Tagger by Chris Bleuher


Tagger sniffs his hands and smells the remains of the acrid spray paint on his fingertips. He barely notices it anymore. He slips down his hood and puts on the headphones that are connected to the Walkman in his backpack. He pulls the hood up again and slouches back into the hard seat. The music puts him in his own universe but he is not alone in his musical cocoon. The subway car is peppered with people lost in their own aural universe. No one makes eye contact. It is as if they have willfully disconnected themselves from this reality.

As they round a curve in the underground track, a hand reaches out and touches Tagger's arm. He is surprised but nonchalant with his response. He looks over to see the sunken face of an old woman. Before he can pull away, the train lurches and sways as it rounds a bend and the old woman wraps her fingers tightly around his arm. With his free hand he has to reach out and up to keep her from tipping off the seat. The lights flicker and when he sees her face again she is fearful and her mouth is twisted open. She lands back on the seat and he tries to move his trapped arm away.

Her hands distract him again as they begin to move in shaky starts in front of his face now. She is speaking but he doesn't want to have to involve himself with a lost soul. Tagger looks around to see the other anonymous people in the car staring at him, apparently fascinated to see his situation, and pulls the headphones off his ears. He reaches up and gently takes her hands into his and moves them down to his knees. The thin bones begin to slow their shaking while the lines of her mouth lose some of their anxiety. "Take me home, I'm trying to get home", she begs and her words are dry with fear yet her eyes are moist around the edges.

The heavyset woman spoke with the roll of her native Jamaican hills as she put her big hand on Helen's shoulder. There was recognition in the old lady's eyes and her hands began to shake again as the aide spoke. "I'll take you home Helen, it's OK now". She didn't look at Tagger as she took Helen's hand and led her down the aisle and into the next car.