His eyes are wide open, but years later he will swear he can see nothing.
The subway station is the same color of gray as it was yesterday. It matches the sky, heavy with rain. It rained yesterday, too, he observes.
His smart black shoes clip, clop down the steps just the same as yesterday. He almost slips on the last step, but he catches himself, and continues underground to the train, making sure not to disrupt the flow of faceless commuters. It must had been the rain from yesterday. Interesting.
The subway car is too orange. The gaudy plastic hurts his eyes after the darkness of the station, but it doesn’t bother him like it used to. He shuffles into the car and finds a place, keeping eye contact with his shoes. The train rumbles onwards.
It’s chilly. He slides his hand into his coat pockets, but finds nothing in the right. In the left, he finds only a single quarter. He takes it out and examines it in the fluorescent light.
It’s from California. A tiny man with a large shiny beard gazes over the mountains and valleys of Yosemite. He’s never been, but he’s always wanted to. Maybe one day. He’d have to save up for a few months, work overtime, scrimp a little. Cut back on the meals, maybe. But it would be worth it. Sweet summer sunshine, flowery breezes, and the thrill of the hike. Paradise. A small – no, not small, cozy cabin. Warm tea. Fuzzy slippers.
The subway hits a turn, and he is jostled back to the subway car.
The coin has already skipped out and over his fingers before even he knows what it means. It twirls and glints in the air momentarily, a miniature silver dancer. It lands in his palm. Without thinking, he smacks his hand down over its shiny face, praying that he hadn’t seen it. He almost drops his briefcase in the process, and glances around anxiously to make sure he wasn’t seen. How childish.
Everyone in the car is still absorbed in their Blackberries, as usual.
Or they’re desperately trying to avoid eye contact with the strange man, palms clapped together, glancing around like a mad man. He curses himself silently. Why couldn’t he have a Blackberry to pretend to be interested in?
He lifts his head and rolls his shoulders self-consciously. He doesn’t release his hands. He quietly stares down at his clasped palms, and begins to speculate.
He would leave the city. Maybe it would be Yosemite, maybe it wouldn’t, but the only prerequisite is not here. Anywhere but here. Maybe he would book a last-minute airline ticket. Or maybe he wouldn’t get off; let the train take him where it wanted. He hasn’t done that before. He realizes he can’t recall the name of any stop but his own.
His eyes dart around the car quickly, once. He hates this subway.
Would he go home first? What would he bring? He makes a mental list. Toothbrush. Toothpaste. Clothes. For how long? Too many questions. Keep listing, he tells himself.
Sneakers. Flip flops. His guitar. He can’t remember what it looks like for a moment, only the velvety black skin of its case. Once upon a time it’s home had been the crook of his arm. Now, it lived in the corner of his kitchen, forgotten with the occasional glimpse. It was a high school fling. There was this one girl. She had loved his guitar. Of course, he hasn’t talked to her since. He hasn’t played it in years.
But maybe he would, he reasons to himself. It felt right.
The guitar would go with him.
What about his car? He had saved up a lot for his car, almost three years of babysitting when he was in high school. It was an old champagne sedan, bought used with only 400 miles. He remembers being so happy to finally pull it into his parents’ garage, finally with something of his own. Who wouldn’t be?
Thinking about his parents makes him cringe. He decides against the car.
Shampoo. Conditioner. Soap. Where would he live? An apartment, definitely. He has enough money to get him through a few months of rent. It wasn’t a lot. But it was enough. Would he get a roommate? It would help with the bills, he tells himself, but he knows he really just wants someone else around. Someone that was… not himself. His own company seems boring now.
A razor. His blanket. A pillow.
Stupid, he scolds himself. They’ll have pillows there.
He realizes he hasn’t answered his most important question.
Where was there?
Mexico? He doesn’t speak Spanish.
Florida? No, thanks.
Too far. Or maybe not far enough.
There could be anywhere, and suddenly the beauty of it dawns on him. It just meant not here.
He would need a new job, he tells himself. Or would he? He has enough money for a few months, at least. Maybe he would get a job. Or maybe he would just play guitar all day. That sounds nice.
He hopes his roommate won’t mind. Maybe his roommate would mind, and he would have to go to some dirty, echoey subway station to strum melodies in the tunnels for strangers. They could giggle at his squeaky voice and his out-of-tune chords, but he wouldn’t stop strumming. Maybe that’s how he would make rent for the first month: the sparse layer of tarnished quarters in his trusty black guitar case.
No, he thinks to himself. No, he would definitely need a job.
He laughs to himself, and it’s the uncontrollable giggle of a kid on a sugar high. A woman in too much lipstick glances up from her email and scoffs quietly, but he doesn’t notice.
He would leave the city, and slowly he realizes with a grin: he would never come back.
Maybe it isn’t comfortable. But it is living. He finds solace in this fact.
He would pretend like he had never even thought about leaving. Life was comfy. Leaving? Crazy, isn’t it? He tries to laugh to himself again, but the foreign, abnormally hearty sound that comes out scares him a little. He doesn’t recognize it.
He would adjust his tall, wide brimmed hat, and fix his rough wool tie. He would get off the train when his station was called, by the woman with the voice too pleasant and too happy, much too happy to be announcing train stations. He would walk down the stairs that he knew too well and greet the same faces with a smile too wide and a wave too quick.
He would sit at his cubicle, and start pecking away at his keyboard, returning the same emails as yesterday.
Maybe it isn’t living. But it’s what he knows.
The announcers’ voice, pleasant but somehow grating on his ears, enters the train car. “Highstone Station,” she says smugly. He looks around wildly. He’s passed his stop. His hands are still clasped tightly together, fingertips reddening with the effort, the coin inside burning a hole in his hand.
Maybe his decision’s already been made.
He releases his hands slightly, and while looking away, deliberately slides the quarter back into his pocket.
He doesn’t need to know. The train lurches into a slow start again, and continues to meander down the track.
He reaches an absentminded hand up to the wide, rough brim of his hat, still daydreaming. It’s bristly under his fingers, and he tugs at it. It’s a little too tight now, but it wasn’t when he bought it. The saleswoman said it suited him, but she might have just wanted him to buy it.
Now the edge digs into his forehead a little. He tugs at it.
When did it stop fitting? he wonders.
Maybe he would learn Spanish.