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  • Fred Smith

Small Talk

She felt sympathy for him because he was old. His face was wrinkled and his shoulders sagged as though his body had spent the last decade in an out-of tune microwave. Yet here he was on the number 7, commuting among the hustle and fray, most of which was half his age and still clung to the grade-school ideal that the world owed them something. His eyes, though, were bright and looked as though they hadn’t aged a day since the summer of Sam. From her seat she watched as he kept his head up in search of connection through eye contact. But it was a different time now. She felt a flash of shame, realizing her generation was the rude one, that buried its head in a hand-held screen and closed off any invitation to connect. “Here sir,” she said while standing in attempt to present her seat. “And they say chivalry is dead,” he replied with a smile she reasoned must have killed in its prime. “Thank you, kitten. But I prefer to stand and hold on for the ride.” He looked comfortable, like he’d been holding onto the rail of this train since the days when the Kennedys could fill a Thanksgiving table. The longer the ride, the less he seemed like an escaped invalid, the more he seemed like someone who knew something the rest of us had missed. He was good at banter, the way she always imagined men with experience could be. A small talk virtuoso who blew the rare breed that makes you forget you have a smartphone. And so she divulged a few harmless personal quirks, including that she worked at Chase on Broadway. That’s when his eyes lit up like they were from a 1940’s movie. “What a coincidence,” he said through a grin that was more Grant than Cagney, “I’m gonna rob that bank this morning and if you’re nice, I’ll let you pop the first bottle of champagne on the get-a-way jet.”

A Crack in the Room Tone

Stories for a noisy world 
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