elizabeth. Elizabeth, New Jersey!
Next stop: Penn Station, New York.” You keep your cell
off, pick up the Post from the adjoining seat.
One headline reads: “Here to Eternity: Obsessing
with Primes.” You’re 47, a prime number, well past
your prime, divisible only by one and yourself.
Soon, you’ll be married and multiplying. You flip
the page to “Pass On Chilean Sea Bass,” scan the piece
in that way your fiancé finds annoying: “… spawns
during prime fishing season … popularity leaves species
on brink of extinction … marketers confuse public,
disguising it with various names …” Could you name
all the women you’ve had? Brenda, Danielle, Joan,
Michelle, Jan, Elizabeth
… Many you miss. You can’t
remember. Once you craved facelessness. Now
you want to love every one of them, caress what’s
unique. But when you close your eyes to envision
the curve of a clavicle, all you see are
fish—spawning—colonies of female fish in their prime,
each with the girl’s red lipstick-smile. Nameless, they
multiply without you, spiral out of reach, leaving
you and your fiancé alone on a rough statistical sea,
and last night when she dug her nails into your back,
you cried out, “Christine!” “Who’s Christine?” You couldn’t
say. She rolled over. Fell asleep. How could she be
so calm? Christine … You can’t recall a Christine unless—
Is that the girl’s name? The train switches tracks, burrows
into black. Why is she missing? Brakes shriek. Is she
the one?
Florescent overheads flicker. Something’s missing
You turn your back on the window’s reflection. You can’t bear
to see yourself.

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  1. I love a mystery. Why is the girl on The Red Line missing? Will he see her again? I hope so. This is an interesting piece.

  2. This could be an opening poem to a chapbook. Almost Hitchcockian. Very cinematic. A real “line” turner.

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