Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hooves and Horns

Ryan M. Burk

I’m boarding and I notice that the train is already near-full. I lean against the wall next to the door and find an open patch of handrail. The conductor comes on over the speakers and tells us through a static-laced mumble that the next stop is Delancey and to stand clear of the closing doors. The train embarks and we, the passengers, collectively sway back and forth. I stare at the sign posted above the door. “Do not lean against the door,” it reads.

I’m thinking about how much I dislike the uptown “F” at rush hour and about how lucky I am to have gotten on at East Broadway. I’m thinking about being sucked out to sea. I’m thinking about laying lazily in the undertow.

The doors open again at Delancey and more bodies shove their way in. I can feel them pressing against me as they pass. The doors shut and I’m thinking about fish in tiny tin casings when a woman gets groped. She twists her neck to catch a glimpse, but is confined to a barely-over-the-shoulder glance. I see the hand return to its pocket and I stare back out of the window. I’m staring straight ahead at bricks caked with mud and white tiles and streaks of red and blue lights.

My hip digs into the person next to me as the next tide rolls in. It’s 2nd Avenue and it’s busy as hell. The platform is crowded enough to fill the train by itself. Most of them will have to wait for the next one. The doors open and ten or fifteen people get off. The crowd waiting to board jostles its way forward. They’re lying on each other with wide-eyed leering faces. They’re desperate to get on and they’ve got someplace to be. A few manage to pile in while most stand listlessly on the grime-coated concrete. I stare back out at them, now pressed against the wall.

The conductor reminds us to stand clear of the closing doors. I’m waiting to hear the doors shut. I’m waiting and listening, but the sound never comes. I look over and a man is caught in the entrance. He’s struggling to get in, but the train is full. The train is painfully full and this man is still trying to wedge himself in.

The conductor comes on over the loudspeaker again: “Stand clear of the closing doors.” All throughout the train people are scoffing and shaking their heads. They’re stretching their necks to catch a glimpse of what’s causing the interruption. The man still hasn’t managed to climb onboard and we still aren’t moving.

“Get the fuck out of the door.”

I turn around and see an agitated man in an expensive suit. His face is twisted in disgust. He has somewhere to be and he doesn’t have time for this shit. I don’t have time for this shit. Nobody else has time for this shit and neither does the conductor.


He makes no secret of his frustration.

“This is bullshit,” says the man in the suit. He’s wringing his hands.

The man in the door grabs my shoulder in desperation. “Help me out,” he says.

I want this to be over. Everyone’s attention turns to me and now I am responsible for delay. He’s pulling me harder now, like a drowning man. I want him to be on the train and for this ordeal to end. I want to skulk back into the crowd and go unnoticed. I want to go unseen.

“Just fucking push him out!” I hear the vehement inflection.

There isn’t room for anybody else.

His face sinks, ashen. I grab the handrail with both hands and shake myself from his grasp. He slides out slightly, but still has firm footing, just enough to keep himself entrenched in the entrance. I want the stalemate to end. I pull myself from the ground and kick him in the chest. He gasps and falls back onto the platform.

The doors shut and we move again. I watch him as we pass, doubled over and wiping the filth from his clothes. I look down at the ground and my feet are covered in filth.