CORE

CORE
By Carlos
July 25, 2012

I hadn’t planned on jumping in front of a subway car that day. I suppose there never is a day for planning a subway leap, but there certainly can be a reason, albeit not a rational one. Jumping in front of an oncoming subway car actually isn’t something one puts a lot of thought into, at least not in my case. I really couldn’t tell you what I was thinking, other than I wasn’t thinking at all.
I had just come from the courthouse, and was most definitely dazed and for over five minutes – freshly divorced. In my arms I carried the remnants of my marriage, a lone photo album of happier times. The former Mrs. Salmon hadn’t asked for a thing, but I had wanted our photo album chronicling our love. I clutched the book almost desperately. It was all I had left of us.
I tripped coming down the last few steps of the court, not so gracefully catching myself on the sidewalk of Centre Street. I was uninjured, other than my pride, as my ex-wife had front-row seating to my spill.
“Are you okay?” Elise’s lawyer asked.
I looked at Elise with what felt like sad, sad eyes, as I picked myself up off the grey concrete. I think I managed a nod as I picked up the album of a false dream unfulfilled, the last bastion of happiness I thought I had ever felt. I walked off quickly to the subway station.
I had been haunted by my five years of marriage – examining every little nook and cranny, almost forensically, trying to understand what went wrong. Was the love I felt even real? Moments of relationship bliss peppered my memory like a relentless hurricane from the depths of hell, torturing me endlessly. Was it just some silly ritual humans partake in only to feel as if we are not alone in our journey through this world? I wanted so badly not to care, but despite knowing the end was a fait accompli, I did care – way too much.
I could have been in the subway station for hours. I don’t remember – as I’ve said, I was dazed. All I can recall was watching people dart about as only New Yorkers can as I listened to my music – something hard-rockish, metal, something not to remind me of the open wounds gaping on my bleeding heart and soul. I doubt I fooled anyone – mostly I wanted to fool myself – jackass that I was, clutching history under my arm as if I somehow believed that if I squeezed that album hard enough, I could juice the happiness out of the past and into the moment I was in, erasing the divorce from history somehow. That was the desperation I was feeling. The lonely, empty elephant wasn’t only in the room, but was standing on my chest.
Screams broke my daze, perhaps fatefully, in between songs. I stopped the IPOD and made my way to the edge of the platform, almost getting knocked over by someone heading the opposite direction. Trains were zinging by on one of the express tracks, but not the one I was about to be on. That’s where she was, lying there, unconsciously waiting for certain death.
I’ve never thought of myself as particularly brave or courageous, but having glanced down the dark tunnel, seeing the light of the oncoming 4 Train, knowing it had no intention or capacity to stop – I acted without rhyme or reason – just instinct.
The rest remained fuzzy, although I have seen the cell phone video played over and over on the news. It was dark and grainy, but dramatic nonetheless: mostly in silhouette, a man picking up a woman in his arms and scampering in between express trains. Audible gasps could be heard, as sight of the pair was lost as the trains criss-crossed.
“Did they make it?” someone wondered aloud.
This was followed by exasperated relief, as if the crowd collectively held its breath – only able to release it when they got visual confirmation that we somehow had survived the onslaught of the trains’ unforgiving steel.
The video showed the crowd meeting me at the edge of the platform as I offered up the saved life to them. Several members of the crowd moved to help at this point, taking her from me and laying her out on the platform. The rest of the video focused on her, although I was to learn later of a second cell phone video that had been focused on me. It was truly bizarre, an out-of-body experience to be sure, like watching an entirely different person. I recall none of it, perhaps I hit my head on something when I went into rescue mode, triggering some sort of inner humanitarian that I certainly was not under normal circumstances….
“Mr. Salmon?”
“Mmm?” I looked at the doctor, finally snapping out of whatever daze I had been in.
“Ah, there you are!” The woman in the white lab coat said. “What a relief!”
The doctor smiled widely. She seemed young for a person in her position, but I was never really a good judge of age, or anything for that matter.
“You seem very happy.” I blurted out.
“I am happy,” she said, flashing a penlight in my eyes. “It’s rare I get to meet a hero.”
“Aren’t you a hero yourself? I mean you have people’s lives in your hands on a daily basis, do you not? I didn’t catch your name—”
“I’m Dr. Cutchings, Catherine, and I suppose you’re right to a degree, Mr. Salmon – lives are entrusted to me, but it’s my job. I signed on for this – but you! You jumped in front of an oncoming train to save a stranger!”
“Oh yes, that. Is she okay, the woman from the tracks?”
