More Like a Waffle
by M.K. Rainey
Harvey rides the subway every morning. For an insufferable amount of time, the ticker reads 4 Train Crown Heights Utica Ave Delay, as it often does most mornings and Harvey gnaws the little flap of skin hanging from his right pinky finger and clenches his butt cheeks and stares across the platform at the few souls traveling uptown and thinks bitches and looks sideways at the faceless hoards crowded around him, shapes peopling at various sizes and colors, but does not make direct eye contact, thereby keeping them invariably subhuman in his mind’s eye, but he can feel their collective disgruntlement for the New York City Transit, but he thinks his own disgruntlement far surpasses that of the masses, in fact he knows this, because Curtis his dick-brained boss will be on his ass again, that no-neck shithead who stands over him constantly asking Harvey, where are the so-and-so files, Harvey, do you not know how to use Google, Harvey if you can’t do it I’ll get Gavin to, etc. and Harvey, grit-toothed, would like to reply well, Curtis, why don’t you start using the smart part of your brain instead of licking Gavin’s balls, and Harvey’s mouth curls into a kind of half-frown and his nostrils flare just as the ticker blinks orange and the damned 4-train pulls in, brakes and wheels and heavy machinery he does not understand screeching across the rat-ridden rails, coming to such an abrupt stop that the human cytoplasm inside jiggles and shuffles and clasps the handrails in order to stay erect, and Harvey and the rest of his fellow train-stop waiters home in on the train’s entrances like magnets and wait for the doors to part and Harvey thinks it’s like waiting for his girlfriend’s bear-trap legs to part, which they never do these days, and the doors slide open finally and the collective taps their feet and waits for a few protozoa to shake loose of the train’s interior and exit and then they smash their way in, elbows and love handles and errant hairs flying all around, and Harvey smushes his not-so-fit figure in between a harried looking business-type and a lumpen man whose belly, thinks Harvey, should count as two fares on this god-forsaken train and the doors close, but not before opening and closing three times in an attempt to fit all these gangly bodies into its steel colon, and then the train is off, snaking through the bowels of Manhattan and the elbow-locked human barricade of puffy coats and beanies and laptop cases and clouds of Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds percolate incessantly, mingling with airborne colds Harvey knows he is catching and he clenches his butt cheeks again and holds it for a long time in a desperate effort to pacify this morning’s bowel movement he was forced to hold off on because Mindy would you please get out of the fucking bathroom and no she had to do her fucking makeup because I have goddamn parent conferences today, Harvey, so could you just fuck off for five minutes and one of these days he really was going to fuck off, but for more than five minutes, for like an eternity and then she’d really see, and the train roils and screams and pitches itself quicker into the black, and Harvey sinks further into his imaginary fight with Mindy, and the train opens and closes its doors at further stops, and now it is snaking somewhere beyond Grand Central, deeper and deeper into this derelict labyrinth, and just as he is reaching his imaginary hand high above his head to throw that imaginary vase she loves so much against the imaginary wall like she fucking deserves, the train, as if coming in contact with another train or wall or Jedi force-field, slams on its brakes and halts, causing the human-cytoplasm inside to hurl forward, toppling over one another, and Harvey feels his hand on someone’s slippery body parts and the train settles and the lights flicker and dim and then and then and then…
Harvey rides the subway every morning. He is six years old and the trains delight the great mechanical beast within him as they roar and pull and shutter and spurt, and the young boy has a strange fascination with abruptly slipping and toppling over the lip of the platform and facing these great monsters head on, so much so that he often pictures himself taking superhero-like leaps, legs kicking as if he is running through the air, over the tracks onto the adjacent platform, or jumping down onto the tracks with his arm stretched out in a police officer halt and the train screeching and braking, just barely tapping the flat of his hand, or he sees himself unable to scramble up and over the platform in time and instead curls his small body between the tracks and watches the sparks spit overhead like the firecrackers he holds on the 4th of July, but they do not burn, instead only flicker against the brown metal, and then the train rolls over him, but he is not harmed. And he sees these things happening so often, sometimes he feels as if they did happen. And this is what he is picturing today. His father’s hand in his. What train is it? The 2. Where are we going? Bronx Zoo. His Dad’s answers come in near grunts, their bonding weekend together. Harvey stands small next to the man and watches trains come and go down the center, but never to the platform. The grunts grow curt. Soft swearing in the half-light of tunnels. Don’t move, Dad says and walks a ways down to examine some posting on the wall. Harvey toes the yellow bubbles near the lip of the platform and looks down and sees a rat staring at him. Hello there, Harvey says, but the rat does not move. Harvey kneels down and peers over the edge. Hi. The rat wriggles its whiskers. What’s it like living down here? The rat sniffs. Harvey leans. He feels soft vibrations in his palms. The rat feels them too and dips down between the rails. Don’t go, and Harvey reaches and slips. And he is on the tracks, his bottom soar, but otherwise unscathed. It’s dirty down here. Twix wrappers. Gatorade bottles. Black islands of spent gum. He sees the rat, but what is that noise? He sees lights down the dark of the tunnel. Dad? The rat is gone. Dad? Twin headlamps like laser beams in the dark. The 2. The 2 is coming. Dad? None of his previous escape routes come to him. No ducking. No leaping. No policeman halt. A woman is screaming. Dad? But he is only thinking of his father. His lips stay watered shut. The train screams near, but he stands dumbly looking on, unable, unwilling to move. Hands clench his shirt, his body lifted, thrown, tumbling over as a great horn blasts its song, echoing down the tunnel, and he is supine on the platform. And all he sees are the wavy flickerings of fluorescents overhead.
