Animal Crackers

I walked onto the train.  We had had a lovely night.  It was one of those nights where the chill of the wind didn’t cut too cold, it just made me feel that much cooler in my leather jacket.  It had been the perfect night out in the city with my girl.  I had only had a drink because money was tight, but I was still in a good and merry mood.  Tara and I stood on the train.  She held onto me like a little kid with those hands of hers, tugging on the zipper of my jacket so she wouldn’t lose me.  And I let her hold on, because I liked the feeling of being pulled towards her.
    I was about to kiss Tara, when I remembered we were on the train.  There were other people around.  I didn’t want to be that guy.  I didn’t want to be that couple.  I didn’t want to make a scene. The seats were nearly full, and we were standing in the middle of the aisle.  I was hoping at least someone would get up so that Tara could at least sit down.  And then I saw it, an open seat.  I was about to tell Tara to take the seat when the train stopped and the double doors slid open to let a mother and her child in. Well, standing it was for both of us, I thought.
    The mother walked right up to a girl on the bench who was bouncing her head to whatever was playing on her headphones.  The woman waved her hands in front of the sitting girl and said, “Yoo-hoo. We need to sit.”  There was already an empty seat for her child, but I guess she wanted to sit with her kid.  So the girl with headphones stood up, and the mother and boy sat down.   I thought one seat for the boy was enough, but I didn’t think too much of the mother asking to sit down either. Plus, the boy was cute.  Tara and I stood just in front of where the boy was sitting.  Tara made funny faces and waved at the boy who couldn’t have been older than 4 or 5. I loved watching her with kids.  I knew we weren’t ready to be parents or anything, but seeing her get all silly in front of the kid made me believe that one day we would be.  And then I could watch Tara be silly with one of our kids—a little guy or girl with her eyes or my nose.  Who knows?  Not today, but one day…
   The little kid ate from a tiny zip lock bag full of animal crackers.  He would pick one out of the little baggy, play around with the cracker like the animal was prancing around in the imaginary prairie of the L Train, and then pop it into his mouth.  I thought of back in the day when my mom used to give me a bag of chips after a long day. I popped those chips into my mouth without ever knowing or worrying about what it cost for my mom to buy the bag of chips.  To me, they were just chips. Those were the days.
 A man played music on his phone aloud.  Usually that would annoy me, but the kid in front of us started dancing to the music and that made it alright.  He leaned forward and bobbed his head and waved his hands.  Tara swayed to and fro in sync with the boy, and I smiled. One day… 
    And then the mother’s head jerked up from her phone.
    “Stop that!” she yelled.  The volume made everyone on the train jump a bit.  “Sit still.  I said STILL!”
 Tara immediately looked up at me. Her eyes asked, “Did you just see that?” I returned her gaze: Yes.I did,Babe.  The boy quieted down, but after a few seconds, he was dancing and munching on his animal crackers once again.  The mother pushed him back into the seat, making a thud echo off the back of the bench. 
    “I told you to stop it! Just stop it! STOP IT! YOU LITTLE BRAT!”  The boy’s hands curled up into little balls, and his arms squeezed in towards his chest.  Suddenly the dancing boy I had seen only minutes ago was one motionless little ball.  I couldn’t help but stare as the boy kept eating the animal crackers despite his new compacted posture.  Poor kid.  Hungry little bugger.
    “STOP CHEWING LIKE THAT.  I said STOP!”  The mother snatched the plastic bag from the boy’s hands.  She held it out in front of her with a straight arm, and then she turned the bag upside down.  The animals fell out of the clear bag one by one onto the floor of train.  I swallowed hard and my hand tightened around the steel pole I was holding onto.  I felt Tara’s little fingers tighten around my waist.  The mother then stepped onto the crackers and pivoted her foot repeatedly.  The boy started to cry.  His face was red and seemed to feel the pain and anguish that his little animal friends were feeling under the heel of his mother.  I couldn’t believe what was happening. I looked up to look at the mother’s face—maybe her eyes would tell me a story, an explanation for her actions.  Maybe she could justify what she was doing.  But all I saw when I looked up at her face was the most terrible smile I had ever seen.  The curves of her lips were puffy and strangely twisted up toward the ceiling of the train.  
    The train reached another stop.  The mother grabbed the boy by the shirt and pulled him off of the chair.  I’m guessing from plenty of practice, the boy managed to land on his feet.  She walked right by us with her son shuffling behind her.
    “I can’t wait to drop you off at your dad’s so I can get back to my own life.  My life! Shut up! Stop crying you little brat!”  They walked off the train.  The doors shut.  There were two empty seats in front of us along with a room full of quiet dumbfounded passengers.
    “Babe…Do you want to sit down?” I looked down at the crumbs on the ground.  “Baby, Jesus! You’re shaking! Sit down.”
    “I’m alright.  Go ahead,” I replied.  I nodded toward’s the space in front of me. Tara sat down.  She looked up at me with sad eyes.  I returned the gaze. Her feet were on their tippy toes to keep from crunching the left over animal crackers. I guess she thought the boy would feel it if she did happen to step on them anymore than the mother had. The mother had even left the plastic bag on the ground right in front of us all.  What a mess.
    The train rushed through the tunnels, and the noise from the rails took up all of the leftover space in my head.  I wondered what the kid’s name was.  I wondered what his dad was like.  I wondered if he was hungry.  I wondered what his favorite animal was.  I had just seen a wrong happen right in front of me for three stops, and I had done nothing but shake.  What could I have done? What should I have done?  The night out had ended on a low, and I finally gave into my sadness and sat down.
    “That lady was crazy.  Someone needs to do something about stuff like that,” Tara said.
…One day.

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