By Melissa Mann.
The guy across the carriage from me is wearing a multi-coloured slogan t-shirt that hurts my ears. It says I PUT THE SEX IN DYSLEXIA. I pull out the green pen from the breast pocket of my blazer. Not the red pen or the blue one or the black. Green is the colour I use to make notes about things I think are jokes but don’t know why.
I’ve dropped the pen. I didn’t mean to do that, it just happened. I think my hand decided not to hold it anymore. They do that sometimes, my hands. It’s like they suddenly decide not to feel things. Like feeling is the worst thing in the world you could ever do. It helps if I shake them, makes them see sense. Sometimes it doesn’t just happen though. Sometimes I drop things on purpose, things that don’t break like books. It helps clear my head. Atlases and encyclopaedias are my favourite kind of books to drop.
The guy in the noisy t-shirt has picked up my green pen and is holding it out to me. My hand decides to undrop it. I don’t say anything. Instead, I take off my blazer so my t-shirt can talk to his. It seems like the right thing to do. His eyes are listening to my t-shirt talking to his. I look away and hallucinate myself onto the train window opposite. I’m wearing my Topfree t-shirt. It has a photograph of naked breasts on the front. Topfree is an organisation that campaigns for the public display of breasts in a non-sexual manner. I am a full member.
The man sitting next to me has just sneezed. He is old and smells of urinals. I don’t like to sneeze, it scares me. I’m afraid I’ll lose something vital about myself. Pulling a handkerchief out of my pocket, I wipe my arm and down the front of my pencil skirt. The guy in the t-shirt is watching me. His face and shoulders are laughing. I don’t know why. In the window opposite, a girl with a blonde bob in a red beret, holding a white hankie. I take the top off my green pen and write the words sneeze, handkerchief, snot, brains, arm and skirt in my notebook. Then I turn to the back and with the black pen, put a tick in the column headed RIGHT – t-shirt guy is a right.
There are three other men sitting opposite me in the carriage. Two of them are left. The third man appears to be both left and right, which doesn’t make sense. The only way this would make sense is if he has two penises, or one that is forked. I stare at the argument in the man’s jeans and wind a lock of hair round the end of my nose; it helps me think. A man with two penises would be a good thing I decide. He frowns, picks up the rucksack by his feet and puts it in his lap. This is not very helpful. This is one of many unhelpful things that make it difficult to conduct an empirical study of men’s penis dressing habits. Coats, hands, newspapers and kaftans are some of the other things that are not very helpful.
According to the woman who speaks on behalf of the train, the next station is Waterloo. Lots of people ready themselves to get off. T-shirt guy is one of them. His teeth smile at me. He points at my feet. I look down and adjust the tongue of my black Converse High Tops.
“I like your wand,” he says.
“I like your wand,” I reply, pulling it out from under my boot.
I put it there so I don’t forget it. T-shirt guy gets off the train. I wave goodbye with my wand as he walks past the window. Bits of tinsel flake off the end and float to the floor like electric snow.
Now it’s just me and the old man in the carriage. He pulls a flask from a shopping bag made of knitted string, and unscrews the cup.
“Homebrew.” He winks. “Tastes like shite but gets you fecked out yer ‘at.”
The cup is shaking his hand.
“I’m not wearing a hat,” I tell him.
The old man stares glassily at the front of my t-shirt. I look down and realise that I’m cold. He points at the wand.
“You me Fairy Godmother then?”
His voice is raspy, the words like bits of metal being grated from his throat.
“’bout time an’ all. You took yer feckin’ time comin’, din’t yer.”
I watch his mouth fight with the train for a swig of beer.
“Still, better late than never though, eh.”
He sighs, a sound like the sad fall of iron filings. I clear my throat.
“I’m not your Fairy Godmother, I’m afraid. It’s my Oyster card,” I say, pointing at the microchip taped to the end of my wand.
He grabs it, squints at the tip.
“Ha – that’s class, that is! You go, girl!”
So I collect my things and stand up. His face frowns, like someone’s pulled a drawstring threaded through his mouth.
“Oi, where’d you think you’re off to? Sit yerself down!”
And he taps the seat next to him with my wand. I perch on the edge, fiddling with the notepad in my lap.
“Amanda’s,” he reads, “that yer name, then is it, Amanda?”
“Amanda, yes, affirmative,” I say, hiding the cover with latticed fingers.
“Like writing, do yer?” he asks, trying to screw the cup back on the flask. His eyes are glued to the naked breasts on the front of my t-shirt.
“Like writing, do yer,” I reply, nodding.
The ringed hinge of the notepad is biting into my fist.
I wipe my mouth then add, “Mostly I just write notes. And lists. I like writing shopping lists for famous people who don’t have time to shop.”
I flip the pages over.
“Here’s one I wrote yesterday for Stephen Hawking.”
The list is nearly four columns long and includes space dust bath salts and a SCIENCE IS MY GOD tea mug.
“Nice one,” he says, not looking at it, eyes still fixed on the front of my t-shirt.
He fingers some gunk at the corner of his left eye and puts it in his mouth then does the same with the other. I’m surrounded by a man who is eating his own eyes.
“Hold up, you wrote a shopping list for Stephen Hawking?”
I put my hands up, facing him now, and nod uncertainly.
“What’s all that about then?” he says, frowning at my palms.
“It’s not about anything. It’s just a list,” I say, hands still raised.
The man swallows then slowly reaches forward and starts to fondle my left breast. It feels nice, but I’m not sure why. I look at him. He is still old and still smells of urinals.
“What are you doing?” I say, watching as he thumbs my nipple.
“Nuffin’, it’s…it’s Divine Providence,” he replies then bites his lip.
I look at the man’s fly, make a mental note to put a tick with my black pen in the LEFT column at the back of my notebook, then reach forward and start to fondle his penis.
“That God’s Will an’ all, is it?” he rasps.
“No, it’s Amanda’s,” I say, wondering what it must feel like on the other side of his trousers.
The train is slowing down. According to the woman who speaks on behalf of the train, the next station is Elephant & Castle where this train terminates. The old man removes his hand from my left breast, lugs himself up from the seat and starts gathering his stuff together. Flask, a cardigan missing its buttons, string bag with a copy of The Tablet inside.
I stare out the window and watch the train terminating. I hate slowing down, it makes me sad. I prefer speed. I like the infinity of tunnels. The old man is edging his way towards the door, drunk on homebrew and the movement of the train. I stay where I am, one hand gripping the notebook in my lap, the other waiting to pick up my wand from his seat.
“You not gettin’ off then?” says the old man from the carriage door.
“Negative,” I say, stretching out my legs. There’s a hole in my fishnets. It makes me think of piranhas. “I always go straight back to see if I can meet myself coming.”
The old man smirks.
“Meet myself coming? Ha – good one! I like to do that an’ all, naked in front of me mirror,” he says and laughs.
Watching him stumble along the platform towards the exit, I pull out my green pen and open my notebook.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, October 17th, 2012.