The Local Line
She met him on the subway. It was the third car of the 6 local, heading uptown, to be exact. She usually opted for the express line, but the trains were slow arriving and she was tired of waiting. When the 6 pulled into the station, she got on it. Subways were still something new for her; they still sort of awed her. She had never even seen one before she moved to the city. The MTA didn't exactly live up to her fantasies of gleaming rails and dazzling stations, but the steady rhythm of the tracks rushing beneath the train still comforted her like she knew they would. Most Saturdays she rode the train all over the city. She started this weekend activity so she could get used to the confusing tangle of lines and stations, but after a while she just wanted to ride. The train's velocity made her feel like she was really going somewhere, even when she was only looping around the lines. The express trains were her favorites, especially the 4. Whenever she looked at the subway map, she couldn't help tracing her finger along the bold green line and picturing herself rushing along it. Every time the train sped past a station, she would strain to catch a glimpse of the people waiting on the crowded platforms. Sometimes she thought she saw a hint of disappointment glimmer in someone's eyes as the train shot past, but she was never that good at telling.
She never got the same thrill from the local lines. The slow moving trains gave her the distinct feeling that she needed a destination, that it was wrong to stay on for more than three or four stops. They never picked up enough speed for a really smooth ride, anyway. It was all acceleration and braking and everyone always looked so purposeful, loaded down with groceries, briefcases, papers. People never stayed on long enough. By the time she figured out who she could watch, they would already be leaving the train. Plus the doors opened more often, and the cold northeast air made her eyes sting.
"You were at Lisa's last night," he had said to her, sitting down across the aisle. She had wanted to say yes, to hear him say more, but she didn't know anyone named Lisa. Actually, she didn't know anyone at all. He was the first person who had spoken to her in months, since she'd left home. Maybe she should have lied.
He had seen her hesitation and he had admitted, laughing, that he knew they hadn't met, that it was a line. His name was Julian. He had been watching her from the other end of the car since Spring Street but it had taken until 28th to get up the nerve to talk to her. When he smiled at her, he looked like someone she would like to know. She smiled back at him and said she knew he had been lying, but she didn't mind. She was glad he said something. The doors slid shut, and she met his eyes, feeling something warm creep down from her chest.
She wasn't the sort of person who brought a book or headphones onto the subway. She liked to listen to other people's conversations on the train and watch the way they would close up around each other, linking eyes, hands and bodies, forging privacy in over-crowded cars. The distorted voices, overpowered by the rushing of the tracks, reminded her of the bad reception in her car. She had to sell it to buy her plane ticket when she moved here, but she never really liked to drive that much anyway. She mostly drove around as an excuse to blast the radio. Besides, there was no point in keeping a car in the city. She didn't have a parking space.
Julian looked right at her when he spoke, grabbing onto one of those silver poles as he leaned towards her. Every time the train stopped, he jerked closer towards her, almost tumbling into the narrow aisle. She imagined someone watching them, straining to overhear their conversation as the train sped along. She thought of how they must look: smiling, happy, together. She was surprised she hadn't noticed him before he had sat down.
The seat next to her opened up, and he moved to it at the next stop. He twisted his torso to look at her, smiling again. "So, where are you going, anyway?" he asked her. When she told him she wasn't really going anywhere, he laughed. He did that a lot. When he laughed she could feel his breath, warm against her face. She said yes, she'd love to see his apartment.
They quieted down, waiting for his stop and memories started playing in her head. She would follow along to an unfamiliar apartment building and fall into a sweaty bed. She would get up at dawn, shivering from her sticky sleep, and hurry to her car, dying to turn on the heat. Sometimes she left a slip of paper with her number or a note, but they were rarely answered. She tried not to think much of it, after all what else did she expect? Mostly, she would just be glad to be alone in her car, where she could blast the air to keep herself alert as she pulled onto the road. Remembering all those drives, she felt something shift inside of her, something like uneasiness. Just concentrate on the tracks, she told herself. Just listen.
As they went through the turnstiles, exiting the station, she told Julian that she hadn't been in anyone else's apartment since moving here. It was the truth, after all. She was okay. She thought of velocity and express trains, she thought of his smile and she reminded herself that at least there would be no solitary drive home in the morning.
He had just laughed again. "Okay, " he said. He had long legs, the kind of legs she could imagine tangled up in hers, and she trailed a step behind him as they hurried along. When she glanced up at his face, all she could see was the side of his head. She thought of the way he had looked at her on the train and that maybe she should give him her number now, before she forgot. When she asked him, he told her sure, yeah, write it down. She watched him quickly stick it in his pocket.
The cold air whipped into her back, as she watched him unlock his building's door. "I hope you don't mind the mess," he'd said to her. He was still looking down, fiddling with his keys. She told him she didn't mind messes, not at all. He didn't glance back once, as she followed him up the stairs, but she did, and she saw her slip of paper lying crumpled in a corner of the dingy hall. He closed the apartment door behind her, and she wondered how easy it would be to find a cab in the morning, if the cabbie would mind turning on the air. She wondered if she should start walking.
About the author:
Madhu Krishnan is an English conversation teacher and writer who splits her time between Bordeaux and Perigueux, France. Her non fiction writing has appeared in several publications, but this is her first piece of published fiction. She also works for Flak magazine. (www.flakmag.com)