Find the Lady An elderly man grimaces at a penis drawn in heavy marker pen, defacing a portrait of a real estate agent with voluminous, greasy hair. A young child snaps a photo of themselves with the defaced advertisement, pressing a peace sign against their face. A pregnant woman’s knees wobble as the train quakes and sways. She grips a strap that dangles from the train’s ceiling to steady herself, struggling to set her feet. A mop-top teenager clad in piercings and black clothing stands. “Take my seat,” The teen gestures. The pregnant woman does not seem to speak English, but she smiles and nods as the teen gestures again to take the seat. The scent of mozzarella cheese fills the rear of the car. A college student in an ill-fitting button-down dangles a floppy slice of pepperoni thin-crust pizza above their mouth as they sway back and forth to an upbeat song. Grease drips onto the floor. Doors open on the left at the next stop, a pre-recorded announcement bounces throughout the train car. The voice is a slick baritone with sharp enunciation. Though its words are easy to make out over the roaring traffic below, it sounds nothing like the voice of a local. Clank. A metal handle turns and shifts. The raucous sound swivels passengers heads towards the car’s rear door. Whipping wind roars as the door pushes open. A middle-aged, portly man steps through, dressed in a cream silk-shirt and a satin bathrobe. His hair is short, uneven and frizzy. His beard drapes over his chest, smooth and well-kept. On his breast pocket, stitched in white-gold cursive, a monogram: The Deacon. Passengers gawk as the door clinks shut. The Deacon waves as if on parade, massaging his chin. Like a parting sea, passengers tuck themselves toward the walls of the car, making room for him to pass. “Who’s got eyes?” he surveys. “We’re playing three card monte, find the lady,” he instructs his new audience, sauntering to the center of the car. “Pick the right card, make money. Pick the wrong card, try again.” The Deacon crashes into a seat in between a woman clutching her purse and a sleeping businessman sprawled across three seats. From within his bathrobe, he reveals a wooden cutting board, laying it across his lap like a delicate religious relic. He conjures three playing cards, resting them gently onto the cutting board. Each card has a slight bend down the middle. He turns to the woman on his right, noticing the expensive logos that decorate her clothing. “They call it Lady Luck for a reason,” he brays. “Odds are in your favor.” The woman rolls her eyes, turning away. She squeezes her purse tight, increasing the volume in her headphones until it is audible to the other passengers. “How about you, Sleeping Beauty?” The Deacon turns to his left, prodding the sleeping businessman’s head. The businessman groans and rolls over, draping his suit jacket over his face. “There’s more than enough people here. No one wants to play?” “I’ll do it,” a passenger volunteers across the aisle. They brush their short bangs across their forehead. A grin creeps across The Deacon’s face. “Five bucks, miss,” The Deacon surveys the volunteer’s round face. “Or sir?” He extends his reach, palm facing the volunteer. “August,” they reply, placing a crinkled ball of cash from their pocket into The Deacon’s hand. “Let’s do ten.” “Confidence!” The Deacon thunders. He admires August’s loose-fitting forest green slacks. “Ladies, gentlemen, anyone outside or in between — we love confidence.” He reaches into his pocket, flashing ten dollars to match August’s bet. “Should I go over the rules?” “You shuffle,” August’s brow sharpens. “I pick.” They lean forward in their seat, pressing the bridge of their thin, metal glasses firm against their nose. “Two jokers and one red queen,” The Deacon flips the three cards face down with a single wave of his hand, as if commencing a sermon. He shuffles. At first, the pace is laggard, then steady, darting into a blur of precise speed. “I shuffle.” The cards pitter patter like rain drops atop the board. “You pick.” August’s eyes trail the tempo of The Deacon’s hands. August blinks. As they open their eyes, the cards lay still before them. “Find the lady.” August squints, examining the particular bend in the left card. They compare the crease of the left card to the creases of the other two. The left card’s line is more pronounced. A young woman sits beside August, wearing cropped charcoal trousers and a maroon blazer. In her hands, a book, with several notecards scattered amongst it’s pages. She tilts her head, pursing her lips as she gazes at the center card. August notices her watching, and they begin to sweat. “Left.” “Let’s see,” The Deacon flips over the left card, revealing a joker. “Fuck,” August laments. The Deacon flips the card on the right: another joker. Then the middle card: the red queen. The Deacon chortles, reverently easing the crinkled sphere of money