The following contains explicit language. The author advises that any one with an aversion to such language move along, or at the very least not complain.
The last half hour had seemed to stretch on at the pace of two full hours, and the passengers languished in time’s apparent halting. Though several windows had been opened not long after the conductor’s announcement, the men and women were beginning to strain from their collected heat. They had removed overcoats and hats, unbuttoned shirts and blouses, but no amount of reasonable shedding seemed to help alleviate the stifling warmth.
The passengers anxiously eyed one another. Had they, like Kayden, tuned in to the tension which hung like steam in their communal, subterranean sauna? Perhaps they were watching one another out of sheer boredom? In actuality they were sizing one another up; looking for faults or quirks that could be used to justify any number of impending explosions. No one likes the asshole who yells at an old woman, but maybe they would be more forgiving of the socially conscious civilian who yelled at an old woman who wouldn’t stop hacking phlegm into bunched-up tissue paper… Such rationalizations ran rampant.
At the front of the car, having sweated their way to sobriety, the rowdy group of young men were beginning to lose their patience. While the wait had been lighthearted for them in the beginning, their begrudging sobriety had given them very little to be amused by.
“Fuck, me,” one of the men lamented as he looked at his watch. “We’ve already missed last call at Bohemian Hall.”
“Emmy will have left by now.” His goateed friend chimed in, throwing his head back. “I was totally going to tap that tonight, man.”
The passengers shook off the Goateed Man’s crass lack of discretion, which must have displeased the man. He began knocking on the door of the conductor’s compartment.
“Hey! Asshole!” The Goateed Man pressed his face to the door. “You owe me a lay. Your sister free?”
Several passenger’s vocalized their disapproval of the Goateed Man’s insistance on continuing his lazy routine, and so loudly. Others, the Goateed Man’s friends included, snickered and jeered.
“Shit, I’ll take your mother if you don’t have a sister.”
“Would you shut up?” Demanded a Middle Aged Man sitting next to Kayden, taking ahold of his Wife’s hand. “We don’t care for that kind of talk.”
The Goateed Man looked to the Middle Aged Man, his nostrils flaring. “Excuse me? You don’t talk to me like that.”
“And who are you?” The Wife shot back.
The Middle Aged Man, feeling vulnerable, attempted to recall his Wife by squeezing her hand. His looked to the floor, hoping trouble would pass him by.
The Goateed Man did what was customary in such situations. He straightened up, puffing his chest and huffing as he strode over to the Middle Aged Man and his Wife. It was a behavior that was engrained in many men’s DNA — an archaic reaction to having been called upon to be reasonable. It was one of the many flaws that haunted male members of homo sapiens — especially the young. It was a physical instinct that was called upon when a person hadn’t the mental fortitude to react otherwise.
“And who the fuck are you?” The question, purely hypothetical, seethed from the Goateed Man’s frothing, clenched teeth.
“I…” the Middle Aged Man began, stumbling over his nerves. “I’m just some one who wants to wait patiently in quiet. It’s been a long day.”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t asking you.” retorted the Goateed Man. “I was asking the bitch.”
Nearly every one of the passenger’s winced at the Goateed Man’s words, but none of them said a word. This wasn’t their fight, they rationalized.
“Now listen,” the Middle Aged Man said with an ounce of courage. “You can’t call my wife something so hurtful.”
“Listen: I’m sorry I’ve upset you for using foul language,” the Goateed Man condescended. “But just because you don’t get laid any more doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t talk about ‘making love’ in front of you.”
“Now hold on…”
“Oh, what? Do you still tap that shit? Let me guess, she let’s you in every couple of months right? When you’ve been good?”
The Goateed Man looked back at his friends. They all shared a laugh.
“I’ve had just about enough of you, you… frickin’ punk.” The Middle Aged Man’s attempt at vulgarity came as naturally as his timid attempt at bravery. The awkwardness of it all traveled through each passenger, all of whom secretly hoped that the Goateed Man would just up and punch the poor fellow. After that release things could go back to normal. Maybe the train would even start up, and the night could commence.
Instead, the Goateed Man just laughed a hearty guffaw. He confronted his friends, mocking the Middle Aged Man’s nervous chivalry.
“Hold the gosh darn phone,” he parroted in a nasally voice. “You can’t say the f-word. It’s offensive.”
He went on like that for some time, taking the car hostage with his excruciating brand of entertainment. The Middle Aged Man and his Wife had since looked back at the floor, trying to simply ignore the strutting moron. Kayden, however, had decided that the brute had gone on long enough. If even for only her own sanity, she would have to do something.
She waited for the Goateed Man to wander closer to her, and when he was within arm’s reach she made her move. Bolting from her seat, piloted purely by her own confused instinct, Kayden took the Goateed Man by his jeans. With one forceful motion she yanked them down, revealing a secret the Goateed Man had been hiding with all of his posturing:
Instead of boxers or briefs was a pair of women’s underwear. They were silk, adorned with a frilly, laced bow on the front. A thong ran along the backside.
The Goateed Man froze in place, basking in the dropped jaws of every one in the compartment. His friends recoiled, their expressions caught in a limbo between abject horror and pure bafflement. No one said a word.
The on-board intercom chimed, and came the conductor’s voice. It was sullen, but remained professional. “We will be moving in just a moment, ladies and gentlemen. There was an incident on the tracks, and it has only now been handled.”
An incident… The riders all knew what that meant, and the conductor’s tone only verified. At some point during the night, one of the city’s forgotten had stumbled onto the tracks. Even in the coming days, no information would be released that might reveal the person’s identity. No motivation would be gleaned.
“Thank you again for your patience and understanding. Thank you for riding MTA, and get home safely.” The intercom cut off.
The Goateed Man pulled his pants back up, rejoined his friends at the front of the train, and refused to make a peep for the remainder of the ride. The Middle Aged Man and his Wife huddled closer together, sharing small, quiet chuckles with one another.
The next few stops came and went, and Kayden found herself alone in the car by the time the train reached Lexington Avenue. After the events of the night, she relished the solitude. The city had given her more than she had bargained for when she stepped out of her apartment hours earlier. And this was the city’s charm.
True, there were misanthropes at every turn. Kayden was one such example. Her affinity for exploring the night had always made her an outcast back home. But these broken, vulnerable people were what made the city live up to its grand aspirations. She didn’t belong back in the midwest, where everything closed down with the sun’s setting, and every one scrambled back into their homes so that they could fill their evenings with television programs that safely revealed the world that existed outside their doors.
Kayden was still a part of that mentality deep down. All of her observing and skulking in the shadows — this behavior was in keeping with the repressed nature of her upbringing. But she had moved beyond that. The minute she lept from her seat and pulled on the Goateed Man’s pants, revealing his own repressed nature that shamed him so… she had not merely been watching the city she loved. She had written her own chapter to be read.