Charlie boards the train. She does not know where she is going. To exit the cavern of the subway requires exiting the car of the train, which can only be accomplished by escaping the catacombs of her mind.
She slumps on her bookbag. Tunnel lights strobe-light past, and at each flash Charlie winces. To although with haste, she is thinking. To be the contrarian instead of the pacifist. What does that require?
The Central Street train’s passengers are sparse today. Across from Charlie are three empty seats, and beside those empty seats are more empty seats. She thinks she saw a mother and two kids at the car’s beginning. Where is the father? Busy at work? No. More likely he wasn’t in the mood to watch the kids, so he pawned off another job to his wife, feigning gratitude, and she, lovingly obliged to her husband, never thought to protest. Never thought what she wanted.
The train passes a few stops. People board, people exit. Charlie realizes she cannot stay in this ennui forever. Not even if she wanted to. But how to remember? Rage remembers.
In rage she could remember his wrinkled brow, mirth leaking from his cheeks as his curled lips uttered “That won’t be necessary.” He skirted through the door she held open for him, his friends already seated in the car. She only had time to say “Okay, have fun tonight.” He was in good spirits that day. But many lonely nights prior she stood by his side, taking in his sadness and emptying her spirits to fill his soul. She was his Dasani bottle. Pristine at first, reused for years for various drinks, never washed, accumulating pulp and sludge, the plastic crumpled, and only used when necessary.
But when sunbeams inevitably cleansed her, she’d wave to him in passing, her mind still trained in the habit of politeness.
What would have happened if she had acted differently? In the first place, that would require her physio-psycho-framework be entirely different. From birth she would need to be constructed with cells of bravery, not timidity. Her fingers would need to be longer, her pointer finger jagged like a knife to add emphasis to her “No.” She would be 1 ft and 1 in taller, so her weight would distribute evenly on her hips, instead of guys telling her she was a lop-sided cupcake. When she spoke her voice would echo, would shove the chest of listeners, so they would know to stand back and pay attention. As it was currently, he talked over her frequently.
She would need thicker hair to impress other women and boost her ego. She would need confidence in her bones, so her body type wouldn’t matter; what would matter was bringing her body wherever she wanted and using it to do whatever she wanted. Had she had these things, things would have been different. But just what would the different be? “No, I’m coming with you,” Charlie could have said. But then he would have made fun of her. He’d call her that word she didn’t like, that all men used as a hose to put women in order.
The train slows to a stop she does not know, so she disembarks. Charlie exits the station, crosses a roofed bridge, descends some stairs, and arrives at a dock. She walks to the edge of the planks and sits, lets her legs dangle. To her left and right are boats of various shapes and sizes. They bobbed peacefully atop the water. The green water. What dirt, seaweed, or life shuttled around in the depths? Charlie could only imagine. In the distance is a jet ski which leaves ripples that travel all the way to her. She’d like to be as free as that jet ski.
What will she do about this listlessness? Optimism had yet to return to her. Perhaps she could dive in for a swim; exercise this ennui away. Or maybe. Journaling could help, though she’d have to fetch a used math or science notebook out her bag; that should suffice, but what if she forgot to tear out the page and she went to class the next day to have a classmate invade her thoughts? Even her dorm-mate could raid her belongings in search of math notes and discover deeply personal words.
So she dares to voice her problems aloud. To herself on this serene dock amid solemn emotions she gives each of her demons form so she can crush them. Her voice rises and falls and ends each sentence with the cut of a dagger. Why should he and other men and women and old ladies accost her, criticize her, ostracize her, knowing she’s generally obedient? Why be obedient? Be the contrarian, she says to herself. Start scuffles for no reason, just to prove dominance. At every opportunity, say “I’d agree with you, BUT…” Especially to him. Embarrass him in front of his friends. Let them see the marshmallow hide you’ve nursed back to health. Let them see HIS tears and flailing arms as he squeals and scampers back to the barn, snorting. Charlie would say, “I used to love him, although he’s quite a pig.”