“On the Way to the Clinic” by Randolph Splitter
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Randolph Splitter deals with an existential crisis on a New York City subway. Next week, Christian Aguiar brings us to a provincial town in South Korea, where a small packet of seeds reaps large consequences.
On the platform between the subway tracks, a young woman was playing the violin. A few dollar bills and coins were scattered over the inside of her case. She played semiclassical versions of pop tunes that Maria couldn’t quite recognize. The music was nice, and the young woman had a sweet, pleasant face, but as soon as she got onto the crowded subway car Maria knew that she had made a mistake. It was a simple procedure, they had said, but not that simple.
The car was filled with so many people that she couldn’t even find a pole to hold on to. She had to squeeze between three sweaty soccer players and a large woman carrying a huge Macy’s shopping bag like a protective shield. The noise was giving her a headache, and the heat was making her queasy. She longed to sit down, but evidently the skinny young guys bantering with their friends hadn’t heard of the quaint old tradition of giving up their seat to a woman, not even one in her condition.
Mechanically, she scanned the familiar, wordy advertisements for vocational courses, miraculous plastic surgery, and cheap legal assistance. She closed her eyes and breathed shallowly through her mouth, trying to shut out the noise and the stink.
She hadn’t told David because she knew he wasn’t mature enough to handle the situation. Neither was she. They were both in their early twenties—she a nursing student who didn’t like needles or blood, he a dishwasher and part-time actor with aspirations of becoming a chef. They saw each other twice a week, ate Chinese or Italian take-out, went to a movie, ate in, ate out, had sex, watched television, that sort of thing. After a month or two he said that he loved her. What had she said in reply? It had been only four and a half months, but it seemed like a blur now.
The subway car rumbled through a turn, and she had to seize part of a pole that already belonged to someone else to avoid losing her balance and flying into the soccer players or the bag lady.
She watched the walls of the tunnel flit by: cobalt-blue lights at regular intervals, station names in coal-black block letters on an Ivory Soap background, long stretches of black nothingness. The black nothingness drew her in, hypnotized her. She had a hard time shaking it off.
It was only a few more stops to the clinic.
Now the subway car dove under the river, which always amazed and frightened her. She couldn’t imagine how the walls of the tunnel could hold back the tremendous pressure of all that water, or how the laborers who had excavated the tunnel had managed to dig and breathe under the roaring flood. What if there was an earthquake? Or a simple leak? She tried not to think about it. But as the car cruised under the river, it started to roll more slowly. It got slower and slower and gradually came to a stop.
At first the passengers continued to squint at their newsprint or fiddle with their overly demanding phones.
But the train just rested there at the bottom of the river, like the whale that had swallowed Jonah. Maria glanced rapidly from face to face, wondering why the others were so out of touch, so oblivious to the breakdown of their only means of escape. Her heart was beating faster. The sweat was beginning to pour down her face. She imagined fish swimming past the windows, peering in at them hungrily with their swollen mouths and off-kilter eyes.
The black nothingness engulfed them. Maria looked out the windows but couldn’t see anything. Then the lights in the car went dark. A temporary blackout, or something worse? She was beginning to feel like someone was trying to tell her something.
Every so often their car emitted little squeaks and hisses, as if it were going to start moving again after all, but they were all false alarms. The car sat there in perfect silence, punctuated only by the odd clicks of the smartphones, the heavy breathing of the bag lady, and the suddenly amplified drumbeat of her own heart. But the steady ka-thump, ka-thump in her chest was itself doubled by a fainter echo, like the underwater signaling of a secretly intelligent sea creature. Was it a heart murmur? Or that other heartbeat inside her?
RANDOLPH SPLITTER’s novel The Ramadan Drummer is forthcoming from Pandamoon Publishing. He has published two other books: the novella/story collection Body and Soul (Creative Arts) and a critical study of Marcel Proust (Routledge & Kegan Paul). He has also written prize-winning screenplays and made short films. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Hamilton College; earned a PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley; taught literature, creative writing, and composition at Caltech and De Anza College; and edited the (inter)national literary magazine Red Wheelbarrow.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Nov 24, 2014
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