I haven’t seen you in weeks.
Your hair is damp with sweat as you tug your worn blue baseball cap back onto your head, stepping onto the train and finding a seat in the furthest corner of the car. There are other, less tattered seats available—this one has been ripped like someone punched in the fabric with a pen, and the stuffing and springs are held back inside by a strip of duct tape—but it is isolated. Fingering the ticket in your pocket, grubby, discolored, and just slightly damp from your constant handling, you scan the rest of the car, taking note of the people boarding. One man, elderly, walking with a polished wood cane and wearing a lime green polo shirt. One woman, a mother with bags under her eyes likely attributed to the son attached by a vice grip to her hand, who you guess is around twelve years of age. A couple, probably early high school, the boy fondling the girl’s ass with such confidence you’re sure he either thinks he’s being subtle or just doesn’t care. The doors slide closed with a soft thud as they meet, and you breathe.
Why haven’t you returned any of my calls?
Your phone is dead. You search for an outlet in the train car and find one several seats over. You move, then rummage through your bag for your charger; you sift through old receipts, a few stray sticks of gum, and several pairs of tangled headphones before you remember you lost it a couple days back. The old man creaks over and sits down next to you, closing his eyes and letting out a long, rusty sigh. You shove your phone down deep into your bag and sit still for a while. Your wrist itches. You don’t know what time it is. The train rolls into motion.
Please call me back when you get the chance.
You grab some headphones from your rucksack, taking the time to patiently untangle the cords and inadvertently making the knots even worse several times before managing to extract one pair from the mass. Eventually successful, you plug them in and press play. Journey. Right as the band’s patent inspirational riffs come on, the mother to your left falls into a coughing fit, invading your musical haven. You clench your jaw and close your eyes, force them closed despite the instinct to keep them open. Three days without sleep has made consciousness an increasingly difficult task. Sleep now while you can. The mother is still coughing. You turn your headphones as high as you can stand. You feel the rumbling of the train window against the back of your head, a comforting sort of discomfort.
When are you coming home?
The shuddering of the window is keeping you from sleep. You’ve nodded off a few times, but that’s all you can manage here, so you straighten up. You arch your back, stretching til you feel a pop. Your headphones are still playing, but a different band is playing now. The Killers. You turn it up an inch higher and turn toward the window. From the train, the landscape is blurring, a series of watercolor greys overtaking the colors passing behind you as the sun fades out of view. You watch the world wiped away as you bite absently at the skin around one of your nails.
Please answer me.
The couple is wearing matching Grateful Dead tees, factory-ripped and faded. They’re making out in a corner so vigorously you wonder how long they can keep it going, the boy’s hand sliding dangerously close to the hem of the girl’s skirt. Not that she minds, but you see the mother shooting glares at them between coughs. Yourself? You stare at them with a fond kind of nostalgia and remember a girl you’ve fantasized about doing much the same thing with many times. You resolve that the next time you see her, you will.
I’m worried about you.
You people-watch. The old man, still and calm, hasn’t opened his eyes since the minute he closed them. The mother has occasional coughing fits, great mucousy eruptions of sound. You think her son might have the same illness she does; you can hear him breathing, a rasping little drag of air in and out, a sickly human metronome. The couple is secluded in the opposing corner of the car. They are deep in conversation, faces kept within kissing distance. They have matching heart tattoos on their wrists. Matching scars, too.
You’re listening to Styx as the train is slowing down. You don’t know how long the ride has been, but you guess you’ve reached your final destination. Turning your music off, you stow your headphones back in your bag. You look out the window and see a river. A figure, thin and long-limbed like a tree in winter, rows a boat across waters of silver grey.
Are you okay?
Hailey Dodges is a second-year creative writing student at Ithaca College and a proud lesbian with a fondness for fantasy in fiction.