Smith & 9th

Adam Moorad

The conductor breaks into a station where no one gets on or off.  He is invisible and controls things from a covert location no one can find.  The train stops.  The platform is full of yawning subway ghosts .  An underworld podium with no warmth smolders with the scent of oil and yeasting dust.  Metallic voices ricochet from the tunnels of a black rat kingdom.

A man from Flushing on my car whispers to his head-wound, losing himself in phantasmal thought, thinking he’s watching baseball, and me.

I board the train sopping wet from walking in a downpour with my hand up and no cab in sight.  I wonder what’s the point of trying to dry off when I’ll only get soaked again—so I keep my jacket on and it holds the dampness of drizzle and old perspiration against my body.  My chest fights the shivers.  I hug myself.  I name each wave of trembles after the previous station—Avenues 65, 46, 36, and 21, moving Manhattan-bound on the late night local.  We stop for no apparent reason caboosed in the subterranean blackness.  My jaw aches.  We creep along.  The train gurgles over ruts in the tracks. The Braves beat the Cubs 16 to 5 on Monday. Rain is falling from the heavens but there’s a storm here inside the earth.

The man is shaking.  He picks his feet up onto the seat and looks at me dripping water on the floor.  “What a mess,” the man says.  “The game will  be delayed.”  I don’t say anything.  I reach under me and touch my billfold.  It is my baby.  It is nine months old.

Before this, I swallowed an amphetamine pill, and every so often stopped gumming to swallow a sip of Southern Comfort and pretend I was drinking honey from a tree in a different region of the country.  I pictured myself in a plantation house study with a leathery interior and maps of Ernest Hemingway safari routes and shelves of reserved Kentucky bourbon.  I pretended I was dead and watching myself on television.  I make-believed I was with my family.  I was sleeping in my old bed for just one night.

Beneath Queens, tracks tangle in a vast vascular spider web of routes like lost Silk Road highways in the middle of the Mongolian night.  Then, inside me drifts the sensation of mass transit at rush-hour when two million bodies ebb-and-flow in a shark-toothed riptide of humanity.  People have always gone places, I think.  The man goes on about his brother.  “He liked the Mets,” he says, “even though he’s from Bronx.  He has two kids—both Yankee fans.”  He keeps on. My brain sucks my uvula up inside of it and swallows.  “He used to have a swimming pool,” the man says, “but it didn’t have no diving board.” I feel jilted.  My teeth grind themselves.  I cannot speak.

And later, after I’ve slept upright in my seat, we pass through the East River and back again and the train emerges from the earth into the rain.  I can hear rain bat against the metal roof.  I see the droplets of a thousand beads stick like transparent putty to the window, catching the yellow light of faraway buildings and lampposts glowing kryptonic on the dark horizon.  When the train stops, it sits for several minutes at the very end of the city.  The doors open and close three times.  And we go back the other way.  I am exhausted.  The World Series is 204 days away.  I fall asleep more deeply.

I am hit from the side so hard I think my head breaks.  I roll back and forth.  Blood fills my mouth and blends with the drizzle on my face to make a salty rain. It pours. I drink it.  I writhe on the floor like a beached eel.  When I open my eyes, I’m in my seat again just as I had been—wet, alone, and hungry.  The train hydraulic is hissing outside, pissing Gilded Age steam engine steam into the murky borough space.  When the doors open, a wind blows.

I get off.  I’m standing in the elements.  It might still be raining, but I can’t feel anything.  Gigantic clouds of smog surround me like a forest.  It nestles me like I’m its fawn.  Airplanes browse the heavens like blind Dumbos. Brooklyn is a conduit of mice and men.  I can hear foghorns baying from tugboats in the harbor.  I smell the water.  The entire planet is hidden by frost; the sky can’t even find it.  I think about the city and its weirdos, and about becoming a little more like them each day.  I never imagined, even for a moment, that this would be the place for a person like me.

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Adam’s writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 3 A.M., elimae, Evergreen Review, Mad Hatters Review, Pindeldyboz, Underground Voices, Word Riot, among many other places.  His debut novella, Oikos, will be published by nonpress in 2010. He lives in Brooklyn and works in publishing.  Visit him here: http://adamadamadamadamadam.blogspot.com
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