The train squeals to a stop as it nears the station. A dozen passengers exit, buds in ears and cellphones in hands. My mother, father, and I enter, their tickets in my hand. They head straight for the seats reserved for the elderly and infirm, two words that make my voice wobble. I clutch the metal railing overhead. Come here, my father says, inching himself to one side of their bench. There’s room for your tiny tushie, my mother says, sliding to the other side and patting the narrow space between them. I squeeze my middle-aged derriere down. See, my father says, we fit. He scratches between my shoulder blades like he always did when I was little, only then it never bothered me. Strangers stare, smile. The Bay Area Rapid Transit cars hurtle forward into December darkness. Christmas lights ablaze on every street below. Squished between my parents, I force myself to inhale.
The train squeals to a stop as it nears the station. My father asks yet again where we’re going, what we’re doing. Dinner at The Slanted Door, my mother huffs. I pick my nails, pretend not to hear. Pinched between them, I bear the burden of now: she, almost eighty, recovering from emergency brain surgery, and he, soon eighty-one, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. How much longer will my mother tolerate taking him to movies, basketball games, and ballet shows? How much longer will my father call me Jenny Poo, my childhood nickname, before he forgets who I am? How much longer will she whisper I wish you could stay longer as I head to the airport for my return flight to Tel Aviv? How much longer will he ask me where I’m going?
12th Street/Oakland City Center
The train squeals to a stop as it nears the station. Doors open, close. People get off, on, stand, sit, read, text, put on headphones, close eyes. My father asks, for the twenty-ninth time, What’s our plan? My mother spits, Dinner, Herbie, at The Slanted Door! like a reflex. I eye the map and wonder, Why answer if he can’t remember anything? A combination of callousness and culpability for living so far away, leaving them to grow old alone, with a hint of suppressed anger. My father did not do the right thing. Huddled between them, I relinquish his quarter-century affair, her tenacious rage, our role reversal, and the tricks time plays on us. I sense their shoulders against mine and smile back at every stranger.
The train squeals to a stop as it nears the station. A man with a horseshoe mustache and Santa hat sings “Jingle Bell Rock” off-key. The Transbay Tube connecting opposite sides of the San Francisco Bay lasts the longest: eight minutes. Nestled between my parents, I flash back four decades in time, picture myself sprawled across their blue-and-white paisley bedspread, watching them primp to go dancing on Polk Street. My father slaps his cheeks with Aramis aftershave. My mother spritzes Opium perfume on her neck. The scent of citrus and pepper twirls in my nose. If only I could have paused the clock then: when they were allies, a united force of love; when their occasional skirmishes about the skewed balance of power dissipated as quickly as they’d detonated; when my father called to say he was stuck at the office because he really was working; when they used to tell each other the truth.
The train squeals to a stop as it nears the station, our final destination. On the platform, throngs of commuters line up. My parents shuffle out the door, me trailing behind to watch their steps. We proceed up the escalator to Market Street. Under lampposts wrapped in green wreaths and red bows, beneath the night sky, cars and buses hiss. A whiff of marijuana envelops us. Beneath my feet, I feel the subway tremble and roar. We utter a collective brrrr as a rush of wind rattles us. Nothing has prepared me for being wedged between girlhood and grey hair, between what is, what was, what has been, and what will become. Standing between them, I let out a long-held exhale, link each of their elbows in mine, say Let’s go, and march toward the Ferry Building for dinner.