By Julian Gallo

Dorothy’s summer dress and hair are soaked. She combs her hair back with her fingers and tugs on her dress in an attempt to dry it. The heat and humidity is just too much, and she’s a bit unsteady on her feet, sometimes wandering a bit too close to the edge of the platform. She’s had one too many drinks, though she doesn’t define herself as drunk. A night out with the girls. A reprieve from her husband. She keeps wandering a little too close to the platform edge but manages to steer herself away, stumbling a bit, then pauses to fan herself with her hand but it offers little relief. She removes her cellphone from her pocketbook and places a call to her husband, stumbling forward and back as she presses the phone to her ear. She takes the phone away from her ear and looks at the screen with a puzzled expression. She’s not getting a signal. She drops the phone back into her bag and stumbles towards a young man who is standing at the rear of the platform, pacing and fanning himself with his hand, and occasionally peering into the tunnel for an arriving train. She pauses just a few feet away from him, then peers into the tunnel herself. She feels safer being close to a man at that time of the evening, for she doesn’t like taking the subway at that hour, but all the taxis were busy rescuing others from the sudden downpour. She eyes the young man, who repeatedly checks his watch and peers into the tunnel. He seems harmless enough, but you just never know, so she keeps a respectable distance, just in case.

“Been waiting long?” Dorothy asks, a bit of an accent evident in her slurred voice.

“There hasn’t been a train for nearly a half hour,” the young man says.

Dorothy observes the other soaked passengers standing at the edge of the platform, craning their necks to see if a train is coming. She paces the platform, watches the water cascade down through the street grate into the station and onto the tracks, the track-bed now a miniature underground river carrying bits of garbage in the current. She wonders if this was the reason for the delay. She also sees it as a strange kind of metaphor of her life. She can hear the rumble of thunder above, hear the rain on the sidewalk, and the squeals of young women on the street above as they scramble to get out of the rain. She wanders down the platform, still unsteady, looking for the timetable, and when she finds it, she discovers it isn’t working.

It’s hot, humid, and uncomfortable.

Most of those in the station huddle near the turnstile, soaked to the bone, and only a few of them had the sense to bring an umbrella, shaking off the rain onto the already wet platform. She peers down the track again. Still no sign of a train, no announcements, nothing. Just an ever-increasing cascade of water from the street above. She begins to question the choices in her life. What is she doing? Is this all she has to show for it?

She staggers back towards the rear of the platform, having a little difficulty walking in her high heels. She wants to board the train, if it ever arrives, on the last car since it will leave her more or less directly in front of the exit at her station. She looks into the tunnel again and there’s still no sign of a train. She removes her cellphone from her pocketbook again, tries to check the status on the MTA’s website, but she’s still unable to get a signal. She puts the phone away and looks into the tunnel again, as if by repeatedly looking for the train will make it arrive quicker.

She begins pacing again, but the heat and the humidity are starting to get to her. She wipes the sweat from her forehead and neck with the palm of her hand, tells herself once she gets home, she’s going to take a long, cold shower, turn on the air conditioner, and have a glass of wine. Hopefully Jacek is asleep. She’s in no mood to deal with him. He’s in one of his moods. He’s always in one of his moods.

The rain continues to cascade down onto the tracks. A rat scurries across the track-bed, leaping over the city’s new river, and disappears under the platform on the downtown side.

The young man peers into the tunnel, sees the distant headlights.

“Finally,” he says, giving Dorothy a thumbs up. 

He takes two steps back but Dorothy remains near the platform edge, swaying on her feet. She shuts her eyes, tilts her head back, as if waiting for the water cascading down from the street to reach her, cool her off, submerge and drown her. The young man watches her, gets the feeling she’s going to tumble onto the track-bed. He isn’t sure but he thinks she’s crying, but it could just be the remnants of the rain trickling down her face. She must feel terrible — hot and drunk and just wanting to get home. He can hear the train now and she’s still a little too close to the edge of the platform. She doesn’t look in the direction of the oncoming train, but down into the track-bed, her eyes still shut, her body swaying to and fro, back and forth. She raises her head and watches the waterfall at the center of the trackbed again, her body pitching forward as the train speeds towards the station. She’s not going to move, that much the young man knows, so he races over to her and grabs her by the arm, pulls her back away from the platform edge just as the train speeds into the station, blaring its horn. Dorothy collapses into the young man’s arms and he holds her up, tries to get her on her feet. She’s passed out. The train comes to a stop and the doors open. He helps her onto the half-empty car, just to get out of the oppressive heat. The air conditioning feels good. He helps her sit down and leans her back against the seat, shakes her lightly by the shoulder.

