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How to Study Cell Biology on the Subway Ride Home

You sit on the subway staring at your shoes, and chipping away at your manicure. Your mother asks you what you want for dinner. You liked that pasta she made last week. You are tired and you rest your head on her shoulder. She strokes your hair. You mentally study for your biology test. Mitosis, meiosis, mitosis, meiosis. The air is musty but comfortable and your scarf encases you like a swaddled baby. You don’t notice the stops passing by, only the clicks and clacks beneath you and your mother’s shoulder beneath your head. You see people’s eyes shift when the train doors open at the next stop. It’s like watching a tennis match. When they walk on your eyes flutter to the little boy holding his father’s hand. You only see a pair of yellow sneakers and twisted face for a tenth of a second, but it’s enough.
Your eyes shift back to looking at your manicure, and your mind goes back to mitosis, meiosis, mitosis, meiosis.
You can’t look. Your mother stops stroking your head. His eyelids are pulled down around his cheekbones like taffy. His mouth is cut in half. You can’t look because it’s wrong. You are ashamed. Ashamed and embarrassed for everything you have. About the violin that your parents pay for, but you complain about practicing. You want to close your eyes. The old crinkled man next to you obsessively clicks his chewed up Fed Ex pen. The train is picking up speed. No eyelashes. You’re ashamed and embarrassed because your free period is too short and your best friend flirts with the boys you like. You didn’t get your eyeliner right this morning. But this boy, this little boy, with that face, barely a face. The train is silent, the clicking and clacking beneath you are sounds worlds away. Again with the Fed-Ex pen. He sways back and forth in his seat, soft blonde hair sticking to his forehead and his blue hoodie in a knot. His father signals to him in sign language to just be a little quieter and to please sit still. You slap yourself for wanting to quit the violin. You’re not allowed to hate things anymore, you shouldn’t be. The boy is struggling to breathe and you can tell because the mechanism on his throat rattles when he tries. You want to close your ears. You cringe when the little girl sitting across from him asks her mother why that boy’s face is like that, and the boy’s father hears and sighs because this is just a usual day, it’s only his life.
Mitosis, meiosis, mitosis, meiosis.
And then, when the blind man walks down the train with his coin cup and a melancholy verse of “My Girl” and the boys wearing the basketball shorts stick their feet out because they think it’s a joke, and the blind man trips and they laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. You want to scream. Your mother brings your head back to her shoulder and strokes your head. She gives the blind man seventy-five cents, because she can’t break a twenty, and you remind yourself to practice violin when you get home. When you get up the courage to look at the boy again, he has his head on his father’s shoulder. There is drool coming out of the corner of his mouth. Then it’s your stop. The clicking and clacking slows down beneath you. You run your fingers through your hair and it’s wet with your mother’s tears. You and the train are at the same pace for a moment as you walk down the platform, and when it speeds up, the little boy sitting behind the window has his back to you, blonde hair knotted, arm above his head and one hand pressed to the glass.
Mitosis, meiosis, mitosis, meiosis.





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