The F Train
She had her yearly metrocard and a whole lot of time. Every day, at eleven a.m., she would take the F train from Brooklyn to Coney Island, or up to 179th street in Harlem and back, only alighting on the platform to switch back to the Brooklyn bound train. This was how she filled her time; riding back and forth, back and forth, all day long in the company of strangers. At eleven a.m. the lines were never overcrowded. It was an easy time to begin her commute. Most people were already at work or school, depending on season.
She would fill the time with counting. Ten passengers in the carriage at Ninth and Seventh, six boarding at Bergen, three alighting. By the time they reached Harlem, the carriage would be almost empty. Occupied by only herself, and perhaps an older man with grey dust on his skin or a young woman, shaking and sweating in another world beside her. She would watch the other passengers, catching glimpses of God in a woman’s filmy eyes or carving out rail-routes in the scraggy skin around old men’s fingernails, following patches of psoriasis from their elbows to their wrists. The carriage would sway from side to side, feeling loose on the tracks, until she felt her own body fall into a rhythm, akin to the crystal-lady’s rocking beside her.
One day she interrupted her usual route. She alighted at Jay Street to walk the brownstone lined streets. She moved fast, pounding the sidewalk until her shin bones were sore. She counted the signs; a reminder to ‘curb your dog’ at the corner of every block, protestations mourning modern America hanging in the windows on the left, stars and stripes shrouding the gardens on the right. She picked her way past dog walkers, mailmen, mothers and fathers. She walked the perimeter of Fort Greene park, the laughter of children whistling through her. An hour or two later and she was back on the platform once again, waiting for the F to Coney Island. Maybe she would see holidaying families, happy and beach bound.
Lost in her inner world, full of anticipation and distraction, she paid little attention to the people around her. She was only ever interested in the commuters when they were on the train. She didn’t register the bending mother, a slap of admonition sounding skin to skin on her son’s hand, nor did she register the homeless man who had jumped the turnstile, only to lean against the wall beside her. Similarly, she never saw the youth standing too far beyond the yellow line, teetering as though he were balancing on the breeze. She didn’t see the anxious jitter of his hands, the brown eyes that wouldn’t still, the sweat above his lip, trapped between baby hairs.
She heard it though. The screeching on metallic tracks, the butcher-house thud and crack, the gut-weighted silence of afterwards.