Harvey feels an elbow beneath his right breast, his own foot wedged in someone’s armpit or pit of knee or neck. He is sprawled astrally over bodies and floor and the white lights flicker and something somewhere is making a high pitched whine he is sure only he can hear.
“Sarah, you okay?”
“Let me help you.”
“Is everyone alright?”
Harvey attempts to pull himself up, but his hand lands on an indeterminate spot on someone else’s person.
He jerks his hand back and wobbles and pulls at the straps of a bag wrapped around his foot, but he cannot seem to remove it and he feels helpless and struggles to free himself of this human cage.
“Does anyone need help?’
“Is anyone hurt?”
“What do we do now?”
Harvey rides the subway every morning. For a not insignificant amount of time, he stands at the lip of the subway’s entrance, staring down into its icy mouth-hole, fingering a small tear in the pocket-lining of his puffy down coat, frozen in (what seems to be the first time in his career as a human) fear. A sudden and unbelievable ripple of suffering flashes before him in the form of a certain eighth grade walking tit-machine known as Kelly Lovelace, whom he has known for practically all near-fourteen years of his life, and she is wearing that seductively childish orange peacoat and smiling at him in that way that he is sure, in his eighth grade brain, means that she like likes him and will maybe even let him kiss her soon or, dare he think it, touch that bright splotch of orange covering her shy breasts that no one- not even Mr. Handbell their English, Math and Physical Education teacher- can help but notice are blooming at a rate ungodly painful for all who dare a glance at that pre-teen chest bone. And she smiles and waves a dainty wave, with her cohort giggling around her, and Harvey stands dumbly aside and watches her descend into the subway, and he is frozen and overwrought with angst, a rabbit-heart where his own should be, and he hears Harv? You coming? And dear god Kelly Lovelace just gave him a nickname, Harv… Kelly Lovelace who “married” him in kindergarten. Kelly Lovelace who once thought it hilarious to put a glob of mayonnaise on his shoulder in the cafeteria. Kelly Lovelace, the Wendy to his Pirate #4 in the fourth grade play. Kelly Lovelace, the meanest Double-Dutch jump-roper this side of the blacktop. Kelly Lovelace. Kelly Lovelace. And Harv, on these gangly legs that he is only barely able to understand, let alone navigate, and which shoot growing pains through his groin countless times a day, descends rapidly after, too rapidly in fact, and slips on a black island of ice midway down, and tumbles ass-over-teacup, as his grandmother would cackle, so hard that his stork legs fold underneath him, but in such slow motion that he can see the shiny blackness of Kelly Lovelace’s eyes fill with awe, or maybe horror, and he sees beyond the turnstile the approaching train, a rat scuttling past and over the platform, and he lands in an embarrassing pile of slushy wet and boy limbs, looking something- from a God’s eye- swastika-like, or maybe Christ-like, and the back of his head pops golf ball-like against the stairs, and Harv! he hears. Harvey?
The train-waiters sit upright, having detangled themselves from the latticework of limbs the abrupt stop hurled them into. And now the waiting they do not know they are waiting in. Harvey continually wipes his hands on his pants and shirt, disgusted to find some sickly brown substance smeared on his pinky and index finger. The train-waiters are subdued, having assessed that no one- at least in this particular car- has been seriously injured, only ruffled slightly, and they whisper amongst themselves, only to their immediate neighbors, about how and when the train will start again, who will come, what could have possibly caused this arrest in the vehicle’s trajectory. Harvey stands alone. Seconds, minutes, half hours pass by. No one comes. A high-peal crackles from the car’s speakers and a gargled voice emits a series of vowels that sound faintly human, but then shuts off and nothing more is heard.
Harvey rides the subway every morning with Skipwith. They take the subway to school, but do not go to school. At least not every morning. And there are bigger plans this morning. They idle a while on the stairs because of the cop in the reflection of the train on the uptown side, so they wait just until the downtown train arrives, run, hop the turnstiles, and duck inside its shutting doors, the cop’s muffled whistle dissipating as the train departs. They laugh. They can afford the fare, but it’s more fun this way.
