Stuck Between Stations
In a comfortable little Laundromat in the upper east side of Manhattan sat Adam Packer waiting for his clothes to dry. Antonio’s was a small family run business that was located only a half block down from Adam’s apartment on E 63rd Street and 2nd Avenue. It was a Sunday night and unusually barren for only being 10:00 pm. He had seen a couple of regulars and besides the exchange of uncomfortable hellos, spent most of his time sitting and listening to the monotonous drone of his own washing machine and now dryer. To conserve time he had decided to put all of his clothes in one load, but he had miscalculated that while yes it is faster to wash everything together, the dryer was now crammed and taking its sweet time.
He had been living in New York now for about three months and the transition from the Ohio Valley was still overwhelming. He had just graduated from the Ohio State University and had come out east to attend Columbia University for a graduate degree in economics. His strength in academics had always been with numbers. He was a tall and scraggly boy. He looked like a tooth pick with arms and legs. In high school the basketball coach had him come to tryouts thinking his height would give the team a good advantage. Both parties soon realized that his time was probably better suited with other activities.
His father was the CEO of a chain of grocery stores across the state of Ohio, and a very successful chain at that. So, it was no wonder that his parents wanted to send him to an expensive school out East. They were always throwing lavish get-togethers for their wealthy friends. Adam immediately was brought back to the smell of expensive merlot and Cuban cigars every time he thought about those nights.
He was never the child to disappoint his parents, unlike his older brother Josh, so once it was decided where he was going he packed his bags. At age 23, the reality of living alone in a big city like New York was quite a change. He had spent many repetitive nights in his second story apartment doing homework, watching television, and falling asleep not having said a word to anyone in hours. With literally no one he knew living or going to school in New York, his sense of a social life had become distorted. He dared not talk to anyone in his classes both for he was too shy and didn’t want to make an effort if it wasn’t reciprocated. Finding somebody to lend a hand in this dirty, and overcrowded city had proven a task not yet conquerable.
The buzzer of the dryer sounded and awoke Adam from a lull. He opened the door and checked his clothes. Finally they were dry. Hastily he stuffed his belongings in a laundry bag and broke for the door. It was time for a well-deserved sleep. Tomorrow was the beginning of the week and he had to make it up to the university in time for his 8:40 a.m. class.
“Good night sir!” the owner said from his back room office. He was a small stout man with a dark complexion. He sported a bushy Tom Selleck mustache and was always wearing a rabbit foot around his neck that he swore would someday win him the lottery. “Good night,” Adam said as he pushed open the doors to outside. The temperature had dropped considerably since he had first started his laundry, and he could now see steam coming from his mouth as he exhaled. The sidewalk was crowded, as usual, and as he took a left toward his apartment, he looked at the many taxicabs, buses, and cars that poured through the streets. It was a city that never slept and even though the commotion was endless, it soothed him at night while he was drifting.
He crossed the next block to where his apartment was located and could see the bakery beneath it. Upon his morning awakening, the smell of fresh baked doughnuts and gooey pastries filled his nostrils. His temptations were the worst at this time of day, but he knew if he were to succumb he’d end up broke and in need of a diet.
He pushed open the door to the complex and headed toward the elevator. The man at the front desk had already gone to bed and at this sight he felt disappointed. Donald had been a very welcoming soul since he had moved in. He was a middle-aged man with a short stature and a beer belly that had taken years to sculpt. He was in the latter stage of balding and had no hair on his face except for the strands that protruded out his ears and nose. He seemed to always be sitting at that desk ready to converse with anyone who walked by, and Adam always took pleasure in getting some small talk in with the man about sports or world politics. Tonight he was alone.
Adam lived in a sizeable one bed one bath. It was more space than he needed probably. Two pullout couches sat in the living room in front of a jet-black HD television provided so kindly by his parents. Most of the stuff he owned was. The pullouts were in case of friends or lovers staying the night, which neither had happened nor looked to be happening. There was an eight-person table in the dining area where only one spot was ever used. This was where he spent most of his time when at home. His bedroom and bathroom were located at the right when walking into the apartment, and while he possessed a queen-sized bed most of his nights took place on the couch falling asleep to the sound of whatever was on Comedy Central. But, for some reason tonight he took shelter in his bedroom. He wasn’t sure why, but he had been disheartened the whole day and just wanted to sleep.
