I read a book and tried to forget that I was late, and hot in my winter coat, and annoyed that no one had thought to offer a seat to the older woman to my left, her arms laden with groceries.
We came to the end of the bridge, descending underground with wheels screaming. As we slowed, the crowd at the station ahead came into view, waiting with necks craned. I returned to my book, my eyelids suddenly heavy.
“Miss,” someone said from across the car. A man with silver hair, stooped under the weight of a duffel bag, was waving at me. “Miss, we’re at Essex Street—the doors open on your side of the train at this stop.”
I was still leaning on the door in a way that must have looked precarious. I stepped forward.
“I didn’t want you to fall,” the man called. “I wasn’t sure if you knew.”
I thanked him. I did know, but I was grateful.
A few days earlier, I stopped by Emily’s apartment late in the afternoon. We sat at her kitchen table and stared at the wall, where she’d taped new artwork in black and gold. Dust from crayons had gathered in the moldings and collected on the surrounding surfaces. Emily ran a sponge over the marble tabletop three or four times until the gray disappeared.
The last time we’d seen each other was at an art show earlier that month, a chaotic event we’d attended last minute. Although we were surrounded by people in a roomful of color, we barely moved. We spent most of our time parked by the entrance, next to a large pole covered in spikes. Before leaving, I told Emily about my year so far, which has been full of wonderful surprises, but many uncertainties, too. My heart felt heavy that night—but, I said, the experiences I’ve had in the past have made me better equipped to meet new ones. My senses feel more finely tuned to recognize the reminders—both big and small—that I’m safe.
I stayed at Emily’s until the sun went down. As the room dimmed, she took photos, instructing me not to move as the light faded further. She focused and unfocused. I remained still in my seat and my mind wandered. When I came to, it was as if I’d left the room. The camera snapped. I’m still here, I thought. Here in this chair; here in this kitchen; here with a friend.
The room was dark. “I can’t see you,” I said to Emily, who’d turned to shadow. Outside, riotous birds settled in the trees below the windows.
“I’m still here,” she said.