Three fists are stacked, hand over hand, on a pole in this train in The City.
Simone never says much. She lives days without speech. Record: six weeks in the summertime, until a girl met her—a girl who could say things. Say silence meant Simone was simply a philosopher. Say it killed her for them to go a day without speaking. And her girl wasn’t scared to say the places where she wanted touch to thrill her and how soft she needed fingers to graze. But Simone spent so long never saying anything, she didn’t know how. She wanted to tell her girl something big, but she never felt anything big. She thought she should say to her girl at least this, but her insides flushed red when she tried, so she didn’t, and knew she could never be so brave. The girl said Simone wasn’t loving her where she needed, and, without ever saying so, stopped needing her. So, Simone moved to The City, where, if she doesn’t have anything to say, she doesn’t have to say anything.
Eliel has fins. He lived in No Name Key when No Name Key was still No Name Key and everyone knew how to drive, but he never could pass the test. On his fifth try, he veered onto the freeway, the exam administrator screeched for him to take the exit, and Eliel screeched too but didn’t know how to stop driving. When the bridge went up to let a yacht through, the administrator got her tentacles on the wheel but Eliel floored the gas, so the two got air, then plunged into the Atlantic Ocean. Underwater, the administrator compressed her body through the crack in the car window and pulled Eliel through the door before the driver’s side could flood. As helicopters airlifted them, the two swinging, covered in foil, Eliel tried to wake up from life. Back at the DMV, a jellyfish behind a glass divider cut his learner’s permit in half. She swallowed it whole and Eliel could see his address right through her. After, he was stuck riding passenger in friends’ and friends-of-friends’ cars until he became a passenger in his own life. Picked up parts of their personalities, so, soon, he was made up of mostly everyone else, the same way, from torso to toe, he’s mostly made up of fish when he thought he ought to be all human. So, Eliel moved to The City, where he is himself, and like everyone else, is only passenger to this train.
Grey is the demon grandchild of a Sea Angel who passed voodoo, juju, mumbo jumbo down the line and afflicted Grey with gifts. One: Grey doesn’t worry if others can see him as a person because he isn’t one. Two: Grey lives to connect different people’s parts like an old telephone operator and three: Grey can know all of anybody on sight.
On the train, Grey sees Eliel, sees Simone. Knows they came to The City so they could fake like they weren’t stranded. Knows the two know each other, from such a long time ago that Eliel feels desperate to have remembered her and Simone is seething at how foolish it is to be looking into someone’s face while he can pretend he never knew her. But don’t they know? If they stay so scared of each other, they’ll stay stranded?
So, Grey pokes through Simone’s forehead and pulls out a neuron, long and blue and weedy. Grey pushes it into Eliel’s head. He reels out a piece of Eliel to press into Simone.
Something sings: this is what I know of you.
Eliel can see Simone on the bike behind him, at the top of what they think is the steepest hill in No Name Key. Passersby giggle at the sight of half a fish on a bicycle, but the two pick up their feet and let their bike wheels go flying. They’re so fast it’s scary, but Eliel puts his fins up all the same. He feels what they felt then, that they were pilots, that their own bodies could take them anywhere in this world.
Simone remembers the cold under the shadow of the playground slide. All elementary hands digging through sand and limestone to the Florida Aquifer. They dove into underwater hand-clap games—universal to every kid ever and none of them knew to question it. Looking for more reasons to touch, they played the game of blowing bubbles into backs of necks and squeezing each other’s sides. The only thing keeping their hearts, on the cusp, from exploding was the water pressure against their chests. When the recess whistle blew, they swam up. They buried, but knew: tomorrow. Simone feels what they felt then. So silent, they were connected, and electric, and big.
Eliel hands Simone his hand and they stand, knowing all the ways there are to be together: so scary, so willing, so safe, so sorry.
Erica Frederick is a queer, Haitian American writer who received her MFA in fiction from Syracuse University.. Her work has appeared in Split Lip Magazine, Storm Cellar, and Forward: 21st Century Flash Fiction. She has received fellowships from VIDA, Lambda Literary, and the Hurston/Wright Foundation. You can find her tweeting into the void @ericafrederick.