Let's give a big round of applause to the Winner of our
Let's give a big round of applause to the Winner of our
"Truths" by Melissa Volker
inspired by "The Last Metro" by Dani Dodge
I walk for a while, dodging party-goers, all-nighters, third-shifters and the other human ephemera that litter the streets on a daily (and nightly) basis. I am one of them, mind you, so no judgment passed there. Just the truth. Something not spoken of much anymore. It's a dirty word. Dirtier than most.
So my mouth is pretty foul these days.
I've been trying to be better at connecting with others, but everyone is just so damned -- well -- trivial, frankly. Few and far between are the ones with any real substance looking beyond their immediate gratification. That's harsh, I know. It's also truth, and you can refer to my previous statement regarding that.
I'm not as somber and morose as I sound -- in fact, not at all. I choose to walk because I love the city at night. That's the honest truth. I love walking through pockets of darkness in between streetlights. It's even better after it rains when the traffic going by makes an audible swish along the wet pavement, and the many-colored lights of traffic signals, bodegas, beer signs, and neon, reflect in the puddles like carnival lights from an alternate world. Step into one and vanish into the nether.
Wasn't there something like that in a movie? No…that was the paintings in Mary Poppins. But same idea.
I walk the streets because there is an eerie beauty that emerges late at night as the city is draped in a kind of ethereal film that softens its edges, like the portrait setting on cameras.
But I'm at the station, and I need to leave the streets above and travel below. We all have to go sometime, right? Home, I mean. Truth.
If I wait long enough I'll be the only one left. The last, remaining stragglers will shuffle off beneath the jaundiced lights of the station, the night falling into the impossible silence that only cities know; the one that's not quite silent -- distant sirens, a staccato yell for a taxi, the click-click of heels hurrying through the spill of streetlights -- but silent in the only way a city can be.
Almost, but not quite.
It's a silence more welcome than that of a true absence of sound; that's too like death: final, complete, suffocating. City silence is a lull that tranquilizes without overwhelming. Sounds become lilting, gentle, losing the harshness that daylight and busyness brings. White noise. Lullaby.
I will wait until I am the only person left, sitting in the station, the sickly sweet aroma of stale piss, illicit cigarettes snuck behind cupped hands at the end of the platform, scattered papers and torn receipts wafting into the air in the current behind the express train whizzing by on the center track.
And as I wait, I watch them all -- every manner of sentiment, posture, sobriety, as they hover on the platform. They chatter, they cry, they tune out or cast preemptively accusing stares, all waiting…waiting…
Trains come, doors hiss open, people push out, push in, hold the door for others, grumble when they cannot get a seat. The train grunts, grinds, pulls away.
I sit on a bench away from the stairs down to the platform, doing my best to blend, to vanish, to be inconsequential. It works most of the time, but sometimes it doesn't, and one with breath like whiskey and eyes spidered crimson will stumble by confusing me for someone else, wishing I was someone else, willing me to be someone else -- spilling their souls, purging their guilt, their loss. I smile and look away, back to my book, breaking the connection, and they curse me, my rudeness, hope I rot in hell and get what I deserve, then they take their liquored sorrow and move on to someone else.
Across the way, on the side for the train going in the opposite direction, voices rise, the sound of shuffling and stumbling, and I turn just in time to see a connected punch send a crimson spray from nose to pavement. In an instant there are police -- emerging as they do seemingly from nowhere, but like roaches, tend to be everywhere at night, just out of sight. The offenders are yanked apart, each dragged in the opposite direction of the other, up the stairs and out of the station amid last-ditch insults and threats.
When they are gone, the gaggle of late-night travelers fills in the space left behind like water rushing into a newly dug hole; without thought, no reflection, they simply return to glancing up and down the tracks, searching for the tell-tale beam that their ride home is arriving, all the while stepping carefully over and around the red splatter left behind on the ground. No one wants that on their shoes. Truth.
The hordes begin to dwindle; from crowds, to dozens, to handfuls, to just a few. I still wait, looking at my watch. There's still time until the last one.
I'm looking passively around the few scattered people still finding their way down the stairs to the station, and I have to blink because suddenly they get fuzzy. Their forms melt from distinct, sharp-edged, to muddled, smudged, watercolor forms.
Shit, I think to myself. Not here. Not now. I fight to keep the migraine and whatever else it might trigger at bay but I'm not feeling successful. Now the station itself is bending, twisting in on itself and is full of sparkling flashes of green and gold points of light.
Shit. I grip my thigh as the wave hits, glancing up just briefly to see a girl staring at me, her head tipping like she's solving a puzzle, her eyes growing wide with alarm just as I feel myself try to stand up, fail, and the lights go out.
When my eyes open again -- images an unfocused haze, a face hovering over me, behind her the sick yellow lights buzzing…buzzing…
My shoulders ache. My back. Taking inventory all the way down, my parts are here, but not one of them doesn't hurt.
I blink once, twice, forcing my vision to clear and I see the girl. I realize I'm on the ground -- great, the piss-covered, beer-stained, gum-laden ground of the subway station. At least my head is cradled in her lap where she had dared to kneel down to catch me. If others had come to my aid they are gone now. Where were the police this time? Not that I cared.
"Hey, you okay?" she asks, helping me push my way to sitting. "You had a seizure. My sister gets them, that's how I knew."
