Thursday, June 23, 2016

Red Line Prompt

This evening I asked my friend, the artist formerly known as the Sasquatch (and now known as Model Citizen Press), for a writing prompt. I have so many stalled stories piled up at home, it can be overwhelming, so I figured something fresh would be good. Mr. Model Citizen Press pondered and gave me the following words: sandals, manhole, and shopping bag (plastic or paper). I decided to do this as a roughly 45-minute writing sprint (in the spirit of Jane Espenson's Twitter-announced anyone-can-join sprints), and this is what I put together.

Be kind. Fiction is not my gift.

For my friends in DC: don't be offended. We've all had these days. Especially when it's 95 degrees outside and you're stuck on a train with the entire population of the world and all you want is to be a million miles away.

(Oh, and if you don't like profanity, fair warning!)


Red Line

Jen hated Metro. She hated Metro with every fiber of her being. She hated the delays. She hated the overcrowded trains, the single-tracking, the fires, the smoke, the assholes who ate whole meals on board and left the remnants on their seats, the guys who manspread, and the women who take up an extra seat for their precious shopping bags. She hated peak fares and broken escalators and the Red Line in particular.

Today Jen's Metro rage was fueled by the girl behind her who had propped her feet up on the top of Jen's seat, trapping her hair under a dirty-sandaled foot. She counted to ten, and then counted to ten again. She put her hand behind her head to try to free her hair, but she couldn't get the foot to budge. Jen knew the girl had headphones on since she could hear Taylor Swift dumping another boyfriend and throwing popstar shade at muffled high volume.

"Fuck you, Taylor," Jen muttered. "Fuck you and your whole squad."

The girl got off at Tenleytown. Jen pulled her hair into a scrunchie and sighed. The train disgorged a flow of commuters and students, and a new horde teemed inside. A nearly tangible wave of humidity and B.O. poured on board with them. Jesus. Not even 8:30 and some sorry bastard already smells like a corpse in Hell. That'll be a fun workday.

She scanned the crowd, observing women in summer dresses, men in rolled shirtsleeves, and other men in suits. Who could wear a suit on a day like today? 95 degrees outside. No mercy. The smelly dude has to be one of the suit guys. 

Between each station, the train would stop in the tunnel, lights flickering. Jen closed her eyes and heard the rapid rush of a northbound train, dank air whooshing in through cracks in the doors and windows. No one spoke. Everyone just waited in the dark, each in their own thoughts, their own Metro rage, their own to-do list:

Number One: get the fuck off this train.
Number Two: get the fuck off this train.

Farragut North was just a couple of stops ahead. Jen just needed to hang on to there and then it was a short walk to work. Past the coffee shop, past the CVS, past the alcove that always stank of urine, past the same homeless man who always said "Good morning, beautiful!" to every woman who passed by. Past the hotel where visiting politicians bedded expensive whores, up the block by the Indian carryout and over to her office. By then, the Metro rage would be gone, to be replaced by a quiet work rage as she tapped at a keyboard all day, making small talk with people she barely knew.

I hate my life.

She wanted to be an artist. She wanted to make art, be creative, and still be able to afford groceries.  She was hot, she was sweaty, she was miserable, and she wanted to leave the city. She wanted out now. Gone, gone, gonzo, gone. Out of here, making art. Right fucking now.

In that moment, in the unmoving dark, in a hot tunnel north of Dupont Circle, Jen had an epiphany: today would be her last day at the officeher last day on Metro, her last day in the city. Screw you, DC. She had enough cash in her account to get out of town. She didn't have much stuff to pack. No plants, no pets, no boyfriend. Why the hell not?

The train started up, jarring everyone on board. As it pulled into Dupont, the lights flashed. "This train is out of service." A chorus of swearing, muttering misery filled the car and everyone filed out, resigned to another Metro issue. Jen pulled her messenger bag across her shoulder and exited with the rest of the throng. For once, she didn't care. She was leaving. She was done.

Jen pushed through the packed platform to the escalator. She'd walk to her last day. What's ten minutes late matter if you're quitting on the spot?

She blinked in the sunlight as she climbed to the surface. A middle-aged man played "Tears in Heaven" on a guitar at the top of the escalator. Jen filled her lungs with city air. Last day, breathe it in. The air was a little... acrid.

She stepped into the crosswalk, headed toward Mass Ave, and the ground erupted beneath her feet. Jen flew 20 feet, 30 feet above the city. "Ass over teakettle," her mom would have said. Flames rose up behind her like rocket fuel in her wake.

She never saw the manhole cover below her, propelling her skyward. Oh, fucking DC. Jen thought her last thought.

"Goddamn exploding manholes." The forensic tech lifted a corner of the white sheet and frowned at the broken form underneath. "When the fuck are they gonna get this shit fixed, huh?" The cop next to him shrugged and looked down into Jen's lifeless eyes, frozen in her moment of surprise.

"Jesus, what a mess."

"Yep," the tech nodded his head pulling the sheet back over Jen's face. "Like goddamn abstract art. Goddamn masterpiece."

"Fuckin' DC."

FYI: exploding manholes is an actual thing in DC. For realz.