I was on the subway on my way home from work when it happened. It seemed like any other day at first. The train started out uncomfortably crowded, too many strangers pressing into intimate places on my body, too much breath too close to my face that wasn’t mine.
I was on my way home from a job I had been at for too long. I was a nobody who did nothing for anybody. But it was a paycheck which kept me well-dressed and plump with take-out.
The man crushed up against my right side is older. His suit doesn’t fit him right. It looks unhappy to be on him, like it barely remembers the fabric it was cut from. He coughs without covering his mouth and I’m not the only one who shuffles uncomfortably.
On my other side a woman reads a book by David Sedaris. She mouths the words to herself like she’s casting a dark spell. I can see where her makeup stops at her chin. She never turns a page.
Behind me is a woman far too attractive to have an office job. I saw her on the platform and was awestruck by her. She was perfectly put together, her shoes we subtle yet elegant, her coat and scarf were soft gentle colors that complemented her skin. I can feel her standing behind me. The heat from her skin somehow permeates my own coat and clothes and I’m suddenly sweating. I try to catch her reflection but there are too many people on the damn train. I want to fall back into her arms. I also know how ridiculous and awkward and horrible that would be.
In front of me are more placid faces, distracted and distraught faces, exhausted faces moving from one realm to stress to another. I try to remember when home was a relief from work. I wonder if I ever looked into the future back then and saw the inevitable misery of age without glory.
Somewhere deep inside me there is a hairline crack that developed the first time I chose career over love. On days like this it stings. Its edges rub together when I breathe and I wonder how long I have left. I’m not scared to die so much as I’m desperate for something to break the routine.
Like if the hipster across the car in the tight coat and the designer eyeglasses suddenly lost his shit and tried to wrench a baby from its carriage and toss it across the car, I could be the hero who steps in and catches his arms and pushes him to the floor. I would hold him down until the cops came and took him away. People would thank me for the good thing I did. The good looking woman behind me would offer to take me out for a drink. I would no longer be a nobody who did nothing for anybody. I would have a story to tell at parties and a woman who looked at me like a hero.
But none of that happens.
Slowly as we travel from midtown into queens people disembark from the train. The beautiful woman is the first to go. The coughing man stays coughing for five more stops. As the passengers disperse, the space they occupied holds their shape temporarily before the doors swoop shut and the train sighs forward. When a bench clears up, I sit down.
And when the train reaches the final stop and the last tired soul ambles off and up the stairs, I just sit there.
I thought someone would come along and sweep up and tell me to get off but no one came. Instead, silence swept in thick and deep as the bottom of an ocean trench. I almost forgot myself when the train doors shushed shut. The silence somehow became more dense.
The train suddenly pulled forward into a dark tunnel. The empty train car looked like a sardine can that had been scraped clean. I was the rotten sardine, the bite that no one wanted. The light flickered then. Either that or my eyes fluttered. I was incredibly tired. And then everything went black. The darkness met the silence and I disappeared.
And the only reason you can hear me tell this story is because you’re asleep.