Children under 44 inches ride free.
I. You admired the pile of tokens that sat on the kitchen counter. As the weeks passed the pile diminished; it was replenished at the beginning of each new month. Your father took two each day and tucked them into the small square pocket of his jeans, the one that seemed designed solely for that purpose. You pressed the tokens’ surfaces so hard that the small hexagon in the center imprinted on the pads of your fingers.
II. You placed a token on your tongue like a Communion wafer. You sucked hard and enjoyed the metal taste. When your mother caught you at it you got a smack. You learned to be careful.
III. Your legs stuck straight out in front of you on the orange seat when you rode with your mother to get groceries or visit your grandmother. You chewed the strings of your hood and breathed fog against the plastic window where names had been scratched into the pane. You gazed past the graffitied Glorias and Angels and people who called themselves things that weren’t in the Bible or the Baby Name Book, out to the darkness and the tile of the tunnel walls that you knew were beyond.
IV. Five shots were fired in the seventh car of the 2 train, injuring three, paralyzing one and dividing the city. It rarely comes up in conversation anymore, and when it does most people you talk to have forgotten that they once had an opinion about Bernie Goetz.
V. The day that you were old enough to put a token into the slot and push the turnstile bar all by yourself you felt like a Queen.
I. In sixth grade your friend Eugenia learned that you could slip a washer into the token slot and pass through the turnstile for free. With subway fares so dramatically decreased you could now go anywhere. When you saw that the Transit Museum had a small plaque that made mention of this phenomenon you would feel that you and Eugenia had etched yourselves into history and wonder what she was up to now.
II. School trips, Girl Scout outings, day camp excursions: all transportation to and from group events was provided by the MTA. Somehow you never got lost, except that one time on the way to the Bronx Zoo when it almost happened, but didn’t. When you see a pack of kids climb on board you scan their faces for ones you might recognize, forgetting that everyone is older now.
III. As young teens you sat in each other’s laps and believed that nobody could smell the marijuana smoke that clung to your clothing. Everything was tangled limbs and too much skin and pheromones. Forearms, wrists and slender fingers; thighs, calves and ankles. Somebody was always playing a guitar.
IV. You took the train to a million experiences you thought were uniquely yours: pool halls in Bensonhurst, loft parties in Long Island City, ska clubs in the Meatpacking District, midnight screenings of Rocky Horror at the Village East. You rode home as dawn broke with the people on the early shift and those who had no place else to go, your head lolling against the shoulders of your friends and thought you were an adult.
V. At fifteen you were alone in a subway car with your first boyfriend. You blush and change the subject whenever people start telling stories about losing their virginity.
We apologize for the delay.
I. You could situate yourself to get a seat during rush hour and learned how to nap in spurts so that you never overslept your station. You were on a first-name basis with Dr. Zizmor and wondered if his advertisements ever gained him any patients. You knew the kids who boarded weren’t really selling candy for their basketball teams and, after watching four cops gang up to issue a summons to a pair of young boys with low-slung pants and an entrepreneurial spirit, you intentionally overpaid for a pack of fruit snacks that you didn’t want.
II. You rode to terminal stops. The R went to Bay Ridge for Gregor’s mother’s funeral; you held his hand as you watched him cry for the first time. Together you took the 4 to Woodlawn to volunteer at Montefiore, holding babies in the NICU. Then the 7 to Flushing for the best dim sum of your life, passing steamed dumplings from your chopsticks into to his waiting mouth. You rode the 6 to Brooklyn Bridge to walk across on warm spring days. You went home.
III. When the Redbirds went out of service they floated on barges under the GWB toward New Jersey, Virginia and Delaware. They were sunk into the ocean to replace eroded sea beds and coral reefs. Sleek fish swim through the open windows and your mind.
IV. Sometimes after you’d married you would fight with Gregor and leave the house. He thought you were escaping to a friend’s to drink Cabernet and eat Camembert and talk about him behind his back. In actuality you were riding express trains until it was late enough that you knew he would be asleep. Once an old lady in Brighton Beach offered you a butterscotch and whispered in your ear that he wasn’t worth it, even though you had never said what had happened, hadn’t even said a word.
V. You were on your way. You honestly believed that you could go anywhere.
This train will be running over a different line.
I. You happily took local trains for the first few weeks of each of your pregnancies so that, if the need arose, you could jump off and vomit into one of the giant trashcans on the platform. You lost your first child on the F train and your second on the 3. The dry cleaners couldn’t get out the stains no matter how often you went back.
II. You watched the world change from below. Entire lines disappeared. Others materialized overnight. Newcomers never raised an eyebrow at the W or the V. Everyone seemed to have forgotten that the D and the B lines used to be called by each other’s names in Brooklyn.
III. You were there on the day that man jumped. At first you thought the feeling of being punched in your stomach was from shock. You didn’t realize for a few seconds that you had been struck by a piece of the man that had been severed on impact and boomeranged back to the platform. It was his hand that hit you in the gut.
IV. You rode to fertility specialists and acupuncturists and nutritionists. Your girlfriend once talked you into riding to a psychic in the West Village who promised things that you knew weren’t going to happen. After a few years you rode to Legal Aid and agreed not to squabble over his pension if he would agree to pay half of the medical bills. You rode to your new apartment. It didn’t feel like home.
V. You took the A train to JFK and boarded a flight going one-way. When you got to your destination you learned how to drive and, at thirty-seven, you bought your first car.
Mallory McMahon is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and educator. Her novel, Drift, Disappear, placed third in the International 3-Day Novel Contest (2013). Her work has also been short-listed by The Masters Review (2014) and has appeared in theNewerYork. She is an MFA candidate in Fiction at The New School.