The Clark Street 2/3 station smelled dirty the same way it had every weekday for the miserable 4 years that I’d walked through it. I was on my way to work, early for once. I hated my job. Not the kind of hate someone might have for elevator music or dentist appointments. I hated my job so deeply that I wanted to tie it up and castrate it. At 24, I had begun to study environmental law to try to make a difference, not to end up crunching numbers and sending faxes. But that was what I did 5 times a week for 9 nine hours. That’s 2340 hours a year. That’s 97 and a half days. I swiped my monthly Metro card through the turnstile and waited impatiently for the elevator doors to open. James Skip sang soulfully in my headphones, and I turned up the volume to drone out the rush of the morning commuters. The floor of the hall leading to the trains was linoleum, patterned with brightly colored geometrical shapes against a black background, an unusual detail for a New York subway station. I walked down the steps and across the platform to the far end, near the mouth of the tunnel where the train would emerge. I was feeling tired and under the weather. The haze in my head and the way my eyes wouldn’t open all the way told me that a week from now, I’d be too ill to go to work. I couldn’t wait. I couldn’t wait to feel like shit and lie in bed and not have to think about anything besides feeling like shit for a whole 24 hours. All the trivial things I had to worry myself thin about would leave me alone to suffer and it would be the best thing that had happened to me in quite a while.
My thoughts were interrupted. I turned around, pulling out a headphone.
An attractive young girl wearing white triangle-shaped sunglasses stood before me. She had hair that looked like it had been bleached one too many times and her shoes were taped together, but I liked her. Something about her was captivating in the same way bad pornography is. Mildly disgusting but you can’t look away.
“Why are you wearing sunglasses indoors?” I asked. What an asshole thing to say. It was too early for me to be talking to people. I had no filter at this hour. Come on, Gil. Function, I told myself.
“I’m sorry, that was rude of me. It’s none of my business.” I felt stupid. She laughed, embarrassed and took the glasses off. She glanced up at me and started to speak but I wasn’t listening. Her eyes were so dark. Like wells drilled into her skull, like I might get a glimpse inside of her if only the lighting were better. The sound of the train in the distance became audible. Mild screeching sounds, like something being killed in the other room. Oh shit, did she ask me something?
“You know what, never mind,” said the girl, “I’ll just ask someone else.” And I wasn’t in a good enough mood to object. As she walked I watched her ass sway. Maybe on a different day I would have been able to get her number. What did I care anyways? There were a couple thousand other pretty girls in the city. But I could still admire this one. She looked good. She was standing twenty feet in front of me, gazing at the train, which was now seconds away from exploding into the station.
At first I didn’t realize what was happening. She should be careful standing so close to the tracks, I thought. And then I saw her hands clench into fists. And then I saw her knees bend. And then I saw her face, scrunched up with so much pain that I thought my heart might burst through my chest. As I tried to leap over the impossible distance between us I cried out, and even though I couldn’t even hear it myself, she turned her head. She was in the air now, suspended a mere foot away from the front of the train for what felt like a whole hour or a year and all I could do was watch and hate everything that stood between me and the beautiful stranger that I hadn’t cared to answer. I tried to close my eyes but I couldn’t do it fast enough to miss seeing her body shake with the impact and tumble downward. If I had shut my eyes a mere millisecond earlier I wouldn’t have had to see her expression as the heavy metallic wheels snapped her neck and ankles. Even if I hadn’t seen it, just the sounds of her bones crunching and parts of her sluicing into the sewage would have been enough to provoke breakfast from my stomach. Hot bile roiled like fire at the back of my throat as I heaved. All I could see was her face and all I could hear were screams. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t make myself open my eyes to face anything at all.
I was making copies when I saw the spot of blood on my shirtsleeve. Mostly it had only been on my pants, which I’d gone back home to change. I hadn’t noticed this splotch then. I’d told myself I had to go to work, even though I’d be late. How would it look if I didn’t? Tugging my coat down over my sleeve, I carefully glanced around. There was no one. After taking a few deep breaths, I collected my copies and left.
I worked in a cubicle. It wasn’t very large. I’d tried to make it cozy, even going so far as to buy a potted plant and frame a picture of my parents for my desk, but nothing really seemed to make it better. The plant died because there was no natural light and the picture frame was hidden behind stacks of proposals and contracts and other things that I didn’t want to read. The voices that drifted over the gray walls made me feel uncomfortable. I heard things I didn’t want to know, that other people certainly didn’t want me to know. That’s why I tried not to talk when I was at work. I had a lot of things to do today. Things I had been putting off.
