Towards One Place, From Another
By Miriam Lewis Mason
Doors open. Crowd flows into the open space, just hydrodynamics. Bodies forced together in a poorly made puzzle, spread legs and pointy elbows. A couple whispers privacies to each other and everyone can hear. A construction worker, too aware of his fatigue to sit down, stains the pole he holds with grease. The police presence. Friends gossip so loudly, airing out drama without much air. A baby cries in her carriage, and a mother begins the labor of soothing her. And Clara is dying in the corner. Doors close.
Mechanics thunderstorm on steel. The stars of the station fade to velvet underground. Clara has a whole block of seats to herself. Bag taking up the seat beside her; medicine, drugs, stimulants, whatever else are rattling bones within. It’s the stench of rot that keeps her isolated. Or maybe it’s that look, that aura of someone who knows the void in their soul too well. The kind of mind that could write a novel in an hour but could never write it down, that could solve all the world’s crises but not lift a finger. A state of one on the verge of death or dreaming. Same thing. A thunderstorm ends and stars reappear in the lights of a new station.
Doors open. A trio of musicians enter. Like all good street performers, they sing the heart. Each note crafted to make the listener ache, each motion at once pathetic and ostentatious, a performance that magnetizes the eye and makes it weep. The train, packed, is eyeless. The baby stops crying. Teens turn up the monologue of their favorite influencer. Clara doesn’t know that she’s dying. A college kid pretends to read a book. A tourist is wonderstruck at the magic of a vague urinary smell. Doors close.
Wheels spin, on the train and in her mind. To be fair, Clara knows she’s dying at some level. Just not most. This time, she’s dying of second-hand smoke tarring up her lungs. This time, she’s dying of hunger, simply no food to eat and no one can spare. This time, it’s the carbon spewed from every man-touched surface of the globe. Or was it tumors. Or some deeper cut. This time, she is dying of the slow rot, the decay of her cells and DNA and all that fragile shit that binds us to the grave as soon as we’re bound up after birth. Whatever. Don’t look at her. Wheels stop and–
Doors open. Folks flow in, folks flow out. A man starts speaking. Loudly. On and on he goes about sports, about the subway, about anything and nothing at all, desperate to feel less alone. Everyone is talking in this car; his murmurations are said to the deaf. A murmuration, the bewildered pigeon who walks calmly into the car is not. Two lovers, drunk, start to make out. It’s sickly sweet, like the wine that haunts their breath. Clara is still isolated. The man in a suit more expensive than her world is on the phone, his call more powerful than a couple silly feet of concrete and a weak cell signal. Maybe it’s the stubble on her, almost visible. Maybe it’s her shoulders, wide enough that she was once called Atlas. Maybe it’s the snickering, that menacing sort of talk. Maybe that’s why she always sits alone. Doors Close.
The pushing and pulling of movement. Clara’s presence is fragile. Her femininity is inflammatory. Anything she does, that could be it, the thing that causes some stranger to snap, some asshole to anger, some knife to drink from her flesh. Every act, the thing that lets that h-word fly, that cruel transcription of laughter, that minor death: “he.” Every moment she exists before others is a practice in the serial and successful management of risk. Always on her mind, the end. Always moving closer to it. The numbers have been looking bad. She’s been gambling more and more. Skulls in every darkness in her vision. Scythes in every bit of metal. She just wants to cross, out of sight, out of mind, out of this fucking train.
Doors Open. An atmosphere of glancing eyes, shuffling feet, silent slurs sitting on the tips of tongues. The tense waiting for any shift. No one gets on, no one gets off. A regal old lady continues to make a throne of her seat; a businessman is lost in a dream of a meaningful life; laughter ripples across the car. And under the stars that are the shitty station lighting, Clara dies. She dies. Management failed. Risk, rewarded. And what changes? She dies. A man flips the page of his newspaper, looking for something noteworthy. The woman across from him shakes her head in frustration; her phone won’t load. A lapdog in a backpack whines when it smells the mortuary. And who notices? She dies. The droning bass of some top 40 song bleeds out of a pair of headphones. A student apologizes for the bulk of their backpack. A baby, soothed, falls asleep. And what of it? Clara is dead. Doors close.