Going by Christopher Green
The woman sits down next to me at Canal, right about the time I’m thinking of dying.
I’m not thinking about it in any intentional way. Just—exploratory. Tracing the Rube Goldberg effects of my sudden and self-inflicted passing. Who would miss me, who would not. Who would be sad, and who would only be stunned. Would anyone think back to the last terrible thing they said to me, and feel remorse swell up in their throat like a balloon. Would Daniel, the guy who broke up with me three years ago, hop a redeye from Atlanta in a fit of belated devotion just to help carry my casket. This is how you know that things are bad: when your best chance at cheering yourself up is in fantasies of being mourned.
She’s a little older than I am. The woman. Thirty-five, maybe. From the seat beside her I can see the fine grains of makeup near the line of her jaw, smell the church-lady perfume. Her navy skirt reaches just past the knee; her hair has been pinned to her skull like a dead butterfly. She sits, and removes from the crevice of her bag a small soft leather journal with a brass buckle across the cover, and an old-school fountain pen, the kind with the calligraphic tip. Opening to the first clean page, she writes, in a script so small and tight it looks stamped in by a typewriter, the day and date, followed by the word "Today." She pauses, looks up, pen tip poised and ready. Then she finishes, "is going to be an amazing day."
I whip my head forward, startled, as though I’ve just been caught eavesdropping. This woman is writing a diary entry. In full view of the public. And worse, she’s chosen the most horrifically saccharine opening line I can imagine. Doesn’t she worry about curious onlookers? Doesn’t she know that those words will leap out at the nearest wandering eyes? If it were me I’d be afraid that they would announce themselves to the whole fucking A train the moment they were on the page.
But now that I know, I can’t not watch. I can’t not be a part of this small act of intimacy, of furtive exposure. So I turn back, slowly, and try to steal the forecast for this woman’s amazing day in small snatches of words. She’s writing about her friendly co-workers now, her compelling job, her loving friends. All the little boons that I do without every day. I almost hate her, this stranger, and her life so charmed that she has to record it for posterity. But then she writes something, down toward the bottom, which I did not expect, the only sentence I risk taking in in full:
“I promise, Dr. Webb, that I won’t think about Torrie today.”
Which is how it hits me, full across the face like an angry slap: that this diary isn’t for the woman. It’s for her therapist.
I have to look away just to keep from staring at her. Around and above us, the anonymous jungle of bodies seems to swell and crowd us in, until our shoulders press and our breaths fall across each other’s cheek. I feel, in this moment, the same way I feel when I watch a stranger light up a cigarette, ever since I stopped smoking: as though they are giving a few gentle tugs at a string that’s been wrapped around my heart. What quiet pandemonium writhes beneath the surface of that promise? What procession of tragedies led this woman into my car with a prescribed schedule of distractions from her agony? I want to say something to her, anything, in the next eighty seconds before the next station. But what is there to say? What could be worth the betrayal of her privacy?
Instead, I take out my phone and open up a list of reminders. Of all the ephemera that have taken place on the morning train, I want to be reminded of this one. Later, in my bedroom, with a pillow pressed against my face to hide the ugly, gagging sobs from my roommates. So I start to type this woman’s bold pledge to myself. Today is going to be an amazing day. I keep the phone close to my face, so that there won’t be any chance of getting caught.
But I’m only halfway through it when the woman looks up again, and a long, embattled sigh escapes her. Instinctively I put down the phone, even though she couldn’t have known what I was doing with it. We sit there staring forward for a minute, two women in crisis, and I just—why can’t I do this? Why do all the unhappy people insist on being unhappy alone? Would embarrassing her, or embarrassing me, be worse than walking away in silence?
I lift up the phone again, start to finish typing. But something stops me. The words I’ve written so far: Today is going. Seeing them, I am assaulted by a single horrific thought. I don’t want to think it, I don’t, I don’t. But I think it anyway: that of the two of us, I have written the truer statement. Neither of us knows what the day is going to be. We only know that it’s going, and that in the time it will take for our predictions to be borne out or not, it will be gone.
And it’s as I’m thinking this that the train stops at 34th, and the woman stands up, journal still in hand, and walks out. I sit there, trying to stifle my gasping breaths, my face on fire with the threat of tears. I picture the world above us, the streets like black rivers, crowds of empty faces milling on the shore. Then, with the train car spinning around me, the din of voices thundering in my ears, I pick up my bag and I walk out, too.
© Christopher Green, 2015
Christopher is a recent New York transplant from Cincinnati, currently residing in Brooklyn with two roommates and one slightly internet-famous cat. He holds both a BA and MA in English, helping him to reach his ultimate goal of raising underemployment to an art form. His stories have appeared in several journals and magazines such as Burner, The MacGuffin, and The Ampersand Review. He is currently working with his agent to publish two novels, one of which is sort of about vampires but not really and it's kind of a whole big thing and maybe he just shouldn't have brought it up.
Going was read by Tiffany May McRae on 5th August 2015 for Short & Sweet Flash Fiction