BY MICHAEL SCHULMAN
Copyright is held by the author.
“NEXT STOP, 14th Street.”
It was rush hour. The banker grey and black business suits funneled into the subway car through all its doors, pinpointing their seats like a reflex. The survival of the fittest, and those with the luck and audacity could relax their limbs and sit on the molded plastic orange seats. Everyone else had to stand for the length of the travel.
Passengers focused on their own selves, their phones, daydreams, the hair or freckles of their forearms, and their inner world. Commuter subways made everyone into inveterate introverts. Routine travel had a way of canceling the passengers’ natural curiosity about each other.
A silver ball the mere size of an eye came rolling with the aisle, swerving itself around the handrail poles. There was hardly any interest in the object; clearly, this item was someone else’s. Someone else’s problem, someone else’s encumbrance.
“Next stop, 32nd Street.”
Hurried, the banker grey and black business suits rushed out of the subway car, running in their expensive shoes without quite bending their knees. Knowing a single fact about the other would’ve been a burden so great as to make the other sick with palpable apathy. Escape from each other, escape from the greasy subway car was so pressing that it would seem to an onlooker that the vessel was on fire. An ordinary commute, forgotten immediately on exit.
Replacing the suits, on first look, were children in everyday attire. But it was not an ordinary day for them. The quality that united these children were items from the museum gift shop — small plastic dinosaur figures in soft, pliant hands, caps, and shirts with the visages of T. Rex, stickers, and pendants with the lizards in similar anthropomorphized mien. And unlike the previous passengers, their energy focused on each other. Their excitement from their class trip to the museum was an unstoppable force. Reminiscences they’d formed from their day off would last as long as authorities required them to be in the institution of school. Similar to the memories of an astronaut that saw their world outside of its bounds, as if their trip released them as imprisoned Earth-dwellers looking at our pale blue dot above. The rise and fall of their voices, like the surf of the sea, thundered like extended applause through the subway car. For a unique moment through the class trip, the kids could see the world from outside. Their routine, broken for a moment, gave them an ecstasy never experienced inside school.
“Next stop, 42nd Street.”
The children exited the car with the sharpness of lightning. They had a vague knowledge that the next day school would start, and their routine would begin again despite their intact excitement.
This time, the new dwellers of the car were seemingly hesitant about entry, no longer focused on the clock-like routine of the workers or the enthrallment of the children.
That ball came lugging down the aisle again, but now in the reverse direction.
Depending on your orientation, a pair of young adults or older children huddled inside their hoodies with the guise of making trouble. With their loose blue jeans, these kids were the kinds of people respectable people were wary of.
Unlike before, the ball caught the attention of one of the young men who kicked the item. Whether out of caprice, violent frustration, or playfulness, the ball slipped from the impact of the fellow’s boot and kept on rolling down the aisle as if inspecting its contents. Satisfied with its investigation, the ball moved on.
A man of indeterminate demographic, class, or age, though with similar clothes, nestled on a seat at the end of the car. He didn’t move with the breaking or forward movement of the subway. He just sat, distanced from his surroundings and daydreaming. Much apart from his location, though, a vital function on any subway in a modern metropolis.
First, they teased the man by smacking his knees and head in aggressive play. Soon, the roughhousing escalated; one of the aggressors pulled the man up by the fabric of his coat around his throat. Each party swung loose punches, sometimes connecting to the other’s head until that man of indeterminate demographic shouted.
“Next stop, 50th Street!”
The young men scuttled out of the car, and nobody came to replace them. The subway car was empty, leaving the man to himself for a little while.
Michael Schulman is a writer, editor, composer, educator, and librarian. His flash fiction was recently published in Sci-Fi Shorts and Half Hour to Kill. He edits a popular web fiction fantasy series introducing Korean culture to English-speaking audiences. A bibliographic carnivore, Michael has an insatiable appetite for reading everything from the classics to cereal box comic strips. Currently, Michael is working on a novel about humanity’s first voyage to a black hole and the unintentional disturbance to the fabric of the universe.