Far Rockaway

I was wrong about the past. You go on for years, think it’s gone forever, the scar so old you barely remember the wound. Until something stupid, like being on a subway platform, excavates your brain.

Last March I flew east on business; it was the usual meeting at the home office—bring the PowerPoint, jack up some numbers, make everybody feel good. Usually I was able to send somebody, but the somebodies were all off working on problems or getting new clients. As the plane touched down at JFK, I could tell it was cold. No snow on the ground, but the dark was sharp, the way it gets in New York—bright mercury vapor lights edging everything with hard blue shadow; ground crew bundled, breath steaming light gray clouds into thin, mean air.

I called the car service as we taxied. No answer, then a very long hold. The second call, as I’m wheeling my suitcase through the terminal, confirmed my suspicions: no record of a reservation. I could have called LA and chewed out one of the somebodies, but the taxi line didn’t seem to be too long. Then the taxis vanished, and the lone black car cruising for a fare wanted 150 dollars cash, which I didn’t have and no ATM in sight. I’d spent time in New York, so I decided to suck it up and take the subway. I bumped through the turnstiles and walked down the stairs.

Then I had a choice: either stay inside a too-warm glass-enclosed waiting room with no ashtrays and five other travelers who looked like they might ask directions, or move outside and be a little cold while I stood alone on the platform and grabbed a cigarette. No contest.

I lit a cigarette and took inventory. There I was, somewhere in Brooklyn, in the March cold, wearing jeans and a sweater, loafers, no overcoat, standing next to a ripped Bud Lite poster covered with graffiti curlicues converging into a staring eye. I started moving around to keep warm, looking at the smoke, thinking about my hotel room and a nice room service steak with a double scotch, some TV, revise the PowerPoint to fit some new numbers, when I looked across the tracks and my eye stopped at the sign on the other platform.

Howard Beach. Something stirred in a deep memory pocket. I took out my cell phone to call Michelle, but stopped. A wife is not necessarily te best person to call for information, especially if you are fairly certain that right at that moment she’s organizing the nanny to feed the five-year-old while the other one is screaming in the high chair.

Howard Beach. I could feel the anxiety move in and stay. No wonder they call it the pits.

I flipped my cigarette onto the platform, ground it out under my shoe, then kicked it over the edge of the platform onto the track; sucked in a breath, tasted the cold air, tried thinking about the hotel, about Michelle and the kids, about anything and everything except Howard Beach and Cecilia and the ride to Far Rockaway. Twenty years ago.


Robert Moulthrop’s debut short story collection, “To Tell You The Truth,” presents a new voice in America’s interior life. Through characters knee-deep in domestic dissonance searching through lost lives, Moulthrop weaves compelling narratives that result in a book rich with deep yearning, existential questions, and the tatters of integrity.

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