The You Train
By N.K. Jemisin
3 December 2007
Hey, girl. Yeah, I know; I'm sorry. Just haven't been feeling all that social lately. How are you? That's good, that's good. How's the little mister? Oh, that's hilarious. That boy's a mess. Me? Well, you know.
Hey. Did you know the B train doesn't run at night?
I found out a couple of weekends ago. I was coming home from a date, one of those Fun dot com deals, Friday night at about eleven. Not so fun after all, kind of boring really. Anyway, I was standing there on the platform, might've been 34th Street, and the place was dead empty. I think I saw a homeless dude on the other platform, but that was it. The sign said the train ran weekdays. Right, me too, Monday through Friday, right? No, it means weekdays. After nine o'clock it's like Cinderella after the ball. I know, huh?
So anyway, there I was waiting. An F train came and I ignored it. Doesn't go to my stop. Then a D. Then a V. It was so quiet in there between trains, I could hear my own heart beat. I don't like being in there when it's that empty, sometimes it's not safe, but you know, a cab would've cost thirty dollars and I don't get paid 'til next week. But finally someone comes in, this woman, and she looks at me like I'm crazy and tells me the B doesn't run at night. Like I should've known from that sign. Weekdays. Whatever.
You ever look down the tunnels when you're waiting? Sometimes you can see trains moving around in there, passing by on their way to other stations or heading for other platforms. You can't really see much besides the sign, just that glowing colored circle with a letter or a number at the center, floating in the dark like a beady little eye. Sometimes it feels like the trains are curled up in burrows down there. They come out into the light when people gather on the platform and call out to them in just the right way . . .
Okay, Ms. Thing. I'll be sure to heckle you at the next open mic night.
But y'know, I could've sworn I saw a B on one of them.
Yeah, girl, rough day. There was this meeting at work. Everybody in my office wants to get their two cents in, make themselves look good, right? I just want the meeting over so I can get back to work. So they're going 'round and 'round, everybody trying to outdo everybody else with cool ideas, and nothing's getting done. So I finally clear my throat and suggest maybe we should move on to the next agenda item.
They looked at me like I was shit on the bottom of their shoes, girl. One of them, this prissy blonde from Marketing, she says, "If you don't want to be a part of the team, at least don't ruin it for the rest of us." Right there, in front of everybody. I didn't say a word for the rest of the meeting. I couldn't think of anything to say. I felt like . . . hell, I don't know. Like kicking her ass. Like crying. It was the most . . . I hate these people.
And you know what? When the meeting ended, still nothing had been done. Three hours wasted. I swear.
Then on the way home, I got off at the wrong stop, one of those endless Something-th Street stations above Columbus Circle, can't remember which, there's so many, anyway. I was on the platform forever waiting for the 1. I was worried because a lot of those stops, they get skipped during rush hour, and I couldn't find a map. Finally the train came along, and I was about to step in when I realized there was nobody on it. Middle of rush hour, every seat empty. So I looked up to see if there was an "out of service" sign, and I saw it was the 9, not the 1. So then I—
I said the 9.
Yes, I'm sure it was the 9.
Really? Oh, yeah, I remember reading something about that one getting shut down. But I'm pretty sure it was a 9. Maybe they break them out of mothballs during rush hour, I don't know. Maybe the conductor just rolled up an old sign. Anyway, I didn't get on it, but that meant I had to sit another half hour before a 1 finally came along. Pain in the ass, and for what? Nothing got done.
Yeah, I quit Dull Date dot com. The only people who were emailing me lately were these old guys having midlife crises, looking for somebody to make their ex-wives jealous. And too many of the guys my age have problems. I never did tell you about the last date, did I? He kept talking about his ex-girlfriend, and how she only broke up with him because she was going through a hard time. Then he started crying.
No, I didn't leave. He wasn't an ass about it; he was just lonely and needed somebody to talk to, so I let him talk. Hell, I know how he feels.
I can't say if I'm over Nick yet. I don't miss him anymore. Nick the Dick, I'd've killed him if I'd married him, you know that. But . . . sometimes I wonder if that was my one chance, you know? Maybe you're not supposed to squander love when it comes along, even if he's a dick. Maybe I should've tried . . .
Okay, okay, I know, right, okay, I said you could slap me.
Damnedest thing happened on the way home, though. Did you know there's a P train? Yeah, I never heard of it, either. I saw it blow through on the express track. I tried to see by the side-signs where it was going, but it was too fast. I didn't see anybody in it. Maybe it runs in some boondocky part of the city, like Queens.
Shut up, I know you're from there.
I was feeling really bad today, girl.
Gray days do a number on me. That's when I wake up and really notice that empty spot in the bed beside me. Days like that are going-through-the-motions days. I get up and get ready for work and go off to a boring job with people I hate, and then in the evenings I come home. The trains are always crowded. A million people packed together like sardines, and no one talks to anyone else. No one looks at anyone else.
Gray days are days when I feel, more than any other, like I don't belong here.
There was a T train waiting at the platform this morning. Did you see it? No, I never heard of the T either. Maybe it's new.
The doors were open when I first stepped onto the platform, but when other people showed up, the doors closed and the train left. I wonder where it went?
