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Train, NYC, Lisa O'Neill

Train, NYC, Lisa O’Neill


For our fourth post this flash fiction february, we are pleased to share with you this piece by writer Katherine Hunt on expediency.


ex·pe·di·en·cy   (dē-ən(t)-sē),   n.  1. the quality or state of being expedient; suitability for a given purpose; appropriateness to the conditions.  2.  the doing or consideration of what is of selfish use or advantage rather than what is right or just; self-interest.


I saw the man on the subway. I had been pregnant nearly three months and sat with my head in my hands, feeling nauseous and trying not to think about the day ahead. That week I’d started a new episode of the TV show I produced on, a documentary series on homicide investigations. I had hours of crime scene footage to watch down. But crime scenes had begun to depress me. Also, I wasn’t sure I wanted a child. Now a woman said, It’s not your private candyland. At least that’s what I thought I heard. I glanced up but I couldn’t tell who had said it.

This is when I noticed the man, a tall man in a brown suit and the kind of dress shoes that look leather but cost nineteen dollars. He stood by the doors with his back turned so I couldn’t see his face. His hands kept me looking, though. He had nice hands, by which I mean large. I stared at them, thinking, I could just walk up and ask him to fuck me. It was the kind of thought I often had in those days: I could leave my life for another. This other life existed only in my mind but was actually more my own. I could step into it in one clean movement. Erase my husband. Erase the pregnancy. I could do it now, I thought. Then the man turned toward me and I recognized him as the murder suspect from an episode I’d worked on.

It didn’t make sense. The guy, Anton James, had shot a rival drug dealer in Dallas. He’d been arrested and charged with capital murder. Yet here we were on the A train, lurching into Manhattan. I stared at his long, sad-looking face. The dark, slow eyes. The rough skin along the jawline. I’d spent hours watching that face on video monitors. He glanced at me and I felt a thrill of terror, like in a dream when the monster struggles out of the black woods or the chasm, the black, unconscious pit.

I looked away. But when he got off the train, I followed him. We walked out into a hot, bright morning. Commuters rivered the sidewalks but the man’s height made him easy to track. Within three blocks, he went into a bank. I waited for him to come out. Minutes passed. Finally, I looked inside. He stood behind the bulletproof glass, one in a line of tellers.

I went in and waited in line, feeling increasingly nauseated and anxious. When I approached his window, he nodded. I saw you on the A, he said. He had the type of voice I’d heard in the streets my whole life, a flat voice, with an edge. Was it Anton’s voice? I couldn’t be sure. His nameplate, I noticed, was blank.

I know you from Dallas, I said.

You mixing me up with someone.


What can I help you with?

Nothing, I said and tried to smile. I just thought I knew you.

He nodded again and looked down along my body. For an instant, I felt he saw inside me, through to whatever it was fighting its way along in there. If he could see the fetus, I knew he would feel nothing for it. And in that cold moment, I realized how it might be to be my own child. You could come back later, if you want, he said.

All right, I said. All right.

When I work up the courage to tell this story, people ask if I went back. They ask if I had sex with him. But that wasn’t ever really the point. Though I did go back. He wasn’t there. Another bank employee said he’d left for the day.

So what kind of hours does he work? I asked.

Oh, he’s on his way out, she said. Whatever that meant.

I hadn’t liked working on the Anton James case. The killing had been captured on surveillance video. And there was something awful about watching that video. The cold eye of the camera became my own eye. I looked down on a harshly lit parking lot, everything black or gray, like the inside of a metal can. Anton leaned against the side of the store, smoking. He waited like that for three hours. I wondered what he could be thinking about. Because as soon as his victim approached, Anton pulled the gun. It was as if he’d never questioned his original decision, the one he later voiced to detectives. I said I’d get that motherfucker. So I did.

I saw the man another time, several weeks later. I’d left work with my editor. We started toward the train in a greenish evening light and I noticed the man crossing the street ahead. That’s him, I told her, pointing. The dude that look like Anton.

He reached the end of the block and vanished around the corner.

Come on, I said. Let’s catch him up.

I ran and she clomped after me, saying, Are you crazy?

He couldn’t have been Anton James. He must have been someone else. And yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was Anton. Or that he was a dream Anton was having about his own life.

We reached the corner and I spotted him again, walking with his head up and at a comfortable pace, as if he was any other person.


MYFACE     Katherine Hunt lives in Brooklyn.

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New York·er

“Above Fifth Avenue, Looking North,” a 1905 print by Underwood & Underwood


New York·er  (yôrkər), a native or inhabitant of New York (State or, especially City)

This week, we are lucky to have a guest post contributed by writer Julia Gordon. Enjoy!


When Lisa asked me to be a guest blogger (thanks Lisa!) on The Dictionary Project and told me that the word she’d chosen was “New Yorker,” I immediately started to think about what it means to be a New Yorker, and the different connotations that appellation carries within different spheres: upstate, downstate, Manhattan, boroughs, suburbs. I thought about all of these things and I thought that I would try to touch upon all of them, in some sort of expansive way…and then I realized that all I could possibly talk about as a New Yorker was my own experience of the city, the people, of my life before I got there, of my life while I was there, and of my life before I left. This is nothing less and nothing more than my New York, my version of its reality, my corner of its soul.


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//     New York, 1978-1996/1999-2009     \\


Knee-high landscapes. Stiletto heels. Subway suits. Blue-suited coffee cups. New gum under new soles. Trains jerk to a stop. Bodies pressed together. Shoulders: intimate friends. Tunnels to nowhere. Tunnels that are homes. Tunnels with rats. Tunnels with mice. Tunnels with spiders. Tunnels in walls. Tunnels underfoot. Tunnels under water. Tunnels through bedrock. Rainboots are in style. Snow is never white. More cars yellow than not. Steaming asphalt. Smell of rain on tar. Rockefeller Center. Times Square smells of guilt. You can only buy chestnuts in winter. The steps to the Met are bigger each time you see them. The Temple of Dendur is magic. You fit your head into a library lion’s mouth. Central Park. Shakespeare outdoors. Class trips to see the dinosaurs. The planetarium was better before. Class trips to see the monkey house. Class trips to the old Westchester manors. Class trips to the Tenement Museum. Guss’ Pickles. Ten feet of buried cobbles. Ten streets of hidden Jews. Class trips to South Street Seaport. Dates who take you to South Street Seaport. The Avenue of the Americas has many fountains. Running through fountains will get you wet. Metro North trains. The subway is a train. Getting on a train going the wrong way. Getting on a train going the right way. Getting on the wrong train. Realizing trains are not right or wrong except for the one that goes to Roosevelt Island. Trying to take a ferry to Roosevelt Island. Finally taking the tram. Perfect makeup. No makeup. Umbrellas open under scaffolding. Getting mad that umbrellas are open under scaffolding. Scaffolding. Ice falling off midtown roofs. Soho costs too much. Smell of parties on tar roofs. Climbing up fire escapes. Climbing down fire escapes. Barred windows. Sixth floor walk-ups with no elevators. Crumbling marble staircases. Intercoms that don’t work. Lowering keys tied to twine on fishing reels. Bodegas on every corner. Ailanthus cracking concrete. Blue trains, green trains, yellow trains, red trains, three brown trains, then two. Living in Brooklyn. Living in Manhattan. Living in Queens for two minutes. Living in Brooklyn. Living in Brooklyn. Living in Brooklyn.

It is Tuesday and we are very busy. It is Election Day and we are even busier than usual. There are planes and they crash. Planes have crashed before; we are still very busy. The governor has yet to speak. People are calling their wives. People are calling their children. People are flying to the ground. Ash is falling from the sky. The governor has yet to speak. We are still very busy. Upper left-hand corners of envelopes with return addresses of One and Two are falling from the sky. The governor speaks. It was Tuesday and we had a plan and now there is not one. We go to the roof. We are on the roof and the big cloud gets bigger and bigger and biggest and there is one shadow less in the world. We climb down off the roof. We get high. We get higher. We get highest. She kept her bunny ears and so we go there. There is snow everywhere: broadcast snow, ash snow, concrete snow, bone snow. Snow is never white. We get more high. We sleep in a tangle. My arms are his and his legs are mine as I always wished they would be, and I am glad and I am guilty that I am glad and it is morning. There is a train that will run. It is yellow. It goes above ground. It crosses the bridge. In unison, we stand. We go to the western windows. They are dirty but we do not care. We press our palms to them, our foreheads, or mouths, our cheeks, we cannot get close enough to the western windows or what lies beyond. What lies beyond is burning. It is people burning. There are Jews on the train and they do not like that there are people burning. There are gentiles on the train and they do not like that there are people burning. There are no Muslims on the train. There are no Muslims on the street. Then there are Muslims on the street with American flags. It will not stop the Sikhs from getting knifed. We go to St. Vincent’s. There is nobody to help. There is nobody there. Everybody is already buried. Everyone is already dead. We vomit tears on Seventh Avenue.

We hear helicopters and we cower. We hear firecrackers and know they are guns. The lights go out and we cry. The lights stay on and we cry. We are very friendly unless you look Muslim. Which means we are very friendly unless you are a certain kind of brown. Or we are overly friendly if you are a certain kind of brown. We watch the news. We can’t watch the news. We wear flag pins. We tie yellow ribbons. We pray. We refuse to pray. We blame prayer. We blame God. We are dogs. We travel in packs. We lie awake at night. We sleep all day long. We drink too much. We smoke even more. It looks like 1986 in that bathroom, there’s so much cocaine. The green trains run. The blue trains run. The red trains run except for the stop that doesn’t exist anymore. There are smoking holes in the ground. It smells like rotting flesh. We drink and smoke and do lines on rooftops against the backdrop of jet fuel flames. We forget. We remember. We forget.

We love each other on the subway. We love each other on the crosstown bus. We smile at each other like it’s Christmas. We talk a lot about just how much we love each other. We wait patiently at stop signs. We stop at red lights. We wave pedestrians past.  We hold the door open. We offer coffee. We put change in tin cups. We buy beers. We go to soup kitchens. We donate coats to the homeless.  We gather our canned goods. It gets colder. We smile a little bit less. We try to get warm. We make love in Prospect Park. We make love in Fort Greene Park. We make love in Green-Wood cemetery. We make love in Brooklyn Bridge Park. We make love under the war memorial at Grand Army Plaza. We make love at Manhattan Beach Park. We make love at Coney Island Park. We try to make love in Central Park but it hurts too much. In Washington Square Park we fare better but stop halfway through to buy pot. We are remembering again but we are trying to forget. This will go on for years.

It has been years. We are better. Firecrackers are firecrackers. Guns are guns. The lights go off and we laugh. The lights stay on and we laugh. Helicopters are helicopters. Thunder is thunder. Rain is rain. We frown again on the train. We lean on our horns. We block the box. We do not like our mayor. We do not like each other. We do not make love. We do not go to holes. We do not look out western windows. We do not wear flag pins. There are no lights in the sky. There are no cranes in the holes. We do not talk about it. We talk about it too much. We lie awake at night. It has been years.

Movies in Bryant Park. Concerts in Prospect Park. Shakespeare in The Park. The monkey house is gone. We are too big to ride the giraffes.  Holiday parties at the MOMA. Coworker trips to the Guggenheim.  Rockefeller Center. Times Square smells like the color pink. The steps at the Met are smaller than they used to be.  The library lions roar. You can’t buy chestnuts at all anymore. There is a right train and a wrong train. There is your train. There is your corner. There is your store. There is your door. Tar roof smells are memories. The planetarium isn’t that bad.  The Temple of Dendur is still magic.  Running through fountains will get you arrested. The cobblestones were always Belgian blocks. You told me it was time to go. We drive across the Brooklyn Bridge. We drive up the West Side Highway. We drive up the Saw Mill Parkway. We drive west on the Cross County Parkway. We drive west. We drive west. We drive west. Ailanthus trees push through the concrete, rock bricks loose from mortar, twist around fire escapes. We always take the stairs.


\\     July 2011     //




Julia R. Gordon is a writer with over ten years of experience in the non-profit sector as well as a background in government and political media, fundraising, and message development. Since 1998 she has worked as a writing consultant, providing one-on-one tutoring in writing skills, public speaking, and resume development as well as editing services for academic papers, research projects, and creative writing endeavors. She currently works at the University of Arizona and Raise the Bar LLC, and serves on the Board of Directors for Casa Libre en la Solana, a Tucson, AZ-based literary arts organization. She also writes for The Skein (www.theskeinblog.com), an online blog she created to explore politics, government, society, and interpersonal relationships through language and the written word. Julia was born and raised in downstate New York, and made her home in Brooklyn for a decade, prior to relocating to Tucson in 2009. During her time in New York she worked for such organizations as The Center for Literacy Enrichment at Pace University, Cornell University Medical College, the New York City District Council of Carpenters, Alliance for Quality Education and East River Media. During her career she has also held positions with several city- and statewide political and issue-based campaigns throughout the country. Julia is a graduate of Cornell University.



Modern NYC Skyline



Ryan Adams’ album Gold, on which the song “New York, New York” appears, was released September 25 , 2001. The video for the song (below) was shot in the streets of New York four days before September 11, 2001.


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