“Somebody’s a preggo-eggo.”
“Man, you didn’t hear?”
“Christ, tell me already.”
“Ol’ Lovey-Lovelace, from the old days.”
Harvey is surprised at the pang he feels in his bones.
“Whose is it?”
“Fuck if even she knows.”
He hasn’t heard that name for a long time.
Several stops later, they switch trains and head east. Peeling billboards and trashcans full to brim decorate the station, a fine craquelure in the walls’ many paint layers. The train comes and Harvey ducks in behind Skipwith.
An old man smelling strong of piss, a black island of rags on the floor of the train, not to the side, but wrapped fetal-like around a pole jutting from floor to ceiling. The boys side step this human puddle and walk to the end of the otherwise empty car.
“Davies’ll be there.”
Speaking for the sake of speaking. The old man snorts and farts in his sleep. The boys laugh. The train lurches onward. Harvey’s ears pop and he thinks how they are underwater now. He sees blue lagoon waters in his mind’s eye, bright coral fish and a mermaid or two with bare breasts peeking out from wavy blond curls. Maybe in Hawaii. Replace the blue for oil black and mermaids for mutant bacteria and kitschy lawn art floating in these East River waters. The train jerks and Skipwith nearly pitches over. The old man slides from the pole, but does not wake.
“Yo man, he dead or what?”
The homeless man farts again.
“No, but something died inside him.”
Skipwith howls, slaps his knee.
“Hey,” Skipwith says. “Wonder what’s in that bottle?”
Harvey looks down at the man. A soda bottle is cradled in the crook of his elbow, its label gone, some purple-brown liquid sloshing inside. Skipwith walks across the train, hands gripping rails on either side above. He does a little stripper twirl on the middle pole, laughs, heads towards the man.
“Hey,” he calls down at the sleeping man. “Hey what you got there?”
Harvey’s stomach recoils.
“Hey,” Skipwith says again and nudges the man’s holey boots.
“Come on,” Harvey says.
“Man, this dude needs some serious shower intervention,” Skipwith says.
Harvey stands, walks towards them as the train comes to a stop. A small woman enters, sniffs the air, and walks to another car. He looks down at the sleeper. Under the tattered black flannel peeks an “I Heart NY” shirt, threadbare and faded, but in place of the “Heart” is a Disney-like mouse head and Harvey wonders what the fuck that is supposed to mean. I Disney NY? I Mouse or Mickey Mouse NY? Fucking people.
“Thirsty?” Skipwith says. He reaches down, wiggles the bottle in the man’s elbow, snickering. The man’s eyes snap open, entirely black, his pupils dilated like marbles so that no white shows.
“(A-series-of-unintelligible-curses)” the man roars.
Skipwith scoops the bottle up and laughs.
The man snaps at them, growls like a dog. He spits, frothy spittle landing on Skipwith’s arm.
“White bitch,” the man snarls.
“Fuck you!” Skipwith shouts.
The man propels his upper half forward, jowls wide, hair matted to his sickly face, and latches onto Skipwith’s arm and bites down. Skipwith screams. He wrenches his arm back and forth, kicks at the man, slaps his face, but the dog-man stays firm and Harvey can see blood pool redly on his lips.
“Get… fuck… off a me….”
Harvey stands watching, his hands outstretched. The scene is almost comical and Harvey fights the urge to laugh at Skipwith making wounded creature noises, fighting this beast of a human writhing on the floor.
“Help me… fuck!” Skipwith screams, and an animal awakens in Harvey. His face falls. He reaches down and the dog-man unhinges his maw and sets upon Harvey, but Harvey is too quick and knocks the beast with a right hook and the man collapses, still snarling, muffled curses, and Harvey feels good and, without really thinking about it, leaps on top of the man, straddling him, sending great wallops with each fist, pummeling the man’s face. And the man screams and kicks his legs at the empty benches behind Harvey. And Skipwith stares on, clutching his arm. Again and again Harvey strikes. And Harvey is being tugged upwards, but he is laughing too at the strawberry-shortcake he made of this man’s face. He turns and looks at Skipwith, his friend’s eyes wide and glassy, and Harvey looks down at his hands, the old man’s blood making runnels in the scoops between fingers. The man wheezes on the floor and the train stops at the next station.
“Let’s get out of here,” Skipwith says.
Harvey stands dumbly.
“Come on.” Skipwith smacks his arm and Harvey follows, turns at the door, one last look at the wheezing man on the floor, and vacates the car.
M.K. Rainey received her MFA in fiction writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She currently teaches writing to the youth of America through Community-Word Project, Wingspan Arts and The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cider Press Review, Litro Online, Equinox and others. She co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series and lives in Harlem with her dog.