Thursday, September 30, 2010

maybe baby

It's late and the handful of passengers look wilted when the crazy man gets on. He glares at them all and begins singing bits of an old Buddy Holly song, "Maybe Baby." They look at him quickly, then at each other, the brief glance of recognition you give strangers when the crazy one enters. We are not like him, the glance says, and then they look away again, elaborately reading newspapers or staring out the window. He goes on singing--angrily, almost barking the lyrics.

They all know the song, though Buddy died fifty years ago, a young man in a small plane, traveling from song to song and his life ahead of him.

The crazy man sings and in their heads they all hear Buddy's voice, their minds jumping the cheerful lyrics. Well you are the one that makes me glad, sings one memory, and you will love me someday, sings another.

They im
agine that the crazy man is sane, that he inspires them and they all sing with him. They imagine his joy in the sudden companionship, they imagine that they all get up and dance in the train. They imagine that Buddy dances with them, that they will spend all night together in the train, Buddy and the crazy man and all of them in a train that never stops for anyone else, and Buddy sings to them, all his old songs plus a new one they can't quite hear, that he is inventing just for them.

Their faces don't show their fantasy. The train pulls into the next station and the crazy man glares one last glare and leaves. His song stays on, thinning and slowing till it sounds like an old old blues song, a sad hurting lonely song. It's funny honey, you don't care...

And they don't, so the song unsings itself and floats away, to the crazy man, or maybe back to Buddy in the sky. It doesn't matter. They are only strangers on a late-night subway, relieved that the crazy man is gone and the song is gone, that they can ignore each other again. No one dances on subways, and Buddy died on a plane a long time ago. They have already forgotten the dance that never happened, a thought that flitted through tired minds and died with the music, on a night long ago, when a crazy man walked in singing.

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