Academic journal article Chicago Review

Broken Line

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Broken Line

Article excerpt

The sign above the car doors says not to Apoye against La Puerta. It's a sunny Saturday afternoon, late September, and in fifteen minutes I'll be sitting across from my father at a damp greasy table in the Howard Johnson's across from Grand Central.

My father always told me, It never hurts to ask. What I never understood until much later, what he meant, was that it never hurt to ask others. Ask someone else why, or how, or who or when. But don't ask me. Don't ever ask me, because I'm never going to tell.

I haven't spoken to my father in six years. Not since he returned a letter I'd written him. Returned it, all eight pages plus the envelope I'd mailed it in, to my then-boyfriend in a 6 x 9 office stationery manila, a Post-It attached to the crumpled-up pages. On the yellow paper he'd Sharpied: You are no longer my daughter. I will make do. I suggest you do the same.

I have.

I carry a knife with me. Not in my purse but tight against my left hip inside my Wranglers. It's a switchblade, the kind that pops straight up with the slightest bit of pressure on its silver button. I confiscated it from Max, one of my students, and I never gave it back. On the side, crudely soldered onto the hilt, are the letters BBB. When I asked what they stood for, Max just shrugged. Depends on the context, like OPP, he said, his feet shuffling somewhere underneath his draggy hoopskirt pantlegs. Sometimes it's Bitches Be Beggin'. Sometimes it's Better Bein' Black. Right now I think it means, Blow Baby Blow. I took it from him the day my father left a message saying he'd be in town.

I'm in the Macy's car-nothing but Macy's ads posted on every ad panel inside the train. Ads that repeat and repeat and repeat. I'd never noticed the ads, their sameness, their redundancy, until the day

I'd taken to carrying the switchblade with me. When I finally left school that day it was dark. I transferred to the N at 34th, not knowing the time. When I asked the woman nearest me, she and three other passengers held up their wrists. I looked around and everyone was wearing a watch but me; I had boarded the Swatch car. The day after that I hopped onto a Blimpie's car. Everyone had a sandwich in their lap-Whoppers, heroes, Egg McMuffins. A week later, I found myself shoulder to shoulder with a carload of hoop dreamers, boys and girls wearing nothing but Adidas-Adidas hi-tops, Adidas sweatsuits, Adidas caps. When I looked up all I saw was Stephon Marbury and Adidas, Adidas and Marbury. Since then, I've tried to avoid the subways and buses. But I was running late today, so here I sit, on the Macy's car, where it's the same white Macy's faces every other five panels up one side of the car and down the other-and faces just as white and happy and bland sitting under each and every ad.

At 14th, I switch to the next car up-an MTA car. The woman sitting in the corner end has her creamy black legs craned over a yellow seat and an orange one. She has two gold earrings, rhomboidshaped, huge, in each ear, and a folded-over copy of Word Search #37: Horror in one hand and a pencil in the other. She's crossed through words like Corpse and Exorcise but hasn't yet found Hex. I hold on to the metal strap above her and find Alien and Dread before she turns the page. She then cocks her head over to the woman across from her-who could be her twin, only not as dark-skinned, not as heavy, and she's doing Word Search #46: Terror. Being a woman fulltime, says the Horror woman below me, Girl, it's just too much work! The other woman nods, leans to say something back, but the storm door between them opens, and in from the Macy's car come two cops and a German shepherd. A K-9 unit.

The shepherd, a snuff dog, erupts into a fit of barking. Immediately, he spotted, or smelled, the doe-eyed, droopy-eared puppy at the other end of the car-a black lab, its soft head bobbing up and down from inside its owner's purse. The two cops, in shortsleeve shirts and shorts, stroll through, hefting their billy clubs like baseball bats, one making wide circular strokes in the air as if he's standing in the warm-up deck at Yankee Stadium. …

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