Sometimes I wonder if I'm strong enough for this city.
Well, because I'm nice. I mean, too nice. Like, the other day, I took my clothes to this laundromat in my neighborhood for drop-off service. Damn, I miss having a washer and dryer in the house. I know! Next time I move. So this place, I dropped off my clothes and when I went back, half my shit was stained red. The woman apologized but then tried to tell me it was my fault for giving her a red shirt that wasn't colorfast. It was colorfast, at least when you wash it in cold with other dark-colored stuff, but all the stuff that had been messed up was light-colored—a beige sweater, a white t-shirt. So they must've put the shirt in with the whites. And that's my fault?
But I didn't say anything. I just walked off and started looking for another laundromat.
Would a real New Yorker have done that? I should've pitched a fit. I should've demanded my money back, at least, or compensation for the damaged stuff. I should've threatened to sue. But I didn't say anything. I've been chewing on that for weeks, trying to figure out why I didn't.
But it's not just that. My co-workers. My ex. My building super. I've been after him for six weeks to get that crack in my ceiling fixed. Maybe if I was more of a bitch, he'd come.
Am I weak? Can people smell that? Maybe I'm not meant for big-city life. Maybe I should've stayed back in that dinky little town, instead of running up here after I broke up with Nick . . .
Thanks, girl. You don't know how it helps to hear that. I wish I could save up this stuff, and replay it in my head whenever I start to wonder. I wonder all the time these days.
So it was the K, today.
It didn't come out of the tunnel, actually. I was at 57th, on my way home from work. I looked down the N tunnel and there was a K there. Just sitting there, maybe fifty feet in. It must've been on a side-track, because when the N came and went, the K was gone.
I looked it up this time. The K stopped running in '88. Not that it ever ran on this line at all.
I think it was checking me out, y'know?
Yeah. That's what I think.
In fact, I think they're all checking me out. All the defunct lines, the dead lines. I think they never really go away. I mean, every day somewhere, somebody slips up and says, "Take the 1/9" when they should just say the 1, or they say the T when they mean the V, or whatever. Too many people look into those empty tunnels and expect to see something where nothing is. And the trains, maybe they hear all that. Maybe they think they're still needed. So maybe they stick around, waiting to be called.
It probably doesn't take much. Just one person, really, wanting badly enough to go . . . hell, wherever it is they go. I wonder if . . .
Why shouldn't I say things like that? I kind of want to know, you know? Where they go. Wouldn't you?
Okay, okay. I won't say it anymore. I'm sorry.
I'm probably hallucinating this shit anyway. Carbon monoxide or rat poison or something, all kinds of crap down there. Maybe I'm allergic and this is, I dunno, anaphylactic bullshit, as opposed to garden-variety bullshit, ha ha ha. You're the only person I know who would take me seriously when I say things like this. That's why I love you, girl.
Thanks for listening, though. Really. I don't know what I'd do without you.
Would you ever tell me if I got on your nerves?
It's not crazy. You're married, you've got a baby and another on the way. You're always busy. You've got a life.
I know. I know you'll always be my friend. But . . . I can't call you when I want to go somewhere on a Friday night. You'd have to find a sitter, call your husband, rearrange your whole life. You can't come over when I'm bored and lonely and just want somebody to sit around and watch TV with. I mean, I can call you, I know, but I'm always worried the phone will wake up everybody in your house.
Sometimes I need more from you than you can give, y'know? I know that. I try not to impose, even though . . . even though you're all I've . . . I don't mean to impose.
So just tell me, okay? If I ever get on your nerves. Just say you'll tell me if I do. It's okay, really. I'll understand.
Hey, girl! Long time no speak. What's up?
I'm fine. No, really. I'm sorry I worried you. I know, I was kind of talking crazy. I kind of felt crazy. But I'm fine now.
Oh, yeah, so I took the U after work one night.
No, there was never a U. I mean, I saw it, a big black letter on a plain white circle, kind of like an eye, but it's not a real line. It's one of the spares, in case they need to create a new line sometime, like X and Y. It's a line that never was. But I saw it that day, peeking out at me from the tunnel. Checking me out. I don't know how it heard me, the subways are so loud, but I just whispered, "Well, come on, then." And it rolled right in.
There was no conductor. All the seats were wide open, shiny and clean. So I got on it. I rode all the way to the end of the line.
Oh, girl, I'm sorry, my cell barely gets any signal out here. Can you hear me? If we get cut off, I'll call you back later. I just wanted you to know I was all right. And, y'know, you can visit me anytime you want, okay?
Because I know you hate it sometimes, the routine. Giving up your dreams, or at least postponing them, to have kids. It was so stupid of me to assume that just because you had a family that everything was perfect for you. I understand that now. I'm sorry for making you put up with all my shit. You've been such a good friend.
So I want to return the favor. Sometimes all you need to do is take a chance, you know, try something new. Close your eyes and take a step forward, then look around to see where you are.
If you take that step, you'll find me. Doesn't matter where, really. Even if you end up in a bad place, I'll find you. I got your back. Didn't you know that already? Ha ha ha.
Catch me up about the new baby sometime. I've got so much to tell you, too.
Gotta go, sorry. I'll catch you later, okay?