Peter looked into the mirrored store window and straightened the green tie that ran down his chest like a snake.
A woman neared his shoulder, and Peter turned his chin toward her. Her face was deeply lined. “Excuse me, sir, my Social Security check is late. I had to leave groceries at the counter. Could you lend me twenty dollars?”
“You want me to give you twenty dollars?”
“I’ll pay you back when I get my check.”
Peter thought, that’s a lie. The Gristides was two doors away. He said, “Where do you live?”
She took a half step back.
“I’ll buy the groceries and carry them to your apartment.”
“I can do it.”
“Do you want my help or not?”
“Could you just give me the money?”
Peter shook his head.
The woman eyed Peter’s designer suit. She led him into the Gristides.
Peter placed two large paper bags of groceries on the Formica kitchen table, and sat on a vinyl chair. The woman watched him and squeezed the wrinkled fingers of her left hand.
Peter looked around the apartment. There was an embroidered spread on a single bed in the corner. A twelve-inch TV had a wire hanger for an antenna. There was a small fridge, a stove, and a tattered brown chair. He said, “I don’t see pictures. No family?”
“Me either. My mother abandoned me to an orphanage. No one adopted me.”
“Nonetheless, I’ve been successful.”
“No thanks to her.”
The woman stiffened. Seconds ticked off an audible clock.
“Make me a cup of tea.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I said, a cup of tea.”
With an eye on Peter, she filled a small steel pot from a porcelain sink. Her unsteady hand plunked it on the black burner, and she turned on the flame.
Peter leaned his chin on his fist.
Her voice was unsteady. “We should have bought some cookies. I don’t have anything to serve with tea.”
Peter shrugged his shoulders.
The whistle on the pot caused her to jump. She poured the steaming water into a cup with a brown-stained crack.
Close to him, she smelled like a moldy basement.
She backed up to the stove.
Peter let the tea sit. “Nothing for you?”
“I’m not your mother.”
Her words came quicker. “I never had a child. I only wish I did. I would’ve cherished him.”
Peter shifted in the chair, and she flinched. Her hand brushed the still hot burner. “Oh.”
She brought her hand to her mouth. Her eyes widened. “Please don’t hurt me.”
Peter thought, I’ll have her by the throat before she can scream. Will her face show surprise? Will she scratch for her life? The Gristides checkout girl saw us together, and she’ll remember me. Peter felt his heart beat faster. Interesting, he thought, risk adds excitement.
Peter was back on the street. He looked at his face in a car mirror. Not a mark. He avoided eye contact, and walked to a subway station two blocks away. On the train platform a woman stood near a column wearing a tattered rain coat that hung down to her ankles, and a cloth cap pulled down low. She had two overstuffed shopping bags. Every filthy thing she owns, Peter thought. He casually closed the gap between them She had dirty, broken nails, and smelled like a cesspool.
“Got some spare change, mister?”
Peter smiled. “Certainly, mother.” He had a few bills ready in his pants pocket.
“Much obliged.” She took time to count, fold and stuff the money underneath her coat.
Peter looked around. A man in a cashmere, camel coat had a New York Times folded to read an article. He gazed at Peter over the paper. When their eyes met, the man smiled under his mustache.
Peter thought, anyone who can afford a cashmere coat doesn’t ride the subway unless he has an ulterior motive. Who smiles at a man in a New York subway? Must be gay.
Peter turned back to the woman. He positioned himself behind her. She’s slim, he thought, it wouldn’t take much of a shove to get her over the edge of the platform. An old woman, unsteady, maybe drunk, she lost her balance and fell. Even Oscar Wilde in the camel coat won’t be able to contradict my story. Anyway, if you fear risk, don’t play the game. That’s the sport. Peter smiled to himself. But let’s be fair. We’ll put into God’s hands. I’ll count to twenty. If no train comes, I’ll call it off. If God wants her to live, she will. She can continue her miserable existence. Okay. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight…
Peter felt the wind of an oncoming train on his cheek. His heart rate surged, and oxygen filled his lungs. The roar of wheels on steel was building to a crescendo. Peter raised his palms. Not too obvious, he thought. Let the column block my move.
Peter was struck by a double punch of fists to his back. He hurtled forward, lost his balance and tumbled over the edge of the platform. He twisted in the air and caught a glimpse of a sneer under a mustache before the train slammed into him and ripped off his legs.
Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. He and his wife, Jane, lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and Netherlands. They now live in Texas with their little Shih Tzu, Sophia. Joe’s stories appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Black Heart Magazine, Crack the Spine, The Summerset Review, Forge, River Poets Journal, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, Writers Abroad, Bong is Bard, The Stone Hobo, Johnny America, Infective Ink, Milk Sugar, The Newer York and Orion Headless.