Art by John Turck at http://johnturck.tumblr.com/
Taco ran down the steps, his loafers slapping against the wet tiles and threatening to lose their grip on the floor. A doddering old woman examined the broadside of a subway car, unable to tell if it was the N or the R, and only managing to block Taco’s direct path to the still open door. Taco was already late and ran by the woman, swinging his hips out to the side as a cheat so that he might save a step.
He could hear the musical notes that came before the doors swept shut, and stuck his shoulder into the closing gap. The doors chewed on his torso and leg, before they relented and let him sneak onto the car. Taco exhaled with exhaustion, found his way to the pole, and checked his watch while the train left the station. If everything ran according to plan he might only be 10 minutes late.
The train slowed down. And then stopped. Stuck in the middle of the tunnel, out of cell coverage. Minutes passed in silence. He felt the heat of the train. A trickle of sweat rolled down from his shoulder blades to his lower back, and Taco pulled his coat off and held it underneath his armpit.
“Attention passengers, we are getting a report of a sick person on the train ahead.”
Several passengers groaned. He looked at the other riders. There was a girl across the way who reminded him of someone he dated a few times in college. She was trying to keep away from the pressing shoulder and leg of an oblivious Hassidic, reading from an old book. A woman in the back started complaining that she had to pee.
The train started up again. He looked at his watch. 20 minutes had passed. They reached the next stop. Taco’s relief that the train had started moving again, distracted from writing the explaining email to his boss until the train left the station.
He pulled out his phone and began typing anyway, knowing he’d send it when he got a signal. As he finished his screed against the MTA, the train began to slow down. He looked up, expecting to see the lights of the next platform, but they were stuck, once again, in the dark tunnel.
A woman in her fifties balled up her fists.
“Come the fuck on.”
She said it softly, shaking her head, staring through the ad for laser hair removal.
They waited in silence for another twenty minutes before there was another announcement.
“There appears to be traffic ahead. Sorry for the delay.”
“What traffic? We were stuck at that last stop for twenty minutes.”
“I really have to pee.”
Taco rocked on his heels. He looked out at everybody on the train, who all kept their glass eyed expressions in the yellow light of the train. He had been fighting the urge to look at his watch, telling himself that he shouldn’t freak out. The train will get moving in a minute. Irrationally hoping that his phone would miraculously have a signal, he saw that two hours had passed.
The Hassidic man had fallen asleep, his face slumped over, and a line of drool threatening to land on his book. The blonde who reminded him of his girlfriend looked around and caught him for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders. Taco shrugged back.
Taco felt a cramp in his legs. He slid down and sat on the sticky floor, and propped his coat behind his head.
He woke up to the sudden motion of the moving train. It had been over four hours. The people in his office were out to lunch, and though he was hungry, he told himself that if he got to the office, he could still work a half day. The doors opened at the station and he thought about getting out and taking a cab, but stayed put while new passengers got on. The Hassidic man left and Taco jumped up to grab a seat next to the cute girl who had shrugged at him two hours ago.
She smiled without a word as the doors shut.
“What time is it?”
“What time is it?”
For the first time in his life, Taco had been ready for show time. He watched while three skinny kids took turns pole dancing and flipping their hats to more applause than they had ever received in their short careers.
Once again the train stopped, and those endured the past delays let out a shriek, while the newcomers stared at their sudden outrage.
“Ladies and Gentlemen there appears to be construction ahead.”
“I have to pee so badly.”
“It’s alright. It’s all good. Show time is working overtime. We’re gonna keep it popping until the next stop, ya’ll.”
Taco turned around and looked at the new girl. “We might as well introduce ourselves.”
Her name was Betty Youngblood, and over the next day and a half they talked about their lives. She’d gotten to Hofstra through the dance program, but decided to become a teacher when she burned out. Betty didn’t laugh when Taco told her his life story, about parents who seemed to be performing a role rather than raising a child, and she didn’t assume that he was putting her on, as so many others had done before.
Show time had ended as the boom box batteries had died. Their arms were spongy from hours of hanging and supporting their body with handstands where their legs whipped inches from the passengers faces. The woman who had to pee had tried to walk through the door to go in between cars, but the doors were locked.
The train started moving, and people began to applaud as they reached the next station. Those who had finally made their destination, walked out as fast as they could manage, clutching their quads and stepping with legs that had fallen asleep. Somebody asked the girl who had to pee if she wanted to get off and go.
