by Lauren Ho
Art by Yanru Zhou
Issue: Ataraxia (Winter 2018)

A person stands in a dimly-lit, elongated room, with their hands in their pockets and their hair obscuring their eyes. A hat rack is to the left and a shoe rack is to the right.

I am wearing a cherry dress. It’s appropriate for work—the color of your grandmother’s cherry pie filling. It’s bold, vibrant, and the color pops. I hate that it’s going to get covered up by a black petticoat. I’m trying to rush out of my dark, narrow entryway, but I find it difficult. I am scrambling around looking for my galoshes under numerous piles of unopened mail. The next time my account balance permits me, I’m investing in a lamp—I hate the dark. Avoiding a tall pile, I successfully step out onto my front stoop and breathe in. Yet, no sooner do I breathe in the brisk air then do the sounds of traffic fill my ear; to think I started to feel at peace even. The pitter patter of the walking school children and falling rain sound like white noise. I descend down the front steps and start to walk towards the metro. However, I stop before I’m even able to make a couple of strides down the sidewalk. I find this to be a prerequisite of my morning routine. This is the moment I take a look back at my Brooklyn brownstone. It represents perfection and something I’ve worked so hard to achieve. The refinement is clear to anyone’s eyes. The house no longer has the old, exposed brick caked in layers of grime. The scaffolding has been removed, and the brown brick looks wonderful—at least, in my eyes.

I’ve just taken a seat inside the metro and a child has begun to fuss. I can’t help but stare at the woman who I assume is the mother, as she looks frazzled and is speaking in rapid fire Spanish to her child. The mother’s hair is frizzy and to a certain extent, it looks like she’s turning into a tomato. A tomato a vividly crimson color, with splotches of yellow on her face. What a terrible mother, I think to myself. The child has fallen onto the floor now and I’m afraid that he is going to terribly upset the people around me. A rubicund face matches his clothes and I turn away in disgust. I decide it would behoove me to put my headphones on. As soon as I set the headphones over my ears, I let myself become immersed in the music; I envision the blue from the jazz and the gold from the southern country drawl tickling my ear. The car stops, and I want to get off before the poor boy starts shrieking some more. I hear the sound of a slap—it’s probably going to leave a red handprint.

One of my least favorite aspects of life in the city is the subway. It is essential to be incredibly cautious when walking near grates spewing up steam from the subway down below. If one isn’t careful, all may be exposed. Despite this, economists state the metro contributes to the income and accessibility of the city. Some say the subway defines the very roots of New York, yet the underground railroad is figuratively invisible to the human eye in broad daylight, as it can only be found if you explore underneath the surface or if you’re willing to go deep enough. We reap the cream of the crop when it comes to the metro, like picking the best tomatoes of the season. The subway provides us our livelihoods for nothing in return. We dislike the grates because they make us look bad, blowing our skirts up to ruin our outside appearance. The smell from the rising steam is putrid, manifesting into the air, but the steam is merely the output of a transportation system the city relies on—the unnoticed backbone of the city. In my eyes it’s still just a degenerate system.

I’m nearly at the office now, only a quarter of a block away and I want to start running. My mind is only focused on grabbing a cup of joe in the office, but the shrill sound of a whistle distracts me. A middle aged man with wrinkled skin seems to be jeering at me. His cheeks look flushed from the cold and his eyes look bloodshot. If I didn’t know better, he would’ve just blended in with the cardboard boxes and trash lying alongside him. I don’t even acknowledge him, as it’s probably just a catcall, aiming to degrade me. This city needs to refrain itself from unnecessary derogation, it’s getting more unwelcoming by the day! My eyes are starting to turn bloodshot and I mentally chastise myself for not grabbing a warmer sweater. No, I remind myself, the black would not have matched with the cherry . In retrospect, it would have protected me better.

I really do need some coffee right now. The florid symptoms of my 10 hour withdrawal from caffeine are prevalent now. One of my coworkers, Elizabeth, approaches me before I can head to the coffee station, and she begins rambling out some convoluted points about our last corporate meeting. Or at least, that’s from what I’m able to understand. I politely excuse myself from the conversation and proceed to get some coffee. I grab a mug and press the button. Only the most heavenly sounds are heard, and there goes the first drippings of coffee. I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around to see Charlotte from PR holding some manilla folders in her hand. I really don’t feel like to talking to her and besides, what could she possibly say? “What Charlotte?” I ask her tartly. I slightly shift my head and it looks like some form I need to sign. For the brief time she’s been in this office, she doesn’t seem to be self sufficient and she’s always in the dark. However, all things considered, being in the dark may be for the best. “I need you to sign a form regarding the publication of a new article about the continuing effects of racism prominent in the present day medical system. I find that it’s incredibly informative and influential, something our press needs.” She stares at me intently, and her dark eyes look menacing in my eyes. I start to feel really irritated at these petty demands that are seemingly addressed only towards me! I pick up the form with the tips of my fingers and turn my nose up after examining the piece of paper. “Maybe if you weren’t such a scarlet woman Charlotte, I would consider approving any publishing such as… that.” I must admit that after I said that I felt a little annoyed with myself. My coffee had gone cold during the interlude and now I would have to pour out the cold liquid for a new brew. I turn around to reach for a new mug and see Charlotte’s face out of the corner of my eye. While I can’t exactly describe the look Charlotte gave me, my best guess would be that it mimicked one of repulsion and perhaps dismay if it were worth any scrutiny. She turns on her heel and walks away. A sound similar to disgust can be heard as she walks out the door. Just like the man on the street, I think to myself.

I believe that some of us need to stay in the dark. The light is too bright for some, and just like a subway, they need to stay underground. I continue to walk down the hall this time with a hot mug of coffee. I carry myself with my head held high, and the luminescent light reflects the color of my cherry dress onto the floor. I feel pretty satisfied, just the way it should be.