The subway is mostly empty. It speaks in a mechanical sort of language, a series of whirs and ticks and long, low groans that would be impossible to decipher unless you were made of metal and glass. The girl gets on somewhere unmemorable, she walks with steps that don’t matter to anyone and her face looks like a mix of people you might have met once, in passing. The subway is mostly empty, but not completely. There are three people sitting in seats an appropriate and polite distance from one another. Nobody speaks. There is a plump middle aged woman who is reading a book, careful to hide the cover, maybe out of embarrassment. There is an old man who occasionally coughs so hard it sounds like it hurts. He is wearing a big coat that looks like it was borrowed from the eighties. There is also a young woman. Her shoulders are hunched, her cheeks streaked with black lines. Her mascara is running alongside her tears. The unmemorable girl sits down beside the crying young woman. She doesn’t sit in a way that seems like an intrusion though, she slides in so subtly that you might just think she’s been there all along. The crying young woman doesn’t look over at the girl, she barely registers her existence except for an ever so slight pause in the flow of her tears, so close to imperceptible it would be hard to notice if you weren’t staring directly at her and paying very close attention.
Have they met before?
Without introduction or ceremony the unmemorable girl begins to speak. “I’m completely shallow. I judge books by their covers. Once, when I was in grade four, there was this boy named Salmon and I thought his name was really weird and I thought his face was weird too. Salmon was the fat one who laughed too loud and spoke too much—I’m sure you know someone like him, because everyone does. So there was this dance, the spring fling, and dances were really awkward back then before the girls really had breasts or the boy’s voices dropped and we would just drink punch and stand around eyeing each other. So this slow song comes on, something by Madonna, maybe, I don’t know, and Salmon comes up to me. God his breath smelled like pickle chips and he was so big I couldn’t see around him and all I could think was: ‘I don’t have breasts but Salmon does’. So of course he asks me to dance because I’m the one who thinks he’s the weirdest and people like Salmon are drawn to girls who think they’re weird. I had no idea what to do and I didn’t really know him because I hadn’t really taken the time to get to know him of course. So I did what I thought a cool girl would do and I laughed in his face. Then it fell, his whole damn face nearly fell right off and we had just learned the word ‘crestfallen’ in class and I finally understood what it meant when I looked at Salmon, I really got it. Sometimes I dream about the look on his face now. It just kind of takes up all of my dream vision and floats there—crestfallen.”
The crying young woman has stopped crying. She is no longer the crying woman, she is the silent woman. But it’s not a listening kind of silence. It’s an introspective kind of silence, streaked with mascara and probably despair.
Did she hear what the girl just said?
The silent woman doesn’t turn to look at the girl beside her, she just starts to speak, her words tumbling out like sad clowns from a clown car at a circus with no audience. “I had an abortion. I killed a baby. That’s what they say isn’t it? Murderer. They walk with signs, up and down the street and they watch you while you go in, heckling you. The baby was there and then it was gone. That was the thing, I felt it there; emotionally, spiritually, whatever. I felt it there and now I feel it not there. Like a gaping hole in my belly, the reality of the thing inverted to become nothing, no reality. It’s stupid to think of it that way. I don’t even believe in God. My parents do though, they pray to God at every meal and every Sunday. I go to church with them and one Sunday I was on my knees looking up at this stained glass Jesus and I just thought: ‘yeah right’ and then I couldn’t shake that thought. Yeah right this whole stupid world has a reason, yeah right everything is part of a plan. There’s nothing in the world that makes enough sense to be planned out, there’s nothing in the world that sane. I never told my parents I stopped believing in God, or maybe it was that I never really started, either way I didn’t tell them because I couldn’t bear it if they looked at me with their holy eyes and whined about Jesus. Because that’s what they would do, whine. That’s all praying is to me now, whining. Maybe that’s all I’m doing now. Whining about my problems to no one in particular when I should just be getting off.
The not crying, not silent young woman nods with purpose, renewed vigour. The subway screeches to a halt and she rises more steadily than when she sat down. Then the not crying woman steps off the subway, leaving the girl without another word. The girl seems changed when the not crying woman leaves. Smaller, thinner and, if it’s possible, even less
The subway platform is mostly empty. The train pulls away from the station with such a force of effort it seems as though it deserves to be rewarded. The unmemorable girl gets off the train at this station, but nobody notices; not the cameras connected to the ticket booth aboveground and not the man in the blue scrubs at the very end of the platform.
The man at the end of the platform is thin and taut like a lamppost. Overly upright as though he has never bent down, not once in his entire life, for any reason. He stands on the very edge of the platform right beside the opening to the tunnel. He looks down onto the tracks so intently you might be inclined to think he lost something down there, and you might be right.
The unmemorable girl approaches with footsteps so light there is no sense straining to listen for them because you won’t hear them. She is thinner than the thin doctor. That’s what he most likely is, a doctor. She is thinner and something else too, there is an almost empty quality to her, as though she has just been operated on and had something removed she needed dearly. The girl arranges herself beside the doctor, close, close, close. Then she follows his gaze. He is staring at the tracks and there is a cigarette package down there, and a pacifier and a bottle of half finished Coke. The PA bongs and bings and reminds us that there is no smoking on the platform in a garbled robotic female voice.
