“Prodigy” by Jason Anderson
The man looked up from his funny-looking guitar with pursed lips. “Lately it does this below 23rd Street. I can’t figure it out.”
The subway car was empty save for Jon, the musician and an old lady at the other end, asleep, wearing a plastic rain hood with pastel daisies that looked like the kind that stop feet from slipping on shower-bottoms.
“What’s the next stop?”
“Oh we get there,” the man said. “No worries. It just takes a while.”
Jon turned and looked past the pale young face in the window into the blackness beyond. “But this is the express.”
A hard laugh. “There ain’t no express, kid. We go where we go.” He adjusted his battered Australian cowboy hat, briefly revealing a greasy pile of black hair.
Jon looked at the man through squinted eyes. “The announcer said this was the express.”
The man with the funny guitar cocked his head, a strange expression on his face. “The announcer knows what he’s supposed to know. Doesn’t mean he knows.” The man returned his attention to the guitar and strummed a few rusty chords, grimacing. “Where do you think we are?”
Jon considered. It had been a long time since 23rd Street. A lot of blackness had passed. “We must be in Brooklyn by now.”
The man didn’t look up. “That look like Brooklyn to you?”
Jon looked over his shoulder out the window and exhaled wistfully. More blackness. “No.”
“Where do you go?”
The man finally looked up again, his black eyes catching the fluorescent light under the brim of his hat. “To school.”
Jon stiffened, and could tell from the man’s expression he caught it.
“Yeah, I forget the times we live in. Forget it.” The man returned to his guitar but looked up again when Jon spoke.
“Do you go to school?” Jon asked. Conversation might pass the time.
“Me?” The man laughed. “Look at me, do you think I go to school.”
The man was older but not old. It was hard for Jon to tell. Without the short scruffy beard he could be forty. Without the ruddy, leathery skin he could be thirty. From his eyes alone he could even be Jon’s age.
“Of course it’s possible. But I don’t. Haven’t since I was your age.”
“You’re supposed to tell me it was the biggest mistake of your life.”
“I’m not your dad. What do I care? Drop out. Ride the Q train for a living. You can do better, but you could do worse.”
In the long pause there was no clacking or screeching of wheels on tracks, no bending or rocking of the car. It was if someone had set the Q train on a skating rink surrounded by blackness and given it a gentle, perpetual shove into night.
“I play the violin,” Jon said, not really sure why. He bent to pat the black case beneath the plastic seat, between his legs. The man’s eyebrows arched. “I’m pretty good.” The confidence in his own voice surprised him. “What kind of guitar is that?”
The man, smiling, held up the strange guitar, whose small round body reminded Jon of a snare drum. The strings ran straight as railroad tracks across it. “You never seen a banjo before?”
Jon shook his head. “I’ve read about them, but I never saw one before.”
“I guess they don’t have these in a symphony orchestra. How fast can you play, kid?”
Jon’s face was illuminated by a devilish smile. He laid the case across his knees and undid the latches.
©2012 Jason Anderson