Too Late

 

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I knew I would be too late when I made it down to the subway platform and saw that both of my train options ran local for the weekend. Still, I stepped onto the N when it arrived, because the car was half empty and I had gotten out of the house already, so why not go the whole way?

I squeezed in to sit next to a woman, bulky in her winter jacket and cumbersome with a shopping cart. A man who I didn’t bother to examine flanked my other side. I had to hold my book awkwardly away from my body and away from my neighbors’ eyes. It would be too easy for them to read over my shoulder, and this book was full of baffling dystopian sex scenes.

A conversation across the car penetrated my reading.

Two old women, with more colorfully patterned shopping carts, sat side by side, conspiratorial. The East Side of Manhattan framed them as we crossed the bridge.

“It was up the stairwell before anyone could get out. Twelve dead.”

“They left the door open.”

“The little boy was playing with the stove. It’s hard to keep an eye on three-year-olds.”

“Twelve dead. Such a shame.”

The fire in the Bronx. I’d read about it last night. On the coldest night of the year, a toddler, too young, twisted the knobs on his family’s stove and something caught. His mother quickly gathered her family and fled the apartment, leaving the door open. The fire, insatiable in the dry winter air, inhaled the stairs, rushing up to the top floor before many could escape. Outside, hydrant water froze in strips on the sidewalk. Survivors crowding the street, wearing not-enough clothes. Looking up into flames. Warmed by the destruction? How will the toddler survive this?

The train reached Manhattan and went underground again. I looked at the time flashing on the digital display: 11:55. Late, just as I knew I would be. Too late. At Union Square, vendors let the falling snow blanket their bread and apples in white. No use in hurrying, I wouldn’t be let in. Instead, enjoy where I did end up, on time, a snowy market on the last Saturday of the year.

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