The train is late. You check your watch. It’s late by 21 minutes. There’s supposed to be a train every seven minutes; you should be gone three times over by now. You’re behind schedule. Stuff like this is why you left half an hour early.
Early. It’s early in the day, too early, and this train is late. You check your watch again. 7:53 AM. You need to stop fixating. Trains creep you out enough as it is. You throw your hands outward and close your eyes as you take a deep breath. The aroma of old gasoline and human waste floods your nostrils. That was a terrible idea. Gagging, you open your eyes and look down at your feet. The ashen tiles beneath your red leather shoes are dark with grime, and as you continue staring at them, the spots and stains blur and refocus into different blobs, a two-dimensional lava lamp of germs and disgust. Your vision is inundated with images of oversized, bulbous bacteria swarming onto your shoes and up your legs, and you freeze before shaking your head to clear your mind. Crossing your arms, you tap your right foot rapidly until it reminds you of its old volleyball injury.
You decide to pace the platform to mollify your impatience. You can’t stand subway stations. Twenty steps, about-face, then another twenty steps. As you walk, you force yourself to look up from the ground. Don’t think about the germs. Just look straight ahead. The subway station is a textbook example of how to draw perspective in a painting. The platform stretches out from your feet indefinitely until it vanishes into the point of a triangle, the edges of which are the twin tracks. Tracks. The train is so late. Today is not the day to be late. You need to stop fixating.
You focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Stay in a perfectly straight line parallel to the twin tracks. Step, step, step. Somewhere a pipe is leaking, and the echoing drops of water reverberate through your hips. You time your steps to the upbeat of the drops. Drip step drip step drip step. If the tracks extend in front of you and meet at a visual point, can you walk in one direction indefinitely without ever touching either line of tracks? The visual is deceiving. You wonder what would happen if you were in a painting. Drip step drip step drip step. About-face.
You look ahead at the tracks to your right. Drip step drip step drip step. You think a lot about trains and the tracks they follow. They’re so long, so straight, predictable, steady. They stretch beyond you, effortlessly continuing on in the darkness impenetrable by the flickering yellow light. What time is it? You check your watch. 7:57 AM.
When you look up you realize you have veered off your straight parallel path and are facing head-on the tracks formerly on your right. You’re a good thirteen feet or so from the edge, but you shudder from your knees to your nose and force your body back onto the line you’ve made for yourself. God, you hate train tracks.
You take a deep breath, slowly this time to not flood yourself with the stench. Why do you hate subway stations so much? They’re fine when you’re with friends but overwhelming when you’re alone. Explain these seemingly opposing facts with one of the answer choices below. You lose yourself in the image of circling “D” and filling in the corresponding bubble on your answer sheet before realizing what you’re doing. Christ, you’ll be so glad when this is over. You’ve been studying so long that you think in practice problems. Damn it all. Find the flaw with this, what’s the fallacy in that, blah blah blah brown. Wait, what? You’re staring at the ground again. God, those brown stains make you itch. What time is it? You stare through your watch before dropping your wrist to your side. You start pacing again.
Step. Step. Step. Slower this time. The longer each step takes, the faster time will pass. What happened to the dripping? With all the noise in your head, you’ve lost track of the leak. Great, you’re going to feel even antsier now. You should have taken your meds last night, but they always fog up your mind. If it weren’t for this stupid test… You grumble incoherent frustration as you weave aimlessly through distracted mothers and pink-clad children and look out at the tracks. Step. Step. Step. Why exactly do you hate them? They’re so long and elegant. It’s interesting how the flickering light can’t reach more than a few feet into the abyss where the tracks nest. It’s a grotty, caustic yellow, but they’re just out of its slimy reach. Step. Step. All you can make out of them is a vague outline, the rails occasionally glinting dully and adding a dash of metallic color. It’s seductive, the darkness. Inviting. Who knew the absence of light could be so warm? Step. Step.
