I am thinking of stairs, the stairs of great train stations in london, paris, new york, like sweeping pathways leading down from a palazzo into gardens tended by innumerable workmen, forever at their toil, and she, emerged from her toilette aided by six maids before she braved the air of the world. the princess of the underground?
Each tier of the stairwell from street to subway signals layers of her life barely conscious to her mind: like the tiers of a wedding cake, assembled first for the marriage, then remembered and reconsidered at the anniversary, then the first child's christening. As the lady slides further underground, she merges with netherworlds from her past and what she imagines is her future.
Both of these worlds are fictions.
Every day, the faces across from her in the steamy carriages, with their tired eyes and taut skin,clenched teeth and anxious minds, soldier ants and footmen toiling in the greater garden, 'good morning ' she nods quietly to each a she sweeps down into the terraces of life, all these people who somehow believe in....what? Affairs of state that ruled them, that had to rule, the gardens that had to be kept? And who was she in this story? Was she the phantom of a queen, did she own this life as did Franz Joseph's mother (but not his wife), especially on those mornings after she and Frank has been together and she woke up, dewy, as if the world was softly jewelled, and stepping into it was like splintering and dispersing a diamond? On such a day as this, life was vaguely exquisite, the tired faces in the train were all worthy, somehow, their histories noble, all that their ancestors had fought for was noble and good and present; she could see it in their teeth, better teeth than for centuries, well fed young bodies, a capsule of a posiitve, dignified, and purposeful world.
But sometimes the stairs spiraled one down into corridors so fetid she couldn’t find words for it, couldn’t see it really, she had to keep certain blinkers on: days when the tube was smeared with faeces along the floor and walls, when armless boys stood begging with sandwich boards over their shoulders, hoping for dimes, wanting young girls with loose change to toss them a chance at an education. Men in shaggy green rags stand beside a pillar with a precious coffee, bundles or metal trolleys sitting like meek dogs beside them, just being there
Hissing speed, the train comes in, almost filling the tube cut out of the earth for its body to slide through. A pause, before its doors slide open and dozens of people but maybe millions of souls are pulled out by a force, a need, a calling to move, the platform becoming thick and thin, as ribbons do when the air is too rich. Their space is replaced by others, as if it does and doesn’t matter, can it possibly matter to the train, discarded newspapers and drink bottles minding seats for the newcomers. Frankly, now, does the train give a damn, or like a caterpillar needs to keep moving, along its tubular trajectory, to know it is alive.
One day, the train did not stop at street X. Police were taking time with an Incident. A small mass of protestors had started something in the financial district. Its name sounded like a cross between. a monument and a garden fence. Wall. Street, one side and the other, and a barrier in between. I should have gone to look, she thought, got out at the stop after and walked back, i would have seen the news.