Hannah Seulgee Jung ’15
She was asleep on my shoulder. I wanted to wake her, ask her, Excuse me, haven’t you missed your stop? But the ticket she held in her hand said, no, not until the very last. Her hair tickled my chin and for a moment I thought she smelled like Elle. Lavender soap and soft water.
I had another half hour left to the city in which I had loved. She’s got another man but enough time and distance stood between us. I was going there to meet my buddy from boarding school. We were on the debate team and had roomed together. Seeing her came as an afterthought, a secondary business.
Her father’s business was quite lucrative. Hedge fund, it was called. He was my height, an older version of a J. Crew model. He was not good-looking but there was a charm in his speech and eyes that made you think he was. Handsome, even. I wanted to be like him. I wanted to make people believe I was better than they thought. I studied his jaw as he chewed his food, the dignity he leaned back with in any stiff chair, his unassuming gait of an athlete. Once I saw his empty cologne bottle in the trash and noted the Italian brand. I tried to laugh like him, and I tried not to think of my dad with his glasses propped on his forehead, asking me where they were. It was an old game we used to play when I was a kid. Dad pretended he couldn’t see anything and I’d come to his rescue, say, Dad, they’re on your forehead! After he died I pretended he was invisible. As a memento I kept his glasses and his corrected vision became my inheritance. The people in my life appeared smaller than they were, a virtual image through a pair of diverging lens.
I tried to stretch. The girl’s head was heavy and my shoulder was asleep. In her closed eyelids I could see the purple veins. Following one downstream I found a scar, just under the left eye next to her nose. When she cries the scar will collect her tears. When she wakes up the ticket will still be in her hand and her head on my shoulder and she will ask, Excuse me, haven’t you missed your stop?
I missed Elle. I missed that rainy morning in Grant Park when she took off my wet glasses and traced her finger over my brow. “What do you see,” she said, “in me?” I could only tell that her face was hers and that she had my glasses on. She wanted to see as I saw, a corrected vision reduced in scale. I closed my eyes. The rain was falling hard on the umbrella. To not see her at all was better than to see her fading, blurring in the rain, drowned out. “Hmm?” She asked. Her finger was on my temple, cold, then along my ear. “You look like a dream,” she stated. “Familiar and unrecognizable.” She meant I was becoming more like her dad. She stopped her tracing. The rain and the faint traffic along Michigan Avenue was all I heard. I felt the heat of her body as she drew closer, as if to whisper something in my ear. No, she was leaning in to kiss me. Of course. “I wish you were real,” she told me as her nose touched mine. Her breath was warm, her face a pixelation in my mind. There was a picture I took that moment just before the kiss pressed like a camera shutter. It was something I learned from Dad—to imagine inside your eyes without seeing. But when I opened them her hair was dampened dark and the rain had stopped. I felt a claustrophobic suspension. She had sneezed instead. Elle was like that. Ruined the moment only she could ruin. “Bless you,” I finally said.
I was looking out the window when the girl on my shoulder stirred, rubbed her eyes. She shot up. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” She wiped the drool from her mouth with the hand that held her ticket. She reminded me of my buddy, how he would also flush red when he lost a debate. He wore mismatched socks and bow ties and managed not to look funny. He ruffled his hair when he was nervous and chewed mint because he couldn’t smoke. He took the longest showers in the mornings when no other boy in the dorm was awake. I knew he was thinking in there, with the water falling on his head. He was trying to forget me, how I had changed his mind about Elle and that I had loved her too. He tried to forget the books I had given her shelved in her room, my glasses she wore to magnify her eyes, the flat tone she used to tease him that was mine.
When my shoulder was no longer asleep the girl had gotten off the train and I had missed my stop.