Dr. Catherine Cutchings nodded. “Thanks to you, yes, Mr. Salmon, she is going to be fine.”
“My name is Chris, please call me Chris.”
“Okay, Chris—”
“Could I see her?”
“Well, she’s unconscious, but you did save her – I’m sure we can arrange a visit as soon as we make sure you’re up to it.”
“I feel fine, Catherine.”
“It’s only a formality, Chris.”

After being poked and prodded, I waited to be cleared to see the woman from the tracks. All I knew of her was what seemed to be on an endless loop on New York One – the cell phone video of the rescue.
She was blonde, platinum blonde, long hair that was tied up in a ponytail, but wisps of her hair had escaped as I held her in my arms while trains zipped by us at incomprehensible speeds.
The woman was petite, at least appeared as such as I walked her to the outstretched arms of the stunned crowd. Once they take her, the video centers briefly on the woman’s face before it cuts out and the reporter comments on something. The sound was off so I have no idea what was being said.
It occurred to me that the express track would be hard to simply fall on. Was this a suicide attempt? Could it have been attempted murder? I tried running my internal video of the event back, but for some reason it simply wouldn’t play.
“Mr. Salmon? You can see her now, if you still want to.”
“Yes, please,” I said, getting up and making my way to the nurse at the door. She too was all smiles.
“I think it’s incredible what you did,” the nurse said, gently touching my arm.
“Don’t be silly, anyone would have done the same,” I replied.
“No, Mr. Salmon. You were the only person to react so quickly – there was an entire platform full of people there when it happened – but you risked your life to save her.”
I hadn’t thought of it like that. I looked at the nurse, briefly holding her stare – appreciative eyes.
“I’d like to see…I’m sorry. I just realized I don’t know the woman’s name.”
“Neither do we.”

The applause began almost on cue as I started the walk to the mystery woman’s room. I was clapped on the back by police, firefighters, EMT’s, doctors, nurses and orderlies. It was dizzying. I had never imaged I would actually have my fifteen minutes of fame. I was a playwright, but I had to paint houses to pay the bills.
I have to admit, at least briefly, it was nice. Overwhelming, but nice. I was the center of attention, positive attention, that for a brief moment counter-acted the heartbreak wave on the ocean of divorce.
I was pain free, shot up with the mother lode of panaceas – the one that heals emotional wounds and even washes away the remnants of the deep scars left behind by those very wounds.
I shook hands. I waved. I posed for pictures. Finally I simply asked to see her. The flashes on the cameras shuttered and the imagery of that brief moment on television when they focused on her face – all I could think was that I had saved an angel.

I didn’t know what to expect when the door opened. For some reason I think I pictured someone on the brink of death, being kept alive by tubes, infusions of blood, medicine or whatever fluids necessary. Machines monitored it all, beeping and blinking ad nauseam.
There was none of that. She seemed peaceful, resting, asleep. Her face was as I recalled in the hallway, angelic – her long platinum hair falling away in fine curly wisps that moved a bit when I opened the door.
Music played from a small radio at her bedside. I looked at the nurse curiously.
“She’s unconscious, right? So why the music?
The nurse shrugged. “They say it can help. I guess people who have come out of comas said they followed the music to full consciousness.”
“Wow, really? That’s incredible,” I said, suddenly remembering my own music.
I patted myself down. “Shit,” I said. “Did anyone recover my IPOD?” Then my heart sank. “…And a photo album? I had them before all this.”
“I can ask,” the nurse said.
We stood there in a bit of awkward silence. “I suppose if music helps, then someone talking could be useful as well?”
“I’ve heard that,” the nurse responded.
“I’d like to stay with her, if that’s okay? At least until her family or someone recognizes her. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, thinking that she was alone.”
The nurse put her hand on my arm. “A savior and a saint, whoever she is, she is lucky to have you.”
All I could think was: Elise didn’t seem to think so, but I smiled as the nurse held my gaze a bit too long and left.
I looked over to the bed and walked over to her. She was very beautiful: small nose, full lips, high cheekbones. I fantasized her having green eyes. I’ve always had a thing for green eyes, yet none of my former girlfriends over the years, nor my ex-wife, had possessed them.
Elise. I thought of her as I looked over this exquisite woman. It occurred to me that she has probably seen my televised rescue. I wondered if she had regrets. I’d made it publicly known I’m capable of heroics. Did I do it to spite her subconsciously?
The music stopped and a news report played over the radio. Although I was not mentioned by name, word of what happened seemed to be on all media outlets. Perhaps Elise hadn’t heard. Did I care? I shouldn’t, and I didn’t, or at least that was what I convinced myself of.
