048. Below the East River. Karen Schauber

We submerge below the East River in a deep dive connecting Brooklyn with Manhattan, the subway car agitating like a front-load washer. En route, I hold my breath trying for the full three miles—a test of my endurance and prowess. My lungs ballooning a little more each trip. I imagine I’m a brilliant artist inflating a polychloroprene poodle, yesterday it was a two-headed giraffe, tomorrow is still a surprise. It helps to pass the time, eccentric, maybe, but I’d rather conjure an interior circus mêlée then confront the crazies that travel this route. It’s jam-packed when the glass doors slide open and she sashays in. I inhale sharp, my heart pounding like pistons. Squeezing my eyes narrow, I effect a chiaroscuro haze. She is awash in dreamy grey tones of a Chinese watercolour landscape, her body curving like a willow. The connective tissue between morning and afternoon, now and then, her world and mine, almost tethered. I suck in deeper, holding my pose like Polykleitos’ Doryphoros, my hand going alabaster white as it grips the centre pole. She inches nearer as the car lurches forward and sideways in its tracks. We stand close like barnacles. I can smell hints of pink iris, white peony, fluffy musk, and jacaranda wood. Her fingertips lightly brush soft fallen bangs from across her eyes. We almost touch—every little thing she does is magic— every little thing is more than I deserve. She’s traveling without her guard dogs; the boys in skinny jeans, bare ankles and burgundy loafers. It’s my moment. I wonder if she sees me—artist extraordinaire, auburn corkscrew hair, clad in biodegradable Qualatex. I start to mouth hi except my lips cave like Xylocaine from full-on dental work. I’ve tried before to tell her of my feelings, but I lose my nerve as I have right from the start; my menagerie of inflatables taking up all the precious space between us. It’s mile two, and the time in between the seconds is shrinking. My breath is on the edge of collapse, ocular veins bulging from lack of 𝑂2. Mid-town coming up fast, and my stomach screams fail as I watch her slip away —and all I do is e-x-h-a-l-e; my veneer collapsing into a dysmorphic Francis Bacon portraiture.

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