She’s a brazen blonde, Russian, I think.
Sitting there on the Q as it rumbles towards Brighton Beach, I try to focus on the folder of papers in my hand. Math exams to be corrected. I am an instructor in the Mathematics Department at a community college. More like a tutor, a remedial nanny to a disinterested classroom full of post-adolescents who can’t count to ten on their fingers. Can’t use a calculator properly, either. My fault for not pursuing that doctorate. So I instruct, as they say. And I correct papers daily, on my ride home on the Q. Every now and then, I assign a passing grade. Not often, though.
The Q stinks. Literally. Sweat and vomit and stale popcorn. Too many unwashed bodies packed into the space. The metal straps overhead a trapeze for crack-fueled acrobatics. And the psycho homeless guy at the end of the car who uses the Q as an outhouse … Oh, well, it’s New York, it’s the subway, what can you do…
She’s looking at me, she eyes me up over the top of her newspaper.
The blonde woman is young; her newspaper printed in a script I don’t recognize. Probably Russian. I bet her name is Svetlana or Minka. Maybe Nikita. I always liked that name, Nikita. She returns my stare with a glare, tossing her hair provocatively before turning back to her newspaper. Her hair is long enough to shake, and it flows. I look down and notice her shopping bags, braced between her trousered legs. Cheap plastic totes filled to the top, stems of leafy green vegetables spilling over. Beets.
Borscht. She’s making borscht tonight, for sure.
I never did like Russian food. I used to dine at the Russian Tea Room back in the day, when I lived on the Upper West Side and wanted to impress a date. The samovar always made a great impression, and the girls seemed to enjoy the blinis and the massive walnut tables. But I don’t date much lately. Instructors at community colleges don’t make much money. And if you’re not wealthy you’re not sexy. This is New York, after all. So I live out in Bensonhurst, where the rents are still low and the locals know their cacciatore from their gnocchi.
The Q grunts and wheezes and grinds to a halt. A tone sounds, the doors slide open. My stop. I drop the students’ exams into my bag, twist my way around a knot of riders, and emerge onto the platform. It’s dark and feels damp. Someone has puked, recently. I hurry towards the stairwell, towards the dim light. For some reason, I turn and look back, at the departing Q and the brazen blonde reading her foreign newspaper. I catch the briefest glimpse of her as the train speeds off into the tunnel. I wonder what the brazen blonde does for a living, if she’s married, has kids. I am not married. I have no kids. I decide to stop at the package store and pick up a fifth of vodka on my way home. I like Vodka.