Signal Clearance

by sentimentalsurrealist

            For a moment, we’re suspended in the air, maybe a mile above the city. The voice tells us we’re waiting for signal clearance. I look down and see cars frozen at a red light like racers waiting for the starting gun. The lake sits a little further, and the voice tells us to look for any suspicious or abandoned packages. Other trains blur by. I wonder what would happen if someone jumped out of one of them, at this height.

            The train lurches and starts up again, and I’m at eye level with power lines, steeples, apartments with “for rent” signs. Close enough to see into people’s windows. The train trundles on, tilts this way, then that way, screeches. The car behind us waves to the left and to the right, held only by cables. Another train zooms past, and I wonder what happens if it loses control and smashes into ours. The voice tells standing passengers not to lean on the doors. Our car’s this big metal hunk, a capsule full of astronauts talking on phones or sleeping, some staring at books and some staring at the map on the wall. The voice reminds us to pay special courtesy for passengers with disabilities. No effort is made to hide the screws that hold the car together. One of them, on a stand that holds the plastic seats, looks a little loose. I imagine the seat coming off and flying at me after a hard turn.
            The wheels squeak as though the track is protesting our presence. We stop. Kids get on. They’re welcomed aboard. The next stop is announced, and the voice prohibits soliciting and gambling, and I see us running off the track and falling upside-down into crowded city streets, pancaking cars, all of us dying on impact. Now the skyscrapers look like stakes. A girl in purple pants and a sweater with leaves on it watches a third train pass in the opposite direction. Two men sitting at other ends of this moving tunnel catch each other’s eyes. A nod is shared between them.
            The train takes another stop. Posters advertise celebrity vanity shows no one will ever watch. The turnstile clicks, the bell rings, the doors close. I take a look at the man who just nodded. He has glasses, floppy hair. He’s talking on a cell phone, his face buried in his fat hands, and he’s got a backpack with him. This man gets off at the next stop and leaves his backpack behind. The other man gets off, too. Just as the doors close, I dart over to the backpack and pick it up. Then I run after the man in blue, forcing my way through the doors. I reach to open it, but my mind swats my hand away. I imagine the backpack exploding, tearing apart the ticket window, sending the rickety station up like fireworks. It’s tempting to set the bag down and run away, but I keep it. The trains rumble above my head, whooshing. People take their tickets from the turnstiles. A woman in a green shirt and blue jeans argues with a black man about the price of her ticket. A man comes up the stairs, a child in one hand and groceries in the other.
            The man in blue stands at the bottom of the stairs. The other man is nowhere to be seen. I hear the train’s squeaks from above and imagine the man in blue pulling out a gun and riddling me with bullets. I imagine myself falling, faster than it happens in the movies, although it happens slowly in my head because they say your brain can make that last moment feel as long as you want it to. The body hits the ground with a thud, meat hitting the slaughterhouse floor. I call the man. He turns. I hand him his backpack.