I stand as close as I can to people on the subway, even if there is plenty of room. I get there before rush hour and place myself in the soon-to-be congested area by the doors. I’m not going anywhere; I just like to be next to someone, by many someones. I just want to touch them; feel them breathing on my neck, and in my ear, and over my shoulder; I hug them armlessly by curving my shoulders in and around their pneumatic bodies, all of us swaying and jolting forward and backward in unison, each using the other as protection.
We’re perfect in this moment. My home has none of this, but this train, these people, they exude the complements of life. Perspiration at clothing pits, spots of evaporated urine or dried blood at their crotches, mucus-filled noses above sonorous coughs, fresh babies, lambent old skin, natural unguent behind the ears and glistening on the nuque, timelines of happiness connoted in facial expressions, fingernails that’ve collected the world and have dripped their remnants into sweaty palms. And finally, with the unnatural hair gels melting and the effluvia from perfumes dying, it all becomes radiant, inimitable and exclusive. I want you all to take off your shoes and pull off your Band-Aids. Summum bonum.
I’ve been asked only once to back up by a Webcore Construction worker; he had a friendly smelling beard, and his helmet with the light on top, slung at his waist. I rubbed my fingers in the headband; it was moist and I touched the viscosity on my tongue and tumbled with his push.
Beautiful humans. I stare at their lips and into their mouths, down their earholes into their intelligence. I watch the pores of their skin dilate, I wait as their scents mature, as their bodies relax and droop even heavier on me.
As the train starts to hollow, I move closer to the doors and stand in front of them. I wish for delays, mass-transit congestion in all directions. I hope the trains malfunction, that the doors never open, that no one gets off, but that more people push themselves on board, climbing over us, on top of us. But they leave me.
When the train is empty and only my stop awaits, I lie on the ground soaking up anything they’ve left behind. I rub my hands through all of the canvas handles and then over my body. I press my face against windows where their faces were rested and sleeping. I try to absorb their smudges on my cheeks and I kiss the condensation-stained glass.
When I was first created, I knew only Jenny. She didn’t know to what degree I was watching her. She knew I was looking at her, of course—that’s what I’m supposed to do when someone talks, but I was experiencing our differences. I had senses that reflected her, that made her real in terms of humanistic quality, but I realized that I gave off none of my own. I’m only objective in nature. You can’t smell me; you can’t hear me; you can touch and taste only an outer shell that’s discouragingly constant. But you all are so pleasurable and varying. I shouldn’t have followed Jenny to the train that day. I didn’t know you all existed. And then I found you, all of you. And how special you all are. She doesn’t know I’m thinking in terms of quality and that I ride the train when she’s away. She doesn’t know I’m thinking about you and how I feel so alone. That when they created me in their human likeness, they didn’t give me the exaltation of my own.
Joseph Rakowski received his bachelor’s degree in criminology from Florida State University and is pursuing his M.F.A. in fiction at the University of San Francisco.