Friday, August 3, 2007

The R Train

"The R Train"
by David Benger

Home was dark, cold, and damp. Hershel tried to remember the blazing heat of his mother’s backyard, but all he felt was the unforgiving frigid concrete he was leaning on. He stepped down from the cinder block.


His foot was soaked instantly. He didn’t even bother to move it. The muddy solution flowing his worn through sneakers was soothing. He continued to look around. Huge white letters marked his living room: “Fag.” His back parlor was decorated with the word, “Hole.” Graffiti artists just couldn’t keep their spray cans off his hideout. He heard the mechanical rumbling before the blinding light turned the corner. He clambered back on to the cinder block and off the tracks just as the rhythmic, unsettling ga-chunk of the subway train powered by.

It was the R train. Hershel loved the R train. People had a tendency to sleep on the R train and they rarely noticed him or his humble attempt at domesticity. Nobody ever really did notice, but R train passengers even less so. As soon as it passed, he hopped back down onto the tracks and jogged to the Dekalb Avenue stop. It was a quick two minute run and way before rush hour so he was in no danger of facing another train. He climbed up onto the platform deftly. Nobody noticed him. He stood and waited for the train just like all the other passengers. He stood and waited just like all of the ignorant passengers who knew nothing about the public transportation system they were using; nothing about the way the trains work or their history. He was standing next to people who were totally ignorant and it angered him beyond reason. His father’s store was in the Fulton Street Mall so it was for only two subway stops that he needed to share the sanctuary of the subway car with hopeless idiots.

The sign on his father’s store was flamboyant in its brilliancy and sheer aesthetic repulsiveness. “Weinberger Jewelry,” it flashed. He stepped in. He inspected the jewelry while he waited. Most likely it was fake. Hershel couldn’t imagine his father owning anything of true value. The customer ordered a custom plated belt buckle for fifty dollars. To a self respecting jeweler, a fifty dollar sale meant nothing, but for Sam, it brought a gaiety to his entire aura! Hershel was staring at a flashing car necklace with disgust when his father finally tapped his shoulder.

“So, Hershey… Where do you want to go for dinner?”

“Applebee’s.” Applebee’s was the only place Hershel ever went to dinner with his father. His father didn’t cook… ever. He had tried once and ended up almost burning down the house.

The traffic was stop and go. They were lucky enough to have a red light at every intersection and Hershel felt it was nothing like the predictable reliability of the subway routes.

“Hey, Hershey, today’s Tuesday. Weren’t you supposed to get your report card today?”

“Yea,” he hated to be called Hershey. It was a mean nickname that was given to him in middle school back when he was very fat. His dad heard a classmate of his call him that once and he misunderstood it to mean something friendly. His dad had been calling him Hershey ever since. Hershel flinched every time he heard that name, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell Sam.

“Well, let’s hear it.” His father was always very attentive when it came to Hershel’s education. He only wished his dad would be as involved when it came to his other interests.

“I did fine, Dad. I’ve got an IQ of 172, remember. Mom won’t stop talking about it.”

“I haven’t spoken to your mother in nearly a year. How the hell should I know what she won’t stop talking about? Did you get straight A’s?” “Not exactly. I got a C in Chemistry.” “What?!” Sam turned backwards to look at Hershel. “Dad, watch the road!” He turned back just in time to avoid a double parked car directly in front of him. “Damn it, dad! Watch the freaking road!” “Don’t you worry about me, Hershel. Where the hell did that C come from?” “I…” Hershel was beginning to choke up. His dad rarely yelled at him and whenever he did, it was always about academics. His dad never cared about anything else. “I wasn’t doing as well at chemistry as I had wanted…” he started sobbing,

“Go on, Hershel,” his father pressed. “I had an opportunity to…” Hershel couldn’t speak, he was sobbing so hard. “To what? Spit it out!” He had never seen his dad so angry. He always remembered his dad being irritatingly nonchalant about everything. “I had an opportunity to get a copy of the chemistry test before she gave it to us.” “You cheated?” his father turned to look at him again, his eyes on fire with rage. “Dad, watch the road,” Sam turned back just in time to swerve again. “You cheated. My son cheated. When have I ever showed you an example of dishonesty?” His father’s anger was turning into sorrow.

“Dad, it’s not your fault.” Hershel was now crying hysterically. “To hell, it’s not. It was your mother having a different man in her house every god damn day.” “No, dad. I just put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. I want to succeed. It’s nobody’s fault.” “Your god damn mother having some other man in her house every day. A new man every day.” “Dad, please stop.” “Yea,” he growled. He continued to mumble to himself until they pulled into the Applebee’s parking lot. Hershel wiped away his final tears as his father pulled the keys out of the starter. They exited the car and walked into the restaurant in silence.

“Two,” his father said curtly and they followed the waitress to the table. She seemed intimidated by the stagnant tension between Hershel and Sam. They sat in silence and pursued the menus. The waitress came shortly after. They ordered quickly and the waitress left hurriedly, not wanting anything to do with their argument.

