Part 3: conclusion


start at the beginning . . . back to part 2


The man with the party-favor glasses had lost interest in Ray and was making his way down the train. He stopped every few feet to beam at another passenger and struck up conversations with anybody who would listen. "Hi, how are you, ma'am?" "I'm going to visit my mom and dad! Where are you going?" Ray smiled a little as he gazed out the window.

Thump.

He looked over in time to see the man balled up on the floor of the train, face flushed, lying on his side and hugging his knee to his chest like an overgrown fetus. The man’s face contorted into an open-mouthed grimace, his eyes squeezed together, his wet red cheek pressed against his knee. He gulped the air in and whimpered it back out, just like a kicked dog. Two girls with blue eyelids tittered at a boy next to them, who was standing with his hands proudly on his hips, khaki-covered leg still extended just behind where the man had landed. The flourescent lights in the train reflected off the grease of his face, as if it were made of plastic. "Look!" the boy said to his hangers-on. "The retard doesn't even know how to get up!"

Ray turned away again. He wanted the kid to lose his footing and land in his unblemished khakis on the filthy floor. And maybe trip the girls, who were just barely balanced on their pink four-inch heels, on his way down. And he wanted the man with the glasses to pick himself up of the ground and stop making sounds like a dog. But the kid just kept standing there with that plastic-doll grin painted on his face, and the man just kept whimpering. And Ray stared intently at his own reflection in the plastic window across the aisle.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Soon enough, alternating flashes of blue and red light illuminated the house, circling the block at first like a swarm of mutant fireflies. And then stopped in front of the house. Blue black red blue black red blue black red. And another flash of blue white red blue white red. All the while the scream of the siren, like a small child, echoing between the houses.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"What the fuck is that?"

"I think it's a siren."

"I mean, I know it's a fucking siren, but why does it sound so close?"

"Baby, don't worry. Probably someone just broke into a store or something."

"I don't know, do they really put on their sirens for that kind of shit?"

"Ok, even if it's not that, it's not what you're thinking."

"How do you know?"

"Well, you wouldn't be able to hear the sirens so loud if they were going to his house."

The boy jumped off the couch and went to the window. Stared for a moment and began to breathe audibly through his mouth. Wrapped his hand around the side of the sill, leaned most of his weight against it. His eyelids closed, and he brought two fingers to his temple, rubbed them around and around, as if trying to erase something there. "Jesus fucking Christ, come here."

Anna came up behind him and ran a hand up and down his spine. The sunlight had faded outside, but they could see enough by the streetlamp to make out the shadow of a woman, just like a crumpled paper doll, being hoisted up off the ground and carted into the luminescent interior of an ambulance. Broken in a way that a person who had simply tripped over something in the sidewalk could not be.

They turned and pulled each other to their chests, clasping arms against ribcages. Hearts pounding against each other.

"Anna."

"Yeah?"

"How can people let each other do that kind of shit to themselves?"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The mother cradled her little boy to her chest and dragged the bag of dirty laundry on the ground behind her. His arms wrapped around her neck, his head against her shoulder, his sniffles turned into deep breaths as he faded into sleep.

As she walked, the mother saw a bench next to the sidewalk and allowed herself fall onto it for a moment, the child in her lap. She leaned the elbow of her free arm into the top of her thigh, and she closed her eyes and planted her forehead agains her palm, tried to calm her shaking breaths. “Olly,” she said quietly to her sleeping son. He sighed and nuzzled her shoulder. "Why did you have to say that? You know I‘m not a bad mommy, don‘t you, babe?" He sighed and nuzzled her shoulder, sucking on his thumb contentedly. “Well, that’s good. We just want to make sure Carol it too.” She turned and kissed the side of his head.

But then the mother looked around and remembered the men in the alleys and the visit tomorrow she had to get ready for and she hoisted herself back off the bench, picked up the laundry bag, and trudged on.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The man with the party-favor glasses sat on an orange seat halfway down the train. Even after the kid with the khakis and the two sycophants had left, the man just sat there, eyes and mouth closed, rocking a little, clutching his knee. Not talking to anybody.

At the Boylston stop, a woman lugged herself through the door. Blonde hair, messily pulled back into a ponytail. Oversized sweatshirt, frayed jeans. About 20 or 25 years old. With one arm, she carried a laundry bag almost as big as herself; with the other, a sleeping kid. Ray looked at the purple half-moons under her eyes -- there was something about her that reminded him of someone he knew. He looked at his reflection in the window for a moment. The woman leaned back her head and closed her eyes, air rushing audibly out of her nostrils. Ray got up from his seat, silently nodding to her; she all but collapsed into it.

And as she sat, she rocked her baby back and forth like he was the only thing in the whole world that mattered. Ray watched as she leaned her head against her son's and rocked and rocked. And finally, he detached himself from the metal pole that he had been holding, and he plodded against the movement of the train, pulling himself along by the metal bars. He stopped by the man with the glasses, who was still hunched over his knee. "Hey," he said, and tapped the man gently on the shoulder. "How you doing?"

And the train traveled on.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And as the paper cut-out woman was carted onto the stretcher, a bare lightbult shone out of a window far above her. Even though she couldn’t see it, it was there all the same, shining like a little star.

And the paper cut-out woman, swathed by the white light that bounced off clean surfaces and metal instruments inside the ambulance, turned out to be made of flesh and blood after all. And all the people shouting and the machines beeping blended together as they worked to keep her flesh-and-blood body alive.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And the boy and the girl clung to each other in the light of the naked bulb with their foreheads touching and their arms intertwined so tightly that it was impossible to tell anymore where one body ended and the other began.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And the mother closed her eyes and hugged her son to her chest and rocked back and forth to the rhythm of the train.


start at the beginning . . . back to part 2

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