Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guest Writer: Kyle Hemmings

How the D Train Saved Me Cab Fare One Morning

My car has a flat and my heart is still in flutter from the night before. A girl dumped me for perhaps not having the moves her recently fired boyfriend did. The problem was he made moves on every other woman. Of course, she didn’t need to say it--I could tell by the distracted look in her eyes that I didn’t give good face, the kind the old boyfriend must have had, a carbon copy of some soap opera hero that women keep reaching for in the night, while their disposable boyfriends are asleep. Ain't life a bitch.
But priorities. I need to get to work. So I scram to the D train to make uptown in a flash. Inside, I hold on to metal for dear life and sit down before her. She's old, can pass for someone's disenfranchised grandmother, the flyaway hairs, slop of lipstick, long dress with a few strings hanging like faded memories, not even Salvation Army potential. A roar of metallic teeth, we buck, the train stops at Alphabet Hell. There's another name for the street, but my memory sometimes derails.

So I'm back to the woman. Eyeing her like an old TV show my parents wouldn't let me watch. There's something about her eyes, hazel side of blue, a subdued sparkle that speaks bittersweet and what hangs over us in the night so far away. Could go by a thousand names. Maybe that distracted quality like in the almost girlfriend from last night. The train switches. I'm practically in her lap. Something inside me snaps a finger. We're now each other's mirror. ExcusemeIsay, aren't you that actress, Melena Marpelli?

An impulsive jerk, I am. But Melena was my mother's favorite topic of conversation, her vote for worst actress of 1963, a movie that wouldn't even make a soap opera. Melena, then a starlet often compared to Natalie Wood, played the other woman for a much older businessman who was scarred by the memory of Pork Chop Hill. I can still recall a movie shot where Melina’s married lover, leading a perfect double life, poses at a barbecue with his family. Everybody in that shot, including the children, have smiles that seem to say We have everything we want. By the movie’s end, the married lover has committed suicide and Melena has taken up with a much younger man, addicted to drugs and music, and who constantly cheats on her, grubs off her.

The old woman smiles at me with her eyes. "My name isn't Melena Marpelli," she says as if reading a nursery rhyme. "Melena Marpelli died sometime ago."
She rolls her eyes up and smiles.
“I think it was only a month or so ago.”
I’m studying her like a Mona Lisa, deciding if this one’s authentic.

But I believe, as if belief can sometimes lead to a truth of some kind, that Melena Marpelli is still alive somewhere in the lower Bronx. I could be wrong. I haven’t kept up with the lives of faded stars. I believe Melina lives with a younger sister who is her caretaker. The real Melena, from what I remember reading a few years back, is frail and doesn’t get out much. And this woman has Melena's voice. Kind of. I know that voice from so long ago. It’s a voice of what was once a sweet seductive hunger.
I lean forward in my seat and try to speak over the rumble of train against track, the film score of my life this morning.

"May I have Melena's autograph?" I say, my heart a frog and my throat a pond where nothing stays for very long. "My mother loved you in The Secret of Miss Emily Baker. Was it hard faking that limp?"

There’s a mischievous twinkle in Melina’s eyes. She speaks as if to someone over my shoulder.
“When I was younger, I loved Melena Marpelli. I even tried to dress like her, imitate her hairstyle. I loved the character she always played. A foolish girl who was always in trouble. A beautiful girl you couldn’t say no to. You just had to help her.”

The subway lurches and my wallet falls from my hands. The old siren beats me to it, fumbling to get at it. I grab her arm to keep her from falling over. For a woman her age, she seems to be in better shape than I had thought. She hands me the wallet, this look on her face that means kismet or something like. Her eyes are so young. I take out my business card and ask her to sign the back in her Hollywood name. I hand her an engraved pen, which I only carry to impress clients. The train stops at 14th street. We shake hands and she says "It's been a pleasure. I always feel richer whenever I meet someone who remembered me when I wasn't poor. Fame only lasts a moment."
The voice sounds different now. It’s not Melena’s voice. Maybe because I’m much closer I can hear the scratchiness or the drop in tone. It’s a voice that has stopped straining to be someone else’s.

She gets off. A slight limp to her gait. She doesn’t look back or wave. I try to track her but she disappears in a crowd of Monday Morning rushers. I willow-wonder: Where is it she has to go?
I catch a flash of her making her way through the crowd, the elegant if somewhat stiff gait, her fade-out when reaching the base of the escalator. The limp is gone. A different woman. I second guess myself—-Was there ever a limp?

I take the piece of paper, which is now all I have of her and slip it into the wallet. Forty bucks are missing. I feel so much richer.

© Kyle Hemmings 2011

Kyle Hemmings lives in New Jersey. His work has been featured in Elimae, Thunderclap Press, Nano Fiction, Used Furniture and elswhere. He is the author of three poetry chapbooks: Fuzzy Logic (Punkin Press), Avenue C (Scars Publications), and Amsterdam & Other Broken Love Songs (Flutter Press).


  1. Ancient memories meet chance encounters. Easy to picture the players. Could be a scene in a play, could be the reignition of Melena's career. Superb~

  2. Kyle, you've painted a good picture and the story made me think. Always a good thing.

  3. Full of surprising moments. You have a gift. I liked the lie,"My mother loved you in..." And, "It’s a voice that has stopped straining to be someone else’s." I hope to read more of you.


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