Some days, I’m not going to have something specific to say about the world. Sometimes, I won’t want to talk about real life. Now and again, I’ll just want to tell a story. Today is one of those days:
Ellie loved riding trains. The subtle back-and-forth motion felt from toes to shoulders when you managed to secure a seat, the jerking, jolting, whiplash feel when you were forced to clutch pole or strap or rail with mighty strength. Some days, like today, she rode the subway train back and forth – end of the line to the beginning – for hours. Every so often she switched cars, oftentimes after abdicating her seat for elderly men or pregnant women, equally as often for no particular reason at all.
Blurred edges and muted lines were what she savored. When she sat, one hand perched like a broken bird in her lap, the other tracing silly bits of whimsy on the plasticy glass as she stared out the window, she saw the things beyond. Outside of the graffiti, the gaping scars of blight and the clumsily elegant construction cranes, she saw so much everything. Fleeting glimpses of playgrounds and drug deals and restaurants. Brief scenes of comings and goings, hellos and goodbyes. Business people wedging doors open with smooth leather cases and teachers ushering children on communal leashes and homeless men sleeping on the handicapped chairs. Every trip was each time somehow different.
Really though, what Ellie craved was solitude. Shoulders pressed against the window, ankles crossed, eyes averted, she yearned for that sense of stark singularity amidst the huddled masses, sought to occupy her space as just one body amongst the throng. No one spoke to her. No one saw her, really, and she shivered with the savoring, tasted her solitude in tingling sparks along her tongue, felt it in the goose-pimple pinpricks against her arms. Oblivion clutched her in its gentle encompassing embrace and not one person seemed to mind. Nobody dragged her out of her solitude or silence. As the train swayed and rocked and jerked, she floated, limitless.
Limits, though, possess infinite ways of reappearing. Sadly, as the sun crested over the flat gray apartments of the city, Ellie knew it was time to go. It was time for school, and skipping to stay ensconced in her corner of the train — while perpetually appealing — was not worth the trouble. Hopping out at the station, she shouldered her way through the rush hour crowd, skipped the escalator in favor of the stairs, and squeezed her way into an overflowing car towards the front of a southbound subway train.
As the warning blared and the doors slammed shut just beyond the toe of her boots, Ellie realized that her tights were falling down. Adjusting the waistband seemed a futile effort amidst the crush of people on the train, and her puffy winter coat hid myriad ills. Attempting to flip up her coat and tug awkwardly at her undergarments whilst surrounded by a phalanx of predominantly male strangers was a grim prospect, so she didn’t dare. She missed the surety of her corner already. Sliding her calves uncomfortably against each other, Ellie merely shoved her earbuds further in, cranked the volume up on her music, and prayed. At first she watched the gray, rain-splattered streets of of the city stream by, interspersed with dark tunnels and crumbling buildings, but eventually her eyes slipped shut. She had mastered the art of choosing music just loud enough to block out the sounds of her fellow passengers, but not so loud that she missed the monotone announcement of her stop. It was easy enough to count down, one hand caressing cool metal, the other girded tightly to her bag.
Five stops left. Seventeen minutes until it began. The man clutching the center pole with her smelled strongly of tobacco. Her nose wrinkled in a way that normally only happened when she smiled.
Four stops. Twelve minutes. Something bumped her hip and her fingers spasmed on the strap of her bag, nails digging harshly into her palms.
Three. Nine minutes. The wheel of a cart or a stroller or maybe a very small bicycle ran with alarming pressure over her toes. She gritted her teeth and refused to open her eyes.
Two more. Seven minutes. Her hips swayed a bit from side to side, verifying the observations her nose had made – no more people on either side. No use in taking a seat at this point, so she sank into her right hip, letting the joint crack with a satisfying crunch.
One stop left. Six minutes. She fluttered her eyes open with a barely audible sigh, flicked the tail of her braid out from the uncomfortable space between her collarbone and her jacket, straightened her knees.
Now. She hopped onto the platform, bag swung carelessly over her shoulder and glanced at her watch between fleeting glances at the escalator. Five minutes. Certainly enough time to walk without having to run the stairs, but not quite enough to wait in the escalator line, nor to avoid skipping up the steps two at a time. Her tights slipped further with each step and her breath hissed out through clenched teeth and parted lips. Nothing to be done for it now. Nothing to be done for the puddles of sweat above her lip and spanning her forehead and dotting her chin, either. Perhaps she would be more worried if this trek was not made every weekday without fail. For a girl known for her consistent punctuality, it was only natural that this journey be meticulously timed. Yet, today something was different. She had not counted on the stoplight flashing red instead of green when she emerged from the station. When, as usual, she strode purposefully through the southern courtyard, doffing her jacket and scrambling for the restroom door, she expected to have three minutes to spare. Today she only had one. Normally at this time she would be perched in her seat, ready for her teacher to begin lecturing, bag open at her feet, notebook out, puffy coat ensconced on the back of her chair while her fingers swiped impatiently at her face and wiped themselves surreptitiously on her skirt. Not today. Today, she stood inside the first bathroom stall, coat thrown haphazardly aside, headphones tangled in its zip, and tugged frantically at her too small tights. Today, the plan changed.
To be continued.
Day 10: January 10, 2017