Queen of the A
There’s a car on the A train with my heart on it. It’s painted in 3-D wild style with bright red and orange, outlined in green with yellow accents, two words: ASK ME. I signed and dated it, LALA ’03 and it was for her.
I met her three years ago on the A train when it was packed full of suits and slacks, everyone packed in tight with no breathing. It seemed like everyone on the train except us froze when I realized she was smirking at me, checking me check her, her tight jeans and huge sweatshirt, her scrubbed white Adidas. She looked Puerto Rican with her long shiny ponytail, dark skin and full lips with no lipstick, big brown eyes laughing at me. I got hot and looked away but looked back because I had to and before I could ask, she was asking me, moving her finger against the briefcase crushed against her as if she were writing on it. Fucking she was a writer, a bomber, a graffiti artist and she wanted to know if I was too.
I pulled my pilot, a large silver refillable marker, out of my back pocket, said “excuse me” to an Arab woman with three kids on her lap and scrawled LALA on the wall behind her head. The Puerto Rican girl laughed so loud people pretended not to hear.
When she followed me off the train at Utica Ave she said So LaLa, is that a pilot in your pocket or are you just—
Her name was Ask with a question mark and it turned out she was a straight letter tagger with no style but a lot of love; I’d seen her shit all over the IRT. She said, Are you LALA, the Queen of the A LALA? What are you, LaLa? and before I could answer she said, Will you sign my book, LaLa? And when I took her sketch book from her and began to draw in it, she brushed my ear with her lips and said, You wanna fuck me, LaLa? and laughed. It was like that for two years, her asking me questions before I had time to answer the last one, for two years she laughed and asked me questions. I remember that but not what they were, none of them except one, the last one.
It was a couple of months ago and when she asked me I got nervous. She said Do you love me, LaLa? and she wasn’t laughing and I was drunk. For two years, I drank and she laughed and asked me questions but this was the first time that I couldn’t answer quick like a throw-up on the wall. She didn’t laugh and she didn’t ask anything else and I got nervous so I spit out the answer I knew she wanted. Yeah, I said. Sure. But the words tasted bitter and metallic in my mouth and I knew they weren’t mine.
We were at the Utica Ave station waiting for the A train, the same platform where we met two years before, and suddenly the weight of all her questions mixed with whiskey and coke was too much and I dropped to my knees and puked till I was sober. Three years ago she was Ask with a question mark standing there laughing with her long ponytail and no make up and big sweatshirt and tight jeans laughing, saying, So LaLa, is that pilot in your pocket— and now she called herself Patricia and Patricia wasn’t laughing with short hair bleached and greased back and thick dark lipstick and a tight black dress saying, Do you love me, LaLa?
Fuck. Alright. I don’t. I mean, I guess I didn’t. I didn’t say it out loud but the way that she stared at me and swung her chin around with her hand on her hip and her elbow sticking out sucking on her teeth, I knew that she knew like I’d written it on the wall.
Ask? wanted to know if I was going to bomb her or a train that night. It was two o’clock in the morning and we were on our way but we didn’t know where except we had to take the A to get there. I was sober by then and sick inside and I think she was too, I as disappointed in how much she had changed as much as she was that I hadn’t. I needed to work it out with style, something she did not possess, and she needed to work it out with love, something I never wanted. I shook my backpack so that the paint cans inside it rattled.
She mocked me using my words, she said, What are you, vaklempt? like I was stupid and I looked away all straight faced like I hadn’t heard but I did hear and I was pissed. When I didn’t answer, she blew air out between clenched teeth and switched her ass around towards the exit. Fuck this, she said.
I wanted to laugh. I wanted to make this into a joke, make her forget that she asked me and that I puked, make her forget Patricia and be Ask? for me again. I wanted things the way they were before, the part of a relationship where you’re still laughing and asking questions, when you want to hear the answers and answer right, when it doesn’t matter if you love each other, only that you love being together. Maybe I wanted her to forget about it. Maybe I wanted her to ask me again. I said, Walking, what? What are you, vaklempt? and she threw back over her shoulder, Yeah, I’m fucking stupid.
Watching her ass, I decided to paint ASK ME. I guess there’s something about a beautiful woman walking away from you that makes you ask for more even though you know all you’ll get is more trouble. The A train came and I got on, taking it to the end of the line and waiting for it to be alone in the train yard like me. I didn’t use an outline or a sketch; I just painted what I saw in my head with quick sure strokes, stopping only to change colors or trade a fat cap for a rusto or a thin one. I don’t remember what I was thinking except that it was cold, that every creak and rattle sounded like a cop, that I only had two hours until it pulled out again at 5:52, the sort of things I always think about when I’m bombing. I know I wasn’t thinking about her, what she was doing or thinking about or what she would say and I especially didn’t think about what I would say if she did ASK ME again.
I called her at 5:30 that morning, told her to meet me at the bridge next to her house. She showed up red-eyed and cranky in the Chewbacca jammy pants that were mine three years ago when she stayed over at my place for the first time. She said nothing, ignoring my kiss while holding steady the cracked plastic coffee mug with our picture that cost fifteen bucks at the Jersey state fair.
When the A train came by 8 minutes later, ASK ME didn’t sparkle because the sky was cloudy with tension. When I remember that morning, sometimes I remember ASK ME flying by in a streak of red, sometimes ASK ME creeps along the tracks whining. In reality, I saw ASK ME reflected as an angry spark on the black circles under her sleepless eyes. I read it to her, but maybe not out loud. ASK ME.
So she did. She rolled her mascara smudged eyes, pooched out her lips outlined in brown, hugged her tailored leather coat to her and said like a challenge, Do you love me, LaLa? And I didn’t. Not Patricia. Maybe I loved Ask? or could have, but when I looked at this shivering girl in front of me striving for 5th Avenue fashion in place of real style, all I wanted was my jammy pants back.
After that thought, all I remember is the coffee, the thick smell of it on her breath, how it burned the top two layers of skin on my arm and neck, the question mark stain it left on my CBGBs t-shirt that used to be hers until she refused to wear it anymore. I remember the coffee mug with the crack across our picture that stabbed deeper and deeper into the image of me happy with her as she slammed it against the metal railing to emphasize the words that I don’t remember, until she tossed it, full of our two years together, into the river.