Riding the 6
“So did you hear the story about the lady who got on the subway car, and the only empty seat was across from some people who made her nervous. So she sits down anyway, because she’s tired….”
The car jounced like they were in an earthquake. The train squealed and a siren-like noise obscured his words.
“What?” Palmer asked, her features pinched, her eyes squinting. “What’s going on?”
“Just another stop. We don’t get off yet.” Craig said loudly, his eyes gleaming. “So, anyway,” he resumed his story as people streamed off and on, and his cousin from Kentucky pressed close to him, “anyway, so this lady is reading and she looks up, and right across from her is a woman staring at her. So she goes back to her reading, and glances up again a few minutes later. And this bitch is still staring at her. She’s starting to get mad, and she’s about to say something, when this dude sits down beside her. He’s well dressed and looks trustworthy and he whispers in her ear, ‘Don’t say anything, just follow me and get off at the next stop when I do. You’re not safe here.’ So she does. She gets up and follows the guy out the doors at the very next opportunity, and when they’re safe on the platform he immediately tells her, ‘I’m a doctor, and that woman who was staring at you, she’s dead. She was being propped up by the two men on either side of her….”
“Oh shut up,” Palmer said, folding her arms tightly, leaning away from the sweaty, large man on the other side of her. “Even I’ve heard that one before.”
Craig laughed. “Aww, you’re so scared taking the subway, I thought I’d entertain you.”
Palmer looked like she was ready to cry. Her perfect head-top ponytail was fraying into wisps of brown that stuck out in several directions. “I hate it. I hate riding this thing,” she said with a heavy Kentucky drawl. “Those doors almost closed on me!”
“You gotta move fast up here. You still think you’re in Paducah.” He winked at her.
There was a “ding-ding, ding-ding,” and a modulated male voice said, “Stand clear of the closing doors please! Stand clear of the closing doors!”
“Hey, Palmer, did I tell you the story about the Moscow subway train that disappeared?”
“Shut the fuck up, Craig.” She chewed on her lower lip, twisted so that she could see through the window behind her. “Where the hell are we going anyway?”
“Riding the 6, down to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall station and back again,” Craig replied, his face flushed.
Palmer looked out the window across from her, past shoulders and heads, at the brightly lit platform on the other side; the red-painted pillars, the thick yellow line running along a parallel set of tracks, trash receptacles, benches, stairwells, and people of all shapes, ages, and sizes. She could see herself in the glass, too; the reflection of the interior of the car formed a surreal, translucent film over the exterior world as they pulled away.
The swaying and metal on metal shrill started again.
“People die in subway stations all the time. A woman was crushed between the platform and the train when she tried to get her purse off the track. Another guy was trying to get his iPhone or something, and he was electrocuted on the third-rail. And this guy in Queens, he was pushed….”
Palmer had both her hands over her ears. “Shut the fuck up!” she said.
They were jostled and the train was braking loudly again. At the front of the car, the digital read-out said, “(6) LAST STOP,” and then flashed the time. “10:24 P.M.” The silver double doors slid open. Passengers moved out quickly.
“Do we get off now? Where is everybody going?” Palmer asked, her eyes darting.
“Nah, we have one more stop,” he said, his eyes twinkling.
The computer voice said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the last downtown stop on the string. The next stop on the string will be Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall on the uptown platform.” LAST STOP flashed again in hot-pink on the digital display. Then came a little speech about how it was not only “unsafe” but a “violation” of policy to ride the loop.
“Craig, we need to get off,” Palmer said in a high-pitched voice.
“No, not yet,” he insisted. “Don’t worry, we’re fine. But you can get off if you want, by yourself!” He guffawed. “See how long you last on your own!”
The “ding-ding” sounded twice, and the voice announced once more, “Stand clear of the closing doors, please!”
And they were moving again. The rocking and mind-wracking squeaks and shrieks of the train grew more intense. It became dark outside the windows.
Palmer was sitting forward now, her chest visibly heaving. Her eyes were huge. “I need my inhaler, I need my inhaler,” she panted.
“Oh come on, don’t be such a pussy!”
The train was leaning, turning, and they pitched from side to side. The noise had an unusually piercing quality as it echoed in some cavernous space. Suddenly outside there was pale illumination coming from above. Antique tiles, old buff-colored stone work, became visible. Arches with green and white geometric designs, circular tunnel openings limned with gold brick, and high overhead–if you looked up and put your face right to the window, which Craig did–fantastical stained-glass sky-lights at the apex of domed ceilings could be glimpsed for a moment.
“Where is everybody?” Palmer blurted, searching the empty, dim, art-nouveau platform as they passed rapidly by. “I want to get off, I want to get out of here!” And she began to hyperventilate, gripping the edge of the grey-blue plastic seat with her fists.
“Geezus, Palmer, geezus,” Craig shouted as his teenage cousin gasped for air and her lips grew ashen. He grabbed her in his arms, and began slapping her back. “Inhaler, inhaler,” he said to himself, and stabbed his fingers into her pockets, then pried open her small, cross-body handbag. There wasn’t any inhaler.
She fell away from him, and lay sideways on the seat, clutching at her throat.
Craig leaped to his feet and began to yell, “Help, help, my cousin is dying, help!” He felt his heart knock violently against his chest. His out of shape and overweight body dribbled perspiration. “Palmer, Palmer, look at me,” he pleaded.
The train had finished it’s loop, and was pulling into Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall station once more, heading north this time. The familiar sights, brightness, the push of crowds, greeted them.
“Help me!” Craig yelled again. “Palmer, sweetie, it was just a joke. That was the old City Hall Station, closed in 1945.” He sank to his knees, feeling dizzy. His breastbone and left arm ached.
Just as the car came to a stop, and the doors began to open, Palmer sat up and started laughing. “Idiot!” she snorted. “Idiot, I’m okay. I was just messing with you!” She kicked at him gently. “Craig, you moron, stop it! I’m okay!” Passengers were moving around her cousin, ignoring him as he swayed, his eyes rolled up into his head. “Craig, what the fuck, man?” she begged. She jumped off her seat, and knelt beside him just as he toppled over. “Oh my god, oh my god, someone help me!” she screamed.