“Look at the circus we’ve created,” I said, half expecting a response.
Her hands were folded across her stomach. It freaked me out, mostly because it was a reminder of an open-casket funeral. Her arms were skinny, white with occasional freckles. There was some bruising on both, but not too bad. Her hands were smooth. Her fingers weren’t too long and her nails were well kept but not polished.
“May I take your hand?” I asked stupidly, but still waited for a response, knowing full well none was forthcoming.
“I just don’t like this ‘I’m in the casket’ look,” I explained.
I moved her right hand to her side, it was as soft as it appeared to be, but I didn’t dawdle. I moved her left to the side as well, but I lingered with her hand in mine. It was completely unintentional. I felt her pulse beating through veins under her skin. I realized that it was the first sign of life from her.
“I haven’t held anyone’s hand in a long time. It’s nice.”
I stood there awkwardly, wondering if I was being inappropriate. I rationalized that I was not – after all, had I not acted, there would be no hand to hold. It was clear that when I ran my mind video, that I’ve earned the right to hold this stranger’s hand for as long as I wanted. If it wasn’t for me, she would be rat food.
“My name is Chris,” I said, at a loss as to what information to convey to sleeping beauty.
“I write plays, one was recently done off-Broadway.” I felt a pang of guilt as the words tumbled out. Elise’s pet peeve was that I made myself sound more accomplished than I actually was. “Actually, it was more like off-off-Broadway, but there was talk of a more elaborate production, hopefully there still is…. Sometimes I paint houses to get by.”
I placed her hand at her side and pulled up a plastic chair that was hidden in the corner of the room. I picked up her hand again for some reason I chose not to sit after all. I considered her face. She was very much my type, prettier than Elise really, although my ex-wife had gradually become unattractive to me. I had taken my vows seriously, but sometimes I felt Elise had not. She oftentimes seemed absent. Marriage was supposed to be a partnership, but I often felt like I assumed most of the responsibility for the relationship: our plans, our finances, our future. I worried about it all, constantly, but for the first time as I held this beautiful stranger’s hand, I thought to myself things might just be better for me, now that Elise and I were finished. Of course I had known for a while that the match was no longer a good one, but this was the first hint of belief in that notion. It was odd to me to have a moment of clarity in such unfamiliar circumstances in the company of someone whom I’d never even held a conversation with; yet I felt comfortable.
“Thank you,” I blurted out.
I smiled at her and used my other hand to gently touch her cheek.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but you are exactly what I needed.”
There was a soft knock at the door. I placed her hand gently on her stomach and opened the door. It was the nurse, she stood there holding some newspapers.
“Sorry to bother you, Mr. Salmon.”
“Chris,” I interrupted.
“Chris,” she repeated.
“I don’t remember if you told me your name.”
She smiled gratefully as if no one ever bothered to ask her. “It’s Maggie, but everyone calls me Mags.”
“Okay, Mags. Cool nickname by the way. Mags.” I repeated, letting the letters roll off my tongue.
“I’m not over-staying my welcome, am I? Has someone come forward to…?”
“Oh, no! Nothing like that, Mr. Sal…Chris.”
I smiled in relief. I wasn’t ready to leave her.
“I thought you’d like to see the evening papers – the picture – it’s just so….”
“Cool,” I said, as she showed me the covers of the late editions of the Daily News and the Post.
“I was going to say incredible, but cool works!”
“It is an incredible photo, you’re right, Mags.”
There I was, in silhouette, holding her in my arms, as trains rushed past us in opposite directions. The caption simply read: ‘Hero’
“Geez, I just realized I probably could never top this,” I said, holding up the Daily News.
“Don’t sell yourself short, Chris, staying here, with her, well, it’s emotionally heroic.”
I smiled. Me, emotionally heroic – what would Elise say?
“Anyway, I just thought you’d like to see the papers.”
“Thanks Mags, it was very thoughtful.”
Mags smiled, her hands clasped behind her back as she rocked side to side, almost not knowing what to do next. Finally she just opened the door and said, “I have rounds to make.”
I nodded and watched as she exited, then returned to being Doctor Bedside Manner. I held up the papers in front of her. “Look! We made the evening papers!” I said, hopeful the proclamation might jar her out of her slumber.
It didn’t work. I combed the brief articles, trying to glean any information that I could, what I really wanted to know was her name. I knew it wouldn’t be in the story – if the papers knew her name, so would the hospital – so would her family – her boyfriend – someone, and that someone would claim her – and take her to wherever she belonged, away from me, who ironically felt no sense of belonging whatsoever.
