Their Wall

An offering of flash fiction that welcomes its reader into the chaotic world of the New York City Subway, where one benevolent passenger’s attempt to be a hero is poorly received… 

by: Katherine Gleason

I’m on the R train going nowhere. I’m daydreaming, imagining a beach, gentle waves, and palm trees. I notice two girls diagonally across from me are freaked out, scared as hell, and I’m wondering what did I miss? My spidey senses come to full alert. I keep my head still. I move my eyes, only the eyes, and I see it. The guy across from them, a big dude wearing a flannel shirt, has got his fly unzipped and his thing is lolling out in his lap and he’s pretending he’s absorbed in his cell phone. He slowly moves one hand, and touches the thing. The girls have stopped breathing. I’m just about to jump up and yell, when the train slams to a halt, jittering my teeth and toppling my groceries. I grab my apples, potatoes, the whatnots and the whozits. I’m looking at him with my inner eye. That’s when I remember a cartoon from the Village Voice and part of me is thinking, Does anyone read The Voice anymore? Do I? And another part of me thinks, Oh, yeah, this is what I gotta do. So, instead of yelling at the guy who is bigger than me, and probably deranged or at least depraved, I get up, put on my friendliest face, sashay over to the girls. I’m gonna be a wall, see, their wall. I’m gonna block the view. I’m going to protect them.

I angle myself right between the girls and the man. One of the girls, she’s maybe twelve, is staring in her lap, squeezing her fingers together. The other is looking in her bag, or pretending to. She’s wearing a headscarf and I say, “Buenos días.” It just slips out, so I continue. “Bon jour. Dobrii den’.” Now I’m worried they’re gonna be scared of me. I say, “Your scarf is so pretty,” and she nods. She elbows her friend, the one squeezing her fingers together, and she nods too. The one in the headscarf is looking me right in the eye. I take a breath, imagine the fourth chakra spinning, spinning out love, catching her in a green web of love. But my third chakra’s going crazy, a blur of yellow will and I can feel the man behind me moving. She shifts her eyes away from me to him and I shake my head, direct her back, and her eyes settle with me and then are moving again. I hear a grunt from behind me. I want to lunge and cut the prick off that prick. I whirl around and leap. The man is standing up. He’s leaning against a pole, holding his pants with one hand. I throw myself at the door to the conductor’s compartment. Thud. I swing my fist into the plexiglass window. I shake the door handle. The conductor doesn’t even turn, he waves one arm. Shoo. The train’s loudspeaker crackles and hums. Then a voice. Something, something. Next stop. The train creaks forward. I slither back to my girls. I am their wall. “We could get off at the next stop,” I say. “To get away.” “Yes,” the one with the headscarf says. “Yes.” I’ve almost saved them and we are sliding into Union Square. The train doors open, the girls pop up and before I can gather my things, they are out the door, down the platform, and gone.

The pervert is still leaning against the poll and I grab my stuff and instead of getting off, I dump my largest bag right in the doorway. The doors close, or try to, but my stuff is in the way. The doors open and close on my stuff, chewing my bag. Open again. Loudspeaker crackle. Stand clear. Screech. “Clear the doors, clear the doors in the rear.” The doors chomp down on my bag. The doors spring back open and the conductor appears. “We don’t have all day,” he says. “On or off the train.” “Him,” I say. “You gotta take him off the train. He’s got his thing out.” I fling a net of yellow will over the pervert. The conductor waggles his head. “He’s exposing himself,” I yell, extending my arm to point and at the same moment the conductor takes a step and he collides with my arm, or my arm collides with him. He spins around and before I can take a breath my arm is pinned behind me. “That’s it, lady,” he says. “You are under arrest.”


Katherine Gleason’s short stories have appeared in journals such as Alimentum, River Styx, and Southeast Review, and online at Derelict Lit, Juked, Jellyfish Review, Mississippi Review, Journal of Microliterature, and Monkeybicyle. She won first prize in the 2007 River Styx/Schlafly Beer Micro-Fiction Contest, garnered an honorable mention from Glimmer Train, and has published a number of nonfiction books, including Anatomy of Steampunk: The Fashion of Victorian Futurism (Race Point Publishing, 2013).

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