It’s only midnight, but the only noise is the steady beat of steel wheels forging worn rails, the bass line to the metrical ticks of crystal oscillators tracking one weekday to the next. I’m too tired to sleep, leaving me to admire her unnaturally red lips kissing the blur of white spots rushing past the never-quite-black sky. As neon signs announce each passing street, a shy smile betrays her lonely eyes as she catches a glimpse of my unprepared face, and for a brief moment, we’re thankful for the blinding lights keeping us away from our slumber. I struggle to stretch my muscles into a quiet smirk of appreciation, but my vision slowly drifts back into darkness as my mind restlessly begs for sleep to arrive before my destination.
Another Wednesday, and I’m late at work again, hoping to make it home before my mattress forgets the shape of my spine. My worried walk to the back of the train is worsened by the continuous teasing from the air-conditioned breeze pouring out of each open car door, which never seems to cool the sweltering platform. The final car presents itself as a desperate search for a forward-facing seat, but before I plop down, weary and sopping, our eyes lock again. The striking gray fibers emanating from her pupils light up in a puzzled excitement before her head turns to hide a smile meant for the dark tunnel walls. I’m left next to her wrinkled black purse, which is struggling for attention underneath her aquamarine nails. She nudges closer, pretending the industrial plastic train walls are too cold for her barely-covered skin. But the moon tonight is the night sun, reminding us that tomorrow is too soon for our dreams to shine.
My final trek to the dinky station is marked by an ironically reflective silence as my legs reluctantly repeat their familiar routine. The future-obsessed frontal lobe of mine is busy fighting off hope for another quiet solitude spent conversing in reserved facial expressions mired in the fog after a long day. But my clever wish is met row-by-row as I return to my favorite drab-colored chair, leaving me distracted by a concern for soon-to-be-broken habits. Yet as the speakers begin to vibrate with the sounds of a soon-to-depart train, she bustles in with a loud sigh and optimistic relief, and quickly shares my seat. I ignore her as I try to drown myself under the smooth beats of chillwave, reminiscing of a sedated summer from some non-existent memory. But by the first lurch forward, I’m awake again, anxious to share a secret between us. As I remind my arm how to write, I note my new path over a craggy rendition of city streets before passing my art-turned-communication to her surprised excitement and disembarking on nervous strides.
The weaker sun is drawing sharp shadows over her flawless foundation as I glance again at her preoccupied form. She looks different: confident but concerned, prepared but limited. Her fast pace causes her to barely notice my ill-fitting sunglasses and waxed hair, but in a moment she is past me without a nod or wave. I snap my head, hoping for a second glance, while my mind considers the possibility of a mistaken identity. Yet the truth is simple: it’s over. I chide myself for dreaming beyond reality as my heart sinks along the forgotten path of a loose anchor. The leap of faith I had built from my dreary present to a perfect future is now broken, and I am lost again. As I relearn my path home, I’m left wondering how much of my faith is from the fairytales that fuel my imagination. Maybe now I truly understand the foolish power of hope.
As each leaf releases its hold, each cream-colored bob I pass is a silent reminder of those peaceful rides. I long for the uncomfortable heat of the summer sun hugging my skin, a distant memory I mold into the warmth of a quiet embrace. The sidewalk begins to mimic traffic as couples huddle and slow their pace, and I’m left zooming past, a suicidal biker with only one heart to give and no love to take it. I rest my frosty eyes at the blindly smooth portraits staring from the bus stop, egging my subconscious toward an unreachable future. Thankfully, the light flips and I spring forward, following some invisible crosswalk crossword with my feet, distracted by a somber nostalgia for optimism and the sound of my footsteps on asphalt. But no, a pastel yellow taxi! Stopping inches from my hip with a loud honk, I debate slapping the hood before I realize my deadly ignorance. Luckily, the adrenaline teleports my body to the opposite concrete curb. Maybe that other future is a better place to be.
The cold wooden bench is surprisingly inviting as the icy wind nips at my thin track jacket. My hands clench at my pockets for heat as my elbows poke at my sides. I watch the model sailboats rock back and forth as the shiny ripples reflect off the edges of the pond in front of me. The thermometer betrays the bright sunlight, leaving joggers and dog walkers to circle the paths without the chatter of after school children. Dressed in the black spandex uniform and bright shoes of aspiring marathoners, two silhouettes race closer to my chair. It’s a daring hope without reason, leaving me a heart to lose and nothing to gain, yet I long for the confident pace I lack. It’s her. Preoccupied in conversation with her partner, I’m only a background extra in her daily play, trying not to stare at the star of the show.
Perhaps, as they say, it all comes to an end, as it always does. The trees lay bare, prepared for another winter, as steam billows out from smokestacks topping busy buildings. Yet I am alone. On a piece of weathered schist jutting out of the frosty dirt, I sit, staring at the sinking hills on the water’s surface. It is a peaceful silence, without scheduled trains and hurried passengers, and yet I miss the comforting noise of being lost in a sea of commotion, drowning my island of loneliness. But of all that, I only wish for warmth. Maybe I first need to spark my own fire to share, and only then do I deserve a warm embrace for my tired soul. Sadly, I am long gone. I hoped more than I fought, I dreamed more than I chased, and for that measly effort, I have nothing.