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Today's Story by E.A. Fow

They screamed just as she did, terrified she would be electrocuted by the live third rail.

The Fall

Standing on the subway platform, she imagined everything bad that could happen that day. The train was delayed, so she would be late to work for starters and would be lambasted by her boss in front of her co-workers, her pay docked. If her son vomited again, the school would call, but if she wanted to keep her job, she could not go and pick him up; the school would notify child services again. She stood defeated, her head in her hands, so she didn’t notice the raving man spinning down the platform like a ragged, angry dervish. The other riders stepped back, but his jerking arm hit her as he whirled past. Pushed off balance, she stumbled then fell from the platform.

He had pushed her unwittingly, and to those who saw it happen, she appeared to launch, her arms stretching forward, her body long as if diving not falling, then she hit with a crunch and a dull metallic twang. They screamed just as she did, terrified she would be electrocuted by the live third rail that powered the trains, but she buckled as she hit, ending up curled, safe.

She did not feel safe; amidst the rails on the ground nearly five feet below, she looked up at the lights and the riders on the platform above and felt as if she was trapped at the bottom of a canyon. Then she felt pain, but it didn’t occur to her to panic yet, even though the train she had been waiting for was overdue. She could not hear the other riders calling to her, or the panicked cries of the women who ran back and forth looking for the non-existent subway staff. She could still hear the crunch of impact, and the throb of blood in her ears and her back. She moved gingerly, unsure if she was broken, but jumped when a shadow squeaked and moved; a rat ran off, indignant. She was overcome by revulsion, suddenly aware she was sitting in dirt and oil and trash people had thrown onto the tracks. The smell of urine drifted around her. She got to her knees without putting her hands down again, and then to her feet, and then the frission of the rails began, the metal zinging telegraphing the approaching train. Now she heard the screams from above.

There were no lights yet, so she knew the train was coming but hadn’t reached the curve before the tunnel opened into the station. She looked up– there were no hand holds, no way to climb up. She looked back to the entrance of the station where the train would soon appear. The vision of a deer in front of a car about to bounce up onto the windscreen flashed through her head and she went limp. The deer faded and was replaced by the silhouette of a moth in front of a bright light, helpless and destined. She felt glazed, congealed, like her limbs were not quite solid. She could hear people calling to her, yelling and screeching, but as if from a distance and slowed down, not words anymore, just sounds in waves, as if she was underwater, and then time snapped back as bright headlights bounced off the curve and lit up the tracks; the train was coming and she couldn’t get away.

She looked under the platform, perhaps  it was hollow and she could hide, but it was  a concrete wall. Across the tracks, there was no place to stand. Then she looked between the rails; should she lie down between the tracks and the train could roll right over her? It seemed feasible, but should she lie face up, or should she lie face down? Would the train really pass over her? No it would peel her, skin and muscle first, like a sardine can and she would be left as organs and bones on the dirty ground.

She wondered if she should just close her eyes and let the train kill her quickly, but she could not leave her son. Whatever people said, she was not that mother; she had to find a way. She looked up again at the clamoring people.

They screamed in desperation, but she would not reach up, and no one could reach down far enough to grab her and haul her to safety, but then the miracle happened. A man jumped down onto the tracks with her. She did not see him; she was mesmerized by the sight of the train which was now entering the far end of the station. She yelped as he grabbed her and lifted her up into the crowd’s hands, and suddenly she was up and out and safe, and then her rescuer was pulled up, too, but only just. The wind of the train thundering into the station blew everyone back from the speeding metal sides of the subway cars, which squealed to a halt: just another station, just another stop on the A train.

She lay cradled in a stranger’s arms on the platform, sore and jumbled, not sure if she was alive or dead, and when the doors opened, oblivious straphangers exited, finding a pile of people and a crowd looking at them, clapping and crying. And then the moment was over as the crowd clambered onto the train, still needing to get where they were going. She heard the chime of the closing doors and realized the man who had saved her was gone, too.

As the train pulled out, the emergency workers pulled in: firemen running down the stairs, EMTs behind them, police coming from another direction, summoned but too late. They stood around her, uncertain what to do now there was no catastrophe, just a shocked woman on the platform crying that she was late for work, and no sign of the man who had pushed her.


E.A. Fow lives, writes, and paints in Brooklyn, NY.


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