For our fourth post this flash fiction february, we are pleased to share with you this piece by writer Katherine Hunt on expediency.
ex·pe·di·en·cy (dē-ən(t)-sē), n. 1. the quality or state of being expedient; suitability for a given purpose; appropriateness to the conditions. 2. the doing or consideration of what is of selfish use or advantage rather than what is right or just; self-interest.
I saw the man on the subway. I had been pregnant nearly three months and sat with my head in my hands, feeling nauseous and trying not to think about the day ahead. That week I’d started a new episode of the TV show I produced on, a documentary series on homicide investigations. I had hours of crime scene footage to watch down. But crime scenes had begun to depress me. Also, I wasn’t sure I wanted a child. Now a woman said, It’s not your private candyland. At least that’s what I thought I heard. I glanced up but I couldn’t tell who had said it.
This is when I noticed the man, a tall man in a brown suit and the kind of dress shoes that look leather but cost nineteen dollars. He stood by the doors with his back turned so I couldn’t see his face. His hands kept me looking, though. He had nice hands, by which I mean large. I stared at them, thinking, I could just walk up and ask him to fuck me. It was the kind of thought I often had in those days: I could leave my life for another. This other life existed only in my mind but was actually more my own. I could step into it in one clean movement. Erase my husband. Erase the pregnancy. I could do it now, I thought. Then the man turned toward me and I recognized him as the murder suspect from an episode I’d worked on.
It didn’t make sense. The guy, Anton James, had shot a rival drug dealer in Dallas. He’d been arrested and charged with capital murder. Yet here we were on the A train, lurching into Manhattan. I stared at his long, sad-looking face. The dark, slow eyes. The rough skin along the jawline. I’d spent hours watching that face on video monitors. He glanced at me and I felt a thrill of terror, like in a dream when the monster struggles out of the black woods or the chasm, the black, unconscious pit.
I looked away. But when he got off the train, I followed him. We walked out into a hot, bright morning. Commuters rivered the sidewalks but the man’s height made him easy to track. Within three blocks, he went into a bank. I waited for him to come out. Minutes passed. Finally, I looked inside. He stood behind the bulletproof glass, one in a line of tellers.
I went in and waited in line, feeling increasingly nauseated and anxious. When I approached his window, he nodded. I saw you on the A, he said. He had the type of voice I’d heard in the streets my whole life, a flat voice, with an edge. Was it Anton’s voice? I couldn’t be sure. His nameplate, I noticed, was blank.
I know you from Dallas, I said.
You mixing me up with someone.
What can I help you with?
Nothing, I said and tried to smile. I just thought I knew you.
He nodded again and looked down along my body. For an instant, I felt he saw inside me, through to whatever it was fighting its way along in there. If he could see the fetus, I knew he would feel nothing for it. And in that cold moment, I realized how it might be to be my own child. You could come back later, if you want, he said.
All right, I said. All right.
When I work up the courage to tell this story, people ask if I went back. They ask if I had sex with him. But that wasn’t ever really the point. Though I did go back. He wasn’t there. Another bank employee said he’d left for the day.
So what kind of hours does he work? I asked.
Oh, he’s on his way out, she said. Whatever that meant.
I hadn’t liked working on the Anton James case. The killing had been captured on surveillance video. And there was something awful about watching that video. The cold eye of the camera became my own eye. I looked down on a harshly lit parking lot, everything black or gray, like the inside of a metal can. Anton leaned against the side of the store, smoking. He waited like that for three hours. I wondered what he could be thinking about. Because as soon as his victim approached, Anton pulled the gun. It was as if he’d never questioned his original decision, the one he later voiced to detectives. I said I’d get that motherfucker. So I did.
I saw the man another time, several weeks later. I’d left work with my editor. We started toward the train in a greenish evening light and I noticed the man crossing the street ahead. That’s him, I told her, pointing. The dude that look like Anton.
He reached the end of the block and vanished around the corner.
Come on, I said. Let’s catch him up.
I ran and she clomped after me, saying, Are you crazy?
He couldn’t have been Anton James. He must have been someone else. And yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was Anton. Or that he was a dream Anton was having about his own life.
We reached the corner and I spotted him again, walking with his head up and at a comfortable pace, as if he was any other person.