Tell Yourself A Story

The static on her wool socks was making the wisps of yarn reach for her skin like soft fingers, clinging to her knuckles as she folded. She told herself a story as she did, thinking about all of the things that might happen. In the current version, she was folding socks when there was a knock on her door, and Andy had gotten there to surprise her. It was a nice story, and it meant that she wouldn’t have to deal with the train. She was trying not to think about that.

Instead, she folded socks and caressed the knit wool absently, the story in her head pulling her attention away from the pile of folded clothes that was threatening to topple. The music was playing from her computer, soft voices twining into her hair and nudging at her ears. She liked music as a background, even though she barely listened. Otherwise she could hear the silence.

Her phone buzzed, breaking the reverie. The sound grated, the phone’s edges tapping the wood veneer of the desk. She glanced over at it, and sucked in a gasp. It had lit up with a message, but the time on it was 12:32. Her train was at 1:00, and she hadn’t even packed. The socks landed on the pile and it slumped across the bed, the clothes all suddenly blooming from their folds. She grabbed a handful of cloth – a pair of jeans, a couple of shirts – and stuffed them into her duffel. She just remembered to put in undies and an extra bra, and then she was flinging herself through the door and fumbling for the key. It turned in the lock and then stopped, as if it had hit something. Yanking on it didn’t seem to help. She was nearly ready to leave her door unlocked for the week, but she pulled in a deep breath and let it seep out slowly. On reentry the key turned with only a shudder of resistance, and as soon as it clicked she was whirling away to clatter down the stairs.

Halfway down, it occurred to her that she was wearing her shabby shoes, the ones she slipped into for things like folding laundry. After a very brief pause, she decided it wasn’t worth the extra two minutes and resumed the headlong rush down. The door stuck, and she wrenched past it. It was 12:38 now – at least she had remembered her watch. The station was too many blocks away to get there at the leisurely pace she’d imagined when she planned the trip. She scurried instead, wishing she’d worn shoes that wouldn’t let her feel the sidewalk smack her feet. As she walked, she told herself a story. In the story, she was the girl rushing down the sidewalk while someone looked at her sidelong. Their eyes would catch hers, and she would pause only long enough to smile before turning back to her study of the sidewalk. She would run the last two blocks, and the station would suddenly loom. She’d hurry in and get there early, maybe even a couple of minutes, and see all the people clumped on the concrete with a sigh of relief. Andy would call her just to tell her that he was excited to see her – though admittedly, only in a story. Now it was 12:46.

Her feet were really beginning to hurt. It seemed she could feel the impact, shock jarring her heels and ankles and running up her shins until they shook. She had to keep going, though. The pain would go away as soon as she got there, as soon as she got to sit. The seats on the train would be cushioned and comfortable. Her watch read 12:53.

The station was there now, at the end of one more block. She tried to go faster, to will her feet to move. They were stubborn and hurting, and she was already walking quickly. Like magic the doors were right in front of her now – but it was 12:56. She would just make it.

The pain was flaring in her feet, and so to ignore it she told herself a story. Its doors would get closer until she was through, tripping lightly down the steps toward the platform. The train would be just hissing to a stop as she leapt onto the platform, and she would squeeze in and sink into one of those seats. There would be time to get settled before the conductor lumbered through to punch tickets, and she would pick up the newspaper somebody had left and do the crossword. She would even figure out most of it – well, in a story she could do that.

Down the smooth steps and into the station, she looked for a schedule. There was one standing a bit away, so she hurried to it. Her train, the one she’d told Andy she’d be on, was leaving from Track 11. As she turned to scan the numbers on the walls, a realization hit her fluttering heart. She had forgotten her socks. It didn’t matter, she supposed she could just borrow a pair of his. She spotted 11 and began to walk that way, digging for her phone in her pocket. When she got on the train she could text him and tell him that she would need to wear his socks. It could be a funny joke.

She was through the arch to the train now. 12:59. Her pocket was empty except for a gum wrapper. It must be in the other one. Her phone wasn’t in the other pocket, and she reached desperately into the duffel bag. She started toward the train as she did, trying to walk and search at once. Her phone wasn’t in the duffel bag. She was sure. With an uneasy feeling she remembered it sitting on her desk, buzzing on the edge. It must still be there.

That would probably be fine, and she glanced up from zipping her bag to see the doors slipping closed. She almost cried out, and ran a few steps, but it was too late. The train was shifting forward, and as she watched it slid into the tunnel and away. She stood looking at it retreat into the darkness for a moment, and as she did she told herself a story.

In the story there was a girl running for the train to take her to her true love – well, stories are romantic versions of life. Running for the train, for if she did not get on it she would lose him forever. That made it a better story. The girl was standing on the platform, watching the train disappear as her throat closed tight with disappointment.

She stood on the platform, very still, and felt a vague sense of pity for the girl in the story.

 

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