A squall of snow followed him into the subway station, impervious to the fact that snow was for upstairs, train was for downstairs. Weather doesn’t follow rules. They were going to shut down this line for a year and a half (a year and a half!). Urgently needed repairs, they said, so urgent that they somehow managed to wait a whole seven years since Sandy hit.
The steel-capped steps were slick with sludge. Snow, all glamour and romance until trodden under so many hipster boots. He kind of crip-walked down towards the tracks, hoping pace rather than precision would keep him from falling. A hot wind blew back up the stairs to meet him, the uncomfortable belching of the subway platform as trains rushed in and spat people out.
Fuck, he thought to himself, I should have taken a cab.
He’d woken late and with a start. A man was standing at the precipice of his room, shouting, but not with the volume of shouting, eager not to wake him up, Hello! Some strange predatory instinct had taken over as he was pulled out of his sixth gin-fueled reverie that night and he turned, body tensed, and heard his voice, too loud, responding, Yes, what? The guy, dressed in a parka and beanie asked him if he wanted to close the front door. Is it open? Then, before waiting for the answer, Sure. Thanks. Call me Abraham, he grinned, groggily, to himself, and rolled over again.
People don’t realise that there is a skill to positioning yourself on the platform, he noted to himself. They just stand where they fall, located only by a combination of random factors: proximity to stairs, distance from the smell of piss, talent or lack thereof of whoever chose to set up their tribal instrument at the bench closest to the police booth. He took solace in the fact that the ancient Ukrainian guy wasn’t playing that string instrument that had so haunted his dreams – yet. A cowboy blew into a harmonica as he moved towards where the car least likely to contain breakdancers (further from the lift that continued to spew tourists) and most likely to line up with the widest stairs at Union Square (fourth or fifth from the front) would probably pull up.
His frozen sourdough was half-burned before he realised that the front door was still open. Beanie Dude had let himself into his house, scared the shit out of him to deliver his PSA sotto voce and breezed out again. He’d remember to kick any packages addressed to BD off the porch and onto the street if he saw them. Comeuppance is a dish best served etc. In the background, the blender was doing its mild fire thing again, where it quietly billowed smoke as it churned his ice cream into liquid ice cream. Is it wrong to eat breakfast before meeting people for breakfast? What if you’d drunk so much the night before you hadn’t shut the front door?
Sure enough, as the train wheezed to a stop, the fourth car’s doors lined up with him. 10 points for Gryffindor! he yelled, internally. There was a solitary, quiet moment of decorum in the attention deficit city as the expectant allowed the arrived off before huddling in, looking for a pole, a chair or better still, a person. The doors slid shut and open and shut and open and finally shut and a comical voice — the kind of voice he thought the Monopoly mascot might use to announce that New York City police are targeting suspicious objects on trains — said just that. Remain alert and have a safe day.
Liquid ice cream the balm for his headache, he rubbed the sleep and mid-morning fear out of his eyes and slumped on a stool to try to recall the events of the night. #aboutlastnight. If only he instagrammed with the fervent aggression of some of his peers. He might have woken to an audiovisual record of December 16, concerned comments and whooping congratulations from loved ones across oceans. Friends and family standing on fairer shores, his digital detritus would wash up, reeking of alcohol, only to be countered with, variously, vomiting emojis and hearts-for-eyes emojis. The newspaper held no clues but he stared at it, blankly.
Åsa was her name. She’d written it out on a menu in lipstick, little Swedish accent and all.
No sooner had the doors shut for the fourth time than a young voice, crackling with adolescence, cut through the weary hush of the subway car. Gwyneth Paltrow was smarter than this, he thought, jamming his earphones deeper into his ears. She missed the train. A fat guy in a Thrasher jumper backed away from the center of the carriage, and stepped on his feet. They were creating a stage, clapping wildly and making scrambled introductions. Ladies aHEEEYnd gentlemen, you are now rOOHHcking with the best, liOAAYve and direct. Do we haYESSIRve a show for you all today?! He glanced at the emergency brake. And then they started in with the boombox.
Åsa, like the beginning of awesome, she’d smiled. The music was too loud. Someone kept handing him new drinks before he’d finished old ones. He wasn’t quite at “Smack My Bitch Up” drunk but he was well on his way to “Out Of Space” buzzed. There was someone’s best college friend to meet and a tip jar incorporating a bad pun and a guy wearing top to toe Patagonia and a voice from fifty five years ago crooning Seems like a mighty long time and sticky concrete and cologne mixed with want and the white hot flashes of front-facing phone cameras and someone screaming about some Motherfucker with a capital m and pickleback specials until 1 and and and and and. And Awe-sa. She was holding his hand.
Trying to look positively engrossed in his Instagram’s No Internet connection splash page, he dedicated his entire self to focusing on the app’s hopeless attempt to spin its wheel of death out of the underground rut it found itself in. The boombox distorted the bass line of a New Jack Swing standard, grinding its way into his consciousness.
He’d encountered the same group once before this month and although impressed by their physical prowess on the germ-infested urban jungle gym, he couldn’t stomach the concept of forced, captive entertainment. He stole glances, reminded of the preachy You wouldn’t steal a handbag ads, before returning to his bogged phone. A gaggle of tourists, rapt, were swaying along to the music and slapping each other on the arm, as if to say, America, huh?! A whir of basketball shorts and dreadlocks clapped in front of him and he looked up and saw her.
He doesn’t remember the contents of the night, more the shape of it. The music got louder and louder until it cut out completely and the phantasmagoria of bros and booze was replaced by three candles, a bottle of Pellegrino, and her. She lived in one of those East Village walk-ups where the temperature was impossible to properly moderate. The window was open to the howls of Sunday morning. She thought his goosebumps were cute but they were a reaction. She was holding his hand again. His other hand pawed at her back, drawing secret characters. He didn’t understand how she was sweating. They knocked a candle over and doused it in Italian mineral water. After he’d crab-walked to the bathroom, and she’d passed out next to the open window, he let himself out.
Using his arm as a machete, he cut through swathes of Canada Geese, before coming face to face with one of the dancers, dripping with sweat. The speaker continued to blare but the life had been sucked out of the routine; the single subway stop choreography stymied by his progress. He was in the middle of being asked What the fuck, br- when he pushed the kid away, steering him by the solar plexus. And then there was nothing between him and her. She took an earphone out, as if in invitation, and he closed the gap between them. The harsh fluorescent subway car gave way to candlelight and he was sure he felt a sharp breeze bite his ankles. She looked more pensive than he’d remembered. He opened his mouth to say hey but could only push out a dumb memory. Like awesome, right?
She shook her head, stepped off the train, and walked straight up the stairs. We are being held momentarily by the train’s dispatcher, Monopoly man sung.
Fuck, he thought to himself, should have taken a cab.