Attempt on the A Train (Excerpt 1) – Compressed Bodies

Excerpt from Amin Erfani, “Attempt on the A Train,” in Unsaid Magazine, Issue 8, ed. David McLendon, March 2021.

“Ladies and gentlemen: Thank the good Lord on this glorious morning that I ain’t gonna sing you a song. The day-in day-out humdrum around the clock. Good morning. Heat high up completely sealed in. And welcome back. The sheer mass index of compressed bodies per square feet. Some of you know me. Remain alert. Tank of steel and glass. Beware of pickpockets. Open and shut intermittently sideways. Some of you don’t. Stale air trapped inside lumps of people tightly pushed together. My job today is to make our time together a lot more pleasant. People left immobile and in heat. Shoes against shoes on linoleum flooring. Compulsory pre-recorded warning: Trust your instincts. I know rhymes. I know jokes. I read palms. Needle and nails quality of a punch-holed leather cap touching a fly-by-night factory-made worn-out white sneaker. Keep your belongings with yourself at all time. Ladies and gentlemen: I’m not from here. The destitute down-and-out abut the select high-heel. I’m from the outer space. The communion of soles. Stumped tabloid on shaky floor: Terrorist threat to the underground. Ain’t so easy to stand here asking for money when you folks make fun of me every day. Contact unfit for anyplace else. Report suspicious packages. You know this could happen to anybody. Overhead car card: Eleven inches by twenty-eight. Go where your desire leads you. What we offer: Escape. Destination: You. The predicament of standing or sitting. Sole edict: Do nothing. But be. There. In this most barren of bearings. After a long day: Take a short flight. Paradise is only a few hours away. What are you waiting for. This unproductive pose in this most urban of settings. Seventy-five footer. Nothing unlike anyplace else. Ladies and gentlemen: If you don’t have anything. Please give something. It’s better than not giving anything. Seventy-five over ten by twelve. Nine thousand six hundred cubic feet. Designed to accommodate compulsory daily torpor. Time of the trip. I have no place else to go. I have no place else to be. Two by two transverse seating. Car completely symmetric. At this time: I live here. Collective experience of spacio-temporal arrest. Ask yourself: What does it take to move ahead. What’s next. Two hundred and five standee capacity. Seventy-two vertical pole supports. A congregation bound by an abrupt cognizance of shared air. Give. Money. Food. Words. Prayers. Whispered softly in my ear. Second-hand breathing behind closed doors. Eighty standee spots: With no support. Ladies and gentlemen: Please pardon my interruption. The thrum of the underworld. The tremor of the floor. The rhythmic thunder of metal over metal. Wheels over rails. Lots of candy. Noise nesting inside the inner ears. Reverberates against skull walls. Trying to make an honest living this time around. Nothing to do. Look around. Shut out from the aboveground. Past the socially allotted time for looking. The morning woman’s soft and rhythmic plush and brush. Caressing her lineaments in her pocket mirror. I see you. Phone’s front view camera. Gawking behind my back. Exposing herself to others’ conspicuous cravings. The unforgiving glares. The thrill of the show. Don’t look back. The pretext of the blush. Manifold steps required to put on a faux face. Feel the urges. Looks. Wallop a fully loaded powder puff. Eyes everywhere. Slowly wish away residual sleep. Light translucent veil lithely pushed onto her cheeks. If I move. Too much: I look like a clown. If I stay still. Too little: I look unpolished. No time to be naturally flawless. Stretching cheekbones. Pulling mouth commissures. OK: Knock yourself out. Breach of public display. Be my guest. Spectacle properly carried out behind closed bathroom doors. Consider this: My gift to you. The sacred-secret-soliloquy. My gift of unfaltering indifference. Flaunted for the willing and the unwilling. I wear this face: Not for you. Drawing desire in different shadows. Color shades. But for those others from whom I seek love. Orgies in people’s eyes. Those with sunglasses not to be too clearly seen seeing. Those with sunglasses not to be seen seeing too clearly. The labor behind the glamor. The glabrous granular complexion scantily buried underneath glittery foundation. Withering skin in a webwork of wrinkles. Transpiration over lumps of capillary red flesh. Jowls. Dewlap. Scenes deemed objectionable to the most impartial manners of social propriety. So many transgressions all at once. The impromptu touching. Over clothes. Chests. Backs. Buttocks. Bare skin. Palms on knuckles over poles. Body parts supposed to be normally left untouched by others. Touched nonetheless by complete strangers. Foreign bodies intruding into private spaces. Pole