Illustration by Audrey Lim

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of sexual misconduct.

It was in the half second of the rat’s body turning to shards that the train began to pick up once again. Powerless to the moving of it, and to the subsequent destruction of the poor creature, Greer felt responsible. She tried to brace for impact. Obviously ridiculous, but shouldn’t there be some sort of indication that something had just occurred? Like a bump in the course, a sharp snap of a neck? She tried to listen for a squeal. They had been stopped at the station for exactly two minutes and forty something seconds before the train lurched onward. Greer noticed that every stop took about this amount of time, as she had made a habit of clicking on a new song just as the train settled into a lull, just to see how far she could get before the vehicle jutted forward. Sometimes, the momentum of her body paralleled the crescendo of whatever she was listening to, the rhythm of the world suddenly and miraculously syncing up. Sometimes, it didn’t align, and she was left with a nasty feeling, a disorientation that shook her to the core. Greer had seen the rat scurry onto the track from the left and fail to emerge on the other side. So clearly, something had happened. Unless, by sheer luck, the rodent had figured out a way to perfectly fit his body between the train’s wheels, flattened himself into the very middle of the monolith. Unlikely. Greer tried to release the morbid thoughts of substituting rat for person, rat for old lady, rat for someone like herself. Would she be able to fit under, snug and warmed by the exhaust of hot air of the train? The ticket collector appeared then, looking expectantly at her vacant face, as if catching her in the act of something insidious. A ticket was handed to him. A hole was put inside of it and the thick paper was pinned to the top of Greer’s seat. More nondescript towns were passed.

“if those who did see the poor creature scurry under the train were eventually convinced of the rat’s survival, then wasn’t that the truth of the matter?”

This was Greer’s usual route. The air began to thin, as it always did when they descended from city to suburb. The sun dipped further, casting an amber glow on the dead shrubbery peeking out of the tracks. Greer twitched in her seat, trying to appear busy. She had nothing to do though, as the last few months of her life had been filled with unending time, growing more and more elastic as the days passed. Everyone was always doing something on this train, she noticed, the older men in worn suits spilling the yogurt their wives had packed for them on grey chin stubble, the white goop sometimes grazing the newspapers or Kindles resting in their laps. They were the loudest of passengers if children weren’t present in the car, emphatically sighing with boredom or coughing through some malignant phlegm forever stuck inside of their wrinkled throats. They often talked as if addressing a crowd to invisible devices in their ears, laughing to the other end about what pathetic thing Susan had done in the office that day, who had pulled the largest numbers (Greg, against all odds), whose wife was the most unbearable. There was nothing romantic or even mildly mysterious about the journey. Greer recalled the plot of a famous book that had been turned into a box office movie, the story of a woman who frequented a certain train journey, witnessed a murder through the window, and became fixated on the subjects of the crime. Depressed and widowed, or something along those lines, the protagonist drearily searched for excitement in the passing landscape, clinging onto whatever mildly peculiar observation was made. Greer decided that if she was to ever witness something like that while journeying home, she would forget about it, would purge the sight from her memory to avoid a desperate domestic involvement. She didn’t need exterior dramas to enliven the hour-long ride home. She had enough emotional trauma to sift through as is.

"She had nothing to do though, as the last few months of her life had been filled with unending time, growing more and more elastic as the days passed."Illustration by Emma Hulse

And so, the train sputtered on. Leaving the rat to… what? Greer attempted to create a psychic connection with every passenger on the train. Proselytizing every working man, all the cleaning ladies, and most importantly, Greer’s demographic, the dejected young women who go into the city each day to job-hunt or dawdle or meet up with random men— she tried to force them all into believing that the rat had survived. It was mind meddling. She was gorging into their brains and setting something in place—that the rat had lived. Who had witnessed the incident, anyways? And if those who did see the poor creature scurry under the train were eventually convinced of the rat’s survival, then wasn’t that the truth of the matter? There must be some loophole for willing these sorts of things into reality, Greer felt. The stakes had never been so high before. The man two rows down from her picking at a scab on his forearm suddenly became the noisiest thing ever. She was having trouble concentrating hard enough to enter the heads of the train-goers over the sound of the scab-picking. She glanced sideways at him. Early twenties with fuzzy, dark eyebrows. He was a college student, for sure, heading home for the weekend to his three-story home with a basement movie theatre, casserole waiting on the kitchen island. It was everything Greer once had—the college, the trips back home on the weekend. The existence of a life out there, in the city, and a life back home. It was places to be and people to meet. His name was Josh, or Theo, maybe, though Theo felt more purposeful, and this person was most definitely not named with purpose. He looked like the most purpose-lacking person Greer had ever seen. He looked like someone she had once known, back when she had his life.

“the train car is filled with light again, and no one can say with confidence what occurred in the dark”

Josh was picking at a scab and intermittently sucking down hard on his vape. He was frustrated—everything frustrated him nowadays. The scab, not getting an adequately satisfying head rush, not having things go his way. Josh felt stifled by the world, blue-balled by outcomes he felt he had been promised. His girlfriend was negligent in the relationship, didn’t take care of him in the way he wanted her to, in the way that his fraternity brothers made girls out to be, and didn’t make enough of an effort to make him feel good. Maybe that was the issue, the not feeling good. Josh hadn’t ever really felt good, in all of his life, and college just exacerbated the unending dissatisfaction. Every morning felt like a failure, the sun slating in through the window too bright, his body too sweaty, his brain in a perpetual pulsing motion of rage and annoyance. He was so angry. Josh picked and picked until red shone through, until red accumulated on the spot where a crackled scab once was, until red spilled over. Josh suddenly noticed eyes on him—a girl some two rows up, her body twisted around to gaze at his mess.


Mountain View


Greer knows how this goes: Josh smiles at her, laughs in a charming kind of way as he points to his bloody scab—I’m a normal guy, see. I pick scabs. I’m like you. Greer laughs back, then shuffles back into a comfortable position in her seat. She sips her drink quietly, letting the warm beer slosh around in her mouth before spitting it back into the cup. She stares at the people around the room, marvels at the size of the house that the frat had been allocated. The next part is the waiting game, the pause before an onslaught of applause and commotion, the moment of absolute quiet before everything gets loud. That’s what Greer meant by willing the rat into survival, she meant that people are quiet if after, suddenly after, they are very loud. She meant that it’s all relative. It’s all decided moment-to-moment. Nothing means anything without existing in hindsight. In hindsight, Greer knows not to turn back around, but she does. She twists her head back around and there he is, staring back at her with that charming, little smile. She smiles back, this time more assertively, beckoning him to join her. He does. He walks over and sits next to her. They make small talk. The lights seem to thump in the room, seem to mingle with the rattling of the train car. Greer doesn’t know where she is, how she’s gotten here. The beer obfuscates her surroundings—a rat, scurrying in the corner of the kitchen. Did these boys not clean up their space? Then a conductor, a conductor handing out solo cups to stumbling girls in corners. Everything melds. Josh tips her cup up to her lips, tells her to drink up. She does. She leans her head back and stares out, avoiding his gaze. She observes the passing landscape—trees, road, more trees, maybe even a crime scene, but she’s not paying much attention to her surroundings. She’s frozen as Josh slips his hand down her pants, frozen as the train enters a tunnel and descends into darkness, frozen as it climbs deeper and deeper into the pulsing lights of the party, the warping of people’s voices, the pain, the pain of what he’s doing. And then the train car is filled with light again, and no one can say with confidence what occurred in the dark. Because it wasn’t seen. Because it’s all relative and because, sitting there as the train reaches her stop, Greer is alone, with something gnarled and tight lodged in her throat.