The One With Perfection

I came across some notes I’d made for in my journal for an old Subway Chronicles post. The two girls in this piece are probably off to college by now. 

Consider these two scenarios from separate subway rides this week:

On an uptown 2 train, a man in a suit and tie is taking his daughter to school. She appears to be about nine years old. They are facing each other with the silver pole between them. He carries her pink backpack slung over one shoulder.

The father decides to use their commute time wisely. He quizzes her on her times tables. She is eager to do well so her father can be proud of her.

The father asks, “What’s four times five?”

“Twenty! That’s easy!”

“Okay. How about seven times eight?”

That one is a little harder. She thinks. “Forty–two?”

“Nooo. Think.”

The girl ticks her fingers as if she could use them to count that high. “Forty-nine?”

“Are you guessing, or do you know?”

“Uhm. Fifty-five?”

Frustration flashes across the father’s face, though he tries to control it. “How can you not know the answer to this? We’ve studied the seven times tables over and over. Night after night.”

“Fifty-nine?” She almost whispers.

The father shakes his head. “How do you expect to get into the magnet school? You’re competing against kids that know their times tables already. Everything builds from here.”

Tears start to roll down her cheeks. “I-I-I’m sor-sorry.”

“Stop crying.” The father pulls a hankie from his pocket. He pats her on the shoulder. “We’re just going to have to study harder. That’s all.”


The Brooklyn-bound Q train is crowded but most people who want one have found a seat. A father with long, silver hair and red Sally Jesse Raphael glasses is sitting closest to the door while his daughter has the seat next to him. She’s maybe twelve or thirteen. It’s clear that she has gotten her eccentric taste in clothes partly from her father and partly from watching too many 80s teen angst movies.

The father rests the New York Times crossword puzzle on his round stomach. He has the kind of face that smiles all over.

“We need a four-letter word for ‘Waterloo pop group.’”


“Of course! Abba.” He writes it in the squares. “You weren’t even alive then.”

“I went to see Mamma Mia, remember?”

“Yes, yes.” He nods. “How about ‘Melville captain?’”

“Ahab!” They both say at the same time.

“Eight down: ‘Before to bards.’”

“How many letters?”


The girl looks at the ceiling with her Bette Davis eyes, eyes that will someday be her favorite feature, and says, “I don’t know.” She rests her head on her father’s ample arm.

“Okay, let’s try another one.” He scans the clues. “Got the gold.”

“First,” she says.

“You’re first in my book,” he says.

The girl rolls her eyes as only teenagers can, but her cheeks flush a bit and lips curl ever so slightly into a smile.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 



    1. Mine used to give me a bunch of sums to do and set the timer. My blood pressure goes up just thinking about it… Luckily, all that nonsense stopped once I got through primary school. From then on my schoolwork just went over his head.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The math one made me anxious! My dad was always extremely supportive of me, but he also wanted me to do well in every subject and math was not my favorite. He loved to quiz me. *wipes sweaty hands on pants now*


  2. I loved these excerpts, Jackie. Timely post for me. I lost my Dad six years ago this Sunday. Your piece helped me remember all of the lessons my father taught me. Thank you. xo


  3. Such moving and telling vignettes. I feel for the first daughter and hope she can find the confidence in herself to achieve what SHE most desires. There is trouble ahead in that relationship for sure. Wonderful post, Jackie!


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