into his robe’s billowing pocket. “Thanks for playing.” August reaches quickly into their pockets, jostling, then fishing out a squished piece of gum and another ball of cash. “Again,” they demand, drumming their knees with the tips of their fingers. Their grin is full and vibrant. “Double or nothing?” “You got it,” The Deacon bites his tongue with a subtle sneer. The Deacon inhales slowly. The sneer fades from his face into a look of pointed focus. He waves his hands over the cards again, flipping them in fluid motion. His eyes leap up from the board to August’s. The Deacon’s hands dance faster than before. The cards move so swiftly that they hardly touch the cutting board. This time, August did not blink. But even still, the cards were beclouded, looking as though they were both in constant motion and not moving at all. Then, suddenly, The Deacon’s hands freeze sharp. “Find the lady.” August’s eyes lock onto the right card. The young woman in maroon stares at the card on the left. The Deacon’s gaze aims straight down at the center card as he wrinkles his nose. August hesitates, their pointer finger moving slowly to the right. “It’s-” “Left,” The young woman in maroon interrupts. The Deacon’s eyes shift from the center card, glaring at the woman in maroon. His hands stiffen. “Which one of you is playing?” The Deacon asks, relaxing his hands and easing back into his seat. August turns to the young woman in maroon, finding certainty in her stare. August admires the rich hazel of the young woman’s eyes for a moment, before snapping back into focus. The young woman leans forward in her seat. August changes their answer. “The left one.” The Deacon’s hands twitch. “You sure?” The Deacon points at the young woman in maroon. “Her nose has been in that book this entire time.” “Yes, left.” The Deacon sighs, flipping all three cards with a wave of his arm. The card on the left: the queen of hearts. “Easy come, easy go.” “Yes!” August cheers, shaking their fists victoriously. The businessman across the aisle gasps, springing upright, his suit jacket still draped over his face. The Deacon digs deep into his robe’s pocket, materializing August’s ball of cash, as well as some of his own. He places the money into August’s outstretched hand. He grimaces. “I’d like to remind the car, this is not a team game,” The Deacon grunts. “Anybody else feeling lucky?” “I’ve got five on it,” a passenger in fitted athletic wear sings to The Deacon. A new rush of passengers stream into the train as other passengers exit. College students and bookworms of various skin tones and gender brim with chatter and excitement as they board. Older, white businessmen, clad in suits, groan, as they step off of the train and onto the platform. Doors closing. Doors open on the right at the next stop. August turns to the young woman in maroon, entrenching herself in the pages of her book. They admire the strength of her jawline, noticing that her maroon jacket compliments the pale brick tone of her lips. “Thanks for the help,” August beams. “What’s your name?” The young woman in maroon half-turns toward August, brushing away a curly strand of hair that covers her eye. “Nora,” she replies, admiring the highlights dancing down August’s bangs. “It was nothing.” She tilts her head towards The Deacon as his hands halt. His hands seem much more nimble. She wonders if he is still warming up. The passenger in fitted athletic wear cracks their broad shoulders, stretching their slender yet toned arms to the ceiling. As they lower their arms, they rub their hands together, sticking out the tip of their tongue. Nora observes their perfect, upright posture. “Middle,” The athletic passenger points to the middle card. The Deacon sighs, waving his palms over the cards in a circular motion. From left to right, the cards flip: queen of hearts, joker, joker. The athletic passenger scoffs, turning their back to The Deacon. They search for a seat, posture deflating into a slight hunch. “Anyone else?” The Deacon challenges, raising the growing stack of cash in his pocket to the train car, as if it were a holy text. “Today could be your lucky day.” A man in all denim raises his hand. “What’re you reading?” August asks, tapping the notecard in the gutter of Nora’s book. Nora looks at August, slowly closing her book. She angles the book’s cover toward them, decorated with crude illustrations, the soft gestures of lovers. The palette is composed of juicy reds, pale violets, and forest greens. Though the title is printed, it looks written in marker: AT FIRST SIGHT “A little on the nose, don’t you think?” August teases, tapping the tip of their nose. Nora rolls her eyes, turning away from August to hide her brief smile. She shrugs, inspecting the leather sandals on The Deacon’s feet. “You believe in that?” Nora and August’s eyes meet. “In what?” “Love at first sight.” “No,” she snickers. “But people like to write