She slammed into the train car at 4:58.
He knew, because he was on his phone, texting Claire that he’d made it on the 4:59 train from New Haven and would be in New York by 6:40. Claire wouldn’t answer. She would still be asleep. But she’d wake up and wonder, so he’d save her the worry.
Safe. On the train. Love you.
He hit send, and there was a clink!, metal against metal, echoing loudly in the car that was, until her, mercifully empty. He looked up. The clink! was due to the keys dangling off the ring she’d slid down her left hand;s index finger. This was the hand that was clutching the metal pole near the doors to the train car. The rest of her — of which there wasn’t much, she was uncomfortably thin, chest pulsing with uneven shallow breaths, faded pink hair plastered to her temples with sweat — leaned against the first row of seats in the car.
Their eyes met.
There was the fuzzy voice of the conductor, then the woosh of the doors closing. “This is the 4:59 to Grand Central, departing on time. Next stop: West Haven.”
Fuck, he thought to himself. I almost had this car to myself. He supposed she might ask for money. Maybe puke on some of the seats. She looked like she could barely keep herself standing. This was not how he wanted his day to begin. The train guy would come to check their tickets, and he could already see the confrontation unfolding. Do you have a ticket, ma’am? I need a ticket for this train? It’s gonna be 23.50. I don’t have 23.50. Do you got it, sir? Can you lend me 23.50?
He was annoyed. And she just kept staring at him. He turned up the corners of his mouth in a perfunctory smile, the least bit of acknowledgement he could be bothered to afford her. Then he turned his eyes down again, back to his phone, opening Twitter.
“It’s too late. He’s seen you.”
Her voice was craggy, hollowed out. He could hear the phlegm rattle beneath the rumble of her voice. He didn’t look up. He wouldn’t give her the attention. He’d seen a huddled mass of person leaning up against the platform bench. This was probably her. She’s probably been here all night, waiting. He wasn’t going to engage. The train guy would be coming any second to check their tickets.
“He could smell you on the platform. Got inside me, took my eyes.”
The keys rattled against themselves as she released the metal pole and lurched forward into the seats. She steadied herself between the rows.
“I was sleeping. But he had to see you. Now he wants you.”
His chest got tight. It’s too early for this shit. He could hear her slinking toward him down the aisle, keys clattering against the train seats as she struggled between them. He still wouldn’t look up.
“He wants to tasssssste you.” The word hung like a length of sick spittle from the side of her mouth. She was close enough to smell now, a sharp, acid smell of sweat and train exhaust and something else, something like sulphur.
Get the fuck in here, train guy. His patience was tissue-thin. If she says one more thing, I’m going to –
There was a pop! and he could feel himself covered in warm wetness, his face, his hands, across his chest through his thin dress shirt. It was sudden, and it scared him. He jerked back in his seat and shouted, “What the fucking fuck?” Had she puked on him? Was it spit? Piss?
He jerked his head up to tell her to get the fuck away from him, and in the space where he expected to find her eyes, he found a open wound splitting her face in two. Blood dotted the seats in front of him, the windows, the floor. It was blood that covered him, as well, and the wound that was her face kept spitting it out in spurts and coughs.
Then, there were the fingers, sinewy and slick with red, that pushed their way through the wound, feeling around for grips, for holds in her skin. The fingers turned into two muscular hands, and they grabbed at each side of the wound, pushing it open.
The hands widened the wound until he could see deeper inside. There are eyes in there. They flashed a glistening silver. There are eyes in there. The hands reached out toward him. There are eyes in there there are eyes in
“Sir? Can I see your ticket?” The train guy hovered above him. He handed him his ticket. “Thank you sir? Has she been here since you got on?”
The train guy gestured at the crumpled body of a very thin woman curled up in the seats a few rows ahead.
“She got on when I did.” He smiled his perfunctory smile.
“Well, let’s see if she’s got a ticket.” The train guy sighed and moved toward the crumpled woman.
Surprise for you, surprise for you. The train guy smelled fresh, the salty sweetness of fat, the bitterness of self-neglect. They were always most delicious when they were caught unaware. Like her. Like him. He stood in his seat and inhaled deeply.
I never get tired of the taste. His eyes flashed silver as he moved down the aisle.
Wrote this flash piece on the train to New York. I had to get up insanely early to get from Hartford to Manhattan for an 8 a.m. event. I was alone on the train when I left New Haven, but my ride turned out much better than this one. Let me know what you think @abeardedfruit on Twitter. – CDO