A high-pitched beep rang from the radio stationed next to his bed and the world slowly came into to focus. 7:00 am and he sat on the edge of his bed thinking about the day ahead. He could once again smell the aroma of fresh pastries teasing his nostrils. A shower closely followed and he was out the door. There was not a cloud in the sky and the sun shone through the skyscrapers, but the temperature couldn’t have been more than twenty degrees. The sound of angry drivers honking their horns filled the air. Crowds of people packed the sidewalks and there was barely elbowroom on either side while walking. “Watch out!” a man yelled at Adam after accidentally bumping shoulders with him. Adam tried to say sorry but decided not to waste his breath and kept walking.
Stopping at a vendor on the street corner, he bought a cup of coffee before heading to the subway station a block away. 7:55 am now and he had to make sure to catch the first uptown train that arrived as to make it to class on time. Columbia was a twenty-minute ride up to that area of town.
Adam walked down the stairs at the corner of the block into the dingy underground. He always noted the pungent smell of decaying flesh and rotting food as his feet hit the bottom of the stairs. Every subway station looked run-down and out of date. Water dripped from the ceilings, cracked tiles on every wall, and one could see the occasional rat scuttling around the tracks looking for a meal. Yet, everyday thousands of people would funnel through the dark mysterious tunnels of the New York underground travelling to and from their destinations.
He took out his metro card from his jean pocket and swiped it through the machine to get past the metal arms used to keep out the unwanted. There was another flight of stairs to get down to the platform and once down there he noticed the normal mass of people waiting for their ride. Adam moved to the end of the platform and sat down on the bench waiting for the next train. He just realized he had forgotten his headphones and was more upset at the fact he didn’t realize this earlier so he could have at least grabbed a newspaper to read. He sat in silence for about five minutes until the train pulled into the station. He stood on the edge of the platform waiting for all of it to pull in so he could board. He always thought it looked like an iron caterpillar inching it’s way through the tunnels. The train slowed and Adam boarded the last car that had stopped in front of him. It was always instinct for him to board the last one so to avoid the throngs of people jammed into the cars in the middle of the train. His instinct had paid off today for there were only a handful of people scattered around the seats. An older man was sitting at the end of the car in the seats by the doors Adam had just entered. The man’s head rested behind him against the window and from closed eyelids and snoring, it was obvious he was asleep. The man was wearing gray sweat pants with stains and rips in the right knee and crotch areas. A pair of black snow boots enclosed his feet. The upper half of his body consisted of a green army jacket, and a black hooded sweatshirt underneath. A gray mess of hair covered the top of his head. He probably hadn’t washed in months and Adam could see it starting to dread together in some places. He also noticed a gash across his nose. Better to spend a day in a warm subway car than wander the streets in the cold Adam thought. The door closed behind him and departed for the next station at 57th Street. Adam walked to middle of the car, took a seat, and glanced back at the man. He snapped his head up and looked over at Adam.
“57th Street Station. Next stop 7th Avenue,” a voice droned over the intercom. Adam looked out the window as they pulled up. 8:05 am and he just wanted to get to class and start the day because that would mean his day would also be that much closer to over. The doors to the subway car opened at the next stop and a few passengers exited, but no one entered. That’s why he always chose the last one. The company was few, but the breathing room was worth it. Some days he got lucky enough to only share a ride with about fifteen people give or take.
“7th Avenue Station. Next stop 59th Street-Columbus Circle,” the voice droned as they pulled into the next station. A mother and her young daughter who had been whining about a new toy she desired left through the train’s doors and now only Adam and the old man were left sitting in the car. Again no one had entered. He looked back at the man and their eyes met awkwardly in the middle. Adam gave the man a polite smile and both went back to sitting in silence as the train left for the next stop.
8:10 am and he was getting anxious to make it to school. The only sound was the screeching of the train’s wheels on the tracks. The rhythm the train made as it sped through the tunnel was calming and Adam closed his eyes to relax himself. He could feel every bump, and sway of the train. After a minute or so, the train started to slow down and Adam reopened his eyes to get a glimpse of the station. They weren’t at the next station. The only thing he could see outside the windows was an empty shade of black. The lights in the compartment dimmed and flickered. A human voice now came over the intercom. “Please excuse the inconvenience. The train will be moving again here shortly.” He immediately started to panic. How long would they be stopped? Would he make it to class? Again Adam and the man shared and awkward glance. A thick silence spread through the car and both men sat unmoving in their respective seats. Adam felt the uneasiness grow. 8:20 am and his class was going to start soon.