With her help, I hoist myself up to the bench, exhausted, disoriented.
I lick my lips and swallow. "Mm..I'm okay. Thanks. Was it bad?" I ask her. It didn't feel bad. I don't think it was bad. Usually when it's bad, I can barely move afterward and just need to sleep.
She shakes her head. "Didn't seem so. Over pretty quick actually." I try to figure out if she's being truthful or kind. Because they are not always the same thing.
A train behind her shuts its doors and grinds its way out of the station. She sees me notice and turns back, smiling. "It's okay. Still ten minutes to the last one."
I yank for my backpack, I have water in it. She helps me get it into my lap, also noticing my book beneath the bench. She gingerly lifts it, holding it by one corner of the cover for me to see.
I shake my head. "Ugh. Just leave it. I'll get another one."
My fingers fumble with the strap on my pack so she reaches out to help. Once open, I fish out the bottle and take a long drink. It's warm, stale. I don't care.
"Do you need me to call somebody or something?" she asks.
I take a moment to think, a little bleary still, but shake my head. I just need to get home. Once I'm on the train, I'll be fine. Truth?
My backpack re-secured, she slips up next to me on the bench. She can't be more than fifteen. I say so. She shrugs and doesn't answer.
That's when I notice her clothes: dirty, small tears, her hands are grubby and her jeans have holes in them. Her hair, twisted wisps sticking out from under a knit cap is probably blonde, though it’s a little darker than that at the moment. I smile at her, and her eyes, beyond the smudges of dirt and a little bit of sadness, shine green, smiling in return.
"Can I do something for you? Do you need anything?" I ask, feeling compelled to help her at least in some small way.
She just shakes her head no, the toes of her feet pointing inward toward one another her hands tucked beneath her legs.
My head pounds and I have to close my eyes a few times against remaining shocks of pain through my temples. I take deep breaths. I roll my head to work out tight muscles.
Eventually, that last train comes. A gust of wind foretells its arrival; that hot, electric blast that smells of dirt and machinery. It clatters into the station, the brake's squealing whine an ice-pick in my already fragile head.
I look to the girl to see if she's taking this train as well, but she shakes her head no. I don't want to leave here there, but I need to go. I'm not feeling so hot after all, so I thank her again, gather my backpack and shuffle toward the center of the platform where the doors ding and hiss open.
I glance one last time toward the girl on the bench, but she's gone. Inside the train I look around the station, my vision fighting me, but there's nothing there. Just one, last, late night traveler racing down the stairs and tumbling, just in time, into the car.
I lurch toward a seat in the corner as the doors close and the train pulls out. The station slips by out the windows -- flipbook images flashing as the train picks up speed. Then it's darkness. The tunnels. Then light. Another station. Then dark, more tunnels.
I close my eyes, pressing the palms of my hands into them, trying to picture the girl, her image already fading from view. I'm having trouble thinking straight. Maybe that seizure was worse than I thought.
I look around me. I'm alone in the car. The person who raced to catch the train visible through the connecting door to the other car.
I close my eyes and let the rocking of the subway soothe me, relax me. I focus my attention on the clacking across the tracks, the whisper of the doors sliding open and closed. I try and deflect a growing sense of nausea and dread by recalling the people I had watched while waiting for this last train; their clothes, their hair, their scattered, murmured conversations.
I think about puddles full of neon and the swoosh of tires; of music wafting out of nightclubs and couples huddled in dark doorways.
My head swells, pressure rising, my stomach clenched, turning sour. I think of the girl, her face that I can no longer recall, along with the bench I can no longer imagine, and the people I had studied, observed, becoming no more than whispered shadows of my exhausted and pained imagination.
The truth is, I feel like shit. I'm not right. That seizure wasn't a small one, and I don't think it's the last one. I really need to get home. That's the truth. Because the truth is…the truth is…
Yeah, not sure I’m particularly interested in the truth right now. I open my eyes and look around -- I'm alone. Even the other passenger is gone. I can't even remember anymore if it was a man or a woman. I can't remember how many stops we have made, or how close I am to home. What the hell?
I look around and it is only me, on the last train, the last ride -- The Last One -- alone.
Shit. The hell with the truth. I'd like to get off now. This train. I don't want to be here anymore.
I want to go jump in some puddles and see where it takes me. I want to howl at the streetlight and pretend it’s the moon.
This is the last train of the night, my head hurts and I feel sick and there's no one here but me.
I am a lot of things --
I was born in upstate New York to a playwright/author/director father and a poet mother. Pretty sure that sealed my fate as a creative spirit!
I attended NYU for theater and liberal arts, and attended the Strasberg Institute for theater.
After 14 years in NYC, I left it -- and acting -- for Boston, MA, and now live with my family in Western MA where we garden, life-school our teenage son and take a ton of trips to Boston -- because Boston is cool and we miss it a lot (go Sox!). I am a self-professed nerd/geek, and love Marvel Movies, Sci-fi, video games, and cosplay (yes, seriously).
My first novel, "Delilah of Sunhats and Swans" was followed quickly with the short stories, "Still, Life: a collection of echoes". Having recently discovered the joys of YA fantasty/scifi/slipstream, I am expanding my creative exploits into those genres as well.
If writing wasn't enough, I also dabble in photography -- because different things want their stories told in different ways; some in words, some in pictures.