As if on cue, Sadé’s “No Ordinary Love” came on the radio. “When you came my way, you brightened every day, with your sweet smile. Didn’t I tell you what I believe? Did somebody say that – a love like that won’t last. Didn’t I give you all that I got to give back?”
It was a song that had meaning early for Elise and I before we were married. We probably first heard it watching “Indecent Proposal,” Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson were so in love, as were we – nothing could break us then – movie love, at least for a small amount of time. Movie love doesn’t last, was all love ephemeral? Stupid song.
I dropped the newspapers on the windowsill. I opened the blinds and looked out into New York. Darkness had fallen, but the city was illuminated so brightly, we never could see stars in the sky. I sighed and as I exhaled, Sadé was done singing.
It was night. The first night of being divorced, being single. I had to chuckle, because if I had hypothesized I would be alone in a room with a stunning blonde the first night of singleness –well, it sounded better than it actually was, but I realized something as I stared at the nameless girl’s reflection in the window glass: I didn’t feel alone.
“You need a name,” I said, turning around.
I approached the bed and looked at her face, the platinum blonde tresses.
“How about Jean Harlow? Or just Harlow? Yes! That’s it! Harlow. I like it – do you like it?”
I used both hands to not her head for approval.
“Well, it’s settled then, Harlow.”
Having given Harlow a name made her seem more real somehow, such was a necessity for humanity, I supposed. We needed labels and designations to encapsulate our insufficient little lives.
Harlow had been designated, but who was she? Why hadn’t anyone claimed her? How did she get the bruises on her arms? I wanted to justify them by her sleeping on the subway platform, but it looked more like someone had grabbed her with both hands.
Adele’s “We Could Have Had It All” came on the radio. The ultimate crooner to bemoan lost love. Listening to Adele always made me reconsider marital failure ad nauseam, and I’d heard a lot of her recently.
“You ever been in love, Harlow?” I asked.
After a pause, just in case, I continued the one-way conversation.
“I loved my wife, I probably still do.” I considered a moment. “Although I can’t recall the reasons for loving her in the first place.”
I looked at Harlow’s face – she was in her late twenties, was my best guess. Of course she must have been in love – and without a doubt she left a trail of broken hearts in her wake.
Suddenly the door opened and a man dressed in all black came steaming through – a proverbial bull in a china shop. He stopped short upon seeing me sitting there with Harlow. Clearly it was not what he expected. His eyes flitted from me to Harlow briefly, then back to me. I stood suddenly surprising myself, as if in a protective stance of some sort.
“Pardon me,” the Man in Black said with a thick accent of some sort, Russian? Eastern European?
“May I help you?” I asked.
“No,” the man said, shaking his head. “I think I must have the wrong room.”
“It’s okay, it happens. She won’t mind,” I said, gesturing to Harlow.
It was as if permission had been granted to gaze upon the beauty. The man in black looked at her face.
“Will she live?” he asked.
“Gee, I hope so. She’s just unconscious.”
“You are good boyfriend to stay with her.” The man gestured toward Harlow.
“Oh, no, no, no. I’m not her boyfriend – I – we just met – well not even that really. It’s a long story.”
“Ah.” He paused. “Where I come from, we are told to be very wary of strange, beautiful women, always complicated.”
I laughed uncomfortably before nodding my head. “Probably sage advice.”
A small smile crept across the man’s face. “I leave you now, sorry to interrupt.” He waved and let the door close behind him.
“What an oddball!” I said to Harlow.
A news report came on the radio – but I turned it off after hearing the lead-in: hero saves stranger on subway tracks.
“They sure are beating the shit out of that dead horse.”
I took her hand. ” Harlow, what do we have to do to escape it all? Maybe you already have,” I said, staring at the unconscious beauty. I couldn’t be certain, but for a moment I felt what could only be described as jealousy.
“If I could take your place, Harlow, I would. I don’t know where to go from here, I really don’t. I guess I have to start from scratch, but it isn’t scratch, is it really? Not with all the damage done, so to be unconscious, not knowing any better, sure seems like a solid option right now.”
I stroked her hand, then her face. I moved the strands of blonde curls away from her eyes.
“If you were awake, would you even want me here, Harlow?”
I shook my head – “No, of course you wouldn’t.”
I placed her hand down next to her. It may have been self-pity, that feeling of unwantedness that had been a staple in my soul since Elise and I had first been separated.
I turned the radio back on, but changed the station. Classical music had no triggers for me embedded in its melodies, nothing to remind me of joy, pain, or anything for that matter.
I thought about leaving, but found for some reason that I could not. I felt responsible for Harlow – I didn’t want her to wake up alone – I loathed the feeling myself. I could not do it to her, not after what she had been through.
