My foot touches the platform and it hits me, a plunging sensation in my gut—I feel light and the lightness is wrong.
Merciless, the impatient momentum of the crowd pulls me the wrong way. All wrong. I check my pockets: Gum. Keys. Ticket-stub.
Something is missing. Something else.
“Hey, what’s the hold up?” a man snarls, shoves ahead of me.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure I recognize this stop. I can’t see the stairs, but just ahead all the people are disappearing up, into emptiness.
It pulls again, harder now—a sharp ache, a phantom limb that always and never was, plucked out by the root. And it’s wrong.
I turn back.
“Sorry.” I squeeze past a hungry-eyed woman as she pushes forward with the rest. A choking press of bodies all around me, I fight my way back towards the doors. I’m too late. They’re closing.
“Wait,” I wrest my shoulder from the jaws of the crowd. “Wait!” Thrust myself through the narrowing gap.
The train lurches onward. No one else has gotten on here. Just me.
“Last stop ahead,” wheezes an overhead speaker, dislodging a puff of dust.
Clutching the safety rails to keep my feet on the floor, I make my way to the back as we enter the tunnel, tiptoeing around the edge of what’s missing, holding the emptiness, the untethered dizziness at bay. How could the people back at the station bear it?
The train barrels on and the darkness hiccups past a wire-caged bulb, bright and bare. And another, and another still, throwing stripes of light across their faces—what we had to leave behind: the droopy-skinned old man with the runny nose and rheumy eyes, practically at my elbow; two little girls in sailor suits on the row of seats across the way, solemn and staring. All of them, weighted down.
But none of these here are mine. I can’t remember where I was sitting. It couldn’t have wandered far.
There are more towards the back, milling about. More bruise than man, blue-black and livid, one rocks himself in his seat, eyes closed, humming low, and near him, a mousy woman with one pale fist clenched, pressed to her chest. In a corner seat, a grandmotherly matron knits a scarf, stony silent. No, not her, I think. But I do a double take. There’s something sturdy about her, something settling. Maybe-
Without looking up, she flicks her long, forked tongue out to silence a fly, points one of her needles towards the back of the train, directing me on.
It’s darker here. I can just make out a familiar figure, small and hunched on the floor up ahead. Each step more solid than the last, my feet finally holding me down, I move closer.
The light comes again, catches its movement in flicker-light stop motion. One claw, like a straight razor casing, traces a slow line in the blood on the floor, like a little kid trying to remember how to write his own name.
It looks up, cocks its head to the side, needle-fine curved fangs jutting up and down from the protruding ‘v’ of its lower jaw. It blinks, unsure, the inky wells of its eyes fixed on me.
Something low comes home to roost.
The brakes keen. Bored, the conductor calls, “End of the line.”
Outside, the gates beckon. Up? Or down?
I hold out my hand. It hobbles towards me and smiles.
© 2014 by Julia Watson
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