No one noticed a small, black-haired man in a red jogging suit when he jumped in just before the doors to the uptown 4 train rumbled shut. He maneuvered down the aisle, sliding his left hand along the overhead bar and clutching a silver package under his right arm. He stopped amidships.
The train picked up speed and he let go of the bar, swaying in rhythm with the car, and tore the tinfoil off a 12 x 12 square in a gray plastic frame. He crumpled the foil and shoved it into his pants pocket. He held the square up to the person sitting in front of him.
"You better get that out of my face," the man snapped, then scowled.
"I'm blind," the man said, smiling broadly. "Can you tell me if this is a good mirror? I bought it from a school girl selling trinkets in Grand Central. I'm afraid I was cheated."
"You're nuts," the man spat back. "What's a blind man need a mirror for?" He shoved the man, who spun backwards against another passenger, then righted himself on the other side of the car.
He held the square in front of another rider. She squirmed in her seat and looked away.
"Excuse me," the man said. "Do you know anything about mirrors?" The woman had silver hair. Her black stockings were rolled down around her ankles. She did not answer, but jerked her head around as if searching for someone she knew. "I don't know much about mirrors myself," the man continued. "I bought this one from a girl raising money to go see the Pope at Easter. She had a nice voice and sounded so sincere. I'm afraid my generosity got the better of me."
The woman grunted, stood abruptly, and pushed past him toward the next car. He jumped into the vacated seat and stowed the square on his lap. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out some pages of a newspaper, unfolding them and holding them up for inspection.
"That ain't right," said the man in a Mets cap sitting next to him, shaking his head.
"That ain't right. You sitting here all blind and stuff, and you pull out the sports section?" The man shook his head again. He balanced a briefcase on his lap. "That's just wrong." His seatmate laughed.
"I carry this to blend in," he explained, rattling the newspaper. "Besides, I'm not completely blind. I can make out shapes. I like to guess at the pictures." His accuser had already lost interest, but the man rambled on. "Like right here," he said, pointing. "This looks like a doughnut." Some riders peeked, then looked away. The Mets cap poked his nose in.
"Madison Square Garden," the Mets cap said.
"How about this?" he asked. "Sherwood Forest?"
"New York Knicks," the man answered.
"Don King?" He pointed to the sidebar.
"Mike Bloomberg," the man said.
"How much do you think this mirror's worth?" he said, pointing to his lap. "I paid twenty dollars for it but—"
"Don't start that mirror crap with me," the man interrupted. "Who the hell would pay twenty bucks for that?" But he persisted.
"Just give me your best guess. The girl I bought it from was probably a scammer. I think I wasted my money."
"Not interested." The man snorted and turned away.
"Hey!" he said, suddenly loud. "Is it too freakin' much to ask for a little help here? All I want to know is what you think this mirror's worth. Is that too much to ask? Or maybe you don't like talking to blind guys? Is that it? Huh?" People stared. The man relented.
"I'll give you five bucks," the man said, "just to get lost."
"Done!" He dropped the square onto the man's briefcase and stuck his hand out for the money, which the man pulled from his wallet. The train slowed for the 86th Street station, and he got up and felt his way to the door and squeezed out with the others, turning and winking at the man in the Mets cap. The doors closed.
"I'll be damned," said the mirror's new owner. The train picked up speed on its way to 125th Street. He looked down and turned the mirror over and saw that it was a piece of cardboard wrapped in tin foil. Its gray border had been drawn with marker.
He chuckled. It wouldn't fool anyone for long. He might be able to use it, though.
He unlocked his briefcase and tossed the square in and took out mirrored sunglasses and settled them onto his face. He pulled out a collection of red and white sticks that unfolded into a cane. He stood and moved toward the end of the car, sweeping the cane in a small arc across the floor directly in front of him.
He was going to find that silver-haired lady again. That other fellow had been too direct. You had to sweet-talk them. She would be wary, but that didn't matter. By the time he was done he'd be ten dollars richer.
She looked like the type of woman who could use a new mirror.
BIO: Robert Meade is a Boston native now transplanted in Mohegan Lake, in Westchester County, NY, with his wife and three children. He teaches at Loyola School in Manhattan. He won the Wordweaving Award for Excellence for his book, Daily Bread: Seven Days to a Healthier Soul. A published author of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, his recent work has appeared in Angels on Earth magazine and online at Guideposts and Apollo's Lyre.