Old Man in a Black Hat

   by Richard Jay Goldstein

            He’s riding the F train from Coney Island, back to Manhattan.

            The train starts at Avenue X. An elevated, out in the brassy sunlight.

            Avenue X, he thinks. Must be named in honor of Malcolm.

            At King’s Highway, an old man gets on. An old white man.

            The old man is dressed in black — black suit, black shoes, black socks. White shirt, black tie. Black fedora.

            He sneaks a peek, sees the way the old man is dressed. Must save trouble picking out your clothes in the morning, he thinks.

            Old man dressed in black on a seat near the door.

            Four more stops. At Avenue I a gaggle of high-school students clatters onto the car. Boys, a few girls. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic.

            “Hey again, old man, shalom,” says a boy cheerfully to the old man in black.

            “I ain’t a Jew,” says the old man loudly. “I got a black hat. But I ain’t a Jew.”

            “That’s funny,” says the boy, “you look Jewish.” The kids all laugh.

            The old man stares straight ahead and doesn’t say anything.

            The kids are talking loudly.

            “It’s a pain in the ass,” says one. “Hamlet rehearsal, plus I still got football practice.  To play or not to play, that’s the fucking question.”

            The train rumbles through a small cemetery, Jewish on the left, Christian on the right.

            “Look at that shit,” says one of the boys. “All them dead people. What’s it even mean to be alive?”

            “Depends on how you define alive,” says one of the girls.

            “Fucked, and then you die,” says the first boy.

            “Fuck that shit,” says another boy. “Grass is alive, trees are alive, fuckinbacteria are alive.”

            “Viruses?” asks a different girl.

            “Fuck viruses,” says the boy. “They’re only alive if something else is.”

            “I been in that cemetery,” says the first girl, looking. “One side’s Jewish, other side’s Christian. What the fuck’s that about?”

            “Don’t want your sister rotting next to a Jew,” says the second boy.

            The train pulls into the Church Avenue station. The old man in the black hat stands up, moves stiffly to the door, mouth a slash of disapproval, turns toward the kids.

            “Your parents should be ashamed of you,” the old man tells them. “Toilet mouths. Such language.”

            The kids all look up in surprise.

            “No respect,” says the old man. “Ignorant, all of you.”

            “What do you want?” says a boy. “We’re fuckin’ villagers. Except our village is in a big city.”

            “Yeah,” says a girl. “We never leave our village. What the fuck do we know?”

            “We just speak our tribal language,” says a boy.

            “We don’t know shit about the outside world,” says another boy.

            “Sometimes people leave our village,” says a girl, “and never fuckincome back.”

            The old man stares at them. The train stops and the doors slide open. The old man steps out onto the platform, carefully, carefully.

            Shalom, old man,” says a boy.

            “I ain’t Jewish!” shouts the old man.

            The doors slide closed and the train pulls away, heading for Manhattan.

    Richard Jay Goldstein has been writing fiction and non-fiction for about twenty-five years. He lives with his wife and kids and grandkids in the mountains east of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where it’s still pretty quiet, thanks. He’s a lapsed ER doc, and has published fifty-something stories and essays in the literary and sci-fi/fantasy/horror presses, including a number of anthologies. He’s also had a couple of Pushcart nominations, but neither got in.