The Bergen Street stop at 3 a.m. smells like urine and perfume. Floor to ceiling locked mesh gates like the bars of a cell, padlocks the size of fists blocking off huge shadowed sections of the subway. Buzzing fluorescent lights high overhead. I am at one end of the platform, sobering, waiting for the crosstown G train. She is at the other, curled into her raincoat like a slinky.
First a breeze, kicking up newspapers, then a full-bore wind as the bright unblinking eye rounds the corner into view. Train coming. I move to the edge of the platform, eager for bed. She stands. And though the raincoat envelops her like a sheath her bare calf and ankle peek out from under the hem. A tattoo circles her ankle. A crown of thorns? A snake eating its tail?
The train lurches to a stop. Doors shudder open. Before entering the car I turn to look and she is looking back, straight back, feline eyes meeting my own. She smiles a canary smile. She does not enter the car.
I slip in just as the doors wheeze shut.
I look out the window. She is gone from the platform.
On the train?
I look back into the shadows of the station and see her smiling from behind the locked mesh gates. The shuttered padlocks wink in the buzzing fluorescence. She slides into the darkness as the train pulls away. Still smiling.
The smile follows me home, into my dreams, into the next day and beyond.
I’ve seen her a few times since. Same feline eyes, same canary smile. She lives there, I think. On the subway platform. Perhaps a ghost. Perhaps an anonymous fragment of dream. Or perhaps real, merely lost, merely homeless, with an uncanny ability to navigate the recesses of this vast underground.
That tattoo around her ankle, though. I’ve looked more closely.
I’m pretty sure it is a chain.