"Underground" by vtas.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
by Ilana Masad
Her name begins with a V and is old-fashioned. Verity, or something like that. She gets cold easily, and wears two pairs of tights beneath her blue-jeans, and a tank-top under a t-shirt under a sweatshirt under a pea-coat. The daring colors, she keeps hidden: the polka-dot red and white tights under the grey ones; the Led Zeppelin t-shirt secreted away by the brown college sweatshirt.
“Stand clear of the closing doors, please,” follows her like a mantra. Her daily commute is almost two hours each way, and she knows to give up her seat for pregnant, elderly and disabled people. The headphones covering her ears are camouflage, the cord running down her neckline and into her black lacy bra leading nowhere. She tries to read the papers on her lap, a heavy and cumbersome batch of files, research and intern stuff, things she should always have finished by the time she left work the night before. She tries, but can’t concentrate. The train fills up and someone inevitably sits down next to her, bursting her bubble of one.
With that inaudible pop, the other woman shows up, and V for Verity or maybe Valerie seeps away, leaving behind clothes, headphones, limbs.
The other woman’s name also begins with a V and is as sug gestive as the initial’s shape. Virginia, maybe – because she’s not – or Valencia, for its foreign clime. She lets her leg press against the person’s beside her, accidentally at first. Oops, sorry, smile, get a look at the face. If it’s an interesting face – it doesn’t have to be good looking, only interesting – she smiles. Sits straighter. Looks back at the stack of papers on her lap.
“Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” Her leg falls sideways with the rushing movement of the train, and denim rubs against denim or cotton or polyester. Skin breathes through cloth. She raises her leg slightly and lowers it, inching intention. Breathing comes quicker.
“Stand clear of the closing doors, please.”
“Come with me,” she says, standing up. Her files smack down with a wet noise to the slick subway floor, if it’s raining outside, or with a dry thump akin to an eraser thrown against a chalkboard. The sound rebukes her, and is ignored. The person, white-haired or tawny or just post-pubescent, takes her hand, knowing this kind of thing never happens. It isn’t happening. That is an excuse to allow it, whatever the circumstances. She has never, will never, be refused.
She takes them. Somewhere. Palms growing sweaty together and steps falling into place on sidewalks that look bluer, less commonplace, than the last time they were traversed. Satisfaction is achieved, in a bedroom, in a bathroom, in a restaurant, on a park bench, in a parking garage, on top of the Empire State Building. Satisfaction is a kiss, a cuddle, a fuck, a romance of grand proportions, a wild night of debauchery, a conversation in a twenty-four-hour diner, a silent walk down busy streets.
Sometimes satisfaction is momentary, only long enough for the women whose names begin with a V to nod at one another briefly on their way out and in, or in and out. Sometimes the first woman is back so quickly her fingers don’t have a chance to go limp around her papers, and satisfaction is the murmured apology to the person beside her whose leg was brushed by someone else.
Ilana Masad is an Israeli-American who is partial to cats and books. She has been published in Tin House’s blog and other venues, and was awarded the Rex Warner Literary Prize at Oxford University. You can follow her fiction at slightlyignorant.com and @ilanaslightly.