The Central Line
It is 3 a.m. and I am waiting for a train. I know that this is a dream because the central line was something the city talked extensively about but never got around to, in a typical government-funded he-said-she-said. But I haven’t been sleeping well these past few weeks, so I decide to play along. My subconscious has probably been feeling abandoned and will need ample time to express itself.
It is 3:05 a.m. and I am waiting for a train. It is February, the month I hate more than any other, and I light a cigarette to offset the chill. I’ve been trying to quit, but why not indulge a little bit? It’s imaginary tobacco, so the worst that will happen is I’ll die from lung cancer in my dream tomorrow night. My generation is frivolous with consequences.
Snow begins to fall lightly, like sifted powdered sugar and I move to guard the lit end of my cigarette, enjoying the feeling of smoke in my lungs juxtaposed against the flakes sticking to my hair and reddening my nose. It is quiet.
I inhale deeply, the nicotine rushing to my head with a dizzying sense of clarity. I understand why once you begin, you never want to let go. I feel as light as the air around me. The wind picks up and the snow begins to swirl gently at my feet. It is 3:17 a.m.
For some reason I am wearing my favorite pair of heels, shoes I only break out for very rare occasions, and I fear for them as the snow continues to dance about. I move to sit on a bench, carved with long forgotten devotions to past lovers and mortal enemies, the primitive carvings done by children old enough to know better but too hurt to care.
The paint has been worn away by age and abuse and the weather, although, come to think of it, it hasn’t snowed here since I was twelve, and even then, was only a quarter of an inch, but that’s enough for someone who has never been held hostage by the weather.
I have been distracted for too long, and my cigarette has gone out, though I crush it with my stiletto heel, just for good measure. Those Smokey the Bear commercials really made an impact. Too bad the Above the Influence campaign never had the same effect. It’s 3:26 a.m.
I remember once my mother told me that the more you change, the more everything stays the same. Or maybe that was just the quote at the beginning of a novel I read last week. Everything is beginning to blur together, words, both printed and spoken, swirl like the snow around my head. It’s getting harder to remember who said what, only that someone else is the one doing all the talking, and not me. I have plenty to say. But I am afraid to say it.
Maybe it is because I’m afraid to let it out into the atmosphere where it can be intercepted by overanxious minds and twisted into a weapon. Or maybe my words will be underdressed and everyone at the party will be embarrassed for me. I can never tell. So I keep my mouth otherwise occupied. I light another cigarette.
Every time I go to a party in a garage someone tells me that a white lighter is bad luck but I laugh in their face because I don’t believe in luck, I believe in aesthetics.
At 3:45 a.m., a man in a black trench coat begins to walk towards me. I am on my third cigarette and, consequently, unafraid. Instead I admire his gait, and the way his coat swishes silently around his calves. I have always wanted a trench coat. His shoes tap a steady rhythm as he approaches me. I do not wonder what he will say, because I know he will tell me whether I want him to or not.
As he approaches, I sweep my eyes over the face of a man I have never seen before. Often with strangers I am able to find slight characteristics and features that remind me of people I am close to. Doppelgangers in a simple sense, because it is easier to envision someone I already know than to bother with the niceties of getting to know a stranger. But this man’s face is unfamiliar, and for that I am glad. This is my dream, and I am free of the unrelenting presences in my everyday life. At least my dreams are my own. I must remember to thank my subconscious later.
He opens his mouth to speak, and for an instant, I think we will remain forever in this moment of limbo, caught in between the present and the future, for time cannot move on unless we truly will it to. But then his words escape and I am met with a hot Atlanta summer, with visions of cotillions and too-sweet tea, perspiration hidden behind a wooden fan, and a gentleman who will kiss your white-gloved hand. “The train isn’t coming,” he states simply in his Southern drawl.
I nod my head ever so slightly, and in that moment, he knows that the words he offered me are of no consequence. I will continue to wait. And so, he nods back, and with a scuff of his shoe, is gone.
But I remain, on a bench in the wee small hours of the morning. 3:56 a.m. and I wonder if I will be waiting forever. Did they really wait forever for Godot, or did the audience just grow weary and wander home, bemoaning the lack of a climax and consequently missing the resolution altogether? I suppose I will never know unless I remain here quietly contemplating my purpose. But that sounds like a regular Tuesday for me, so I guess I’d rather go home.
At home there is coffee, and swimming pools that smell like too much chlorine, and there are endless numbers of books that I say I’ve grown bored with, but I know I’ll be back to. There are Sunday mornings with my mother where we drink too much tea and try to pretend that we hate each other, just to mix things up for a change. There are dresses of lace, and boys who tell me I am pretty, and there are secrets that I haven’t yet begun to share.
So I will go back. I will wake, and all will be as it was. And yet, despite my resolution, I do not know how to escape from a dream. If the numbness of my hands hasn’t done it, I doubt a pinch will be effective. So I wait. It cannot be much longer. I am a mild sleeper at best. No doubt a stranger on his morning stroll will walk past my front door and incur the relentless barking of my sandy haired puppy. The walls of my room are thin. He will wake me soon.
But until then, it is 4:00 a.m. And I am waiting for a train.