A gentle knock came from the door.
“Come on in, Mags.”
The nurse poked her head in. “How’d you know it was me?”
“I’d know that knock anywhere.”
Mags smiled and entered the room. I hadn’t noticed before but she was pretty in a cherubic way. Mags had a plump face. She wheeled in a tray behind her.
“This food was sent by some catering company – I guess they heard about your heroics.”
“Had I known that jumping in front of a speeding train would get me a free meal, I would have done it a long time ago.”
Mags smiled, forming dimples around her chubby little cheeks.
“I am hungry, though – what do you have there?”
“I don’t know – let’s have a look,” Mags said, lifting the silver tops to the trays revealing scrumptious-looking tea sandwiches, along with a lovely assortment of fruit.
“Wow, this really looks good! Dig in, Mags!”
“I couldn’t. It’s for you and her.”
“She probably won’t eat in her condition,” I pointed out.
“She’ll wake up, Chris – and when she does, I’m sure she’ll be hungry. Besides, my shift is over and I have a hot date!”
“Good for you, Mags. I’m envious.”
“Why should you be? You’re living a romance novel.”
“I’m sorry?”
“It’s just sort of romantic, isn’t it? She’s going to wake up and love you instantly. The other staff and I all think so.”
I had to laugh. “I really doubt that, Mags.”
“Well, I’m rooting for you both. Have a good night.”
“Good luck on your date.”
“Hmm? Oh, yes, that.” She waved good-bye and left the room.
I watched her go – what a nice person, I thought to myself. I looked at the food and sighed.
“I’m going to wash up,” I said to Harlow. “Listen, it would be better if you were awake when I got back. I hate eating alone and I will eat yours!”
I watched her, hoping for a sign of life, but when none came, I went to the bathroom. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I looked tired, haggard, and even desperate. The emptiness I felt on the inside had made its way outward. Elise. She was so hard to let go of. I wanted to, I needed to, but I didn’t. It was as if in the life we shared together my own identity was somehow tethered, and now I was lost. I had been partially erased from my own life by virtue of being fully erased out of Elise’s.
I threw cold water on my face in the pointless hope of the liquid washing away the pain. When I looked back in the mirror, all of it remained.
“Just take care of Harlow, jackass. Maybe some good will come out of it,” I commanded myself.
When I emerged from the bathroom, I sensed I was not alone.
“Harlow?” I called.
She was still, unmoved on her hospital bed.
“Her name is Petra.” The voice said softly. It was a cadence I recognized.
I turned slowly to see the Man in Black. “What do you want? Why are you here?” I demanded.
He stepped out of the shadow of the corner of the room and stood as if assessing me.
“A sandwich to start off with, Chris – one or two of these would do the trick – do you mind?” He smiled, then took a sandwich and downed it in almost one whole bite.
“There are delicious! Mmm. Please, join me!”
“Who the hell are you?”
He ate two more sandwiches, like a snake devouring a mouse whole. He addressed me when he finished.
“That isn’t important, Chris. What is of import is that I have an offer to make you, a bargain of sorts.”
“I don’t bargain with strangers. If you won’t leave, I will call security.”
“Oh, I doubt that.”
“Try me,” I said moving to the door.
“Why not hear me out, Chris? What do you have to lose? I know things about you. I can change the course of events, ease some of that tortured pain you feel.”
I stopped short. “Who are you?”
The man smiled only after devouring two more of the tea sandwiches so quickly, one would have been hesitant to believe that they ever existed. “Who you ask? No, no, no Chris, it won’t do. Who is unimportant, you won’t become familiar enough with me to utter my name – that and it’s rather difficult to pronounce properly – I’m a bit of a stickler for details. What is critical, in your case, is what and how.”
He looked at me with big eyes. It was as if I hadn’t noticed before the hypnotic quality of them, in fact I hadn’t noticed them at all. When I thought back on it, all I remember was a black blur and the Russian accent. Needless to say, it was strange.
“I’m getting security.”
“What if you could have her – Petra – and she loved you unconditionally, at first for saving her, but you would grow on her – for who you are…she would be loyal, Chris…not like that hussy Elise you still pine for.”
“Elise never cheated…wait – you know Elise?”
“I suspect a great many men know Elise, my friend, but she would be gone. Petra would be yours, really yours, in totality. What do you say?”
“I say you’re certifiable and I’m calling for help.”
“What if you could talk to her? She will wake up, and you can get a preview – and let me tell you – underneath those sheets, she is equally as impressive as that face you see above them.”
