By Todd Crickmer
The century-old boards creaked and groaned under the weight of Zeke’s boots. The sun bore down on the weathered brim of his cowboy hat as he brought his hand to his face to shield it from the noonday sun. Peering through the grime-incrusted station windows, he could hear the old railroad station clock ticking, but even straining, he still couldn’t see it. Stepping back from the window, he wondered why the haunting sound was even audible, as the old station had probably been abandoned more than a hundred years ago.
Turning to look down the polished tracks as they vanished into the wilderness, he marveled that they seemed straight as an arrow, even as they faded to a theoretical vanishing point on the distant horizon. Zeke knew it was a dream, but why was he dreaming of a desolate ghost town, like from some John Ford western. And why was the dream in black and white? Zeke had never seen a black and white TV in his life, but he had seen old western movies. Maybe that was it.
Anna twisted uncomfortably on her hard wooden stool. Her hand ached from drawing sketch after sketch of vanishing perspective drawings. And why in hard pencil? The black and white aspect of the pictures left her feeling more depressed than she already was. This is not what she expected from a prestigious New York art school. She had done dozens of these drawings in seventh-grade art class. When were they going to let her move on?
As the clock on the wall of the Brooklyn School of Fine Art finally reached four o’clock, the instructor called the class for the day. Anna stared at her easel in disgust. “I’m wasting my time here,” she thought to herself. “I could have stayed in Oklahoma and done this.” Ever since she had seen an exhibit at the Kimball in Fort Worth when she was in fourth grade, all she had ever wanted to be, was an artist in the style of Georgia O’Keefe.
Grabbing her backpack, she hurried to the Borough Hall subway station. It was already rush hour, and she wanted to be sure to catch the next train. It was a long way to the 145th Street station in Upper Manhattan. And then it was still a four-block walk to her cramped studio apartment. Standing on the platform, she gazed into the inky blackness of the subway tunnel – hoping to see the light of an approaching train at any minute.
Suddenly, someone bumped her shoulder as they passed, going in the opposite direction. It was a tall skinny young man in blue jeans and a white western-style shirt. He didn’t even turn his head to say, “excuse me.” Welcome to New York, she thought to herself.
Zeke hated New York. After four years in the Army, he was excited to get a job with a government contractor. He assumed he would be spending most of his time traveling, working in the field, doing many of the same things he had done while in the military, only without all the bullshit of army life. But here he was, stuck in the corporate office, with no fresh air, no freedom of movement, and no way to put his four years of experience to any practical use.
Zeke stopped twenty yards down the platform from where he felt he had bumped someone. He turned to see if he could recognize who it was, but it was too late; the station was far too crowded. He felt bad. He was not raised that way back in Wyoming. Back home, if you accidentally bumped into someone, you would immediately stop and offer an apology. But back home, there were no crowds like this. No subways. And despite its legendary wide open spaces, there was no loneliness like he experienced here. He hated New York – and the endless miles of subway track that just simply vanished into the darkness.
The next morning, as Anna perched herself on her wooden stool, the instructor cheerfully said, “Okay, get out your colored pencil set and select your favorite vanishing point drawing. Today we are going to start coloring it in. “Oh my God,” Anna almost said out loud. She had been waiting for this for months. All she wanted to do was capture the soft desert colors of New Mexico. The way Georgia O’Keefe had done more than eighty years ago. Finally, there was to be color in her life.
Tossing on his lumpy mattress, Zeke’s dream from the previous night reappeared. As he stood on the long forgotten station platform, he stared into the morning sun. But as he shielded his eyes from the light, color began to appear. He looked away, and the black and white landscape of the night before slowly morphed into pastel shades of reds, and browns, with green grass in the pastures, just like back home on his family’s ranch. Though the ghost town remained empty of people or animals, there was suddenly life. Zeke’s spirit was lifted.
Anna patiently stood in line at her neighborhood bodega as she waited nervously to pay for her morning coke. The next subway was due in five minutes, and Anna was anxious to make it. Otherwise, she would have to wait at least fifteen minutes for the next train, and that would make her late for class. As she dug in her purse for the correct change, a cowboy suddenly pushed ahead of her. Slapping three dollars down on the counter to pay for a red bull, he didn’t even wait for his change as he dashed for the door.
F-you, Anna thought to herself, but caught the words in her throat before saying them out loud. She wasn’t raised that way, and she realized it was just one more aspect of living in the Big Apple. Anna assumed the tall stranger was also trying to catch the same train as her, and she hoped she wouldn’t meet him on the subway, as she wasn’t sure she would be able to remain civil if meeting him face to face.
That afternoon, two strangers passed through the Borough Hill subway station turnstile side-by-side. Heading for the stairs to take them to the platform, Anna turned left, and Zeke turned right. Three levels below the street, the platform was already crowded. Zeke moved to what seemed to be a small opening within the throng. Turning to look down the track, Zeke waited for the light of an oncoming train to appear out of the darkness. Suddenly he was bumped from behind. Intuitively, he jerked around to see who or what it was. He had had a good day today, and he didn’t need some jerk to push him around on the subway.
Anna’s eye shot up to see a skinny six-foot-tall stranger in blue jeans and a white western shirt staring down at her. She was struck speechless as she gazed into his soft hazel eyes. She had no idea who he was, or where he had come from. But she was dumbstruck by his presence. Zeke was equally stunned. Stunned speechless in fact, as he looked down into the most lovingly and forgiving green eyes he had ever seen in his life. And in less than a New York minute, the loneliness of two strangers vanished in a blink of an eye.