I saw him shove her.
“Nat,” I whispered, “I think, he-”
My words froze as he punched her pregnant stomach.
A palpable tension had descended on the subway platform in Columbus Circle. Couples turned to one another with worried whispers. Glances lost their subtlety, and people openly stared at the raging man, who had just finished the last of a 5-liter Tito’s with a satisfied gulp. We all watched as the bottle came crashing down on the train tracks.
“Shit’s about to get real,” he hollered. “Shit’s about to get real.”
He thundered and hurled two beach chairs – one red, one blue – into the tracks.
Perhaps she had woken up that morning and whispered to herself that familiar, barren incantation while preparing their picnic lunch, “Today is going to be a good day, today is going to be a good day, today will be different.”
I looked on with that sick mixture of horror and glee as he tried to wrestle the baby carriage away from the woman and fling it in the direction of the shattered glass. “Not my baby!” she screamed, her heels slipping on the floor as he pulled them both toward the tracks.
We watched with open mouths, a perfectly still and silent audience.
He tired of the crying baby and began to punch the woman’s face.
I was close enough to hear his fist make contact with her jaw, to see the blood come.
“We have to call the cops, Nat.”
“Only his fists,” I said slowly to the dispatcher when she asked me if he was carrying a weapon.
“Only his fists,” while I watched him take another swing.
He had her cornered. With a smile, he started to hit the wall. He would come so close to her cheek, and then with the slightest movement, he veered toward the wall. I think I actually saw him brush the hair from her face before he struck the wall again. And again.
And he kept that smile on his face the entire time.
And in that moment when tenderness and torment collided, I knew that she wouldn’t leave him until he killed her.
The post-Puerto-Rican-Day-Parade platform was packed with people, but only one man jumped in. He ducked away within a few minutes, blood dripping down his face.
No one else made a move.
And so we all watched while the man pummeled the pregnant woman holding a hysterical baby. He could have killed her right in front of us and we wouldn’t have done a damn thing.
He was a beast unleashed, a man thrashing in his own invisible cell, making himself bigger with every blow.
What could we have done?
What should we have done?
By the time the police finally came, she had already left with him.
After a perfunctory series of questions, the officers departed, and Natalie and I got on the train heading downtown.
When we surfaced, we crossed our arms over our chests and huddled closer together, though it was almost 90 degrees outside. Laughing, drunk men poured out of bars and we shrunk from their smiles.
He had told the truth – shit got real.
Much later that night, restless in my bed, I wondered about hers. I wondered if she was thanking him for letting her close her mouth around his cock, while he looked down at her and smiled.