art by Junior McLean
by Lee Hallison
Hope grabbed at the railing as the surge of people pushed her off-balance. She hung on as she made her way down the rain-slick subway stairs, exhaling with relief at the bottom. The crowd carried her into the station, where she stuck her token in the turnstile and headed toward the A-train track.
Another dull, tedious cubicle day, another nasty bit in a crowd of smelly strangers--and the same commute back to that boring old apartment. Hope sighed as her thoughts spun. The train thundered in with a rush of stale air, and she stepped through the doors as they shushed open.
Inside, rather than smooth fiberglass and chrome, rows of old-fashioned tawny-yellow wicker seats stretched to her right and left. White canvas hand-grips hung from the ceiling. Hope swung quickly back to the door, but it had shut, letting no one else in. The train jerked and moved. People flicked past, and then the swoosh of the tunnel wall darkened the windows.
The back of Hope's neck prickled. She peeked over her shoulder, but the car looked the same. Empty seats. Green painted walls. An old fan flicking. Yellow light bulbs.
"Hey," she called out, to whom she didn't know. The train rocked along, and Hope swung into a seat. She rubbed the bumpy surface with her finger. She hadn't ridden a subway with wicker seats since she was a kid.
The door at the far end opened. Hope looked up at a large woman squeezing through, bags hanging off both arms. She struggled free and the door banged shut. Her impossibly orange hair hung in curly ropes around a wide face, setting off a big-toothed smile.
"Hello," she said, panting a bit as she plopped onto the bench seat facing the aisle.
"He… hello." Hope didn't talk to strangers, but she wasn't used to empty cars, never mind old ones.
The woman pulled out a skein of light beige yarn and began to knit. The rhythm of clicking needles relaxed Hope. She stood and moved down the car to a seat nearer the woman.
"Thinking of a change, then?" The woman opened her eyes wide, making them look popeyed. She flashed another big grin.
"No, no, just on my way home." Hope frowned as the train rocked along. They should have reached a station by now, yet the train sped along like an express.
"What kind of train is this? It's the local, isn't it?" Hope looked for a sign, but the walls were blank--no map, no labels, no ads.
"Ah, local in a sense, yes. What kind of change do you think you'd like?"