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The sky looks like he’s killed the sun.
It’s all too black, too dark, the streetlight to her right is flickering:wounded firefly. Her spanking-new boots are clickety-clacking down the slanted sidewalk, an uncommon solo isolated from its usual accompaniments of tennis shoe scruffs and oxford taps. The daily symphony makes the late night walk through South Side Chicago less daunting, but the conductor’s called in sick today. The wind sends the burnt-orange, shriveled leaves lying lifeless on the concrete into a restless tango for a few seconds, sends her honey blonde curls flowing behind her. Her hands sit in the pockets of her navy cotton jacket, fingers curled around her phone. Don’t dare check the time; you’d rather miss your train than wind up mugged.
Where’s your wallet? New black leather, birthday present; sometimes your parents can be nice. The wrinkled twenties shoved inside from long-lost aunts and uncles, gifts forgotten. It’s in your backpack, or so you think. Maybe someone’s taken it by now, glimmering black leather in the back pocket of the custodian’s jeans.
Keep walking, two steps more. The old red Camry to the left is blowing puffs of global warming into the air; a penguin and a half slowly dying by Santa’s headquarters. She’s going Rudolph now, the tip of her nose a budding rose of sunset pink. One more street to cross, no cars in sight.
Her breath transforms into a cloud of toddler pretzel cigarette smoke as she yanks on the cold metal door, not unlike the grown-up one she just shoved into the sidewalk cracks. The station’s not hot, not cold, unsettling lukewarm, perhaps. The echo of the door slam sends chills down her spine, goosebumps up her arms, tremors in her mind. They really should get brighter lights in these stations; how will anyone be able to stop a pickpocket if they can’t see them?
There is only one other man on the platform at 6:39. Only 14 minutes to wait with your new best friend. He’s forty or so, dark and big and broad. Has she seen him on FBI’s Most Wanted? He grunts in response to her forced smile as she passes him, strolling to the end of the platform, as far away from him as possible. His eyes burn holes in her back, making her wish that she hadn’t worn a skirt that day.
Her mother’s voice pounds in her head, steady tempo like the bass her brother plays all night long,
“Don’t dress like a s**t, Jennifer. We don’t want you to get in trouble. Do you have your rape whistle? And is that beer I smell?”
Lovely Mommy Dearest won’t call her Jenny like her friends do or trust her like her father does. Typical.
She slumps onto the mysteriously stained bench, the old wood creaking a hello. She sneaks a sly glance down the platform; Mister Fugitive is patrolling down towards her. Feign distraction, focus on the Target advertorial glued to the floor. He stops short right beside her, casting deeper darkness over her hands clasped tightly in her lap.
You can feel the blood rushing through your veins, throbbing in your neck, tingling in your fingers and your heart is beating faster and faster and faster and there’s sweat dripping down your back and-
The advertorial flies away as a train breezes by across the tracks. Conductor gets out; she can hear the booms in his voice, can’t see him, what’s the difference, really? She gazes blankly at the windows tinted an opaque green, no sign of life anywhere near them. No one ever takes the train this late, anyway.
Mister Fugitive spits on the tracks and wrenches her out of her millisecond of focus without giving her a say in the matter at all. He smiles eerily when she looks up, dumbfounded, blonde hair sticking to the back of her neck.
Just ignore him, stare straight ahead.
He growls like a bear and it reminds you of your first trip to the zoo with your Aunt Clara. She’d tell you to ignore him as he walks in front of you, focus on the scratch in the windows of the train seemingly so far away.
Glance at your reflection in the cloudy glass, hum a couple lines of John Mayer, and tell yourself the chunky black bulge sticking out of his pocket isn’t a gun.
Silly rabbit, it’s only your wallet.