The pink cardstock transfer drew a red line along her index finger, a gentle diagonal from tip to last knuckle. She did not bleed; she did not leave blood behind. It was an unfamiliar feeling in a familiar place.
Counting seconds between throbs of light pain, she focused on the line. She watched it move as she bent and unbent her finger. Sections. Pieces. Divided by wrinkles. One, two, three, four. The throbs were not as fast as her heartbeat and not as slow as the chugging of the subway.
Sometimes she cleaned out her purse and seven, twelve, fifteen of these spilled out, stamped neatly with dates and times, with red text. She used one as a bookmark; she used one as a notepad. One, two. It only took once, caught without this excuse, to learn her lesson, to guard the paper carefully in the side pocket of her purse. People could steal anything; people will steal anything. Three, four.
“I told him he couldn’t have a dog. Where would we keep a dog?”
Noise-cancelling headphones didn’t. There was noise wherever she was, no matter how she tried to pretend that there wasn’t. Wind hissed, people talked, other headphones whispered. Under her thumbnail, paper flicked, tucked, fluttered. Once, twice she would feel for the slip of pink, over and over reassuring herself that it might still be there. It was still there. A long, dark man with glaring white earbuds looked over at her. His glance sounded like a whistle.
Three, four stops from here to there. The longest it had ever taken was six songs, and she was so far from the door she could not see it. When it came to her stop, she might just stay on, stay on till the end, the end of the line, no one in her way, nowhere to go but turn around and come back. She would take the paper from her purse and it would grant access back, so she could do it over again, this time positioning herself (rudely, she thought) by the doors, refusing to step aside or even turn sideways. Other people did it. Other people could do anything.
All lines lead somewhere, this one to the ocean. She could do it. She could walk by herself and sometimes she heard about young women disappearing and she might be one of those, ceasing to exist in between metal and rubber and electricity and water and sand and trash and graffiti over everything. Unsavory things happened; she did not relish the thought, but it would be an end, an end in sight, a period when all she saw anymore were ellipses. If … one, two. Then … three, four.
The doors opened and she squirmed her way to the front, gasping off just before being shoved back. Go up the stairs, go outside. One, move.