The train hugged the curve. Sitting in the second to last car, the centrifugal force created the illusion it was going to tip over and fall into the storefronts below reminiscent of a scene in “King Kong,” in which, driven by an existential angst, the great ape wrought havoc on the El and tore it from its track.
“Orry or the onvenience, ‘ell e oving omentarily,” MTA Axis Sally said over the speaker system, which crackled and hissed and drew the ire from everyone as the train ground to a halt two feet from the station.
The Scowling Man
The Scowling Man rubbed the rest of his cocaine across his gums, and when he finished, touched the handle of the nickel plated .22 he had shoved in the waistline of his pants. He had been alternating between drinking whiskey and doing lines for the last thirty hours straight in a futile attempt to find perfect equilibrium.
It had been one of the great philosophical debates throughout history.
Though it may not have been conceived with regards to abusing narcotics, the concept of perfect balance and harmony, people had spent their lives devoted to this achievement. Confucius spoke of “The Doctrine of the Mean,” Aristotle had “The Golden Mean.” And now, The Scowling Man sought to perfect this application for euphoria. Some would suggest this pursuit already existed in the phrase “Chasing the Dragon,” but that metaphor had been co-opted from a more literal action in which an inhalant was constantly shifted within a container so the liquid wouldn’t coalesce; this allowed for the smoke to remain manageable.
After watching “The Hitcher,” a film in which the protagonist is terrorized by a hitchhiker for no reason, The Scowling Man wondered whether it would be plausible and somehow satisfying to replicate. He’d been sitting on the N train for hours waiting for the moment to arrive. He conjured scenes in which he produces the gun on a packed car, people trampling each other displaying vile acts of self-preservation as he unloaded a full clip, all the while singing the lyrics to the Mission of Burma song “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver.”
Once I had my heroes
And once I had my dreams.
But all of that is changed now.
They’ve turned things inside out.
The truth is not that comfortable no!
He touched the barrel of the weapon, gripped it like a phallus numerous times throughout the day, always while staring at someone; he realized it was strangely enjoyable. The piece was cold when he first set it in the waistband. Since then it’s warmed up; now it felt like an extension.
He just needed a sign.
The Scowling Man caressed the handle of the weapon again, felt the kinetic energy lurking throughout the metal; the jacketed slugs in the chambers ready to run at supersonic speeds.
The door leading to the next car opened and a kid wearing ragged clothes, ill-fitting, and ill-equipped for the weather, strummed a beaten up acoustic guitar. He waddled toward the middle of the car and addressed the crowd. No one paid him any attention, and soon they were inundated with an off-key rendition of “The Sound of Silence.”
The kid had scabs across his knuckles like braille, fingernails yellowed around the edges, and a beard bordering on Hasidic. Playing the guitar with his eyes shut, he swayed back and forth in rhythm while the passengers tried and failed to avoid imagining larvae in stages of incubation encrusted on this soiled relic.
Once finished, he passed the hat around; no one contributed. He walked to the other end of the train. Written in magic marker on the face of the guitar, to mimic Woody Guthrie’s preferred ax, was “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Wear and tear, neglect, and smudging has erased some of the letters to form a slogan more befitting the current owner.
The Scowling Man
The Scowling man stared at The Troubadour and wondered if this was the moment. There was something about the kid, something he wanted to obliterate. The Scowling Man imagined himself lifting the weapon from the elastic band, cocking the hammer, the manic look of desperation on the kid’s face, the sheer panic and anger at the unknown. Would he scatter like a roach or, like a cornered animal, would he reveal himself to be more than capable defending himself? The Scowling Man anticipated squeezing the trigger; lashing out against the world by doing something wholly unforgivable.
And Mother taught us patience
The virtues of restraint
And Father taught us boundaries
Beyond which we must go
To find the secrets promised us, yeah!
Then, he looked out the window across the platform and saw the words.
At first, he wondered whether he had overdosed. Worse, maybe this train car was a level of Hell Dante never saw during his voyage. Or, perhaps Satan updated the circles to keep things interesting; the circle in which one was inundated with a dissonant version of a folk staple sung by a bum soured on too much wine and pharmaceuticals.
Written on the wall above the staircase was the graffiti “Words of the Prophets.”
The Troubadour heard the laughter on the near-silent train and stared at the man with the perpetual scowl. The man’s right hand was shoved down the front of his pants. It figured; The Troubadour had seen everything imaginable since he’d been busking. He locked eyes with the man, but only for a moment. Just another pervert.
The train lurched forward, and inertia shifted everyone to one hundred-ten degree angles.
The doors opened, and The Troubadour walked on to the platform.
“tand lear of e losing oors ease.”
The train pulled out toward the next station.
“That’s when I reach for my revolver.”
“That’s when it all gets blown away!”
Maybe on the next round, The Troubadour thought, he’d play some Mission of Burma.
Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. Currently, he teaches in Virginia. His work can be read in Bartleby Snopes, Necessary Fiction, The South Dakota Review, and FLAPPERHOUSE among others. His website: asdavie.wordpress.com