Subtalk

December 1, 2010
“A Train to Far Rockaway, next stop 59th street, Columbus Circle. Step in and stand clear.”

I moved back to the window for the third time, carefully replacing my bag on the other side of me, leaning it against my leg just so. I watched the tunnels flash by, all dark with a flash of white every time we passed a light or some particularly bright graffiti. I could feel my leg shaking uncontrollably as the woman across from me glanced over in annoyance, but I ignored her. I always ignored them.

I focused instead on the window again, before getting the familiar uncomfortable feeling I was so accustomed to. I wrung my hands together, trying to resist, but eventually switched to the aisle seat for what I hoped would be the last time before my stop, leaning my bag against the side of the train this time. The woman had picked up her newspaper and was attempting to fill in the crossword puzzle for the day. Leaning over, I read: “Across, 6: Winner of Superbowl XXI” 5 letters. My eyes travelled up to the woman’s face; her brow was furrowed, eyes intent, the creases and lines of too many of those expressions becoming more pronounced along the sides of her eyes, making her look angry and sharp. “New York Giants,” I said, almost without thinking. She looked up, startled to see me so close and jerked away. I saw the suspicion forming around her mouth, clearly wondering why I thought I had the right to break the very obvious bubble of personal space she had created around herself.

I sat back, almost as startled as she was, mumbling a short “Sorry” before turning back to my window. The doctor would want to hear about this, I was sure. It was what he called “One of the side effects we just had to learn to control, together as a team.” Because that’s what we were, me and Dr. Lithberg, a team, up against my Tourette Syndrome. He had warned me that the medication wouldn’t keep me from moving; it would only keep the outbursts at bay. I wrung my hands again, remembering the feeling of being so out of control of my body. My hands would twist up, turning in on themselves like some kind of creature, as my arms curled up at the elbows, jerking upwards or outwards. Sometimes I hit myself. Those were better then when I hit the people around me. I would quickly drop my head, turning my back on what I knew would be a scowl or look of pure pity. I never decided which I hated more.

The stuff Dr. Lithberg prescribed was uniform; a pill a day, everyday at 8 pm exactly. I liked this routine, liked knowing exactly when I would do something. That in itself calmed me down. Just like taking this same train, the same stop, everyday, as if by clinging to the predictable I could somehow keep the rest of it from coming back. “59th street, Columbus Circle. Transfer is available to the B, D, C, and 1 trains. 42nd will be next. Stand clear of the closing doors please,” the loudspeaker crackled. I stood up, swinging my backpack over my shoulder, walking through the same door as yesterday, reassured that the gray platform would look exactly the same as when I had left.

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“This is 34th street, Penn Station. Next stop will be !4th street. Please step in and stand clear of the closing doors. There is a train directly behind this one. If you don’t fit, please wait for the next train, once again, directly behind this one! ”

Oh, my God, that woman’s boots. Good Lord, how can she even walk?! I glanced down at my own worn out New Balances in absolute wonder. Never in Indiana, I thought, shaking my head. I checked my map for the umpteenth time and then looked at the station we were pulling into. Okay, just five more stops. God, I could never get used to this. So much hustle and bustle each day, never time to smell the roses or anything. That’s probably why they say New Yorkers are always angry, huh?
I touched the zipper pouch at my waist absentmindedly, making sure it was still where it should be. You never could tell on these Subways, you know? Everyone warned me about those pickpocketers before I came over. “Shirley,” they said, wagging a finger, “you just gotta watch it. Bad things happen in big cities.” I don’t know what they were talking about. I haven’t had an accident yet, and I’ve been here nearly five days. Everything seemed perfectly law-abiding to me, but I suppose you never could be too careful.
Looking up, my eyes travelled over the advertisements placed securely in their illuminated, rectangular slots above the door. These were so neat! Dr. Zizmor looked like such a respectable doctor. These people are just so lucky to have access to such fine care, I thought, touching my own pockmarked skin. I wonder how they got that poster in there though… looks like that thing is screwed shut. They probably have some kind of machine. They always do.
Below Dr. Zizmor’s smiling face, a red-headed girl in a pretty dress threw her head back and laughed as her boyfriend tickled her. As she squirmed and wriggled, pretending to want to get away, his eyes crinkled in the corners, his smile growing. I could almost feel how much he loved her, how just making her laugh was the highlight of his day. I felt my stomach coil familiarly, reminding me again of the divorce papers back at my hotel, unsigned. I thought of Harold back home and wondered like I had every day in the past three months what he saw when he thought about our last 26 years. I liked to think it wasn’t really me, or us, but just the timing and setting of it all. I know he loved me, I really know he did. But maybe some people just can’t be happy in one country town for so many years. They say suffocation’s the worst way to go. I guess that’s why I came to visit this splendid city. Some new air could do me good.
I coughed as I checked my map again. 1 stop left.