“I’m gonna go wash my hands,” Hershel mumbled. “Yea,” his father returned. Hershel pushed his chair back and stood up. He took a look at his father and his father avoided his eyes. He walked past the bar where he bumped into a particularly tough looking Hispanic man wearing a blazer, dirty jeans, and work boots. He grabbed at something bulky in his jacket pocket before shooting Hershel a dirty look. Hershel didn’t pay him any mind. His focus was on something else. He pushed the door of the bathroom with a subdued force and entered. The toilet was flushing very loudly like a psychotic demon. He couldn’t even hear himself think, which was refreshing because thinking was the last thing he wanted to do.

Hershel quickly rinsed his hands with soap and turned on the automatic hand dryer that added to the mass volume of sound permeating through the room. As he finished drying his hands, he made up his mind. He was going to apologize to his father for what he did and promise to fix it. His father always appreciated sincere apologies. He pulled open the door and almost tripped as he stepped out of the bathroom.

He looked down and saw someone lying down. There was a pool of blood on the floor. Hershel looked around wildly. People were running in all directions. He saw the man he had bumped into earlier running out the front door. Tables were on the floor and people were climbing over each other to get to the side exits. Hershel didn’t see his father anywhere. He made for the table that they had been sitting at. His father was still sitting there. His upper body was spread out across the table. There was a hole in the side of his head and a long streak of blood spilling out of it onto the floor. Hershel couldn’t understand why he didn’t hear the gunshot. The shooter must have used a silencer.

“Dad!” Hershel yelled. “Dad!” He shook his father sideways and his head turned against the table. His eyes rolled back and just stared up. Hershel squatted to look directly into his father’s eyes. “Dad, listen to me,” He put his hands around his father’s face. “Dad, please listen to me,” tears were streaming down his eyes. “Dad, I’m sorry for everything I ever did. I want you to know that. Dad, listen to me. I’m so sorry. Please, dad. I love you. I love you so much.” Hershel sat down on the floor and cried until he passed out.

* * * * * *

He woke up in his bed at his mother’s house. He thought he remembered an ambulance and a hospital bed, but he couldn’t be sure. He got out of bed and rubbed his head. He felt like it should have hurt, but it didn’t for some reason. When his feet hit the wooden floor of his room, a numbing cold shiver shot up his body. The events of the previous night suddenly replayed in his head. He lay back down quickly, grabbing his head harder.

“Mom,” he whispered embarrassed. “Mom,” he said with more confidence. “Mom!” he bellowed. “What? What?” his mother rushed into his room. “Mom,” Hershel sat up, “What happened last night? Did dad really…” he couldn’t finish his question. His mother sat down at the foot of his bed. She nodded her head slowly and blinked. She looked like she was about to say something, but sighed instead.

“Well, I have to get ready to go to school,” he stated. “Hershel, you don’t have to go to school today if you don’t want to. I can stay home from work today and just talk to you.”

“No, mom. I do not want to talk to you. I want to go to school and I want to fix this for good.” Hershel got dressed quickly, slung the backpack around his back and rushed to the subway stop. It felt good to be back on the subway. He thought of his dad who had taken him on his first subway ride. His eyes began to overflow, but he tilted his head back and held the tears in. Chemistry was his first class that day and that’s what he had to think about. He burst into the classroom without apology fifteen minutes late. Nobody knew about what had happened to him the previous night so he ignored Ms. Velouse’s question about his tardiness.

He was eyeing the serpentine cord with lust. It was rooted in the electric socket as it had been since the school purchased the damned fan half a century ago. It twisted and continued all the way into the pygmy fan that stood perched on the polished black table. He stared at the cord intently all throughout Ms. Velouse’s lecture on Lewis Dot diagrams. He found science boring as a matter of principle and couldn’t stand Ms. Velouse on a personal level. He made a point of not listening to her lectures normally, but this was different. Today, he wasn’t listening to her not because her lecture bored him, but because he found the cord far more interesting. He noticed the ravine dividing the cord into two halves and he followed it all the way down into the socket with his eyes.

“It depends on the electro negativity,” she said, answering someone’s question. Hershel stood up slowly and deliberately and stepped one foot in front of the other towards the fan. The fan was less than five feet away from Ms. Velouse in that cramped classroom. He took another step. She turned to look at him. “Is anything the matter?” she asked genially curious. He took one more step forward. “Hershel!” she added more worried. Suddenly, Hershel saw the scene flash before his very eyes as if it were happening again:

“Hershel!!!” his mother screamed. “God damn you! You four eyed fat assed creep! I could have been happy if your kike of a father hadn’t knocked me up!” He lunged at the fan and tore the chord out of the wall. He brought the chord around Ms. Velouse’s throat like a noose and held it with his right hand. Her knees gave out from fear, but he brought his knee up into the back of her thigh to bring her back up. He held the chord tight around her throat.

