Something I found in my notebook. April, 2009?
I'm on the subway holding a bouquet of flowers. I'm going uptown, way uptown, to a cute town in the Bronx called Pelham. Despite the quaintness of my final destination, the journey there can be a bit spotty. Fights, screaming fits, and the occasional homeless person relieving themselves is an often occurrence on this subway. Basically, you have to keep on your toes.
So I'm holding and sniffing my flowers when a crew of a guys come on. There's 12 of them. Wife-beaters, tattoos, and thick gold chains...It's exactly what you're picturing, and they surround me.
"Nice flowers," a voice says.
I pause and look up. Real up, and I see a man of about 6'7'' and 300 pounds. He's got a tattoos on his face, of spider webs growing out from his sideburns. His voice is low, so low I'm not sure if it's him or the moving train vibrating my feet, and I can tell he's the man in charge.
"Thanks," I say, and the other guys laugh, like they know a joke that I can't seem to get.
"Where you taking those pretty, pretty flowers?" the big man says, and I start to sweat. By now the other passengers are on the far end of the train. I'm alone, just standing there, sweating, watching the big man raise his arm and expose his bicep and a long, thin, pink scar covering his ribcage.
"I wish I had some pretty, pretty flowers like that," the big man says. And the guys snicker. They clap their hands and stomp their feet, and I stay still, huddled and tightly gripping the stems. The other passenger lean forward, but no one says a word.
"These flowers are for my lady," I say. And everyone gets quiet. A bead of sweat drips from my cheek and lands on my hand, and the big man sighs. He leans in close, sniffing me like I'm sniffing the flowers.
"You want one?" I say.
And there was a pause. The guys, the passengers, and even the big man is now looking from side to side, like I'm telling a joke that no one seems to get but me.
"You trying to give me a flower?" the big man says.
"Just one," I say. And I swallow and look at my bouquet. I designed it myself, perfect, picking random flowers and putting them in order, and I slowly slide one out from the center, a thin, pink rose.
"Here," I say. And I hold the rose out.
The big man stares at it. He's silent. It's like he's only seen roses in the movies, but never actually held one in real life, and he opens his mouth, like he might say something, and he gasps. A little, tiny, cute gasp. Then he slowly reaches for the rose. His large, callused palms grip the delicate stem. He sniffs it, and for a second the other guys laugh, but he shoots them a look and they quite back down.
"Enjoy the pretty, pretty rose," I say. And then the subway stops. The doors open and the guys file out, silent, and looking down at their feet. The big man is the last to leave. He doesn't speak, he just holds the rose close to his wide chest, protecting it, right below his thick, gold chain. For a second I think he might smile, but there's nothing...Just a big gangster holding a rose.
Then the train takes off to a cute town called Pelham in the Bronx, and my perfect bouquet feels light.