The Better to Hold You - By Alisa Sheckley Page 0,2

I suspected the cocky boy of being the pickpocket, and then I turned, feeling the owl man regarding me with heavily lidded eyes and a cynical half-smile. He knew what I was thinking, and I could hear his judgment of me as if he'd said it out loud: racist. As if the color of the boy's skin had anything to do with my momentary suspicion.

Flushed and embarrassed, I turned away. I realized with a clench of anger that the man had been observing me for a while—he might even have witnessed my being robbed without bothering to warn me. My heart pounding, I felt a wild urge to accuse him. He met my eyes as if he could read this thought as well, and then the subway lurched to a stop. Without actually making a decision, I found myself pushing through the crowd to get off.

On the subway platform, I tried to think things through. I was already going to be late for rounds, but I couldn't wait till lunchtime to cancel all my credit cards. And whoever had taken my bag had my house keys along with my address. I had to tell my husband to change our locks.

Reflexively, I reached for my cell phone before remembering that of course, I'd lost that, too. I made my way back to the station agent, who was hiding behind the Plexiglas, pretending to be deaf.

“I'm sorry,” I said, trying to keep the note of hysteria out of my voice, “but my purse was just stolen. Do you think I could borrow your phone to make a local call?”

“I'll make the call for you,” said the woman, apparently thinking this was some elaborate ruse to bilk the MTA. Maybe I should have gone for more hysteria. I told her my number and waited as she lethargically dialed my home.

“Nobody's home.” She regarded me with blank indifference.

“He is home, he's just sleeping the sleep of the seriously jet-lagged. Can you please try again?” My husband had just come back from Romania last night looking ill from fatigue, a good fifteen pounds thinner than I'd ever seen him before.

The station agent stared at me for a moment, as if weighing her options. In the end, she redialed the number, using a pen to protect her inch-long nails.

Hunter, I prayed, please wake up and answer the phone. I hadn't been expecting him for another week, and had nearly jumped out of my skin when he walked in the door as I was eating day-old Thai food from the carton with my fingers. He'd been sick with a stomach bug, he'd explained, and had changed his ticket. No, he didn't feel up to giving me the details just yet, and yes, if he needed a doctor he'd call one. His tone implied we were having an argument, and mine implied I hadn't noticed.

I'd gone to bed at eleven and actually fallen asleep fairly quickly, an unusual occurrence for me. I had no idea when Hunter joined me, but at three A.M., when I woke up, he was on my right, snoring lightly from his attractively once-broken nose. For a moment I had wished him gone again, so I could pamper my chronic insomnia without restraint—turning the lights on, surfing the television, eating breakfast cereal in bed.

Then he had spooned his body around mine, a rare intimacy, and I had felt his warm breath on the back of my neck. Savoring the closeness, I had remained motionless while my left arm fell asleep and he began to snore again. I hated to bother him now, and knew he'd probably be irritated at first, but he'd understand once I explained what had happened.

“Still not home,” said the station agent, hanging up the phone. “You want to talk to the police about the theft of your personal possessions?”

“No,” I said, disconsolate. “Could you just let me back through the turnstile so I can go home?”

The station agent buzzed me through and I retraced my steps in a sort of daze, making my way to the downtown platform, then to the crosstown shuttle, which took me back to the West Side, where I could catch the Broadway local. It took me three trains and forty minutes during rush hour to get to work each day. Most of my fellow interns had taken housing near the center, but Hunter hadn't wanted to give up our brownstone apartment on the Upper West Side.

Wishing that there were some way to call my team