Not Nostalgia by Kea Allis

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“Doors opening. Please stand back. Doors opening.”

The conductor’s voice screeched over the intercom, incomprehensibly announcing the next stop. Three stops until Trish and the kids. Three stops until walking in the door to see two pigtails, a bowl cut, and Trish’s messy brown bun. Three stops until a mediocre crockpot meal and the smudges of finger paints. And out of this piss-perfumed subway car.

But the blonde….

Travis opened his tired eyes. Was it just his imagination, or had the new girl been hitting on him? He’d showed her how to mix that one martini and she’d laughed but… No way. No. Way.

“Doors closing. Please stand back. Doors closing.”

He must have been imagining it… but, then again, why not? He looked good. Well, as good as anyone past forty-five could, right? He sat up, ran his fingers through a head of thick hair. Graying, but plentiful. The metro pushed off. A woman turned the pages of her novel, a man balanced his bike and adjusted his iPod.

Travis sighed. The blonde was pretty. Those soft eyes… like Trish before her law firm went under and she became a stay-at-home mom who painted while the kids went to preschool. She seemed to have withered sense then, still smiling but deflated. Some people just weren’t suited for the stay-at-home thing. She’d lost her edge. But really, what was there to gripe about?

His business is fairly good–the bar makes enough money, and the employees take care of it evenings and weekends so that he can be home with her and the kids. It wasn’t the Georgetown house she’d dreamed of, sure. But it was a place she could paint and he could be home by seven. Anyways, she’d always complained that the firm never gave her enough time to paint or be with the kids. Now she had both!

And that blonde. That young woman who had looked at him like he had all the answers. Called his salt-and-pepper hair ‘esteemed.’ Trish looked at him like he’d left her hanging and asked why he didn’t try Touch of Gray. He spent too much time at the bar during the week, then too much time sleeping on the weekends.

Esteemed.

At least he had something. It was good that he’d bought the bar before the firm went under because they had something. Why was the firm so important? Was it the prestige? The briefcases and the suits? Nah. She’d told him once, “I miss Jason.” It was an offhand, casual comment. And he trusted her (doesn’t he still?) so he tried not to listen to that gnawing fear, that inch of doubt that wondered about the late nights at the office and the 24/7 business calls. And she’d told Travis. “Just a friend… fling in college, but it was a mistake…”

He sighed, zipped up his leather jacket. So what if he wasn’t the professional man she’d married? He’d traded the white coat and stethoscope for a pub t-shirt and beer coasters. So what?

“Doors opening. Please stand back. Doors opening.” The piss smell turned into the scent of hot concrete. Lady with Novel and Man with Bike left the car.

Two college-aged girls walk in, gossiping and tapping their phones. He watched the curly-haired one: “…and I just don’t know, Cole’s so sweet, but I feel like Mark’ll, you know, GO SOMEWHERE. Like, he’ll do something with his life. He’s got, like, ambition or whatever.”

The other one nodded, then her eyes flashed in his direction. She saw Travis watching them. He pretended to come out of a haze, acted embarrassed for looking at her. He leaned back, listening. A cloud of piss smell formed as the doors shut.

“Doors closing. Please stand back. Doors closing.”

“Like, Cole has all this great music stuff going for him now but, like, where’s that gonna go? At least Mark has a back-up, right? Like, say he doesn’t get to play drums for the rest of his life, at least he’s got a business major! Cole just has what? A few gigs at weddings and night clubs or whatever?”

The stench was getting stronger. The girls did not seem to notice.

Look at them. He wanted that – to imagine and predict. To not have real bills to pay or a potentially cheating wife who’s annoyed that you own a marginally successful bar while she takes care of the kids. To not worry that you’re going gray, the near future holding only frat parties and finals.

On the other hand, he did have Casey and Ryan. With their sticky little hands and their soft toddler tummies and their “Daddy’s home! Daddy, Daddy! Lookit me!” With the child’s-sized cleats and the little baseball bats. Trish had found the one and only co-ed little league in the District. He knew that Casey sometimes intimidated Ryan into playing (“I’m a girl and I’m not scared!”) but it worked. He’d slowly watched his son evolve from barely touching the ball to getting two bases last weekend. As for Casey, she was like her mom—she walked to bat confidently, no push needed.

“Doors opening. Please stand back. Doors opening.”

What was it Trish had said about Casey… something about the PTA. He hadn’t heard her, he’d been focused on making the schedule for next week. He’d be expected to know about it when he got home. He sighed.

The girls were speaking softly. Travis parted his eyes into slits. The brown-eyed one was leaning into the curly one, swiping her phone. They giggled. The curly one was high-pitched, “He’s so cute! Engineering?”

Travis stood up, opened his wallet, and pulled out the metro card.

These girls were the exact opposite of why he’d married Trish. In college, she’d ranted about her longing to be the breadwinner, to have a power job and a six-figure income. In the long, hot dorm-room twin, Travis had said maybe he wanted his own business. He’d confessed to Trish, pressing into her neck, breathing her, that what he’d really wanted was to be a dad. A stay-at-home dad. When she was pregnant he’d scoured catalogues for cribs and cloth diapers. Later Sippy cups, then tricycles. The first few years had been so easy.

Funny how shit happens.

Yeah, Trish had always been a self-starter. But now, well… what had she done lately? She wasn’t as good at taking care of the kids. She dressed them in whatever was cleanest and closest, ruining the carefully-picked L.L. Bean outfits he’d purchased. Drunkenly, last Thursday, she’s said she hated the minutiae of the kids, the puffy little hands needing wiping, the apartment. Their babies were “soooo tedious.” Then she’d texted Jason and gone to bed. His pushy, court-appearing, case-winning, so-aggressive-that-she-basically-proposed wife… hadn’t done anything productive in six months, besides paint.

Doors opening. Please stand back. Doors opening.

He shuffled past the two girls, onto the yellowed tile of the platform. They giggled behind him.

Door closing. Please stand back. Doors closing.


me23.jpgKea Allis is a poet and film writer from James Madison University. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and poetry.

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