The Reverse Commute

Moon faced workers, tourists – all these pale and sickly countenances swimming by. Forms are dressed utterly in black; sometimes the daylight reveals shades of grey, navy or green in the heavy, seasonal outerwear but after 5 p.m., these creatures unite as each round face poking out from the same swaths of dark material It’s a staggering school of ghostlike fish in an unnatural formation, spreading and trying to weave and then failing, always avoiding the menacing sea creatures of traffic and their rush and push in the opposite direction. These predators carelessly spew out black inky fumes and poison into my now-gritty eyes.

I’m gasping because I can’t breath underwater here.

Like scales, each face reflects the bluish neon streetlights, sign lights, bold and blaring lights from the banks and companies that line the streets with their unbending, unfriendly reefs protecting an alien world I want never to enter. Occasionally, the scream of red lipstick on an grand old dame, hooker or misplaced model pops out.

“What’s that one doing on Park Avenue when the banks let out?” I wonder.

My bag is knocked from side to side, but for what purpose, I don’t know. I learned to swim a long time ago, back in a bright pool with children’s laughter and shrieks echoing around the while tile walls and rising up like the chlorine stink. But this is gone, now, and I dive underground to the cavernous subway to escape the polluted waters.

To the blast of trumpets and that homeless person’s offbeat drumming I march with many others, save the tourists who stop to talk to the crazy artists, watch the hip hop performers and find the overfed Williamsburg band entertaining enough to throw a dollar…or ten. I step carefully, to my own soundless tune and watch someone who must be a male model or spectre from a lost civilazation turn and look, bewildered and dazzling before parting statuesque lips to call to his companion in a language I cannot place. He moves and behind him, backlight by dirty yellow tunnel lights stand a couple in their own oasis. Her golden hair seems to wave to and fro, creating a new, angelic current and counter melody to the echoing, surrounding dischord. Her partner reaches up to her smooth cheek and brushes with a gentle touch I can almost feel – a tear, a stray hair, he moved across her face’s porcelain stillness. Suddenly the foreign call sounds, too loud, and the exuberant drummer begins to shout. The angelic image dissolves with a swirl of grey wool and humid commuters, jaundiced by the light which swoops in to take its place.

I achat the loss of spontaneous beauty, but at least down here I remember how to breathe.

 

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