Saturday, March 19, 2016

Strange Girl on a Train, Stephanie Anderson

Blind But Now I See
By Stephanie Anderson

The train rocked back and forth rhythmically, a quick jolt over every rail tie they passed over. The car was more empty than usual, yet the regulars all present: the harried businesswoman, hair in a tight bun, and a suit that wanted to be expensive, but the fraying hem told otherwise; the young college student, a commuter whose ears were always stuffed with headphones and hands busy with a tech device; the elderly gentleman in pleated pants and derby hat, a cane always by his side; the slick-haired CEO-type holding barking conversations on his cell phone despite the “Be Polite: No Phone Calls While Train Is In Motion” signs plastered on the wall behind him; and the free-spirited 20-something woman in Birkenstocks, flowy shirts and long wavy hair on her way home from her job at the bookshop.

Everyone present, yet the car felt thin somehow, less filler passengers coming and going. With each stop, the car become more empty, each passenger bidding the day goodbye when their stop arrived. One by one, the regulars exited through the door without even a glance back, sights set on their daily evening routine: drinks, dinner, a quick run at the gym. After a time, only the elderly man remained, staring thoughtfully into the distance. Staring and listening.

At the next stop, the one where free-spirited Birkenstock flittered off the train, a new passenger boarded. The man took notice, because usually, the closer he got to his stop, the less people entered through the doors. It was late evening, and the train was headed away from the busy streets and lights of the city. Hardly anyone got on in these suburbs headed toward the country. Only the old man, with his cane, and many memories.

The new passenger sat hunched in the front of the car, breathing heavily, but clearly trying to stifle the noise. He watched, curiously, as her head turned side to side, looking but not focused. Her eyes, a beautiful blue, were set in a pretty, youthful face. She blinked as though she had to remind herself to open and close them. The hair on her head was a bright shade of orange-red, a halo around the sun at dusk. It sat wildly and uneven, as though a brush had only combed through parts of it, the rest subject to the daily abuse of wind and sleep.

She didn’t notice him, even though he sat facing her only a few rows away. Her eyes made unblinking loops, like she were tracing a large circle in front of her face, careful to catch everything from left, right, top and bottom. It was as if she were testing her ocular muscles for the first time, making sure they worked. She looked down, gingerly felt the seat with her hand, inching until she found the armrest and grasped it tightly.

The man’s torso tensed as he took her in. He knew what he was seeing, what was happening before him. She was trying so hard to hide it, from the moment she tenderly, slowly, boarded the train, subtly keeping her hands out to the side to guide her to an open seat. Her feet scouted her trail, detecting objects before the rest of her body came upon them.

She was in the midst of it, The Blindness, and better for her to contain it, hide it, so the officials wouldn’t catch on. Even breathing this infraction was cause for imprisonment. But the man knew better. He knew that there were no holding cells for criminals in those buildings. Maybe a long time ago, before the Cleansing. But now, those rooms were places for experiments, scientific analysis, trial and error. 

In other words, torture.

There were few who were able to hide it well enough to come out on the other side. Few knew there was another side, beyond the void of light. It had come on slowly for him, until one day he woke up in the dead of night, only the night never went away. He feared the blackness would be with him forever, consume him, until they found him, marking him as an Infraction. An error. A blight. 

There is another side, though, and he’d found it before they found him. A place of light, where he opened his eyes and realized he had never seen before. That the life he’d lived before the void was false, a lie, manufactured. This girl was consumed by the blackness, but if she could only hang on.

His stop was coming quickly, so he stood up and quietly made his way over to her. He stood next to her seat, aware that she was now aware of him. She closed her eyes to appear asleep, which was wise. He knew it was the easiest way to pass for normal, the best way to avoid being mistaken as a Blind.

Blind, he scoffed in his own mind. During the blackness, he thought he knew what it meant to be blind. To have even the nuance of shadows taken from him, no color, no light, no texture. Only the vastness of nothing, he almost lost himself in it. But it was on the other side he realized, after half a lifetime, that he’d only now just begun to see.

He stooped over, as if to tie his shoe, which was a completely normal thing to do and nothing that would draw attention. He inclined his head ever so slightly toward her ear, and he could hear her heart quicken at his closeness.

“Don’t give up,” he breathed. Her body stiffened as she sharply drew in her breath. “This is the worst of it. But there are others who have made it to the other side. Right now all you know is the blackness. But there is light.”

A lone tear rolled softly down her cheek, and her hand found his forearm and clutched it tightly. He covered her hand in his.

“When?” she whispered.

“Soon. I know because I made it, too. But you have to go under the radar, you can’t stand out,” he warned. “Lay low, hide away if you can. Only a little while more. And if you can make it, if you can last until the other side, it’ll be the most beautiful thing your life has ever experienced.”

She shook her head. “I don’t understand,” she quietly wept. “Why?”

“Because this is how they wanted it. How they made it. But the lie won’t last forever. It’s already fading. And there will be more of us, you see. Until then, though, it’s dangerous. And even more so after. I will try to find you,” he promised.

“What have I done?” she pleaded. “Why am I being punished?”

The train slowed as his destination arrived. He had to explain before he left, so she knew the hope.

“You aren’t being punished, child.” he explained in a hushed hurry. “You’re being set free. I lived my whole life blind, but now I see.”

With that, he stood up and, as swift as his aged legs and cane would take him, left the train.


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