Christopher Sessums CC
Gran was definitely dying now. Her ma had just texted to confirm. The subway smelled like a subway. Musty. From decades living in tunnels. Multi-perfumed, many-stenched from packed-in city people. All up against each other looking at phones, feet, maps.
When the person landed in front of the train, all passengers lurched in their bodies. Yanked at metal bars and handles. Some stumbled. One helped pick up another one.
It surprised her that people didn’t scream so much as quickly whimper or suck in breath as they grabbed around for steadiness. For control. Like them, she lurched in her body. Felt her heels go up a little and her toes press into the floor to stop her heels.
No one needed to pick her up. She’d hugged the silver bar. On instinct. Gran had always told her she had good instincts. Gran would say, ain’t nothing gonna get you with that head on your shoulders.
Eyes shuffled everywhere. All the eyes wanted to know what’d happened. Someone caught a text from a friend before losing service to the tunnel. The crash had been a jumper. A body had gone down. Right into the train’s space. Like a heavy bag of something, she thought. Or maybe like a feather, she thought. A feather compared to the black tunnel earth it landed on.
It was whispered all over the train. Another someone scanned internet feeds. Jumper, they confirmed. Sharp sucked-in breath all over.
She looked at her phone again. No more signal. Ma’s words stayed. Staring at her like weird little eyes. “come on now hun. grans bout to go. waiting for u. love u”
She looked out the train window. As if the subway tunnel would suddenly be wide and light. Nothing. Just black wall. Just people everywhere, reflected a little in the window. So many different people. Brown and white. Tall and average. Stout and long. There weren’t many kids. She wasn’t sure why she noticed that. She was thirteen. Maybe they thought she wasn’t a kid, either. Maybe she thought she wasn’t a kid. On her face shone florescent light. People wanted to be mad. She could tell. People wanted to keep being in a rush.
Only for one little second was she, herself, mad. Felt some mad pulses go through a vein. A little mad energy biting her. But someone had jumped on the tracks so all her mad things dissipated into her gut. Gran’s mad things had always done the same. Come up then gone down, quick.
Somehow that lack of mad seeped through almost everyone else, too. Right from the inside out. At least it seemed that way to her. It seemed that way even when she looked again at Ma’s text about how Gran was about to go. It seemed so on account of the silence. And the way people didn’t move much. Even though the announcer hadn’t given directions to be still.
The announcer cracked his voice over the speaker. Said it’d be a while. Those weren’t his exact words. He needed to be more somber than that. But she knew that a while was his meaning. She looked at her text again. Those weird little eyes of words.
Looked out the window again. Black wall. Still just black wall and see-through people in the window. Maybe they were all wondering about the right way to be. Like she was. Then she wondered if they had grans who were about to go. Decided they were mostly too old to have grans, but left the possibility open. Passengers: Lots of facial expressions, she noted. Lots of blank. Lots of gazing far away. All kinds of furrowed brow and tugging at ears awkwardly. Movements of newspaper and briefcase. Little shuffles of feet all over. If there was chatter it was a whisper because of how people knew to be somber. She was surprised so many people knew this. She knew, too. No one had to tell her.
She tried to stop looking at her phone. Kept it in her palm but put it down near her thigh. From her thigh she rolled it upward, stole more glances. Still just Ma’s text. “waiting for u. love u”
It was hot. She thought about Gran. Thought about whether Gran felt hot. Whether the blankets were on or off Gran. Tried not to check her phone so much for the sake of somber. Nothing new on it, anyway. Thought she could use someone else’s phone to call Ma, but couldn’t remember anyone’s phone number. Seemed like some phones were working. Everyone glancing at screens. Maybe they’re getting messages about their grans, she thought.
She remembered Gran talking about remembering. About how kids these days, they don’t remember nobody’s numbers. They just press buttons with thumbs and don’t have memories. Gran had a good memory. She had a good memory, too. Sometimes Gran’d lean over the mashed potatoes and tell her, you’re just like me. Then Gran would wink. Gran always winked.
It was getting hotter on the train, she was pretty sure it wasn’t her imagination. Gran’s blankets again. Gran had been cold a lot last month. Doc told Ma that when you had what Gran had, when you were dying from it, you’d get cold. And skinny. Very skinny as in pointy bones and body knobs everywhere. Gran had gotten very skinny, but wasn’t sad. Everyone else was sad. Gran kept telling everyone it’d be alright. Gran seemed like she meant it. Gran wasn’t one to pretend.
Last she visited Gran was Sunday. On account of school. She imagined Gran had gotten skinner. Today was Thursday. She never went anywhere after school on a Thursday. She’d been trying to do right by everyone, she’d told Ma she’d come. She tried to do right by the living.
She hadn’t told Gran she’d come. Hadn’t told Gran she’d come because Gran had been unconscious since Sunday. But she knew Gran knew she was coming. That she’d already arrived. Gran knew everything.
They were so much alike, Gran always said so herself. They were so much alike and Gran was always there. Gran was old in her bed with a blanket or without. Gran was young. A girl in a field holding a simple flower. Like a daisy. Gran was in a grand field filled with grans. Gran was there right now, on the train. Gran was always there. She looked around and everybody, they all looked like Gran.
She looked out the subway window again. All black tunnel. All tunnel for a long time. For a long stretch. It was hot, but like if a basement were hot, not like a desert. The train kicked. They went. Slow and cautious. Not like a jolt at all. “waiting for u. love u”
Now we’re going past where the body was, she thought. Or maybe now. Or maybe we’re on a different track. Trains, can they have more than one track? She thought they probably could. I wonder where the body went, she thought. I wonder how the person picked the stop they did it from. She wondered if the body had had a gran. Or maybe was a gran. The train rose to outside. To aboveground stops. The tunnel went away to air and breath. The tunnel went away to light.
Carolyn Zaikowski is the author of the hybrid/prose poetry novel, In a Dream, I Dance by Myself, and I Collapse (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016). Her fiction, poetry, hybrid, and essays have appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, West Branch, DIAGRAM, Denver Quarterly, The Rumpus, Everyday Feminism, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa University and currently works as an English professor and volunteer death doula.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.