Sunday Short - Billie Holiday in the Subway

by Jessica Brookman in


The concrete of the W4 Subway stairs tastes like cancer and rock salt.

 (Hidden NYC Subway.  image )

(Hidden NYC Subway. image)


By February, New York is weighted by the cold. Speed resisting slowness. In the tunnels, it was the witching hour. A thinning crowd giving way to a rougher one around me. I was lying facedown on the stairs. 

I picked myself up into a moment of loneliness in the busiest city in America. Standing without meeting the eyes or hand of a single soul,  I ran my fingers over the blood and gravel on my lips.  The measured clanking disappeared into the darkness with my train. Resignation comes with a sigh, stillness. 

I was alone until a man's voice filled the space between the tracks: 

You go to my head
And you linger like a haunting refrain. 

I met him. Midnight on a tuesday.  The human being who sings Billie Holiday to the abandoned subterranean halls of the West Village. When my eyes found his, the blush was instantaneous and mutual. It faded into recognition.

Like a summer with a thousand Julys
You intoxicate my soul with your eyes.

He kept singing. In those few moments, a car never came to take him away. Our song wound down over the noise of my train coming in. On the bell of the closing doors behind me, I found him and cast my silent thanks through the grimy lucite. 

He bowed, turned, and bolted up the stairs. We were on our way again.