You realize you haven’t checked your phone in a while. Step. Step. No new messages from Alex. You frown before remembering that it’s 8 in the morning, and what college student in their right mind would be awake that early on a Saturday? You wouldn’t be, if it weren’t for the damn LSAT today. Step. Step. You could be sleeping until noon and sketching until sunset, but instead you’re waiting for a train at a godforsaken hour. At least the other sucker who’s alone here looks as miserable as you feel. His wool suit and shiny briefcase make you shudder. Which of the following is most strongly suggested by the observations above? Stupid test. Step. Step. Step. You check your phone again to be sure you didn’t get any texts. And again. Step. And again. Numbers flash across the otherwise blank screen. 8:03 AM. Step. You hate being late. Step. Late. Step. The train is so late. Step. Train. Step. Tracks. Step. Step. Tracks.
The ground under your toes is uneven, and you look down to see you’re on the bumpy yellow tiles lining the edge of the platform. How did that happen? You look up a little too quickly and freeze. They’re right there. It would be easy to fall in. You feel the darkness tugging at your limbs. So easy. You fling your body backward, clenching your hands into fists. Why the hell didn’t you take your meds? The tracks are so seductive. You hate train stations.
Your fists are so tight you can’t feel the tips of your fingers. When you reach up, your knuckles meet hair instead of fabric. You’ve forgotten your hat. Darn. You force your hands open and fidget with the bottom of your shirt instead. Darkness. There’s something soft about it, like cotton. It beckons to you. Falling would be so easy. You shake your head and force yourself to pace again. You need to focus on something else, to move. You need to keep busy. Standing still will kill you.
Step. You move slowly now, not bothering to count your steps. You need to focus on walking in a straight line. Step. Don’t look to the right. Step. Don’t look. Step. Don’t you dare look. The tracks pull on invisible ropes tied around your waist and shoulders, and you yank yourself away, veering so violently you almost send yourself tumbling into the tracks on the opposite side of the platform. Get a grip, dammit. You look back at the tracks on your right. They whisper your name, and you stumble. They are tugging at your knees. Your muscles wind themselves into tight pistons, begging to fire, aching to run, to launch you into the air and into the abyss. You should have taken your damn meds.
In your glazed vision, you notice a hollow under the stairs leading up from the platform. You duck in hurriedly. Why are you out of breath? You look down at your hands and wonder why they’re blurry. Images of yourself tumbling onto the tracks flash across your vision. Shaking, you reach for your phone and type out a message. She’s not awake yet, but you need to keep busy. “We still on for lunch later?” You click the lock button then turn the phone in your hands, slowly at first then faster as your mind disengages from the motion and veers back into noise. You’re facing the inside of the hollow so that your back is toward the tracks. You feel them tugging up and down your spine, and your shoes squeak on the grime as your feet slide backward. No! You’re seeing Alex this afternoon. You yank yourself around and throw your back against the wall, eyes squinted in the direction of the tracks. They pull at your heaving chest, and you feel yourself slipping again. No! BUZZ BUZZ. Thank god. You look down at your screen. iMessage send failure: Try again? Yes. You’re seeing Alex later. You slide deeper into the cove until you can’t see the edges of the platform anymore. You inhale. Have you been breathing?
A flash catches your eye. THE NEXT TRAIN IS NOW APPROACHING. You peel yourself off the wall and plant yourself by the opening of the hollow. BUZZ BUZZ. iMessage send failure: Try again? Yes. Dammit, just send already. Whispers drip into your ears again. The tracks are so lonely. No! Think of the afternoon. But the darkness is so close. It’s here. And lunch is so far away. Another flash. THE NEXT TRAIN IS NOW ARRIVING. Alex is so far away. BUZZ BUZZ. iMessage send failure: Try as text message? So far away. You feel your eyes pulled to the darkness along with your body, and finally you give in. As the train enters your peripheral, your toes caress the platform’s edge.
Curled up in her bedsheets, Alex watches as yellow rays dance across her window seat. Why hasn’t there been a text all morning? Okay, so she’s the one who hasn’t texted, but hey, sometimes she’d like to be the one who doesn’t text first! She checks her phone for the twentieth time in the last fifteen minutes then tosses it aside, throwing herself back into her pillows with a sigh. Time for Tumblr. Alex perches her laptop on her belly, straining her neck to see her screen. “How to know it’s love at first sight.” “You know she’s cute when…” Wow, the universe is lovesick today. Ping! She lunges for her phone, sending her computer off the edge of the bed with a dull thud. Text message: We still on for lunch later? She smiles broadly as red warmness spreads through her chest. Falling is so easy.