Rat Shuffle

That in-between time struck the city at the clock’s stroke of 4am.

It was still quiet. There wasn’t much traffic except for the very early morning shift, and a few rats shuffling down the sidewalks. Occasionally you could hear the click of the changing of the traffic lights.

Eric had grabbed his morning coffee before work. He stood at the corner and stood watch. He still had 20 minutes before he had to make his way to the train station. If he was lucky, there wouldn’t be any track fires, boozed up denizens, or any other mishaps on the train. He didn’t want to be late.

A woman suddenly caught his eye. She had runs in her stockings, and was wearing only one shoe. In her left hand, a shiny red leather pump was dangling like a dead plaything. The heel was broken.

He wondered if he should offer her a cigarette, but then changed his mind. She might want something else. Thoughts crossed his mind. Eric imagined scenarios for the stranger. Was she getting off of work, or headed home after partying? How did her heel break? Why did some women wear such footwear, knowing the risk of being caught shoeless in the streets.

Yelling broke Eric’s train of thought. A man stormed out of the deli. He didn’t have enough change for whatever he wanted, and soothed his wounded pride by shouting epithets at the store clerks tucked safely inside. He finished off his tirade, triumphantly sailing the leftover coffee in his cup at the window. It hit the window with a smack, and left the milky brown liquid streaming down the glass.

Eventually, something gnawed at Eric to check his watch. He had been too absorbed in people watching. He had 4 minutes to make it to the platform. Looking up at the traffic light, it was still red. It didn’t matter, because there were no cops or heavy traffic around.

Eric dashed for the train. He ran across the street, nearly bumped into an old woman scavenging the garbage can for aluminum cans to recycle, and headed up the stairs.

His lungs were burning as he hustled up the stairs. Two minutes to make it to the platform. He pushed passed the doors, pulled his metro card out of his back pocket, and slipped through the turnstiles. One minute to go.

Eric looked down the tracks, and was greeted with the oncoming lights of the train. Passengers were scattered about the platform. Some were checking their phones, while others were sipping coffee or gnoshing on bagels or breakfast fixings from the deli.

The train pulled up and Eric filed into one of the cars. It was still early enough, so he was able to grab a seat. The train pulled out of the station, and Eric began staring out of the windows. Reaching for his front right pocket, he fumbled about for his headphones.

Another day. Another dollar. 35 minutes until he would arrive at his destination. After arriving two stops before his, that’s when it happened. The brakes were pulled, and the train screeched to an abrupt stop. Track fire.