11.3 Empress EOR (end of record)

       The Richmond Inbound train pulls up and the doors swish open. 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 warm.

       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 without 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. And, never avoid treasure.

       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 young 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 and butt. “Already gettin’ some, you dog.”

       Suzy steps again and falls into the seat next to Ethan. Her hand lands between his legs. “Fuckers,” she says under he breath and rights her self. “Sorry.” Suzy smiles at him.

       Ethan does not say anything or return her look. He stares out the window at the passing concrete tunnel. This evening, 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.

       “All righty then,” Suzy says when she sees Ethan check his phone. “Fucking rude. What is up with dicks tonight.”

       “What,” he looks up from the display. “I am sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.”

       Suzy smiles and winks, “It’s nothing. A girl can’t seem to get a break tonight.”

       “I’m sorry, did I bump you?” Ethan asks. He hasn’t noticed a thing in the last few minutes.

       “No honey, but thanks. That douche-bag over there touched me.” She points at the man-boy in the reverse Giants hat who is crushing a beer can and laughing with his friends; then rubs the finger tips of her right hind over her left nipple.

       “Are you okay? Did you call the police? Do you need my phone?” Ethan is genuine, but her breath smells of stale cigarettes and cheep booze.

       “No, it was probably an accident.” Suzy turns her head and looks hard into the guys face. His eyebrows go up, as his eyes pop out of his head, and his smile and his chin drop in disbelief. He turns away.

       “Where are you going?” She asks Ethan and smiles.

       “I am having a really bad night.” He shakes his head. “Bitched out at work, shoved on the train out, threw up in a bag, and got searched by the cops.”

       “Whoa, I thought I was having one. I left my phone at a bar and have got to have it for tomorrow. I am going back to pick it up.” She answers. “I was all the way to Walnut Creek.”

       “Sorry. It must be a full moon or something?”

       “Maybe, maybe the whole night is leading to this meet?” She grins at him.

       Ethan blushes, “I can’t believe that. I just want to go home to bed.”

       “Want some company? Help me get my phone and I’ll stay with you tonight?”

       “I don’t know. I feel bad.” Ethan says. What the hell is going on tonight, he thinks to himself. Who, what the fuck is this?

       “I can make you feel much better.” Suzy puts one arm around his shoulder and the other hand on his leg.” Ethan doesn’t respond. “I’m a great nurse maid.” Her hand slowly moves towards his crotch. “What is your name, honey?”

       “Uhhh,” he lifts his backpack up and places in his lap, intercepting her touch. She pulls her hand out of the way.

       “I’m Suzy. I make a great breakfast too.” She adds, “C’mon, you know you want to?”

       “I really don’t feel good. I may puke all night.”

       “I know just thing. I have some seltzer tablets in my purse.” She clutches a large black vinyl bag with too many gold buckles on both sides. “I’ve got some pills that will knock you out too; and I’ll make you a delicious breakfast in the morning.”

       “Uh, uh.” Say no. Be rude, his inner voice screams at him, danger, stranger danger.

       “That’s not no.” She says. “Walk me to get my phone. It’s right off California. I will take good care of you.” She winks, smiles, and twists her neck. “Please, please don’t make me travel back to Walnut Creek again tonight.” She leans in and rubs her left breast against his arm, pulling her elbows together, so he can see down the front of her blue dress.

       He looks into her blue eyes and can’t stop himself from glancing down and up and down. Her erect nipple presses his arm, and he feels less disoriented. His inner voice is silent. She smiles and winks, and he looks into her eyes and down her dress again. Her pale skin is smooth and supple, young, and he desires to touch. Her hair smells of lavender. She is giving off a massive amount of heat.

       “Please help me out tonight. You won’t be sorry.” She moves and her wedges her hand under his backpack and gently squeezes his thigh. She looks in his eyes and pouts.

       Ethan sighs, “Okay. I’ll help you.”

       Suzy reaches up with both hands and pulls his head to her lips. She kisses him on the cheek. “I knew it. I knew you were a kind, compassionate person.”

       Ethan sighs again. “How do you know? How do you know I’m not a freak or serial killer?”

       “I just know,” she says, and wraps her arm around his shoulder. 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. Suzy reaches out her foot and trips the guy she bumped into earlier. He stumbles and turns back to grimace at her. She smiles and winks at him.

       “Fuck,” he curses as he catches himself from falling and drops the cardboard carton with a beer still in it. “Fuck, shit, “he reaches down, yanks the beer out, and jams the exit door from closing with is body. “Bitch.” He pulls his leg out and drops the cardboard cartoon on the platform. As the train continues on its way, the crew turns and flips it off. They share a war call of whooping and hollering till it disappears in the tunnel. Suzy looks at Ethan and giggles. He gazes out of the window.

       “Hey,” she pulls on Ethan’s arm, “did you see that douche canoe?” She laughs, “he almost ate concrete.”

       Ethan stares out of the window.

       “Are you listening to me,” she pulls his head around to face her. “I’m, TAlking to you.”

       He shakes his head, “sorry, I don’t feel good.”

