F3, Cycle 40: A Token of my Esteem
Prompt (by Thomas Pluck): Use the photo for inspiration
Word Count Limit: 1000 words
As the uptown train pulled into the station, Trista mused over her loathing for the new subway cars. The hue of the fluorescent lighting reminded her of the tri-fold mirror in her parent’s bedroom. Trista credited that mirror for the destruction of her parents’ marriage. She’d catch her mother examining her pores, in the magnified reflection, for hours at a time. Trista would often be forced to participate, allowing her mother to pick at her face in the unflattering light. She was certain that her father grew a beard, in part, to avoid the inquisition. He threw the mirror out of a window not long before he left. When Trista fled to New York City after college, she received a handheld version of the mirror as a farewell gift: pay attention and exfoliate darling; that city is filthy, love mom.
Trista very seldom looked up from her lap during the morning ride. She mechanically reached for the headphones in her purse once she found a seat on the train. She set her mp3 player to shuffle and took out the crossword puzzle she hadn’t completed the day before. The train pulled into one station after the other, receiving and releasing noises and movements she was blissfully happy to ignore.
She became distracted by the boisterous laughter of a leggy blonde, whom she eyed in her peripheral vision, as the woman and her male companion made their way to the empty seats next to her. Trista raised the volume of her music, which had just reached the bridge of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”, to block out their banter. The shrill blonde sat directly beside her. Trista tried to subtly inch space between them, but the woman’s bag, still on her shoulder, fell further onto the seat, creating less space every time either of them moved. She glared at the oblivious woman coldly but received no response.
The mass exodus of people at the 42nd Street stop allowed for Trista to casually cross over to the other side before the new passengers got on. As she reassessed her puzzle, she caught a glimpse of the blonde woman shifting in her seat. She raised her eyes and watched the woman abruptly pull her bag from her arm onto her lap and grow silent.
Trista curiously studied the person who had claimed her former seat; His frame was gaunt and wrapped in ashen skin, except for his face which had been exposed to too much sun, recently. His arms crossed over each other like the crook of a spider’s leg. He wore an unkempt beard and his body wilted in clothes that probably never fit him properly. The man looked to be in his late seventies and, except for the untidiness of his beard, in no way resembled her dad. Still, she couldn’t help but look for more resemblances whenever he looked away. She didn’t think much about her father, except in those moments when she thought about her mother’s idiosyncratic behavior that led to his departure when Trista was still a teenager. She hadn’t seen or heard from him since.
Trista’s thoughts began to circle the haunting narrative of her father’s disappearance. As she scanned the people in the train car, she wondered if there were any other faces she could connect to her memory. How many times could she possibly have seen her dad just casually riding the subway? How many old lovers had she not taken notice of? How many ghosts roamed the city, she thought; passing her by each day through doorways, archways and corridors as she stared down at her crossword puzzle and raised the volume on her iPod?
Her gaze fell back on the old man, now sitting cross-legged and drumming his long but pristine fingernails on his knee. He, for certain, wasn’t her father but he was possibly someone’s father, somewhere. He wore a faded shirt that read “NAVY” across his chest much like her father wore a shirt that read “ARMY”. She knew the real reason her father wore a full beard was to cover the scars on his face from an accident that he refused to speak of. The old man could have been wearing his beard to cloak wounds from his own unspoken conflicts. He was apart of someone else’s story; someone else’s ghost.
Trista was aroused from her stupor when she heard the announcement of her stop approaching. The man hadn’t looked at her once even though, she felt, he knew she was watching. The dreadful train car lights flickered as Trista exited. She took off her headphones and shoved her crossword puzzle into her purse, reminded of the still unopened mirror under her bed and her mother’s sage advice;