The Richmond Inbound train pulls up and the doors clunk open. Will they close? Ethan sways back and forth as he waits for a handful of riders to disembark. The doors close behind him and the train lurches forward. It is near empty, so he chooses a forward facing seat next to a window. It’s more comfortable than the concrete at the station, but only just. The seat covers are cold.
The Richmond pulls into the West Oakland station and a crowd of 25 or more boards. It is mostly young adults heading in town to drink and party, raise hell and make it home before the last train; or on occasion hookup with a local. The folly of youth is only a matter of confidence sans wisdom. San Francisco is a singles town. Like everywhere else, all are judged according to earning potential and peculiarity, accomplishment and accouterments. It treasures character, originality, and even the perfect execution of sublime similarity.
This city is not for the meek or faint of heart. Even high-middle-class uber professionals find it difficult; most residents are renters. The average cost of a home is 3/4’s of a million dollars. Most residents work multiple jobs as they chase a dream of the heart, the theater, the gallery, or the music studio. No halfway here, you must own it in full. The city shuns posers and wannabes’. San Francisco will grind you up, drink you down, and piss you out into the great Pacific with as much care or concern as missing a bus.
Women still control the dance, but their opportunity to meet Sir Lancelot is rare, if not a mythology of their own mind. A group of five men–all of them wear ball caps; three with their bills turned wrong way around–pass a 12-pack of Bud-light between each other. Chug-crush-drop under a seat is their mantra, as they discuss destinations. The train lurches, and beer slops and flows over a backward-hat Giants fan’s face along with the passenger he is standing above.
“Sorry Bro,” he laughs, turns his back, as the woman looks up and frowns at him. “Let’s start at O’Reilly’s in North Beach or the International,” on lower Columbus Avenue. “Maybe we can get some leg on Broadway.”
The woman stands up slowly; she’s suffering more from gravity than they are this early. She takes a step in the isle and train rocks knocking her into one of the boys.
“HEY,” she pulls her arms close to cover her breasts and pulls away.
“Sorry, Mam,” he laughs. “You bumped into me.” The others in the group whoop it up and slap their friend on the arm or ass. “Already gettin’ some, you dog.”
Ethan stares out the window at the passing concrete tunnel. This evening, this fucking day, the restaurant, the cops, the hatpin, the soda, all events replay in his head. He’s not sure if any of them are real, or if he is dreaming, or has he gone insane. He whispers to himself, “an instrument of Karma.”
His phone buzzes, and he pulls it out of his pocket. “Dude, dude, where dfaq u @ u OK?” a text displays on the Smartphone; it’s from Joel. Ethan forgot to follow up at the Berkeley Station.
“I am having a really bad night.” He says to himself and shakes his head. He sends a text to Joel. “Not good, not coming. Sorry. Threw up at Ashby. Searched by BP. RTHB.”
“Dfaq, NO. BON, we NU to even the game.” Joel texts back.
“SBI. Can’t. I’ll be lucky if I make it home.” Ethan replies.
“BSF dude? She’s 2QT. RUH? Man up, man.”
“IMSS. TNT.” Ethan shakes his head.
“Sux man. MMk, GWS, c u l8r, if ev’s, man.” Joel sends. “I’m man enough 4 dos a la tros.”
“Ménage á trois.” Ethan corrects him.
“What? Fuck sake, MEH.” Joel sends the last text.
“I feel like shit.” Ethan says out loud. The person sitting in front of him lifts up their head and tightens their shoulders. Ethan’s diaphragm tightens and he burps loudly. The person sitting in front of him stands up and moves toward the door of the train.
“I hope I’m not puking all night.” He says to himself. Do I have any seltzer tablets at home, he thinks; I’ll stop at Patel’s. He always has what I need.
A woman and her child, a 5-year old girl, sit two seats in front of Ethan. The little girl has brown hair, dirty chocolate cheeks, and large red lips. She turns around and stares at him. Ethan manages a smile, but her expression doesn’t change. She cinches her eyes and continues to stare. Ethan looks away. He can feel her gaze upon him and his diaphragm tightens. He closes his lips tight, fighting the urge to vomit. The blood drains out of his face and he burps. Ethan looks back at the girl and her mouth and eyes are wide.
“Honey. It’s not nice to stare.” Her mother grabs her arm. She is mesmerized and will not turn around.
Look out the window, look at the floor, the ceiling, and do not make eye contact again with this demon child. Why is she staring at me? Ethan thinks to himself. Sweat forms on under the apex of his hair. Stop. Stop starring at me you little bitch. She knows. She knows I stuck that asshole.
Ethan fidgets. Maybe I can scare her. He takes a deep breath and looks down deep into her amber brown, 5-year old eyes. Ethan frowns and furls his brow, as he will not break eye contact. Look away little girl, he thinks to himself. I will cook and eat you little girl. As his frown gets harsher, he squints his eyes. I’ll pierce your brain and suck out your marrow, little girl. I’m a serial killer, Karma.
“MOMMY, mommy,” she yells as her open as wide as they can, “STRANGER DANGER, mommy, stranger,” she raises her arm and points at Ethan, “danger.”
“Honey,” her mom grasps both her arms, lifts her up and turns her around.
Ethan exhales and closes his eyes, “fuck,” he whispers, “fuck, fuck, fuck.” He leans against the window and looks out at the dark concrete as it whips past.
The Richmond Inbound train pulls to a stop at the Embarcadero station. The crew of gimme caps heads to the exit, and divide the remaining beers of the 12-pack. The same douche that spilled on himself earlier trips, stumbles, and looks back with a grimace on his face.
“Fuck,” he curses as he catches himself from falling and drops the cardboard carton with a beer still in it. He blushes; is anyone looking? “Fuck, shit, “he reaches down, yanks the last beer out, and jams the exit door from closing with is body. “Shit.” He pulls his leg out and drops the cardboard cartoon on the platform. As the train continues on its way, the crew shares a war call of whooping and hollering till it disappears in the tunnel. Ethan stares out the window.
What a douche canoe, Ethan thinks; all of them are short a paddle. “I feel like shit,” he says again out loud. “One more stop.”
The train pulls into the Powell Station. Ethan takes a deep breath, rises straight up, then sits back down as he exhales; his vision polka dots black and white. He takes another breath, and rises as a dozen passengers disembark. Gotta go, he thinks to himself. He pulls himself up out of the seat, into the isle, and with 7 or so steps, through the doors. They close behind him.
The fluorescent tubes on the opposite side of the platform flicker on/off, and it’s the first thing he sees. “Fucking lights,” he covers his eyes for a moment. “You can do it.” He says out loud. It’s not to far to go where a warm bed waits. “Thank God,” I am off tomorrow.
“Pittsburgh Inbound in 5 minutes. Daly City Outbound in 1 minute.” The automated announcer calls out to riders waiting on the platform. There doesn’t seem to be any rhythm to the flicker and it draws his gaze; it’s off, buzz on; buzz off, off, on, and off.
Standing off the bottom of the escalator, Ethan takes a breath and looks around. The platform is empty except for a group of a dozen men and three women, who are dressed to the nines in 1920’s Great Gatsby regalia. They must be headed deeper into San Francisco, probably the Castro. He rises up as a gust from the approaching train hits him in the face. He breathes deep again. I am Karma, he thinks to himself. He holds his breath and pushes with all his might through the nausea. Ethan steps onto the up escalator.