about it.” “Fuck you,” The man in denim barks at The Deacon. “Scammer! Give me my money.” The train car falls quiet, minus the sound of snoring. The Deacon turns to his left, gently laying the wooden board atop the chest of the sleeping businessman. The man in denim straightens his back, puffing out his chest. The Deacon looks up, calm and quiet, with a gaze that could skewer a skull. His nimble hands rest. He cups them as if in prayer. “Fuck you,” the man in denim jabs his middle finger towards The Deacon’s eyes. The Deacon does not flinch. “Calm down homie, there’s a Levi’s next stop,” a raspy voice taunts the man in denim. Passengers try to stifle their laughter. The man in denim stomps to the car’s rear door, bumping into the shoulders of other passengers as he exits. The Deacon eases back into his seat. Clank. “Apologies for the distraction,” The Deacon announces. “Guess it’s in his jeans.” August raises their eyebrows, mouthing the word “wow” as Nora turns to face them. Nora rubs the side of her neck, shaking her head. “I think people like to build up little infatuations as love,” Nora continues their earlier conversation. “Makes things more exciting.” “I get that,” August touches Nora’s arm lightly. “That’s your vibe?” “It’s sugar,” Nora says, removing chapstick from her coat pocket. “Sometimes you want candy.” Nora brings the chapstick to her chin and flicks her wrist, gently gliding the chapstick across her lips. She looks at August, who turns away. August taps their lips with their finger tips, embarrassed to find they are a little dry. The train slows to a crawl, then stops. A chime rings throughout the car as doors slid open, though no passengers exit. A middle-aged couple with fixed-speed bikes board the train. They are drenched in sweat. Both wear bright, tight clothes of thin fabric. A young child near the couple plugs her nose and gags. Doors closing. Doors open on the right at the next stop. “I like your blazer,” August turns back to Nora. “Thank you,” Nora obliges, placing both hands in her jacket pockets, striking a pose. “I got it thrifting-” “You’re cute,” August’s wipes their sweaty palms against their pants. “Excuse me?” Nora’s eyes widen, her cheeks become as red as her blazer. “I like your vibe.” Nora takes her hands out of her pockets and places a hand onto August’s knee. She leans in. “As flattered as I am,” Nora lowers her voice. “I watched you gamble and lose. Twice. I’m not sure you have good instincts.” “I lost once,” August’s confident tone wavers. “I helped,” Nora takes her hand off of August’s knee, leaning back into her seat. “Do you think I’m cute?” “What?” Nora closes her eyes, her head tilting backward. “Do you,” August says slowly. “Think I’m cute?” Nora opens her eyes. August is pointing up at themselves with a beaming grin. “We’re almost at my stop,” Nora replies, buttoning her jacket. “You’re a little cute. Sure. But, all I know about you is that you are bad at gambling.” “I know it’s not evident at the moment,” August leans in. “But I have much more to offer than needing your help at card games.” August pulls out their phone from their pants pocket, their thumb dancing swiftly across it’s screen. They present the phone to Nora. “If you give me your number, you can find out for yourself.” Their eyes meet. Nora brushes away August’s phone, noticing The Deacon sitting idle. She takes three blank notecards out of the back of her book and sets them atop the book’s cover. From her pocket, she removes a marker pen. She clutches the pen, removing it’s cap with her teeth. She turns away from August, leaning forward to hide their actions. “Anyone else?” The Deacon surveys the train car once more. Nora bends each note card evenly down the middle. She stands, the pen dropping from her lap onto the floor, rolling down the aisle. She approaches The Deacon and bends forward, pressing the side of her hand against his face. He nods, rubbing his chin, as she whispers into his ear. “Sure, why not,” he bellows. “Cleaned this car out anyway!” August furrows their brow and tilts their head. The Deacon takes the three notecards from Nora and places them blank-side up. Nora steps towards the door as the train’s speed abates. She looks at August, then The Deacon. She chuckles. “You want me to play for it?” August is bewildered. “This is my stop,” Nora calls out. “Nice meeting you.” “Don’t you want to watch me win?” “If you win, I’ll know,” Nora blows a sarcastic kiss to August as she steps off the train. The Deacon waves his palms over the notecards. August’s eyes remain on Nora as the train slowly pulls away. The Deacon shuffles. Doors closing. Doors open on the right at the next stop. “Alright,” he grins. “Find the lady.”
Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram
Mylo Reyes is a Filipinx designer, musician and writer in Chicago, IL. Their work has been featured in NPR, The AV Club, The Chicago Reader & more.