“Are you all right?”

Dorothy’s eyes flicker open and she’s momentarily confused.

“You passed out,” he says. “Are you all right?”

She looks at the stranger sitting beside her, her eyes searching his face, still confused.

“You almost fell onto the tracks,” he says. “Thank God I was there. Another moment and…”

“I’m okay,” she says. “Just a little hot.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“A little,” she says, “but I’m not drunk. It’s the heat and the humidity. I don’t handle it well.”

“Just sit back,” the young man says. “Let the air conditioning cool you off.”

She rests her head on the back of the seat, shuts her eyes. He glances down at her hands. A wedding ring, a little too tight around her short, pudgy finger.

“Thank you,” she says, her eyes still closed.

“Don’t mention it,” he says. “What stop do you get off?”

“110th Street,” she says.

“Would you like me to take you home?”

“I’ll be all right, thank you.”

He just sits there and watches her, droplets of rain and sweat on her face, and a crooked rivulet creeping from the corner of her eye.

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

She nods, doesn’t say anything, wipes the sweat from her forehead with the palm of her hand.

“I think I should see you home,” he says.

“No, you don’t have to,” she whispers. “I’ll be all right.”

“I’d feel better if I did.”

She doesn’t say anything, drops her hands in her lap. She’s given up. It is only then he realises his hands are trembling.

. . . . . .

Jacek peers into the bedroom and sees Dorothy is still asleep. She was an utter mess when she came home last night, half out of her mind on pills and drink, babbling on about how she nearly fell into the subway tracks and how a young man saved her. The young man took her home, she said, but she didn’t get his name nor remember much about him. He had his doubts. After she took off her wet dress and collapsed on the bed, he went through her pocketbook and found the folded tin foil packet with only one pill in it. He thought he had gotten rid of them all, but she could have easily gotten them from one of her so-called friends. She hasn’t moved since falling asleep the night before and multiple times he had checked on her to make sure she was still breathing. This wouldn’t be the first time she tried something stupid. Almost fell onto the tracks, indeed.

He carefully closes the bedroom door and retrieves his cellphone from the kitchen table, sends a text message to Lisa, tells her he’ll meet her at their usual spot in a half hour. He then takes a quick shower, shaves, and dresses. He suspects Dorothy knows all about Lisa, hence her behavior last night. She probably told all her girlfriends about it, what a pig he is, how he treats her like dog shit, how cruel he is. He’s heard it all before. He takes his keys and peers one more time into the bedroom, watches for movement, and when Dorothy turns under the sheets, and is satisfied she’s still alive, he quietly closes the door.

It’s still overcast and there’s a misty rain in the air. The storm that came through last night was something else, like a monsoon. He wondered if Dorothy had got caught up in it. He was supposed to meet Lisa last night, but the sudden storm cancelled their plans. Now she’ll be waiting for him, and she’ll want to know what happened last night. His text message to her didn’t get into the details.

He has a moment where he wishes Dorothy would have succeeded. That would have solved all his problems once and for all. It would have set him free but thanks to that man, whoever he was, the ties that bind them remain. How easy it would have been. In some ways, he’d like to beat that man for saving her. Just one second difference, one moment where he had his head turned, or perhaps checked his cellphone for messages, or had gotten on the previous train, or decided to walk home instead of taking the subway, any one of those variables would have changed everything.

He lights a cigarette, takes a moment and looks back towards the direction of his apartment. He wonders if Dorothy is still asleep. He wonders how long it will be before she tries it again.


Julian Gallo is the author of Existential Labyrinths, Last Tondero in Paris, The Penguin and The Bird and other novels. His short fiction has appeared in The Sultan’s Seal (Cairo), Exit Strata, Budget Press Review, Indie Ink, Short Fiction UK, P.S. I Love You, The Dope Fiend Daily, The Rye Whiskey Review, Angles, and Verdad.  



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