I opened the door in hope I could see Mags or someone who could come to my rescue. This man was dangerous – he was out of his mind. How did he know Elise? My name? Or even Petra’s?
“Mags! Mags!” I rushed down the hall toward the nurse’s chubby little body but when I put a hand on her shoulder, the woman who turned around was someone else entirely.
“May I help you?” the stranger asked.
“I’m sorry, I thought you might be Mags, Nurse Mags, Maggie,” I stuttered out finally.
“There are hundreds of staff, I’m afraid I don’t know them all. You could have her paged – or perhaps I could help?”
“It’s just…no, I think I will try to find Mags,” I said, attempting to save myself from sounding like a sheer lunatic.
“Okay then, I’m going to get back to my rounds.”
“Sorry for the misunderstanding.”
She nodded as if she felt sorry for me. Hell, I felt sorry for me. The man in black had truly sent me for a loop. I went back to Harlow/Petra’s room, prepared to confront the man, even though I probably had no right to. He knew Petra, when in reality I did not. I would be the strange man in the room, not him. However, when I returned the man in black was gone, along with the sandwiches. All that remained were crumbs and an apple – a perfectly formed pale green apple. Granny Smith happened to be my favorite.
I opened the bathroom door to make sure he wasn’t hiding in there, but it was empty. I poked my head back out the door, and scanned the hallway. Nothing. Poof! The man in black was gone, disappeared. I was relieved and hungry. I took the apple from the tray and went into the bathroom to wash it off. Elise had been an apple lover – she had turned me on to all sorts of varieties that I never knew existed: pink lady, Fuji, honey crisp. I caught a glimpse of my image in the mirror and scolded myself. “Just let her go already, will ya!”
I exited from the bathroom, taking a huge bite of the fruit. It made a crunching sound loud enough to be a thunderclap. Sour juice sprayed my mouth, delighting my taste buds. I moaned almost orgasmically, it was an orgasm of sorts, of the food variety. I distinctly remember the taste so delicious, but also as the moment when Harlow spoke.
“Please,” she said. “May I have a bite of that? I’m famished.”
“You’re awake!” I smiled, rushing to her side.
“You’ve been in an accident. I should get someone.”
She put her hand on my arm, calming me instantly. “Don’t leave. Please, may I have a bite?”
“Huh? Of course,” I said realizing that I still held the apple.
I brought the uneaten portion of the apple to her puffy lips and she took a substantial bite. She chewed slowly in certain ecstasy.
“Granny Smith are my favorite, but this apple, your apple, is the best one I think I’ve ever tasted.”
I stood speechless as Harlow took smaller bites at the apple, holding my hand that held the fruit she was savoring. “Share this with me, Chris.”
“How do you know my name?”
“You told me, silly. Just like I know you write plays. Off-off-Broadway ones. Now take a bite. I’m sentimental, Chris, as our first moment together I want it to be memorable, so indulge me?”
I melted, right then and there like a stick of butter left in the sun, and promptly took a bite of the apple. We took turns finishing the fruit in silence.
“Do you remember what happened? On the subway platform?” I asked.
Harlow batted her eyes at me. They were green, a deep hunter green that if I looked into too long , I felt as if I would never be able to look away.
“Um, no, I don’t,” she said, eyes darting to the floor.
I wanted to probe, but sensed I should not.
“I’m going to get someone to let them know you’re awake.”
“No need,” Mags said, startling me.
I turned to see her in the doorway. She waved.
Mags approached the bed and put two fingers on Harlow’s wrist.
“I’m going to dispose of this,” I said, holding up what was left of the apple core.
“I’m Nurse Maggie, do you know your name? We couldn’t find any identification on you.”
The girl paused, searching, considering. “Yes, I know my name. It’s Harlow.”
“Is that a first name or last?” Mags asked as I looked on in amazement.
“Harlow’s my first name,” she said watching me closely. “Harlow Apple.”
“Harlow Apple? Any relation to Fiona Apple?” Mags joked.
“Harlow Apple,” I repeated.
“It’s a long story, one I will gladly share at some point, but if I’m uninjured, I’d very much like to leave,” said Harlow.
“We need to run some tests to make sure you’re fit enough. I’ll get on it. You know – this man saved your life,” Mags said pointing to me, still dumbfounded, apple core in hand.
Harlow smiled. “Yes, I know. Chris, will you stay with me a while?”
I nodded. “Yes, Harlow. I wouldn’t leave you alone.”
“I’ll be back soon,” Mags said, giving me a knowing look as she walked by me to exit.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world, being lonely, don’t you think, Chris?”
“No question,” I agreed.
