(This story first appeared in the Quarterly #FTW04 package.)
It’s last week. Andy is waiting for the train to go to work. Transit construction in the neighborhood has messed up everyone’s commute and the platform is unusually packed, even for a weekday morning. Andy wonders how many trains will go by before he manages to get on one.
In contrast, the outbound platform across the tracks is almost empty. That’s when Andy spots him. He looks twice to make sure. It’s definitely him. He looks older, a little more out of shape. But it’s him. Andy freezes. His heart jumps into his mouth like a fist. He wants to throw up.
Part of him wants to run across the tracks and take The Rapist limb from limb. The other part of himself, the part that’s probably keeping him from landing in jail, is draining all of the energy from his legs so that he can barely stand. But there’s nowhere to sit. He takes a deep breath. He feels his hands balling up into fists. The size of his heart.
Andy has managed to avoid him for years. He’s careful to always take the same route to work. The same route home. He eats at the same restaurants and drinks at the same bars. He rarely accepts an invitation unless he can verify that The Rapist won’t be there. And all of this careful planning is now being undone because the city is rebuilding the neighborhood tracks. The city has betrayed him as well.
It’s New Years Eve. Three years ago. They are at The Rapist’s house. Although, technically, this is before he was The Rapist. Andy and his wife at the time are sitting on the couch with a drink in hand when The Rapist (Sorry, not even a flashback gives you your name back.) walks up. He sits next to Andy’s wife. He asks if they’re having a good time. They are. He makes some noise about the food. Encourages them to try it. His hand is on her knee. She is not brushing it off.
Back on the train platform Andy wonders if The Rapist has spotted him. The platform is packed. Andy moves behind another passenger. He tries to remember the one or two scenarios in therapy that didn’t end with him putting The Rapist’s head through a wall. There had to be at least two. Out of thousands. The rapist does not see him.
It’s New Years Day. Three years ago. Andy and his wife are having a fight. They’re one New Year away from not being married anymore. Andy is asking her why she didn’t move The Rapist’s hand from her knee. She tells him to go to hell. She tells him he needs to be kinder. She tells him The Rapist’s a good friend. Someone she can talk to. And he needs to realize who his friends are. For a split second, he considers not slapping her. He considers that split second to be progress.
They’re back at the New Years party. It’s well past midnight. Most of the guests have gone. Andy has snuck out onto the fire escape for a smoke. Andy’s wife is pouring herself a drink. The Rapist and his wife have been locked in their bedroom arguing for almost an hour. Andy is wondering how they’re going to get home without their coats, which are also locked in the bedroom.
A train comes. As expected, it’s full. Andy’s not sure if he wants to fight his way on or see how this plays out. He knows the smart thing to do is to try to get on that train. He’s not sure he wants to do the smart thing. He wonders which decision he’ll regret more.
Back at the party Andy is finishing his cigarette and staring out at the empty street below. The occasional party can be heard in the distance. He goes back inside and tells his wife he’s getting their coats. He knocks on the door. He hears sobbing. He’s not in the mood for this. He tells his wife they can get the coats in the morning. They leave.
Back on the platform Andy slowly walks up the steps. He crosses the platform from above and takes the escalator to the outbound platform. The Rapist is wearing Andy’s coat. He wonders how he’ll explain this to his therapist.