The girl speaks, “I’m entirely too lazy, I could lounge around all day and night and never move. I had an operation once when I was a kid and they removed my appendix. I got to eat Jello and ice cream for days and I didn’t have to go to school. I’m not even sure you’re supposed to eat ice cream when you get your appendix out, but that’s what I ate anyway. Rainbow sherbet is my favourite because it tastes like three different fruits. Three different ice creams in one. The best part wasn’t the ice cream though, it was the sitting around doing nothing at all. When I was sitting there on the couch, wrapped in my Strawberry Shortcake sheets, I just loved every minute of it. I didn’t want to get back up. I pretended to still be in pain every time my parents tried to make me get up and go to school. I would whine and groan; ooooohhhh, ahhhhh, ouchhhhh. Sometimes I would even cry but that gave me a headache so I just moaned mostly. I would never have gotten off that couch if I could have gotten away with it. I would have lived my whole life not touching the ground, just padded and cushioned and inside my own little appendix-less world. It would have been great.”
The train is not in the tunnel. If it were you would see the lights and feel the rumble in every part of your body. The smell of it is in the air though, the greasy wheel oil mixed with hints of bubble gum and garbage juice. The doctor is not looking at the tracks anymore. He’s looking straight ahead as though he has just remembered something he has to do. His profile is like a valley, filled with deep crags and ridges.
When he speaks he doesn’t look at the girl beside him. “I think I’ll step off the edge. Just step right off and the light of the train will shine on me and it will be my shining moment. I was supposed to have one of those, a shining moment. I was supposed to have a million. My hands are steady, but it still doesn’t explain the mistakes. There are always mistakes and I don’t feel like I belong in a world where there are always mistakes. My mistakes haunt me in a literal way. ’s worse that their eyes are closed, I could almost handle it if they were open, but I have to lie there in the dark and know that it’s my mistake that made it so they will never open their eyes again. Everyone calls me a star, but only when I save a life. I’m a shining star but only when everybody’s eyes are open. I have surgery in three hours. She’s sixteen and she needs a new heart. A new heart. Maybe I should just give her mine. Or maybe it would be better if I gave her my hands. Her heart and my hands.”
This thin, straight-standing man somehow stands even straighter, so straight you would think he has to be bent somewhere deep inside because no one can stand that straight and not be bent, somewhere. He nods but it does nothing to break the line of his back because the nod is all in his head. Then he turns around and walks away from the girl and the subway train that is now barreling through the tunnel, shining plastic eyes open wide. ~ The ticket collector is idle. Her eyes are glazed as the unmemorable girl passes through the turnstile and moves towards the sunshine on the other side of the grubby glass door. The cars whisper on the street beyond the door, but you can’t hear their secrets because only cars can speak that language, and maybe some trucks. There is a young man in the subway vestibule, sitting on a red plastic bench. His whole body is tense and his hands are rammed into his pockets as though they go deeper than physically possible, as though he has no hands at all, only pockets and depth. His face is arranged in a sour grimace and the scent in the air matches his face, sour tension. The girl takes a deep breath and slides into place beside him. Locks into place is a better way to describe it because that’s what it looks like. She’s locking into a part of him he didn’t know was exposed for that purpose. But it is and she does.
The ticket collector doesn’t notice because she’s thinking far away thoughts, of her grandchildren maybe or the bottle of wine on her counter at home more likely. The girl is so thin now that when she turns sideways you can only see a line. A two dimensional girl in a three dimensional world.
She speaks with a voice that is not quite there. “I’m selfish, totally selfish. I think it’s because I was an only child and I always got the presents, the attention, I got it all. The other day I saw a boy on the street and he asked me for change and I stood on the sidewalk with my hands in my pockets, my fingers wrapped around my change and all I could think was: ‘I worked hard for my pocket change, what has he done?’. I actually thought that. He looked up at me and I looked down at him and then I just turned and walked away because I didn’t want to share. I heard someone say once that giving feels good but I wouldn’t know because I’m not much of a
The young man beside her clenches and unclenches his jaw. If you followed the line of his gaze you would see he is looking at the ticket collector.
He speaks in a low voice, much lower than could reasonably be expected from someone so young. “I have a gun in my pocket. It’s heavier than I imagined it. It weighs as much as a brick I think. I’m supposed to rob the ticket collector. She looks like my grandmother though. I’m trying not to see her, but all I can do is see her. If I don’t do this I’ll never be able to pay them back. But my grandmother always gives me these lemon drops and now all I can smell is lemon drops. And cloves. She keeps cloves in a bowl on her coffee table.”
The young man stands up, his whole body facing the ticket collector. His whole body. All of it tense and ready. The girl remains sitting.
Will he pull out the gun?
The young man sniffs the air and shakes his head. “No. No. No. Cloves and lemon drops everywhere.” His shoulders relax and he turns to the girl. He meets her eyes and smiles.
“Thanks,” the young man says.
“You’re welcome,” the girl replies.
He turns without another word and leaves the vestibule.
The vestibule is mostly empty. The girl is still thin but there is something more substantial about her now. She feels good as she sits on the red plastic bench and she wonders if she might be a bit of a giver after all.
Star Spider is a writer from Canada where she lives with her awesome
husband Ben Badger. Star is in the process of seeking publication for her novels
while she writes and frolics on the beach. Her work can be found in Black
Treacle, ExFic and Grim Corps. starspider.ca