It's been a lean month
. The talking heads on television have been spewing out their usual brand of terror. They've replaced the old, toothless women who used to sit by the fire and spin tales of wickedness and things that go bump in the night to frighten doe-eyed children, their stories punctuated by knitting needles clacking together despite arthritic hands. Now permafrost
breast-implant blondes and cadaverous self-tanned assholes
orangely leer into the camera and deliver their "news" with a self-righteous air of false concern. There's no fucking magic these days. Anyway, the point is, that people are scared and the streets are empty and women lock their doors. But women always lock their doors. Danceclubs are now the place to catch the incautious, but I hate them. Danceclubs give me migraines; they're all blinding lights and skull-rattling noise and smoke, and heat and flash
. I like subway trains, although recents events have made them less heavily travelled. Especially at night.
I like trains because there's no day or night inside their compartments, and despite the tunnels of thick concrete, there's always the hint of the warm, dark earth beyond. I like them because they are warm and feel safe, and because they're impersonal. People risk too much on subways, talk too loudly, tell things best left hidden. The lights in the tunnels do not hide the fact that subway trains are in the deep. My car is empty, and I ride with my eyes closed beneath the ground, waiting. The car lurches to a stop, doors hiss as they open and before I open my eyes I can smell her. Her scent is a complex mixture of Jean Naté and sweat, sharpie markers, baby shampoo and cinnamon. Lazily, I turn my head towards her, slowly crack open an eye. She's a pretty young thing. Tendrils of messy black hair drift from underneath the hood of her claret-colored sweatshirt. The sweatshirt is several sizes too big to her, the sleeves cover her hands to the fingertips and the elbows are worn and threadbare. Her eyes are hidden in shadow, but her lips are small and wet and the pink of sashimi. She's carrying a plastic bag filled with various food items wrapped in aluminum foil, sealed in plastic containers. Twin white cords snake up under her hood and her head moves in time to the music she's playing too loudly. Even with the rumbling and the screeching of the train I can hear the thin voice of a woman crying from those headphones, "You know you're gonna lie to you in your own way".
"How true", I say outloud, barely audible. This gamine, finding the car empty, for some reason meanders over towards me and plops down ungracefully one seat over. We are divided by a space of less than two feet and I am forced to press my tongue between my lips to keep it from lolling out in anticipation. The bodiless woman wailing from the headphones admonishes me, "No teenage flesh". Or is it really, "Know teenage flesh"?
The girl fumbles in the front pocket of her sweatshirt and the music stops and suddenly I can hear her heartbeat over the ceaseless rumbling of the train. She takes off her headphones, a gentle popping sound accompanying as she carelessly yanks one out of one ear, then the other. Her hood still conceals those elfin features, but she is near and I can see her eyes. They are large, black and afraid. Without speaking I enjoy the way she eyes the coarse hair that fountains out from beneath the cuffs of my shirt, that strains against the neck of my collar. Already, stubble darkens my jawline even though I had shaved only two hours ago. Her nostrils widen almost imperceptibly as if she smells something frightening underneath my cedary CK One. She fidgets a little then says, "Nice that someone else is riding the train. Lotsa times I take it alone to my gran's and it gets spooky by yourself. Feel like something is watching me," a frisson of terror shakes her delicate frame and I smile slightly, taking care not to display an overwhelming whiteness of teeth. I pull a peppermint from my jacket pocket and offer it asking, "You're going to visit your grandmother? At this hour?"
She shrugs, "Gran don't sleep anymore. And she won't eat much," she takes the mint and sucks on it, her tiny catlike tongue visible for just a moment, "Taking her something so she can keep her strength up. Me and her watch the gameshows and infomercials now that school's out."
I nod indulgently, "You're such a sweet young lady, to take time to visit your grandmother. So few young people these days care about the needs of their elders."
She shrugs again, slouching deeper into her seat, "I don't mind. Me and gran have fun. The only bad part's the walk to Serrano from the station. At this time o' night, you never know what kinda weirdo you're gonna meet."
Serrano. Three blocks away from the Western station. I hang my head forward to hide my expression, meaning it, I tell her, "Good luck."
She snorts derisively, puts the headphones back into her ears, reaches into her pocket and the woman begins to sing again, "and you don't need the light on to guide you through the southern lands."
The train slows down, rumbles to a stop, the doors his open and the girl gets off. I wait a moment, and follow. She bops her head to the music and doesn't notice me trailing her from behind. We both go up the escalator leading out and into the night air. The moon is heavy and gibbous, yellow and startlingly beautiful. The girl is walking slowly, as if dreaming. Her hood still covers her lustrous black hair, still shields her eyes. She will run. They always run. Still, three blocks is a long ways and I've been doing this a long time. There is time. I stare up at the moon and mutter, "you beautiful old bitch," and open my mouth wide and howl.