Between Stations

3 min
Image of 2020

It’s Tuesday evening, and each subway car is packed with people rushing to get away from their day. I don’t mind the squeeze though. It is only one stop from 59th street to 125th on the express line, and the subway is pretty good with going fast anyway. I find myself crammed between a stranger with deep wrinkles splitting down his face, and a woman who glances at me like we almost know each other. We strain our muscles trying to stand as still as possible, anticipating the train’s motion. When the doors finally close and the fluorescent glow of the station gives way to dark, everyone seems to unwind a little.

Passengers have peeled their ears off and tossed them under their seats like nylons and stiff pumps at the end of a work day. They let out a sigh of relief that presumably no one can hear anymore. The woman next to me looks at me funny when I wince in surprise.

Passengers have lost track of their eyes from rolling them back and forth like marbles. Lighten up a little, will you, the woman laughs to me, and kicks an eye down the length of the train car. What is there left to see?

Passengers have left their cramped bodies in their seats and have taken to sliding through the aisle, stretching themselves out on the walls, winding up and down the handrails like fingers coaxing their way through hair. They move like ghosts, like breath, like color coursing through a dream. The woman next to me invites me to dance. 

My eyes dart back and forth between her two faces, unsure of where to look, unsure of which one is really her. Outside of physical form she is smooth and reflective as glass. Her eyes glimmer under the dim light. When I look into them I can almost see my own blinking back at me. Her hand is outstretched. I don’t take it.

A subway performer has taken out his boombox, and is playing some songs I forget the words to, is jumping back between songs, is skipping every track before I can even hear it. 

She shrugs, and drops her arm. You know you would. Her hips sway to some unknown beat.

Everyone wants a turn on the boombox. They crowd around it like kindergarteners at the reptile exhibit, touching the buttons, pressing pause, play, rewind, rewind. They put their hands up to the speakers to feel the vibration of sound starting and stopping. The boombox is stuttering through the same four syllables, but the passengers are dancing to something only they can hear. 

The woman next to me is dancing alone. Her twisting body captures beads of light and flings them outward with every flick of her hips, her shoulders, her arms. As she draws closer I see my reflection melded into her, twisting along with her, as if rehearsing a duet, as if beckoning me to join them. She is slipping away now, dancing to the other end of the train station. She is melting into the crowd.

From this distance, she could be anyone. From this distance, she could be me. I wonder what it would be like to leave my body behind, to dance no longer bound by ligament, to hear music without ears. I wonder how long we have been on this train, and how long we have to go. I wonder if it matters.

The woman next to me pushes her way through the crowd and requests a slow, smooth waltz. Suddenly I am falling alongside her in time with the subway’s sway. I think the ears perk up a little from under the bench. She offers me her hand, and this time I can’t help but take it. I feel myself being coaxed out of my body, like a joey stepping out of its mother’s pouch for the first time, her fingers fitting around mine as if they were my own. We weave in and out between people and subway poles. We waltz to the end of the train car, then back around. We pass our own bodies and marvel at how stiff they now seem. Somehow, there is much more room than before. I don’t know the tune and I don’t know how to dance, but no one notices how I am fumbling through the beats. When we leave the train, we will not remember ourselves anyway. 

Faintly, we feel the air around us begin to tremble as the intercom clicks on. The crackle of static kisses our skin. We cannot hear the announcement, but we know it is the conductor warning us that time is running out. 125th street is an above ground station, and we can feel ourselves sloping upward to meet the platform. Passengers scramble to finish one last dance before returning to their bodies, a final chord still ringing in their ears. 

Then the train tears out of the ground and we lurch to a stop.

Then the light pours in and gives people back their faces. I look at the stranger next to me, and notice how the harsh angle of the sun seems to cut fresh lines into his skin.


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