“No, I think I’ll make it. I’m almost there anyway.”
Taco looked down at his phone that had died hours ago. It would have been Friday. He’d no doubt have to beg his boss for his job, but he was only two stops away.
The train continued onward and then stopped. The people who had endured the past stop closed their eyes and immediately went back to sleep.
“Attention folks, a woman appears to be going into labor at the station up ahead. We will get you moving as quickly as possible.”
“I swear I’m going to pee my pants.”
Taco was starting to feel the pangs of hunger. He began dating Betty over the next month and a half. Dating was all relative. Nobody left the train, but mentally they took trips to a quiet bistro that she loved in lower Manhattan. He walked her through his hometown in New Jersey and described his old bedroom to the point where she could list the action figures that stood on his windowsill. They talked about old movies that the other one hadn’t watched and tried their best to reenact them. And in the quiet moments when everybody else had fallen asleep, Betty nudged Taco awake and taught him how to dance.
Without thinking Taco leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Marry me.”
Betty pulled him off her shoulder. “Not that way. We may be stuck on a train, but you don’t just get to drop that. Do it the right way.”
Taco smirked and got down on one knee. “Betty Youngblood, assuming that we ever find a way off this train, would you mind spending the rest of your life with me?”
They kissed. It felt as if they had been kissing for the next four months, while the day dreamed about how they would book a space. It wouldn’t be extravagant, but they weren’t eloping either.
Finally, sometime that spring, the train began to move. Passengers who had become accustomed to the stillness fell forward with the slightest momentum. There were tears in their eyes when they stepped off the train.
Betty grabbed Taco’s hand and tried to lead him off the train.
“Oh, no. Mine is the next stop.”
“Yeah, mine too, but why don’t we just walk. I feel like walking it.”
Taco smiled. “Yeah. But it’s two avenue blocks. We’ve come this far.”
The doors closed. The train began moving. It stopped a minute later.
“Folks, we’re having a signal problem up ahead.”
“Don’t think about peeing. Don’t think about peeing. Vast swaths of desert.”
The battery in Taco’s watch had gone out. He could see on the display that it was 4:49, but didn’t know if that was AM or PM. So many of the others on the train had entered a deep meditative state.
Taco noticed that Betty had begun huffing.
“Is something wrong?”
“I just feel like we’re never going to get married.”
“It’s one more stop.”
“It’s always one more stop. Do you really want this?”
“Of course I do. What’s wrong?”
“I feel like we’re growing in different directions.”
“Well…okay. Maybe I should just go to the other end of the car for a little while.”
“I think that would be for the best.”
“I still love you.”
Above ground, the stirrings of revolution were taking place. America as Taco and Betty had known it, ceased to exist. A new establishment had taken over. The Atlantica Republic brought about changes in the way men and women inhabited the planet. A council cast laws that had to be unanimously ratified. No longer would families grow organically, but much like Aldous Huxley’s dystopian paradise, were farmed. The best were aligned with the best, and the lower castes were bound together below. But people of all classes had achieved a contentment that other generations could have only fantasized. It had become an age of enlightenment, though passions were dulled at the top.
Of course this machine had not foreseen the growth of art in the lower masses. Unburdened by the delusion that they could ever be a part of the better society, the right brained rubes created music that could be felt, and paintings that moved in the fourth dimension through time. They called for a revolution, and after centuries of oppression, began to savagely cull the upper class with beheadings in the street. Bombs rained down on the rich and poor alike, and newfound diseases swept the land. After 500 years, Atlantica had died among the ashes of its ambition.
The train began moving again. Taco looked down and felt his pants slide off his hips. He walked over to Betty, who was still beautiful as the day he walked on the train.
She smiled when she saw him. “You’re looking good.”
“Yeah. I lost 10 pounds. Haven’t eaten in half a millennia.”
“Well whatever you’re doing it’s working.”
The train started to grind forward.
“Looks like we’re finally moving.”
“When we get out, do you want to grab lunch?”
Betty smiled and shrugged. “Sounds good.”
The doors opened and both of them got off the train. Behind them they could hear somebody say, “Seriously, get out and use the goddamn bathroom.”
“I have to get to Queens. I’ll make it.”
The doors closed behind Taco and Betty, and they watched while the place they’d called home for over 500 years lurched out of their view. They huddled together and walked up the steps, into the blinding sunshine.