Initiation by Stuart Dybek

The doors snap open on Addison, and the kid in dirty hightops and a sleeveless denim jacket that shows off a blue pitchfork tattooed on his bicep jogs forward beneath a backward baseball cap and grabs the purse off a babushka’s lap. She’s been sitting with an arm through the purse strap, and lets out a plea to a God with a foreign name, and hangs on. The kid gives it another yank, one that ought to break the strap. It jerks the old lady out of her seat.

“Hey!” I yell from a window seat, and a guy in a suit seated beside me fingering his cell flinches like I’ve elbowed him in the ribs.

Old lady in tow, the kid is already one leg out the door. The doors in the car, like the doors the length of the train, repeatedly stutter closed and open while on the intercom the robot conductor’s voice of gargled static repeats instructions for disembarking.

I stand and yell “Hey”—I’ll have that feeble “Hey” to remember—and someone else shouts, “Help, police!” and someone else, “Stop!” and the kid punches the old woman in the face, sending her glasses flying. She lets go then, flung backward as the doors bang shut and the train slides off along the station.

All of us in the car, except for the old woman pressing her babushka to her mouth and spitting out bloody pieces of what we’ll later realize are dentures, can see the kid racing down the platform toward the exit with a wild grin on his face as he dodges commuters, and his pack of buddies, who’ve been riding other cars join in running, high-fiving as they go, pounding congratulations on each other’s backs, each one swinging a purse.

Stuart Dybek’s 2014 collection, Ecstatic Cahoots, has been called a “remarkable collection of bite-sized stories.” His awards include a MacArthur Fellowship and a PEN/Malamud Prize.

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