Page 274


by Courtney Zoffness

Subway Montage En Route



groped, and yelled at. I have been preached to, entertained, ignored, and consoled. I have been charmed. I have been inspired. Penned into a crowd on a rush hour train, I have been pricked in the back by a wanton erection. I have heard the announcement: “A subway is no place for an inappropriate touch.” I have admired men I didn’t have the courage to approach and feigned disinterest at men who admired me. On a hot summer train while invisibly pregnant, I have puked all over my shoes. I have ferried a six-week-old to the doctor in a sling across my chest and fielded rapidtransit questions from my toddler: How far below ground are we? How fast are we going? Is this our stop? Is this one? Once I was pursued by a toothless woman singing Whitney Houston: “I believe the children are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” I have had children sell me candy. I have had grown-ups sell me razors. I have met an Earth Angel who claimed he could save me from evil and received blessings from a selfproclaimed prophet. I have been sandwiched between folks reading the Bible and the Quran and stolen glimpses of someone else’s People. I have judged passengers according to the texts in their lap: The New York Post. The New York Times. Fifty Shades of Grey. I have disappeared into my book. I have pretended to disappear into my book. I have had bouts of eye contact so intense they followed me into my dreams. I have considered pleas from veterans and amputees and junkie-thin mothers. I have tapped my feet to bongo players, Doo-wop singers, and mariachi bands. I have dodged young gymnasts back-flipping down the

aisle and breakdancers twirling around poles. When, periodically, the train paused and the lights dimmed and the ventilators hushed, I have played a secret game. If, hypothetically speaking, we were held some hundred feet

wobble away, pants still around his ankles. I have heard the announcement: “If you see something, say something.” I was in lower Manhattan—but not in transit—when the trains beneath my feet lost power, when dust clouds swept through stairwells and platforms and unfurled into unventilated cars. Commuters scurried like rats through underground tunnels while on Sixth Avenue I gaped at smoke surging from the Towers like a geyser. Weeks later I wound up blocks from the wreckage on jury duty. My trial was about liberty and justice or maybe just retribution. One party was said to have wronged another. I spent as much time in the courtroom as I did in a court-supplied facemask watching my footprints form in the white powder that coated the streets like snow. En route home after one such day, our subway caught up to another one on a parallel track. Shuttling at the same speed, it seemed as if nobody was moving. Two glass boxes filled with people. I eyed the strangers as if they were members of an opposing team, residents of a warring nation. I scanned those standing. Those sitting. Those wearing hats and those carrying bags. They eyed me back. Everyone appeared equally intrigued and suspicious. Who were they and where were they going? Who were we? In an instant we charged into a tunnel and everything went black.




into the earth for, say, hours, days, weeks, months, who among these riders would form my new community? On whom would I rely? Whom would I distrust? Whom would I choose for one final act of fornication? I have stumbled into torsos when the subway lurched forward and had my toes trampled on by tourists. I have offered directions. I have asked for directions. I have used all my strength to wrench free a suitcase jammed in the subway door. Once I saw a vagrant piss onto the tracks then


Courtney Zoffness’ writing has appeared in several journals and anthologies, including The Rumpus, Indiana Review, Washington Square, and Fish Prize Stories. A 2013 Emerging Writer Fellow at the Center for Fiction and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference scholar, she is the Interim Director of Creative Writing at Drew University.

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