There is a certain sort of light that only happens in Winter: the way the world glows with snow, the dull yellow of the streetlamps bouncing back up towards the sky as the city sleeps. Jon is used to it. He has been living here for long enough not to give it pause anymore. It’s a different brightness from home. Home doesn’t have as many street lamps.
He only sort of notices it tonight. His music is playing in his ears, tucked under a big woolen hat Sam had knit for him when they’d been in college. He is far more eager to know when the train is going to get here. It is cold, and late, and the digital sign that would ordinarily have a countdown to the next train is busted.
Somewhere to his left, a light turns on and he starts.
A woman in a long black coat is standing under the heater, which she had just pressed on. It’s only when he looks at her that he notices how cold he is and he takes a step towards her. She is fiddling in her bag and after a few seconds she produces a box of cigarettes and a lighter. She tugs off a glove, pops a cigarette into her mouth and begins to try and light it. Her hand is shaking from the cold, and after several failed attempts and a mumbled curse, Jon asks, “Want a hand?”
She looks at him sharply, sizing him up, and Jon forgets the train for a moment. She has moonglow in her hair, or whatever the color of the streetlamps on the snow is–modern, urban moonglow.
Without a word, she hands him the lighter, and he takes a gloveless hand from his pocket and a moment later, her cigarette is lit and she is inhaling deeply.
“Thanks,” she says at last. “It’s fucking freezing.”
“Gotta warm up any way you can,” he agrees, tucking his hand back into his jacket pocket.
“How do you not have gloves on?” she asks incredulously.
It’s a more boring story than its worth–that he had left them to Sam because Sam’s had fallen out of his coat on the El that morning and Sam needed gloves more than Jon did. Jon was used to Midwestern winters. So he shrugs.
She inhales again and blows smoke out of her nostrils. Or is it the warmth of her breath on the air? There is something hypnotic about her and he can’t look away. “Chicagoans,” she mutters, shaking her head.
“Where are you from?” he asks.
“Somewhere warm,” she replies. Jon is about to open his mouth to ask another question when they hear a rumble from the north and she inhales on her cigarette one last time, then drops it and stamps on it. “That’s me.”
The train pulls up. She boards. And it’s only as Jon locks eyes with her as the train doors close that he realizes he forgot to ask her name.