I met a woman on the platform, handbag pressed tight
To her chest like it might protect her. She kept her distance,
And I’m not one to converse uninvited with the damned,
Even when we share a fate. “Long day,” she sighed first,
And I replied, “Long day.” (Or was it the echo of a third
Woman’s voice, already chewed up, spewed out and dead?)
The evening air was a jaw locked on my bones. “It’s cold,”
I told her. She tapped her black-patent feet; an anxious dance,
An invocation of heat. “It’s always warmer inside,” she lied,
And kept her nose pointed at the brick arch to our right.
“Heading home?” (I’d decided to bear her falsehoods, the way
She clenched that bag, the way I haul the knowledge of dying.)
“Not yet.” An exhalation; a regret. I recognized the impatient
Ache time creates as it flays each day from unsleeping night.
I wondered how long she’d languished in the belly of this
Westbound rail-beast, how much of her soul had dissolved
Into ragged seats and gum-defiled steel floors, if she used
The shattered rib that guarded her racing childhood heart
To carve her name in the yellowing walls. How deep did it cut?
How profoundly did she feel the casual rattle and shake
Of her identity digested whole? How often did she glance
At her phone, imagining hope in a host of unanswered calls?
“You ever feel like you’re being eaten alive?” I asked, and
For this, she granted me a stare, straight as filed teeth.
“It’s just a train.” She turned away, and soon our beast arrived,
Growling, gusting, golden-eyed, hungry as a city night.
(Editors’ Note: “Tuesday, Late Commute” is read by Matt Peters on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast, Episode 47A.)
© 2022 Sarah Grey