“Will you throw that out and come back here? I like it when you are close.”
I stood there stupidly, drunk with emotion, so much so, the remnants of the apple core I was holding were long forgotten.
“Give me a sec,” I said, opening the bathroom door and going inside.
I threw the core into the toilet and flushed it. I washed my hands and threw cold water on my face.
“Just a preview,” the Russian-accented voice said.
I looked up and saw the man in black through the mirror. I whipped around quickly, but when I did he was gone, or never there at all. Was I trying to ruin this incredible moment in my life subconsciously?
I calmed myself best I could, but I didn’t want to make Harlow wait alone. I was her ballast, and perhaps she was quickly becoming mine. I exited the bathroom.
Harlow was up out of bed, she scoured the room but stopped when she saw me.
“Do you know where my clothes are?” she asked.
“I don’t,” I said, checking out her body that was outlined under the sheer, cheap paper gown the hospital had issued.
Harlow looked under the bed as I watched her every move. She was petite, full-breasted, with a tiny waist, all held up by skinny bronze legs which poked out from under the gown. She popped up from under the bed suddenly and caught me ogling. A wicked smile crept across her face. “You like?” she asked, raising her hands above her head seductively and doing a twirl.
All I managed was a nod. Harlow Apple was an exquisite creature. Seeing her in total, for the first time like that, made one wonder if I had forgotten to breathe. I felt dizzy, or at least my world, at that moment, spun fully off its axis into an equilibrium-defying bliss so incredible it was doubtful the human body was capable of enduring it.
Harlow walked over to me and took my hand.
“I feel so comfortable with you, Chris. Do you think we’ve met before?”
“I would have remembered if we had.”
“No, not in this lifetime – in another. What if fate put us back together? Oh, listen to me prattle on with such nonsense. I’m notoriously hopeless when it comes to romance. Can you forgive me? A guy like you probably isn’t even single.”
I held up my ringless hand. “Freshly divorced, today in fact, right before the subway….”
Harlow dropped my hand and got in bed. I looked down, not knowing what to say or do. There were some questions. Who was she? What happened to her? Where was all this going? Why did she say her name was Harlow? How could I leave her, ever?
“Harlow isn’t your real name,” I said. “Why did you say it was?”
“Come sit with me, Chris,” she said, extending her arms.
I was powerless. I couldn’t be sure why. Was it her preternatural beauty? Did I feel responsible for her life I saved? Or was it just the way she treated me, like I was the only man on the planet? I went to her. She extended her hand to me and I took it, letter her hand guide me as to position. I ended up sitting on the bed, propped up by Harlow’s pillows.
“Can I put my head in your lap?”
I nodded and Harlow used my legs as her pillow. We sat in silence for a while. She rested her hand on my thigh in front of her face and for some reason I started playing with her curly blonde hair. I combed through her curls with my fingers gently, eventually working my way to her scalp where I massaged her carefully, wary of any pain she may have felt from her experience on the tracks.
“I like the way you touch me, Chris. It’s genuine. I haven’t had a lot of that in my life. Well, at least not recently, and we all need some real caring from time to time, don’t we?”
“Yes, of course we do, Harlow.”
She sat up suddenly and I could only stare into the dark green pools of her eyes. I was paralyzed by the intensity of whatever was happening between us. She looked down briefly, and then met my gaze again. She put two fingers on my lips softly, pressing ever so delicately.
“I did it for you, the name, Harlow. I knew you liked it.”
“How?”
She shook her head. “I honestly don’t know it’s as if I learned all sorts of things in a dream. It’s how I knew you saved me, too. Are you mad?”
“About what?”
“The name.”
“How could I be?” I paused. “Guess I would like to know who you really are. Where you came from. How you ended up where I found you.”
“Yeah,” she said looking away.
“When you’re ready, you can tell me.”
Harlow’s eyes met mine, and she smiled gratefully.
“Get me out of here, Chris,” she said, pleading. “I don’t feel safe here. I want to go with you, that is, if it’s okay?”
A knock came before I answered and Mags poked her head in. “The doctor has ordered a scan, he wants to make sure you are in good enough condition to be released.”
Harlow looked at me nervously.
I turned to Mags. “Is that necessary?”
“If she wants to be discharged, it is. It should only take about an hour, then once a tech can read it, we can start paper work, two, three hours tops.”
“It doesn’t sound so bad, Harlow.”
She nodded slightly.
“I’ll set it up then. Be back in a few to collect you, Ms. Apple,” Mags said, closing the door behind her.
“Let’s just run, Chris,” she said, taking my hand.
“We don’t have to run anywhere, Harlow. It’s nothing just a test. Don’t you want to make sure you’re okay?”
