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Before 19

Down the Rabbit Hole This area is ill lit. The walls are painted dirty greys and blues. Tired looking employees stand by the escalators to the tracks. A homeless man edges away from a squadron of four police officers, his eyes darting back and forth, his mouth a jagged and unsteady line. A hard faced officer stands a little ways off with a leashed dog by his side. A man and a woman both in full Army uniform stand by a desk with more police officers behind it. The two soldiers stand tall and straight in spite of the heavy-looking bags on their backs and waists. Despite and indeed perhaps because of their presence I feel like something shady will happen. I trot quickly past this circus and hurry towards my track. I flash my ticket at the Amtrak woman and continue down the frustratingly slow escalator. And down and out I go. Down into the bowels of Penn Station, into my train number 3655, and out into the daylight. As we break through the end of the tunnel, the first natural light since I went under at Harlem-125th Street hits my face. My eyes are rudely reminded of how bright it is this morning. I close my lids against the glare and lean back into my seat.

Down the Rabbit Hole By Raleigh Capozzalo

The splashes of Hudson River and blurred fragments of greenery rush by me at breakneck speeds. I get the familiar feeling that we passengers are standing still, and the world is the thing moving, spilling past either side of the train, Grand Central hurtling towards us. After Harlem-125th Street, the train begins its decent. Or is it just going straight and ground is rising steadily up around us? Like hurtling through a hill. I’ve never been able to accurately judge the distance from this point to Grand Central station. I get up either too early and stand awkwardly in front of the doors for another few minutes, or too late and have to rush to gather my things and get out the doors. But the daily commuters know the distance. They seem to act on a sixth sense, a deeper perception of time and space rooted in daily repetition. And if you are fortunate enough to ride with them every so often, you learn to pick up on their cues. It starts with one man. He looks out the window into the black and then, as if on a whim, reaches for his briefcase. Then a woman does the same. Almost as if they have planned it, she waits a precise amount of time before also taking her briefcase and standing up behind the first man. And then it’s like reverse dominos. After one stands up, they all stand up. Everyone files in behind the pioneers just as the train begins slowing. And at the exact moment the first two reach the exit, the twin doors spring open with a whirring sound. I follow the crowd out onto the platform. I barely notice the grand ceiling and fabled central clock as I rush through a sea of multicolored coats and sweaters. I hop on the 3 train. Penn Station. I walk down a vast tunnel with a brushed metal ceiling arching high above me. I feel like an astronaut on a moon base. Intergalactic space-trains come and go from this artificially lit capsule hanging like an ugly pearl in an ocean of blackness. I cannot tell if those dark spots in the high ceiling are dents in the space-metal or simply years of built up ion-dust and moongrime. The high-powered florescent lamps make it as bright as day down here. As I walk towards the Amtrak terminal, my eyes dancing from sign to sign, I cannot even see the ceiling and for a moment I think I am outside. But then the passageway compresses around me as I arrive in front of the Departures billboard, and the spell is broken. The vast arching space-ceiling is replaced with low hanging blue bulkheads, the Amtrak logo plastered all over. 37


Down the Rabbit Hole  

Before 19, literary journal

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