“You got any family?” the old man asked after what seemed like an eternity.
Adam cleared his throat. “Y-Y-es I do.”
“You’re lucky. Some people ain’t got no family.” He wasn’t sure if the man was starting a conversation or if he was going to kill him. His heartbeat grew faster and his hands began to sweat. He didn’t want to stay silent for too long.
“Do you have any family?”
“No sir. I’m the only one left of my kind.”
The old man’s demeanor changed and his eyes drooped to the floor. Painful memories seemed to be filtering through his head as his whole body sat in deep thought for a minute.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
The man said nothing and he felt awkward for having said anything. He watched the man snap out of his trance and look back up at him.
“What’s your name?”
“You have a last name too?”
“How old are you?”
“I just turned 23.”
“Wow, you’re just a young boy.”
Adam started to feel uneasy, and the train car again fell silent. Only the distant sound of the other trains racing through the tunnels could be heard. The lights above their heads flickered off and then back on again.
“What about you? Do you have a name?” Adam asked.
“Nope. I’m sure at one time people had one for me, but I don’t remember it now. I’m an old man. Getting hard to remember things.”
“That’s an odd thing to have forgotten. You don’t remember at all?”
“Not one bit, but a man can’t always choose the things he remembers, and the things he forgets.” The man grinned with what teeth he had left.
8:45 am and he was now officially late. How long would they be down there? Would there be enough air? Would there be a rescue team? Was this man going to kill him? Irrational thoughts started racing through his head. Maybe he was just overreacting. He could only hope.
9:30 am. They had been stuck in this hellhole for over an hour now. Would this be how his life ended?
“Death is a fascinating occurrence,” the man said.
Adam’s muscles clenched up and he began to tremble. This was the moment he had been waiting for. The beginning of the end one could put it. The man was definitely talking about killing Adam now.
“One moment you’re here and the next you’re gone. Makes you really appreciate life doesn’t it? Some people take life for granted and don’t enjoy it like they should. Makes me sad to think about.”
“Do you think we’re going to die down here?” Adam asked.
The man chuckled.
“What I think isn’t important. We might. We might not. Could be only me. Could be only you.”
Adam felt a knotting pain in his stomach and had the desire to throw up. The train felt crowded even though there were only two of them. He looked down at the floor trying to make sense of what all was happening. He glanced back up at the man and saw him reaching for something in his jacket pocket. He pulled his hand out and in it was a knife. Adam froze. It looked like a knife one would bring into the jungle for protection. Its blade was longer than his hand but seemed worn down from time and there was dried blood splattered in random spots on the blade and handle. The man turned it over in his hands examining it. He ran his thumb over the edge of the blade checking the sharpness left in it.
“This little beauty has caused a lot of pain.”
Adam’s whole body trembled. He didn’t know whether he should sprint for the door or at the man. His mind told him to dash but his body couldn’t move fearing it would not end well.
“Took it from a man in the war. Gashed my nose right here with it. Had to wrestle it away from him, and well you know. Some things a man can’t ever get out of his head.”
He took a long look at his memories and then put the knife away. His eyes seemed to swell up with tears but refrained from letting even one roll down his cheek.
“Some things a man wishes he could take back.”
Adam realized he had been irrational. He rose up from his seat and walked over to sit across from the man. There was nothing to fear. He was just lonely and scarred by his past. He wanted to know this man’s story.
“I’ve done things I regret too. The only reason I’m in this city is because of what my parents wanted. I’m afraid I’ve lost my sense of direction.”
“Well at least you’re still young. Plenty of time to figure things out. You still have the rest of your life ahead of you. Unless of course we don’t get out of here.”
The man bellowed out a hearty laugh. Adam found himself laughing too and both men sat and enjoyed the irony of the joke.
“I’m sure someone will come,” Adam stated to reassure both of them.
“That’s what’s fun about life. Nothing is ever for sure.”
The next morning a Mr. and Mrs. Packer of Cleveland, Ohio were contacted by the NYPD and informed that their son was found stabbed on a New York subway line that had been stalled due to mechanical failure. The suspect was still on the loose.