It was my cubicle neighbor, Jenna. She had the wild eyes and mannerisms of a Nazi, but she directed her evil towards saving the environment instead of genocide.
“Hi,” I answered warily.
“What’s up? What’s wrong? You look like you’ve fallen off your horse, buddy. You better get back up there, right?” She winked at me and I wanted to strangle her.
“Ok,” I said quietly.
I looked blankly at my computer screen. The light made my eyes hurt after a while, but the dull pain was pleasant. I realized then that I didn’t know her name. I didn’t know her name and I’d managed to kill her.
It was my lunch break but I couldn’t eat. Just the sight of my sandwich made me queasy. As I tried not to look at my ham and mayonnaise on a roll I thought about the sandwiches my mother used to make me when I still lived at home. Often times I missed living with my family. My parents and my sister were in Baltimore; a three-hour train ride from here. Living alone was depressing and lonely but necessary for my job. I got paid well and sent money home to help out with my sister’s college tuition. My life in New York was privileged and comfortable, but I was always bored. There was no one to talk to. None of my friends were very interesting or insightful, and going out with them usually just made me feel even more isolated. It was like they spoke a different language. I spent most of my time wishing I had a girlfriend or even just an affectionate companion who would fuck me out of pity on a regular basis. Everyone needs to be touched every once in a while. Otherwise they fall apart.
A co-worker of mine, Jeffrey, walked in and spotted me sitting in the break room and came over to me.
“Howdy, partner, how’s it going?”
“Fine,” I said mildly, picking at the plastic bag that held my sandwich.
“Did you hear about that mess on the 2/3 line? Some girl offed herself. Cleaned it up real quick though. Train’s already running again”
“That’s a little insensitive, don’t you think?” I growled, sounding meaner than I knew I was capable of.
“Jeez, Gil. Take it easy,” he said, looking wounded. He shook his head and left me alone with my sandwich. Usually I was a really nice guy, but today was different. . As the day wore on it became more and more difficult to ignore what had happened, and what was bound to happen. I could hear disgusted whispers carrying over the cubicle walls and read the horror in the eyes of everyone who looked at me. They were tiptoeing around it, and the longer I let them do that the worse it became. The guilt was cleaning me out, slowly extracting my insides as if through a straw, leaving me empty and lost. But I deserved it. I deserved every minute of it.
Two hours until I could go home. I itched and squirmed, anxious for what was to come. I kept waiting for someone to barge into the office. A police squad, perhaps, armed with guns and the truth about what I’d done.
“Where is he?” They’d holler. And I would start to cry. I’d curl up on the carpeted floor and let the scratchy material soak up all my tears, and then they’d carry me out. My heart was pounding through my button up shirt as I sat at my desk. I started sneaking glances at the door every half a minute while I worked and after a while it made my neck ache. What was taking them so long? If a monster like me was left on the loose, what other horrible people were out there? I was sweating. I could feel the moistened material pressed against the hot skin of my armpits and smell the acrid odor of my nerves. I wished they would just get there already so I could stop biting my nails and the inside of cheeks and tearing out my hair. I wasn’t getting anything done and people kept staring. I laid my head on the keyboard and tried to breathe but I couldn’t until I decided not to, and then I couldn’t stop.
I was home now, absently watching television in my living room. My apartment was simple but spacey and well designed. My furniture was expensive and my kitchen was full of food that I ate by myself. My toilet seats were always down. There were never any dirty dishes in the sink. I kept the windows closed. My apartment was in Dumbo, and even though I was only on the fifth floor, from my window I could see the Brooklyn Bridge with its stocky stone legs, as well as the metallic Manhattan Bridge in the distance. They stretched across the water, gloriously unmoving, and I wondered how they could stand so strong when the girl in the sunglasses would never stand again. I missed her. I wanted to touch her hair and feel how dry and damaged it was. The self-loathing I felt could have driven me to tear the flesh right off my bones, but I didn’t. Instead I got off the couch and went to the bedroom. The walls were covered mostly by bookshelves and my bed was a simple single mattress on a plain frame. I’d used to have a big bed but I’d gotten rid of it because all the empty space made me feel conscious of how alone I was. With a small bed, there was no room for anyone else. In the mirror I looked serious. There were big bruise-colored bags under my eyes and the veins in my forehead bulged.