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“Ladies and gentlemen, we are being held momentarily by a train dispatcher, please be patient. The next stop will be 14th street, we should be moving shortly.”

Mmfgh. I grunted as my pen slipped again, mimicking the rocking of the Subway as it came to a slow, jerky stop. If I could just get this proposal done before I got home… Elizabeth would kill me if I didn’t. I had promised to stop bringing my work home with me, promised that 70-hour work weeks would be enough. What was I thinking? Mullen had just placed me on a new case, adding at least three hours to the pile I already had growing. I kept telling myself it was worth it, but I don’t think Elizabeth agreed.
My head fell into my hands as a wave of exhaustion hit. 4 hours of sleep was starting to take its toll. My Blackberry buzzed three times, quickly grabbing the brief moment of underground cell service, and delivered three emails and a text. I checked the emails first, instinctively.
Citibank: Your check has been processed. Please click the following link to confirm.
K. Mullen: Please review these briefs for tomorrow morning. Attached are the files I need looked at. Thanks a lot James.
Hilton San Diego: Confirmation: 1 suite, 3 nights. 11/20 to 11/24. Check in: 12:30-4:00 pm. Check out: 2:00 pm.

And finally, a text from Isabelle: “I’m going to sleep daddy. I love you maybe I’ll see u tomorrow. I hope work is good. Kisses.”

My head fell back into my hands. I glanced at my watch. Oh God. How could it be this late already? Elizabeth really would be furious now. It was the fourth night in a row I hadn’t seen Isabelle. My wife’s seething words rang in my head, like a gong resounding again and again: “She’s 11 years old! How many times are you going to miss dinners, recitals, birthdays, for that stupid firm?! I don’t give a s*** if you’re gonna make partner soon. You better start giving this family as much time as you give those goddamn legal briefs.”

She was right, of course. I was turning into a bad father. Just like mine had been. Like what I’d promised myself I’d never be.

The train jerked again, knocking me into the small woman next to me. “Sorry,” I mumbled, brushing her jacket. I looked back down at the papers in front of me, only half marked up with my silver Brooks Brothers pen. I clicked it open again, glancing at my watch. These really did need to get done.

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“This is 14th street, West 4th is next. Step in and stand clear… In the front, pull your bag in please. Stand clear of the closing doors. West 4th will be next.”

I really liked the feeling of swinging my legs back and forth under my orange seat, out then in, out then in. I could feel the warm air through the holes in my pink tights, giving me goosebumps every few minutes. Out then in, out then in. On every out, I pointed my pink ballet slippers, making the tips touch each other just barely before disappearing under the seat again.

“Aggie, stop that,” Mommy scolded in her tired voice. “You’re going to hit someone.” I let my feet come to a slow stop, dangling them neatly below me. I wish I could reach the floor. You have to be really big for that. Across from me, a woman was reading a fat book. Her eyebrows were scrunched so they almost touched, and she sat up straighter than anyone I ever saw. Her gray hair was pulled into a tight tight bun, but I couldn’t see her ponytail-holder. That’s how I wear my hair for ballet, but as soon as class is over I take it right down. It pulls my head and makes me look serious. But maybe this lady is serious; she looked like she’d be good at that. She kept inching away from the man next to her ‘cause his head kept falling on her when the train moved this way and that way. He was much shorter than her and he had hard spikey hair. He was really asleep, so every time the train moved, his body would slump further down and his head would bob up and down like the Shrek bobblehead on my desk at home. When the man’s head bobbed down, it hit the lady. She didn’t like it at all. The man never woke up though, not the whole time. It’s probably nice to be that much asleep. Not like me. Mommy has to give me medicine to make me that much asleep. She says otherwise I “disturb the natural ebb and flow of her sleep patterns.” I don’t know what that means but it’s okay. Mommy’s very stressed sometimes. She probably needs the ebb and flow of her sleep patterns.

My tutu blew up a little as I slowly started swinging my feet again. This time I alternated, left then right, left then right. It felt funny, like I was mixing up the air underneath me.

The train screeched as it got to our stop. I swung until the very last eeeeerccchhchug and then we stopped.
“This is West 4th. Transfer is available to the C, F and V. Canal will be next. Step in and stand clear.”
Mommy looked at me and huffed and grabbed me by my wrist, rushing me out the doors. I quickly touched the man’s crunchy hair on the way out. It’s been a long day.





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