A simple premise; a bold promise
To present one story per day, every day—providing exceptional authors with exposure and avid readers with first-rate fiction.

In the cool

We’ve all been waiting a long time.  I was lucky to find a seat.  At least it’s cool down here in the tunnel:  it’s an oven outside.  I’ve joked about taking the subway just to escape the heat:  if I didn’t have someplace to be, so many places to be, maybe I’d do it. 

But the trains aren’t coming.

I’m sitting on a stone bench;  it doesn’t have a back, but if I scoot in I can lean against the tunnel wall behind it.  Everywhere else, on both sides of the tracks, people are trying to figure out what to do when they have no options.  They mill about, look around, stare at the screen that should be showing the train times but says “Error #0032” instead … anything they can think of while they’re far enough underground that their phones don’t work.  Cut off from our networks, we’ve become lost sheep.  My mind is going over and over all the places I could be right now if something would just happen.

Across the tracks a young Asian woman, big and bulky, gets off the elevator on the other side of the platform, holding a young baby.  It’s less crowded over there, so she stands out.  Something wakes the baby up, and it screams.

People turn to look.  Some move away.  The baby takes a breath and screams louder, flailing its little arms.  It hates us, I guess.  Maybe it can tell how angry we all are, to be stuck here. 

Stuck here with a screaming baby.

Its mother bounces it up and down, coos, shakes her head, kisses its nose … it just screams louder.  It shouts and shouts and cries and cries and the trains aren’t coming.

People are looking at each other, sharing knowing glances, confirming with strangers that we finally have a target. 

On my side of the tracks, an old Asian man in a gray suit … a disheveled gray suit, his checkered shirt un-tucked, his spotty shoes all the wrong colors, his white hair beginning to fall away … walks up to the divide in the platform.  Stares out across it at the screaming baby.  Shakes his head, opens his mouth, and begins to sing.  Something in, I don’t know, Chinese or Korean. 

He has an old man’s voice.  It’s not very strong.  It shakes.  It wobbles.  It doesn’t help that the song is jaunty, going up and down all the time.  Between his voice and the tune, this song is all over the place.  He stares across the platform, pushing this song to the other side.  Singing hard.

It’s that kind of day, I think.  Then the baby stops crying. 

It gurgles and then goes quit.  Its arms drop to its chest.  I expect it to pick up again, just take a breath and go, but the old man leans forward and keeps singing and the baby doesn’t make a peep.

I can’t believe it worked.  He did it.  Maybe he’s a wise old man, or something.  But he knew.  I feel the tunnel take a collective sigh of relief.  Keep singing, old man:  we don’t mind at all.  Actually, beneath all the age and infirmity, you’ve got a pretty lovely voice.  Old but good.  You can sure carry the tune, whatever it is.

There’s a chime from the speakers, and a rush of air, and a train pulls in to the other side of the platform.  At least somebody gets to move.  The doors open, people file in, and 30 seconds later the mother and her baby are gone. 

The old man stops, and it’s quite again, and the air is a little charged with the hope that maybe we’ll get to move soon too.

A few second later, the old man takes a deep breath … and starts his song over.

Just the same.  I don’t know a single word, but it’s the same thing from the top.  Oh what now?

We look around at one another.  Maybe he’s not wise.  Maybe he’s crazy.  Look at his shoes, look at his un-tucked shirt.  Yeah, the thing with the baby worked, but … so what?  It’s a nice tune, fast but soothing, like a waterfall, but … oh fuck, it’s been that kind of day, and it isn’t even lunch yet.

He’s not going to stop.  He sings, and sings, and we don’t know to who.  I lean my head back against the wall and close my eyes.  Dammit dammit dammit.  I should be at work right now.  I probably have a hundred emails, waiting on my phone.  It’s meetings all afternoon, so if I don’t get my reports done in the morning I’ll have to stay late.  Nothing’s gone right since I left Leila.  She kept me calm in ways I must have forgotten about after a few years.  Everything’s harder now:  in fact, nothing’s easy.  I thought I’d like dating, but I don’t.  I’m having more sex than I’ve ever had in my life, it’s probably the only chance I’ll ever have to be a player, and it’s not helping.  I’m turning 35 in just a few weeks, and I’ll never be rich, and I’ll never be famous, and it felt like I had so much more potential ten years ago.  I found out, after the break-up, that I don’t have a lot of really good friends.  Not people who will make it a point to see if I’m okay.  I’m not okay.  I do nothing but busy work, and I’m making money but for this it seems like I should be making more, and if I lose my job in this economy I don’t know what I’ll do.  I don’t know who to ask.  The only person I can really talk to about this is Leila and … I can’t talk to her.  She’s hurt.  Of course she’s hurt.  I hurt her. 

There’s a chime from the speakers, and a rush of air, and a train pulls in to our side of the platform.  Around me, I hear sighs of relief as everyone walks to the doors.  The old man stops singing, or I can’t hear him anymore, and I should open my eyes and get up and board the train and get on with it. 

But I don’t. 

I sit, in the cool, my head against the wall, my eyes closed, and there’s a pleasant breeze when the train groans to life and roars away. 

They’re all gone:  at least, it sounds like I’m alone.  I can hear the old man’s song in my mind. 

This is better.


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media,, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at

Read more fiction by Benjamin Wachs


To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page