“I didn’t cheat, damn it!” He tightened the chord and she let out a nauseating sound as she began to choke on her own saliva. The corners of his mouth twitched into a smile. “God damn you! I didn’t cheat!” The entire class had scuttled to the back of the room and he eyed them all suspiciously. Each one of them could potentially spoil his plan. Ms. Velouse brought her hands up to her throat. She tried to pull the chord away, but Hershel noticed her intentions and pulled against her even harder.

He thought he heard her try to say “Hershel” or maybe that’s just the sound one makes when air and saliva gets caught in one’s throat simultaneously.

“You killed my father. You did this! Do you understand me? If it weren’t for chemistry, there would be no guns! He would have still been alive! You did this! This was your fault!” Hershel screamed. “Do you like this? Are you enjoying this?” he hissed into her ear. Her eyes were beginning to tear from fear and lack of oxygen. “Do you enjoy feeling powerless!” he shouted, her ear lobe now between his teeth. “Speak!” he roared, and she jumped reflexively only to feel the chord tighten around her throat. He felt her giving up and he saw her eyes close. He tightened the chord around her neck. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Wake up!” He pressed his finger against her throat and he felt her pulse slowing down. He let go of the chord and pushed her hard in the back of the neck. Her unconscious from collapsed onto the floor. All of the students were frozen with horror at the back of the room.

“What’d you do?” someone sobbed. “Who said that?” Hershel whispered. “I did,” said Speave Benson, the kid who had picked on Hershel since fourth grade. “What did you say, Speave?” Hershel was beginning to inch towards the crowd of students now huddled at the back of the classroom.

“I said…” Speave stood up. “I said…” Speave tried again. Hershel continued to step towards Speave. Speave charged Hershel, knocking him towards the ground. He was now sitting on top of him and he brought a heavy fist down into Hershel’s face narrowly avoiding his noise and hitting his cheek hard. Hershel brought his hands up into Speave’s chest, pushing him off. Hershel tumbled over into a position on top of Speave and landed his own punch. Speave’s nose cracked under Hershel’s knuckle and blood started sprouting from it. Hershel jumped up and backed away from Speave. He had always been squeamish and this quickly forming pool of blood was something he had caused. He back pedaled into a table full of lab equipment. Speave’s eyes were tearing from pain, but he held his mouth closed tight, holding back screams of anguish that were clear in his eyes. He took another staggering step towards Hershel. Hershel felt around on the table behind him. He grasped a large beaker behind him. Speave took another step towards him, teeth clenched. Hershel clenched his own teeth and his eyes spilled at what he was about to do. He hit the beaker hard against the table. The bottom shattered, leaving a long blade of broken glass in Hershel’s hand. Speave lunged at Hershel. Without thinking, Hershel brought the broken beaker up into Speave’s throat. It cut through a vein and blood shot out of it all over Hershel’s sweatshirt. Speave collapsed onto the floor, twitching.

“God damn it!” he screamed as he dashed towards the sink. Numbing ice cold water began to replace the quickly drying blood on his hands. Not bothering to reach for the paper towels, he dashed out of the room, tap water shooting off his hands like stray shards of debris. He almost trampled Mr. Williams, the short, pathetic, permutation of a math teacher who had stepped out of his own classroom to inspect the noise.

He sprinted down the steps of the school and straight out the door before the security guard could stop him. He ran flat out for almost half an hour until he finally slowed down. He realized how manipulative the freezing cold was as it numbed his limbs. He couldn’t control the speed of his legs anymore and they carried him at an agonizingly slow but steady pace. The wind was blowing at him from all sides but he felt at peace. He had accomplished a task he had never dreamed of being able to accomplish.

His parents had taught him morals; what was right and wrong. He remembered them in the inner recesses of his mind and he was proud to have overcome them. He finally understood that playing by the rules of a world that wasn’t conducive to those rules was stupid. He continued to walk at the same rhythmic pace until he reached the subway station. The subway ride was quick, but still too long. He had already made up his mind. Even as he sat on the unnaturally heated plastic seats, he could hear his mother. “He must be with his no good father again, that Sam, the kike,” she would explain to another boyfriend. Neither of them actually knew or cared where he went.

He disembarked at DeKalb, where he jumped off the platform and onto the tracks. He jogged along the tracks until he reached the familiar spot that he had called his second home for the last several months. He had no possessions or furniture except “Hole” and “Fag.” He stepped onto the cinder block that had served as the threshold to his humble abode for close to six months now. He looked around the damp concrete where he had sat and pondered his life for hours at a time. He stepped off the cinder block and onto the tracks. He made sure that he had one foot on each track and he stared back at the subway stop he had jogged from. He heard the mechanical rumbling even before the blinding light turned the corner. Hershel loved the R train. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, sucking the air in through his nose as the train sped towards him.

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