Mandy stood in line with a luxurious nine minutes to spare between the present and the time her train would arrive, 45 seconds from Café Red Eye by foot. Plenty of time to order, pee, and pick up her tea on the way out. When it was her turn, she impulsively asked for a soy latte and felt embarrassed, wasteful, and weak. She had to charge the five dollars and added one dollar tip.
On the train, she opened up Butchers Crossing and, before falling asleep just long enough to catch her cup, made it four pages deeper until the party became lost after leaving Smoky Hill Trail. She passed the rest of her time looking out the window, or at her phone, gazing at contemporary North Korean posters depicting an exciting barrage of intercontinental ballistic missiles encircling and exploding upon the United States.
When she arrived at Penn Station, she headed to the Long Island Railroad area, where the bathrooms were kept cleaner than the ones on the New Jersey Transit side (or so it had seemed to her at some point in the past). Truth be told they were unpleasant all over the station, and the infrared triggered faucets in whichever lavatory one chose worked only about 40% of the time. Today she tried three before finding water.
On the A train platform she walked past a woman she’d seen before, sometimes nude from the waist down. Today the woman’s bare legs pealed in the open air as if her obesity was bursting through the top layers of her skin. Mandy balanced the disgusting threshold of compassion and contempt as she walked by, comprehending a hitherto imperceptible uptown breeze on the platform by the sweet aroma of feces and fermentation lifted from this woman.
Mandy exhaled, withheld her breath and circled back. She stared at her phone some more and snuggled up to what she thought was a column but was in actuality, a woman wearing a coat close to the same color maroon. The woman moved away and Mandy admired her hairstyle, a fresh cut salt and pepper side part, somewhere between new wave and preppy.
The train was delayed and her transfer at 14th Street was complicated by a crosswise reshuffling of confused passengers between docked L trains. “This train next,” an authoritatively local voice called from an indefinite location, causing everyone to change cars twice before collectively settling in place on the hope they’d figured it out together.
Above ground in Brooklyn there was a high G whistle in the air which she took as a squealing break on the turning heavens, or the ghost of a 1960s civil defense alarm. This was interrupted by a quartet of reversing trucks in what sounded like a two-block radius, crossfaded with the shrill roll of metal grinding metal from a nearby shop and the overhead passing of a jet. It all gave way to a far away car alarm as Mandy passed the printers and took in a toxic huff of solvent under the forget-me-not sky.
Then, though covered by what Bennet referred to as her regular-person-parka, a sense of nakedness tickled up from her shoulder and she suddenly felt exposed.
Her bag. She did not have her bag. Where was it? When did she have it last? The train, the station, the subway — no, the switch. Her laptop, and her engagement ring, which she had brought in to have resized.