I laid down. My nail beds bled from the constant attacks my teeth had been making all day. I struggled to keep my fingers away from my mouth. For the hundredth time I considered turning myself in. I imagined myself on my knees before a uniformed officer.
“I’m sorry I killed her. I didn’t mean to kill her,” I would wail. And they would lock me away, and thank God, because I’d never be able to harm anyone ever again. There was a precinct not too far away from me, on Henry Street. I could be there in 20 minutes if I walked fast. But I couldn’t move my legs. Exhausted, I began to doze off, my consciousness drifting like a leaf in a stream, effortlessly twisting and turning with the current of my thoughts. I kept seeing her face, trying to speak to her but not being able to get anything out before her features faded, and I was left alone in the dark.
The sound of my doorbell ringing repeatedly roused me out of my slumber. It had been ringing for a while.
Finally, they’re here, I thought.
In moments I’d be free of the chains around my ankles. I’d be taken away to a place where I could feel ashamed and repent for what I’d done in peace. I raced to the door, slipping on the corner of my living room carpet and haphazardly regaining my balance before yanking the door open. But there was no one there. I was disappointed. The rest of the night was spent sleeplessly, productively, organizing every corner of my home. I did all my laundry, ironed my shirts, and neatly lined up my shoes. I scrubbed, vacuumed, swept, and dusted until my hands were raw and my nostrils burned from inhaling the chemicals in the cleaning products. And then I collapsed; satisfied, terrified, electrified, and spent.
The alarm on my cell phone started ringing and I clumsily batted it off my bedside table, sending it clattering to the floor. I let it ring for a moment before reaching over to pick it up and setting it for 5:00am. When it rang at 5:00am I would set it for 6:00am, and when it rang at 6:00am I would have to get my ass out of bed. I did this every morning. It made me feel like I got more sleep, even though my dad said it just fucked up my REM cycle and would make me feel worse during the day. I felt so tired that the thought of getting out of bed, even if I still had two hours to sleep, was unbearable. If only I could stay beneath the covers of my bed for the rest of my life, fester like an infection and grow into myself. Under there I could hide from the world and the ugliness of the previous day for as long as I wanted. I’d never have to explain myself or face what was left of me. But as tempted as I was to surrender and sleep my life away, I knew that to do so wouldn’t erase what had happened. All that was left to do was make sure it could never happen again.
I woke up tortured and distressed, because I knew I couldn’t go on. The guilt I felt would continue to eat me up until there was nothing left. I took a shower so hot that I cried out as my skin was scalded, but I let it run anyways. When I got out I was flushed and when I pressed into myself with my fingers white splotches appeared before fading away. I hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning’s breakfast, and even though the hunger pains were starting to make me feel faint, I didn’t let myself eat. I got dressed in my nicest suite and polished my shoes before putting them on. I combed my hair back and brushed my teeth until my gums leaked blood and I could taste the iron on my tongue.
The violent music in my headphones was turned up so loud that is made my eardrums feel like they were about to rip. Being in the train station made me anxious. I wanted to run away but instead I dug my fingernails into my palms and forced myself through the turnstiles and into the dusty old elevator. It took longer than usual to reach the lower level. As I walked down the steps I was shaking. I could still smell her in the air. Her deep lustrous voice resonated through the corners in my mind, a taunting echo that pounded over the sound of my music. I felt a light breeze on my face. The train was near. An automated voice rang through the station,
“There is an express 2 train to Harlem 181st street approaching the station.”
I walked quickly, my breath rushed. I took off my jacket and straightened my tie. As scared as I was, I could already feel relief seeping into me. All the guilt, all the loneliness, all the pain. Gone. With a high pitched shriek, the train rolled into the station.
Are you waiting for me, Sunglasses?
I leapt, feeling the wind ruffle my sleeves, and the hundreds of pounds that had weighed me down since before I could remember were suddenly lifted, and I was flying. My heart opened up to let out everything I’d ever felt, and as I exhaled my last breath something inside me exploded into a million pieces. I felt a light inside of me go out. I was every moment of every day and every vein that ran under my skin. It was quiet and dark and I knew that there were no disturbances here. Her face was clear to me now, and more beautiful than I had recalled. I reached out to touch her and she was soft. She smiled as I let my fingers brush her cheek. I was where I would stay. Together with the girl in the sunglasses, forever trapped beneath the tracks.
Age 17, Grade 11
Bard High School Early College