       “C’mon, snap out of it.” Suzy reaches up and pinches him on the lower lip. “I’ll take care of you. Where do you live?”

       “Huh?”

       “I said,” she shakes his arm and torso with more force,” where do you live?”

       “Uh, why?”

       “Duh. We’re picking up my phone and then your place, REMEMBER?” She opens her eyes wide and shakes her head up and down.

       “Oh.” Ethan takes a deep breath, “I am in the Tenderloin on Bush.” She smiles and winks. Fuck, fuck, who the fuck is this, he thinks to himself. Have I met her before? Suzy looks forward and folds her arm into his. He looks hard at Suzy. She can’t be older than 19 if even that?

       Blonde hair, blue eyes, about 5’6″, 135 lbs. She is wearing a blue, yellow, white flower print sundress covered with a faded blue denim trucker’s jacket. She smells of lilac bath salts and burnt tobacco. He skin is paler than it should be, and a little too warm to the touch. I’ll bet she chafes when she walks–fuck, fuck, crap, why am I fucking thinking about her thighs?

       “What was your name again?” Suzy asks. “You’re cute.”

       “Uh,” Ethan’s head is resting against the glass. He closes his eyes to settle his stomach.

       “What the FUCK is your name?” She emphasizes, “fuck” in his ear.”Are you STUPID or something?”

       “Ethan.”

       “WHAT? Speak up, honey.”

       “Sorry, ETHAN, I said, ETHAN,” he shouts back, but does not open his eyes.

       “SHIT, you don’t have to yell, E…THAN. I’m not deaf.”

        “Sorry, sorry.”

       “Next stop,” she says.

       What am I going to do? I don’t want her at my apartment. I feel like shit, and after tonight, I just want to be alone in my warm bed. Is it too much to ask? Fuck, I’ve got to dump her. She pulls him tighter to her side. Ethan feels his stomach begin to turn over and blood flows out of his face. If I puke on her, that should do it. His diaphragm heaves and takes deep breath and exhales slowly.

       “You okay, honey?” Suzy asks and pulls on his arm.

       “I feel bad.” He turns and his diaphragm seizes again.

       “You’re pale as a ghost, Ethan. DON’T SPEW ON ME.” She yells at him. Passengers around them turn at look at the couple. Ethan’s head swims, his eyes glaze over, as he see’s their general contempt. Some begin moving toward the door and some toward the back of the train, they move anywhere to get out of range. He can feel the acid in the back of his throat.

       “Hold on, E…THAN; we’re almost their, Hun.” She tightens her grip and pulls him closer as she turns her legs toward the isle. “WATCH OUT. Got a drunk guy here about to spew chunks.” A path through the crowd opens as the train pulls to a stop at the Powell Station. “Get up “Pukie,” she pulls his body toward the isle.

       “What?” Ethan opens his eyes; his diaphragm tightens, and sees the sign for his stop. Someone is pulling him out of his seat. Oh shit, he thinks to himself, I thought I was dreaming. What am I going to do? I don’t want this stranger in my apartment. As he stands, it’s the first time he notices her wide bottom. A large dried wine colored stain covers her hip. Fuck, fuck, it’s a crazy girl. Shit. She probably ate her last boyfriend.

       “C’mon sweetheart,” Suzy clutches her purse and drags Ethan toward the exit. He stumbles once, falls to his right hand, but rights himself quickly. “I’ve got a puke-err here. CLEAR the way.” The crowd relents and the two are the first to disembark. “WATCH OUT, my boyfriend is drunk as a skunk.” She pulls across the platform to the outbound side, almost to the yellow stripe. Everyone else follows as far as the up escalator, but not too close. “Can you walk, Ethan? Honey?”

       Every time she says his name, it sounds like she is mocking him. “I’m not drunk.” Ethan protests. “I just feel really bad.” The overhead fluorescent lighting fixtures buzzes and blinks, on and off, pause, on and off, making it difficult for Ethan to get a bearing on his location.

       “Yes, yes, sweetie. Can you walk?”

       Ethan takes a deep breath, rises straight up, then back down as he exhales. He takes another breath up, and then down again. “Fucking lights,” he covers his eyes for a moment.

       “You can do it. My phone is not far. You should give me your keys.” She pats his front and rear pockets. “Where are they?”

       “Pittsburgh Inbound in 5 minutes. Daily 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; it’s off, buzz on; buzz off, off, on, and off.

       Ethan takes a third 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. Suzy is no longer grasping his arm, but looking towards the escalator up. He rises up as a gust from the approaching train hits him in the face. He breathes deep again. I am Karma. He holds his breath and pushes with all his might.

       Suzy turns and smiles as Ethan’s hands press her left breast and belly. She steps backwards once, then twice. Her mouth and eyes open wide as she becomes weightless. Suzy stairs into Ethan’s eyes, and the light tubes flick off, time pauses, then the light is on. She is gone. No loud thump, scream, or gasp. The train beeps as its doors open and close for a moment, then the Pittsburgh is gone and the tracks are empty.

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