George Washington Bridge, NYC, by Charlie Grosso


She leans against the pillar under the giant departures board quietly waiting for the track to post for train #241. The crowd disburses with brightness as track announcements are made for each train, slowly a new crowd gathers like rain puddles, resuming the position of the previous. There is a silent count down in her head. Three more trains then track assignment for #241. Two more. One more.

The spy craft is failing her a little here. In the week since she received her assignment, there were tiny random bursts of eagerness for what is to come, dangerous in this business. These bits of uncontrolled feelings could potentially cloud her judgment or maybe even blow her cover.

His commitment has taken him into deep undercover with radio silence that has lasted 20160 minutes. She insisted on the radio silence. It was safer for him and the cover he is trying to maintain. There is also the added benefit of seeing if the silence would reduce him to a minor player in this espionage of feelings. The distance and the silence did nothing to sway her from digging in deeper. As soon as they reestablished contact, the next assignment is almost immediately in play. No details are given and are all on a need to know bases as always.

They had established a dead drop to exchange crucial information on the pending mission. She had secretly hoped the drop would give her a glimpse of her handler and not just a pick up of coded information, meaningful only to them. The desire to see him is strong, an urge that she tries to calm and distract; feelings are detrimental to the profession. In a busy store, hidden inside of a music book is a tiny square of paper with a bar code. There are two copies of the same book and the identical coded information is in both. She smiles and mentally applauds his attention to detail. She doesn’t have the proper tech to decode the message, another layer in this game play. A smile that is part compliment and part annoyance emerges; the fox winks at the hunter. She has found her match.

The final details on the assignment arrive late in the evening of the following night. This additional weeklong reconnaissance has been excruciating.

Train #241 will board on track 5E.

The raspy baritone from her favorite musician caress her, the train glides pass the bridge by her secret hideaway, taking her north of what is known and safe.

97 minutes until the rendezvous point. A strange unexpected clam settles in her, she likes movement and forward motion, it sooths her and make what she anticipate to be unbearable melt away.

The squid ink night is punctured by the orange glow of each station the train sails by. People live in these small towns; people with simple lives and simple dreams, living lives as they appear. No subterfuge. No covert operation. Trained operatives like them sacrifices their own simple dreams to protect others simple lives and simple dreams. What they set out to protect eventually becomes foreign and incomprehensible, a dream they’ve been deprogramed from.

He waits. There was much precision in the planning, observing his usual routine, even down to ridiculous details of shopping for random yet seemingly important house hold items to maintain his cover. A saving of $1.69 for buying toilet paper in bulk. Ha! The clock betrays him and the extra time he allotted himself is now the drip from the tap that won’t shut. He might hate the drip drip of time standing on this platform now, but as soon as the train arrives and he catches the sight of her warm mischievous smile, he will take the drip drip and thank heaven that time is not rushing forward on full.

Alone on the platform of a rural train station with nothing but the sound of waves lapping against the shore, he realizes how perfect this scene is. The night is clear. The station lacks the shinny gloss of chrome, glass and public art to put it in any particular time and space. It could have been a European train station during the war. Maybe this is a European station during the war. Suddenly, the track lights up and the silence is punctured with the vibration of arrival. Only if he is a smoker, a close up shot on him as he inhales, the burning glow from the cigarette, the eager flicker of a practiced hand to chuck the smoke as he feels the station hums with the incoming train. Those cinematic moments are what people dream of and rarely ever have.

Did he see her first or did she see him? He head towards her and puts his index finger across his lips. No words. A kiss. A recall of soul memory is what he wants before they default to such primitive tools as language.

Hello Stranger. He whispered.

That was supposed to be her opening line.

The time has come. She didn’t want the full details of his circumstances to taint their last meeting. 59 minutes is too short to download a life. There wouldn’t have been anytime to process much less for her to cover him in her caress after. At last, there is time now, stolen time in a small town asleep with simple dreams.

He back tracks 15 years and downloads a life, the unredacted file is open in front of her. There is no judgment, she does not turn away from the truth; there is only compassion and understanding. He is amazed. He is surprised. Her reaction is not one that he had ever expected from any woman.

And that was the arc of the whole operation. Pieces of information gained about the each operative’s true nature, bit by bit, all greeted with understanding. Recollections and retellings. Their actions and choices rather than assumptions and grandiose statements form the shapes of them. More trust is gained and they draw each other closer to one another. Who is the handler and who is the operative? A spy game is a continuous improvisation with shift in roles and position, one minute her hand is on the trigger, the next minute the gun is in someone else’s hands. Somehow in a maze created by a perverted god with an irreverent sense of humor, they’ve stumbled upon each other and they are in this together. Partnership with such high stakes creates intimacy intensely.

In a room with white bed, white sheets and no history, she takes off her disguise. The ring on her left hand comes off first, then the ring on the right, the watch next and the earrings last. She comes out the bathroom as her true self. Tank top, panties and wooly socks.

I totally get the wooly socks now. He says before he dives into her. Her taste and smell are familiar balms to him but making love to her brought it all to an intoxicating level. All sense heightened merging with rushing emotions at a level of intensity and intimacy not felt in years. Locked doors deep inside of him flying open, doors he had forgotten about. He wanted to submerge himself in her, drink her, swallow her up inside of him to be swallowed up inside of her. Was this love? It was. His question crescendoing inside of him as she uttered the words and no sooner than the words leap from her lips he echoed it right back. I love you.

What are the rules of engagement again? He asked as he holds her close.

I guess you just got bumped up in your security clearance.

16 hours. Two perfect strangers brought together in a post apocalyptic world. They discover each other and passionately reveal their true self through recollection and experiences. Time plays tricks. Do you know the movie Hiroshima Mon Amour?

I meet you.

I remember you.

Who are you?

You kill me. You make me feel good.

How could I have doubted that this city was perfectly made to fit love.

How could I have doubted that you were perfectly made to fit the size of my own body?

Why not you?

Why not you in this city in this night.

Like all others

To the point of deception

I beg you…

She understands why he is quoting her an obscure French film. Their story is not new. There are fragments and variations of it through all the top-notch films and novels.

The drip drip of time brings about the next day. He shows her another part of his true self, uncloaked, as is. They stand in the kitchen of his safe house, beating eggs, making coffee, things their unburdened counter parts do regularly in their simple lives. Maybe, just maybe for a fraction of a second with coffee in hand and pancakes in front of them, a life without subterfuge is where they live.

The false cheer in him as they head towards the station ineffectively mask his sadness.

You’re addictive.

I told you I was.

She boards the train, pulls out a book, hit play on her ipod and quietly sits. She keeps one hand on the book to give her a sense of what she should do next. The baritone sings at her, “I’m alive, like a picture on a sunny day…Oh I’m alive, like a picture on a sunny day ohh…” Wait. Today is Easter, the Chocolate Bunny holiday, as she likes to call it. How apropos. He came back to life in her embrace and these last 16 hours marks a new beginning for them. Co-conspirators found. Unredacted files shared. A central mission identified. Just be is possible.

This mission left her feeling solid and grounded, unlike the one before last. She understands the territory now and how she fits in. The train glides pass the bridge and she is back in the known world. She slips the book back into her bag, looks across the multiple platforms of this outdated station with the eerie gleam of green fluorescent light, and whispers those words again before she resumes her disguise. I love you.