Subway

16 Apr

To Sarah, the subway was hideous. She hated it, yet had to ride it nearly every day. Everything about it made her queasy. The lights that made everything look yellow. The crowds that either shoved her one way or the other, or the total absence of any people. She would be alone in a dark tunnel, with only the whirring sound of a distant train and then one clattering down the tunnel toward her. The bright light would suddenly appear, and she would squint. She disliked how deep in the earth it was, the claustrophobic feeling that at any second all that earth could come crashing down on her, burying her, and no one would hear her screams.

The dirt would perfectly absorb any sound.

Sarah tried to keep her paper coffee cup from sloshing as she stepped into the subway car. The doors slid shut behind her, and she grabbed the metal pole for balance. She looked around the interior that stretched in both directions. Tonight it was nearly empty, unlike her morning commute, when she had to dash in and oftentimes squeeze in-between people. The same sickening yellow filtered from the cheap lights. Yet here she spent two hours every day, sitting in the hard plastic seats, trying to avoid eye contact with the people around her, trying to get lost in another world all together. Once she got her balance, Sarah teetered toward the closest seat and pulled out a book from her bag. But she could not concentrate. She read a page, realized she didn’t know what she read and started over. After five minutes, she put her book back in her bag and stared out the cloudy window. Rain slid down it, blurring the outside world.

“Excuse me?”

Sarah turned from the window.

“Did you drop this?”

An old man extended a $20 bill toward her. “I saw it fall from your bag.”

Sarah had seen this man before, playing the violin in the tunnels, with his case open. By the end of the day, it would be filled with scrunched dollar bills, and he would look happy.

“Yes, I think I did drop it,” she said, taking the bill from him. “Thank you.”

The train rocked back and forth, and the man tipped his hat to her and began an unbalanced walk toward the back.

An hour went by, and the train rocked to a halt, jolting Sarah out of a stupor. She gathered her coat and bag and stepped out. She had only a half an hour to get to the coffee shop. The evening light was fading by the time she climbed from the underground and reached it. The coffee shop is her favorite one, not a polished Starbucks type, not an artsy type with local paintings on the walls. It served good coffee and good food without much fuss or expense. Sarah liked its simplicity, its total lack of pretences. She spotted Matt sitting in the back, facing the window, and for a moment, she thought about turning around and leaving. But she knew she couldn’t. Every sound became amplified as she walked toward the booth, her own feet clicking on the ground, the clattering in the nearby kitchen, the muffled conversations, the cars whizzing by outside. She finally slid into the seat opposite him.

“Hey,” she heard herself say.

“Hi. I wasn’t sure if you’d come.”

Sarah studied him, and admitted to herself that he looked ragged. Tired. Exhausted, even. Yet still beautiful. She liked his unshaven face, the eyes that were too close together, those fingers wrapped around the coffee mug that were slightly crooked. He was perfect to her in his imperfection. He wore an old coat that never zipped right. He left it open.

“I’ve missed you, enough to know what I want now.”

Sarah knew where this could be going.

“I’ve missed you too,” she heard herself saying. She then told him the story about the old man who returned her $20 and how she thought a man like that would have taken it for himself. A homeless man with morals, she mused. She rambled, and she knew Matt didn’t care about the homeless man or much else at the moment besides getting back together again.

But how would she explain it?

“I cannot marry you,” she blurted.

Matt looked shocked. “But I never asked you.”

“You would have, sooner or later.”

Hurt and confusion swept across Matt’s face, and he looked away.

“I love you, more than I ever thought I could love,” Sarah said. “But, I know what would happen between me and you…

“Is that so bad, to grow old together, to buy a house and have children, to settle down?”

“It is when you still want to do the things I want to do,” said Sarah.

“We can do whatever it is that you want—together. What do you want?”

“I want to feel the sand between my toes every now and then and feel waves splashing onto my legs on summer days,” said Sarah slowly. “I’d like to listen to lakes, to hear how quiet they sound in the mornings, when ducks glide through the stillness. I’d like to see trees, big ones, on the west coast, trees that grow wild and big in the fat rain drops that fall in California. I’d like to see tangled jungles, all grown together, and monkeys swinging through trees. The rainforest, with its thick canopies and shadowy light. I’d like to one day again see the meadows in Switzerland and its crystal lakes. I’d like to pray in Cathedrals built hundreds of years ago, the ones that touch the sky. I’d like to cross oceans in boats, to see the floating ice islands in Alaska and its lights that explode like fireworks in the sky.”

She paused.

“And I want to never again have to ride the Subway.”

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