I met a man on the subway one day. He seemed nice enough. Each of us had a long ride ahead, and the carriage was empty, so we got to talking. After a while, he gestured to the ring on my finger and asked the obvious.
I nodded quietly. He coughed in response.
“It won’t always be easy, you know. Me and my Delia have fifty years now. Never was easy.”
I smiled. He reminded me of my grandfather. Wisps of white hair clung to his ears and nose in unfashionable clumps. Wrinkles formed solid lines along his arms and fine liver spots dotted his hands. He held this old-fashioned cane with a gnarled lion at the top.
“How did you folks meet?”
He cupped his ear.
“I didn’t get ya.” He snorted while pushing closer. “Lost partial hearing in the war.”
He stuck out his hand.
“Marvin. Or Marv. Rude of me. Should have said it before.”
I shook it.
“Pleasure to meet you. I’m Matt. I asked how you and your wife met.”
Marvin smiled and took a look out of my passenger window.
“At a bar, of course, a story as unoriginal as any other.” He chuckled. “But there was nothing plain about her red little dress. What does my grandson call it? Fire. If there was one word to describe Delia Baker in 1953, it would be fire. Eighteen and far from in between. There was a song that used to go that way. She knew all the words.”
Marv tapped his cane excitedly.
“You know what, kid?” he asked. “I’ll let you in on a little secret.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?”
He smiled toothily.
“She’s here right now.”
I looked around the cabin.
“I don’t see anybody.”
Marvin chuckled again and patted me on the back. The hair on my neck straightened. Something about close quarters with a stranger and suddenly schizophrenic confessions made me squirm.
“You must think I’m a loon,” he whispered. “Go on, say it.”
He paused and attempted his best valley-girl accent.
“Say, ‘Oh, Marv, you’re such a loon.’”
The visual of an old man impersonating a teenager did nothing to ease my nerves. I looked up and down the carriage. I hoped to recruit another person to pawn off the conversation. That used to be my strategy back in the commuter days. But it was empty.
“Marv, you’re such a loon.”
He grinned again.
“I don’t mean she’s here physically, of course. But she is here. Clear as day. She liked your comment. The loon comment. She’s wearing that red dress again. Gosh, she looks beautiful in it. Same as the day we met.”
“That’s incredible,” I mumbled. “Really something.”
“He doesn’t believe us,” Marv snapped with lightning-fast anger. “Show him, Dee.”
A ticket checker from the transit system walked by. Marv tapped his cane. The woman fell. She smacked her mouth against a metal bolt in the railing. Blood poured down her chin.
“Klutz.” He giggled. “Who’s next?”
I shook my head aggressively. But Marv tapped his cane once more. The lights to the cabin flicked back and forth. The doors slams slammed shut and open. Wind howled through open windows. A horrific ringing the cabin. I screamed and begged for him to cut it out.
“Why?! Why are you telling me this?”
“My wife loves to prove a point.”
Suddenly everything stopped. The lights turned back on. The windows were closed. The same ticket checker appeared. She yanked the stubs from their holder and shot us a dirty look. Her lip was fine.
“You’re in love,” Marv whispered. “Loss could happen to you.”
He twirled his fingers around the cane and smiled sadly.
“My wife and I were together over fifty years before she passed. I spent more time with her than without her. This world feels empty without her. I don’t understand anything without her.”
I nodded hesitantly.
“I don’t want to be here without her. I just want to go back to that night at the bar. Back to when we were young. Back then we were only eighteen years old and nothing else at all mattered on this planet but each other…”
He looked at me.
“But there’s only one way to do it.”
The train bell rang. White Valley Boulevard. Marvin got up hesitantly and pointed to the sign. I stared back, unsure of what to say, unsure of what to do. He shuffled off without another word.
I watched Marv push past the other passengers in order to reach the platform below. I watched as he checked the tracks two times. I watched him straighten his tie, and lace his shoes, and smooth his hair, and I swore, just for a moment, a woman in a red dress appeared by his side. She wrapped an arm around his waist. They embraced.
Then poor old Marv jumped into the D-train toward Follaton.
I can still picture his face.
He looked happy.