This story is by Karen Bromberg and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
I jump on the uptown “B” train and glance at my watch. “Phew. Just made it,” I softly say as I squeeze by a blond pantsuited woman, hair combed into a tight bun. Her body is stiff, lips pursed, eyes narrow. From her demeanor, it seems like she doesn’t want to let me go by. That said, I do anyway.
“Excuse me,” I say resisting the urge to ask her what her problem is.
I continue on, trying to get around a teenager – blue jeans, eyes closed, head bopping, ear buds in his ears – with a goal of getting to the pole nearest to me. That way when the subway jerks, and it will, I’ll have something to hold onto otherwise I’ll end up on my ass.
“Excuse me,” I say . . . once . . . twice . . . three times then push past him.
“Hey?” he says, yanking out one of the ear buds from his ear. “Cunt.”
I bite my tongue. “Lord, please give me strength. Just let me just get through this day. That’s all I ask,” I softly say, grabbing the pole. Cold. Hard. Metal. I take a wide stance and glimpse at my watch.
“We’re being held in the station due to congestion ahead,” a garbled male voice vibrates in the speakers. “Sorry for the inconvenience.”
“Fuck, you gotta be kidding,” I mutter to myself. “First day back, can anything else go wrong?”
I wiggle my phone out of my pocket, checking for Wi-Fi. My boss. Son-of-a-bitch. He just hates it when I’m late or take time off. Any time off. Even last week, the week Dad died. “How the hell am I supposed to get anything done if you’re not here?” he bellowed over the phone when I called to tell him. So help me if I could, I’d tell him where to go and the quickest way to get there.
I move my phone around as if doing that, somehow, I can find a Wi-Fi signal, but I can’t. Crap.
I glance at my watch again then gaze at a black dot next to the florescent bulb above me. Usually staring at an unmoving object calms me down. Not today. I let my mind wander. It drifts to the ride out to the cemetery, Dad’s light wooden coffin lying in the back window of the hearse.
I look my watch again. That’s when I feel it. Someone staring at me from behind.
I peek over my shoulder. See a male figure – Dark hair. Cigar tucked into the corner of his mouth. Smile broadening around it. Teeth revealing a space between the two front ones, just like what Dad had. He’s standing there, three, maybe four feet away from me, arms crossed – the people between us, like the Red Sea, having parted, giving me a clear line of vision.
My stomach tightens. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the figure is Dad, but how? Dad is dead. I know. I watched as the groundskeepers slowly lowered his coffin into the ground last week.
While a part of me wants to bolt – that’s how scared I feel – another part is drawn to him. I navigate through the crowd, legs heavy, prickly feeling up and down my spine. I pass a woman in a beige trench coat, eyes fixed on her copy of The Wall Street Journal; a man, in a black suit, maroon button-down shirt flipping through something on his phone.
I take a sniff. There’s a familiar odor in the air. It’s the smell of those disgusting cigars Dad liked so much – rank and rancid. Closer I get to the figure, the more I smell it.
I stand in front of him. Look into his dark eyes. There’s a familiarity there. I hug myself around.
Cigar smell. Space between the teeth. Twinkle in his eyes when he smiles.
“Dad?” I ask, barely audible. I swallow hard, forcing back tears then I immediately scan all around me.
I expect all eyes to be fixed on the figure in front of me, who since I came over, has become opaque with a golden light surrounding him. I expect their eyes to be fixed on him only they’re not. The pinstriped businessmen to my left are still engaged in their conversation about a company meeting. The couple to my right is still smooching. The rest of the passengers either have their eyes closed or are busy looking at their phones or reading their books or newspapers.
I lean in toward the figure in front of me. “Is that you?” I ask, voice still low, looking around, still expecting people to stare.
The figure nods.
My lower lip trembles as tears well up in my eyes. My voice catches in my throat. I step a little closer. “I-I-I love you,” I say, not sure what to expect anymore.
He takes the cigar out of his mouth. “Honey bunny,” he says calling me by his favorite pet name. He holds his arms out to me, like he used to when I was little. “You the honey . . . honey.”
I bite my lower lip and step even closer. I prepare myself to feel his embrace. Hugging me and holding me close was what he’d usually do after calling me that. I hold out my arms, expecting, no yearning, to feel his warmth and steadiness one more time. Just then the doors bing-bong shut and Dad fades away.
“Dad?” I say. “Daddy?” Voice rising. I flail my arms where Dad’s figure just was. People standing near me turn to face me then move away.
“Don’t go, Daddy. Please don’t go. I’m lonely and I need you,” I say, sobs in my voice as the subway jerks forward knocking me off balance. I quickly right myself, then reach out for him again but it’s too late. He’s already gone.