She was a pickpocket.
She haunted the subway station on 34th and Holloway, where every morning Gerald waited for his train while sitting on the same cold concrete bench. He watched her through thick glasses. She was young, frail and thin, waiflike, with short shaggy black hair; and she moved like a ghost, drifting in and out of sight as the crowd milled about.
She made him look forward to the mornings. She made him feel sparks. Watching her was the only time that Gerald had felt alive since he found Dolores—his wife of fifty-three years—face down in her Cheerios on a Sunday morning, dead from a stroke.
Gerald’s pickpocket wore black leggings covered by a short blue-jean skirt. She wore two jackets, Windbreaker over denim— lots of pockets, Gerald figured. Sometimes she wore sunglasses, even though she was underground.
She was good, crafty and swift and clever, and not greedy—you get caught when you get greedy. Gerald learned her patterns as he watched her on the way to work.
Not work really. After Dolores died, and after the funeral and the family and the random visitors bringing potluck stuff over to mold in the fridge, he found himself alone in the house. He had been retired for nine years before she died, and they had never done much of anything. They never traveled or went to parties or joined any clubs. But they were in the house together, living close but separate lives, side by side. She was there, a constant, a daily affirmation, like the soreness of his right rear molar or the ingrown toenail on his right middle toe—a part of life.
Once she was gone, there was nothing there but an empty house and a lot of hours between waking up and falling asleep. Gerald cleaned and straightened until there was nothing left to [End Page 315] clean and straighten; then he tried to get his job as a building inspector back, but the contracting business had moved on, far on, from the last time he worked. The site was now run by a kid who had been an intern when Gerald retired. He had laughed and put his hand on Gerald’s shoulder when he brought up returning to work. Gerald watched the light drain from the kid’s eyes, watched the uncomfortable tension slide in, when he realized Gerald was serious. The kid forced the smile back onto his face. “We’d love to have you back, Gerald,” he said, “but it’s just not safe to have a seventy-four year old on a construction site.”
Gerald had smiled and nodded, shook the kid’s hand. His hand seemed old and calloused in the young man’s grip. It felt bulky in his pocket as he walked away from the site. Gerald’s hair was white by now, even though he parted it the same way he had when he was thirty. His skin was weathered and wrinkled. Everything around him was new. He didn’t fit.
He took an office downtown, a small dusty room with a big window that was full of sun and blue sky in the mornings. He told people he was going to be a freelance writer. He didn’t write much—a humor piece for the local tabloid, a few halfhearted attempts at a memoir—mostly he looked out the window and breathed in the musty air. He just liked the rhythm it gave to his life, this waking up and getting ready and going to work and coming home, although every morning it got harder to get off that bench and onto the train. And then he found his pickpocket.
She followed patterns that no one but Gerald knew. She entered from the south entrance, the one with the stairs, rather than the escalator. She skipped down the stairs and moved close to the tracks, leaned her back against a cement pillar. She faced straight down into the black hole of the tunnel, but her eyes darted around—light, searching. She stood at the pillar a few minutes. When the first train came rumbling up...