Harlow’s dark green eyes stared at me, almost through me, then off to the side.
“That’s the thing, Chris. I’m not okay.”
She looked back at me, eyes welling. I stroked her face, wiping away the rivulets of tears that flowed down her cheeks.
“Can we get it fixed? We are in a hospital, and….”
“No,” she said, cutting me off. “It’s not physical, but I am damaged.”
“Harlow, we all are.”
“You don’t understand.”
“No, I don’t, but you can tell me if you want.”
She sighed deeply. “What if I tell you and you don’t like me anymore?”
“I can’t imagine anything that bad, Harlow – what happened to fate?”
She smiled. “You really think so?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged, “but I’m willing to find out. I just think you should let them make sure you’re okay before we bust out of here.”
“Okay. If you think so,” she said, nodding.
Mags came in as if on cue with a wheelchair. We helped Harlow into it. I went to kiss Harlow on the forehead, but she quickly moved he lips to find mine and we kissed. I lingered out of surprise, out of lust, out of hope, one or probably a bit of all three. My body tingled and when the kiss ended, I saw stars due to the fact I had forgotten to breathe for the duration.
“I’ll bring her back soon,” Mags said, beginning to wheel her out.
“I can wait here?” I asked.
Mags nodded. “There are some sandwiches in the hall. I see you ate up round one. Just roll the cart in.”
“Okay, thanks. I’ll see you soon, Harlow.” I waved.
She waved nervously back at me, and then held onto the armrests of the wheelchair as if she were about to ride the rollercoaster from hell.
I followed Mags and Harlow of the door and watched as they proceeded down the hall. Finally I saw the tray full of tea sandwiches. I wheeled them greedily into Harlow’s room, thinking about how hungry I was and how delicious they appeared.
The room was dark. Had I just not walked out of it, I would have been certain I’d entered the wrong room. I fumbled for the light, but couldn’t find it anywhere on the wall.
“Let me help,” the voice came.
The light went on and there he was, lying on Harlow’s bed.
“You’ve brought sandwiches – you are a true savior, Chris,” he said getting up, removing the saran wrap and downing two sandwiches in an instant.
“Chris, you really must have one, I insist. Last time I went and ate them all, didn’t I?” He chuckled, pushing the plate toward me.
“I’ve lost my appetite.”
“Have you? A shame. I can’t tempt you with one small bite?’
“If it will get you to leave me alone, I’ll do about anything.”
“Anything? Now that is intriguing.”
I took a bite. It was a lovely sandwich, honey mustard, avocado, tomato, red onion, and brie, if I wasn’t mistaken. “Wow.”
“I told you.”
“You did. Now will you leave me be?”
“I’m afraid not. We have business.”
“You said you would leave me….”
He shook his head. “No, you asked if I would leave you be. I said the proposition was an intriguing one. Details, Chris, remember? I’m a stickler, I’m afraid I have to be.”
“What do you want?!” I demanded.
“I think you know what I want, Chris, just like I know what you want.”
“Really?!”
“Really,” he said downing two more sandwiches.
“I didn’t think a stranger….”
“You are a feeble lot, aren’t you? Pretty much you all want the same things, but you, Chris, you’re an artist, so you have special needs.”
“Special needs,” I droned.
The man in black nodded. “So what’ll it be? Door #1 or Door #2?”
“Fuck you, this is a trick.”
He sighed. “Petra is a special woman, Chris – there are perks to having a goddess indebted to you for life, but if you don’t like what you saw, well then. I guess I can understand. You can go back to your shitty little flat alone again, order some Mexican food and watch TV while you pine over your ex, or you can begin a life with unparalleled success. You get it all: the career, the girl, everything, but best of all you put that bitch Elise in your rearview – make her feel like she really fucked up. Now how sweet would that be?’
I took a sandwich absently and ate it ravenously. He was right, it all did sound sweet, but sound and actuality were two different things.
“What’s the catch?” I asked.
He looked up at me like a poker player who knows his opponent just bet all his chips but he’s got the best possible hand.
“These sandwiches are made with soul, Chris. I should know. I own the little shop in Staten Island that makes them. We cater to the entire city.”
“Good for you,” I quipped. “I’m going to check on Harlow, and if and when we get back to this room, do us a favor and don’t be here.”
I walked brazenly to the door.
“You’ll lose it all Chris if you leave without a deal in place.
I stopped with my hand on the knob. I took a deep breath and turned to him. “I already have lost everything – deal or no deal, I still start over from nothing. Thanks for the sandwich,” I said, as I turned and walked out the door.