by Fraylie Nord
It wasn’t rush hour, so there were no excuses. Just the masking odor of cherry soda and Lysol. That’s what happens when there’s a whole fish taking up a three-seater. Somebody found a party hat, took a picture, made it viral.
The ventilation system had undone itself with a groan. Everyone could still smell the fish smell. A man in pleated khakis pressed his knees into my knees, and I wanted it for no other reason than it was good to be touched.
I knew I was missing the staff meeting, but who cared. Today was the day I’d quit my job. I had a ticket to some documentary about black holes, 7 PM, but I’d ditch. I wanted a night in the tub. Windows open so the neighbor’s kids could see. So the sitter could screech. Those beeswax candles with their film of dust. I typed an apology email on my phone, clicked the screen to nothing.
The train was stalled somewhere under Chinatown. You could tell the conductor was trying to inform us about signal problems, about sick passengers, about an army of rats, but the intercom came through like stone on gravel. I had my head against the window. My elbow hiked up on the plastic ridge. There was the inscription Chelsea loves Mario (sometimes). Nobody, least of all the lovers, knew how to do it right.
Beside me were these two little kids, a boy and a girl, the boy in dungarees and the girl in a foam crown, the sort you discover stuffed in trash bins outside Great New York City Monuments.
‘Are you a princess?’ asked a woman, standing over them.
‘No mom, I’m a queen!’
The woman nodded and turned to the boy. ‘And what does that make you?’
The boy put his palms in his lap and looked at her. ‘I’m just a regular guy going to work,’ he said.
So the boy goes to work and gets a promotion. He has stolen the crown and has convinced his boss that he is King. King of fluorescents, King of the masthead, he stands on a stack of paper and gets tall. So tall that he’s knocking on the ceiling like a door.
He calls a meeting. He calls a meeting and says this is his ship now. And everybody says yes, yes, you look like the kind of King we need. So tall and Kingly like you’ve escaped from a giant’s deck of cards. Thank you, thank you. But you smell like a fish, to which he says yes, that is the true sign of the King I’d like to be. I am a King of hard-to-like things.
And then everybody claps in this way that’s believable, that’s real, so real that the floor shakes and the papers start to shift. He bows, clumsily, but nobody notices his arm doing this violent twitch. He bares the gaps in his teeth. He is King, and I am underground on my way to the tub, lights dimmed. I can see the face of a new man hovering over me, blank and round like the head of an eraser. The train moves slowly, and this time there’s a snake. It’s the length of the car, and nobody knows where it came from. It’s got diamonds on its back. It’s slithering around a pole now. The snake will be famous. No, the snake will be click-bait. That snake has it better than the rest of us.
Above me, the guy is pointing to his open mouth. A kind of origin story. It is a mouth I did not know he possessed until it was a cavern, so I make a fist and place it inside.
– Fraylie Nord is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Tin House Flash Fridays, Volume 1 Brooklyn, The Billfold and elsewhere.