by Will Clattenburg
Long afterward, when he was a new father rocking his son to sleep in a dark one-bedroom apartment on a sloping street of poplars and a view of the barges on Upper New York Bay, after his wife had braised a whole chicken and called him to dinner and they had made love on the kitchen counter and he’d impregnated her and then watched with the cautious fascination of a new parent as she grew taut as an apple, her belly holding a porpoising life that deepened her blue eyes and weighted her gestures, long after he’d even commuted on the D train into and out of Brooklyn and he’d had the need for a pre-tax Metro-Card, he remembered the bold girl who’d fastened her eyes on him after the train emerged from the station at 36th Street, clicking to a stop on the tracks not yet within view of the vine-covered fence across from the platform at his destination—the girl in a blue peacoat that had been fashionable in New England while he was an undergraduate, her hair in a careless braid, voluminous and glossy, parting over her winter-warmed ears, who had been eyeing him from halfway down the car as if she’d known him from somewhere—not with confidence so much as recognition—telegraphing to him her need for more time, time for them to edge closer together, to close the distance in the crowded train—and he’d stepped out at 9th Avenue and watched from the platform as the car and her framed face retreated, and the cool air of December felt welcome as he walked home… yet his shadow stayed on the train, the imaginative part of him that he couldn’t yet control, and in that time and place, absolved of all responsibility (or so he thought) he approached her and learned her name was Dierdre—she worked in the city, she’d graduated from Brown, she lived in a refurbished house in Bensonhurst where it smelled like the ocean and seagulls scared away the pigeons and in summer a bougainvillea burst into tissue-paper blossoms on a white wicker fence on the path that led to the back of the house where she had a key—her bedroom just off the kitchen, a room barely big enough for a twin bed, but with high enough ceilings so she could raise her bed from the floor to make more room, a white desk in the corner, mason jar with fake sunflower, corkboard covered in scutes of overlapping pictures—and when he was with her he understood that she was like him, she was from New England, like him, and had gone to school in the same environment where young people wore peacoats and Burberry scarves if they could pull that off, and no one drank grocery store beer; she was well-off, she worked for a bank, she survived the hiccup of 2008, she was no longer on the lowest rung, her New Year’s bonus was so absurd she couldn’t speak about it without feeling ashamed especially when she found out what he made; she’d taken the same undergraduate classes as he had only with different professors who’d given their classes different names and she’d read the same books, she’d studied the same foreign languages and made the same decision not to travel abroad; in college, she’d lived in the same unisex style of dormitory, she’d lost her virginity at the same age; she’d learned to drink coffee only after college had ended—like him, she still had a provincial wonder of New York (and that would never go away); she longed to make a decisive move but had always pulled back at the last minute out of an innate conservatism disguised as rational thought… and all these elements of her life had been present the day he saw her on the D train heading home… and her attempt to get his attention (she laughed as they lay on her little bed) was the craziest thing she’d ever done, it was her single act of vulnerable exposure, not counting her ability to work and talk under pressure which she considered more of a practiced ability… and she was so happy because her attempt had brought them together; they were happy together, a happy couple whom no one would question or complain about, except for him, later, holding his son, born to a woman totally unlike the girl on the train, grasping the solid, vulnerable, sleeping infant and whispering a prayer of thanks for that day he’d stepped out of the train and cut the other one off forever since now, as a father, his imagination was his own, he’d finally corralled it, and it would never betray him ever.
Originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Will Clattenburg attended Yale and Long Island University, before earning an MFA in Creative Writing from New Mexico State. His writing has appeared in New Mexico Magazine, Digging Through the Fat, Typishly, and Platform Review (forthcoming). He lives and teaches in Albuquerque, New Mexico.