hoggers. Forced acceptance of so many violations. Squeezers. Inching into already claimed territories. The rushed smell of perfume and sweat in a single breath. Assault on all the senses. Another’s stink settling skin deep. Clinging into cloth. Breathing someone else’s breathing. Predicament admittedly ill-fitted to etiquette. Unsuited to the most basic codes of civil conduct. Respectable people cheated out of their respectability and a certain cachet. Those who cannot bear to wait or stand still. Forced to stand still and wait all together. Skittish hipster put on the morning ride. Grudgingly slogging the nine-to-five. Past the thirty threshold of post-socially-sanctioned post-adolescent angst. Left anularis-ring burnish scraped off. Stiff-fingered. Palm up swinging from the elbow to and fro. The jitters. Pleasure: No. No pleasure. High dopamine level in the brain: Excessive energy. I think: I’ve killed pleasure. Hands and legs. Muscle spasms. Tremors. Paunched and blotchy in double-knit brown suit and nostalgic hair. Washed-down straight undercut. Baring an asymmetrical skull. Too much. I’ve made pleasure: Unpleasurable. Blame the trundle-tottering boredom. The business-as-usual. The bring-back-home-the-bacon. Well-trodden pair of brogues. Carefully thought out and bought off the thrift shop off Knickerbocker. Sniffy runny nose. No external noise drowns him out. No kind I haven’t made myself sick on. Convulsions. High body temperature. When I think pleasure: I am scared. Plaid flannel spiced up with 1980s throwback necktie. Tethered revolt against the hideously quirky professional attires. The anally retentive approach to routine trampling out any genuine attempt at creativity or vibrancy. Happiness: Yes. Inanimate look. Face’s pronounced bone structure lined with suffering in which the eyes fail to participate. Soul-fatigue. Morning self-loathing. Septum nasi: Cartilage between the nostrils. Degraded by force of bad habit. First thing after kissing the kids: Night night. Happy: Yeah. Happy when I’m with them. And when I think they’re: OK. Involuntary tooth grinding aka bruxism. Like seeing them enjoying each other in front of me. Sudden dehydration. Coated tongue. Allowing me to enjoy them back. Dry mouth. Suffering from insomnia. I could call that: Happiness. Good god. Sudden increase in appetite. I hurt. Psychomotor retardation. All over. Immediately gives in to agitation. Need to sleep. Restlessness. So bad. Sudden hypersomnia. I mean to say: When they enjoy. Each other. As a group. Sporadic amnesia. Allowing me to enjoy them back. Flashes. Arm twitching. Nose and eyes: Running. Childhood: Keeps creeping in. For a line: Everything turns to ashes. Clothes sodden with sweat. Everything is a drag. Irritation. Every day. What it takes. Deterioration of the mucus linings. To get out of bed. Nose and throat. Dress up. Eat breakfast. The noise. Shave. It’s too loud. Water hurts my skin. The messianic wait. The prolonged pause of collective contemplation. The unavowed certainty of arriving never again. Maximum occupancy measured by space tightly mapped into grids. Spots allocated to seats and spots allocated to standees. Columns designated with letters and rows designated with numbers. Longitudinal seats. Transverse seats. Adjacent poles. Assessment of the desirability of the distance between people. The atmospheric thickness of the throng. Vaporized sweat. Hovering high up. Airborne particles immotile under pressure brought to bear between the low metallic ceiling and the crushing herd of heads. Scalps and hair and fabric. Bald heads. Melee of disparate classes of people casting out somatic liquids. Decompressed into one big homogenous mass of gas. Overhead card: Give us your pale pasty margarita-lacking masses. It’s better in the Bahamas. The indecisive climatic states of collective corporeal secretion. The ebb and flow between liquid and gas. Commuter guide: How to preempt work-bound morning sweat. Everybody sudating synchronously. Remember this. Cool neck: Cool body. Perspiration pervaporating through many miles of pores of thin skin. Condense aerially. Make a big blob. Drip as one. Upon the complexions of plies on one’s very private forehead. Unnatural collusion of one’s own facial tissue with organic liquid extraneous to one’s own corporeal codes. Keep a collapsible fan and a hankie at all times. Fluids and salts and fatty acids. Piles of sebum stuffed with unique nucleic syntax. Distract yourself in any way possible. Cuticles colliding. Genetic mishmash. Indulge yourself. Peace. Serenity. Relaxation. Leave the hustle and bustle behind. Study findings are found to be consistent with published anecdotes. Express preference for spots adjacent to doors. No: I don’t automatically give up my seat to the old or the pregnant. […]”

Featured in Unsaid Magazine Issue 8, which you can buy here: