Lucas Zuehl :: Emily ::

FictionFlash Fiction

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I used to live in Texas, and it was the only place in the US where people would come up and talk to me without selling me something.


A low banging pulses throughout her head. At first she thinks it’s her heartbeat, but she turns the corner and sees a man in a black Yankees hat drumming on a bucket, sending thumps into the concrete valley between buildings. He’s sitting at the entrance to the train station. She checks her phone and wipes the hair out of her eyes.

“Excuse me,” she says as she runs past, but he doesn’t move because he isn’t in the way. She sighs as the drums only grow louder with each step deeper into the resonant tunnel.

She had just bombed her first installation art exhibition in New York. Less than half the expected audience showed up, and the projector for one of her pieces (titled “ram–shackled”) glitched, and the wall morphed from a video of chains into a sea of digital blue. When she overheard the critics use the words “derivative” and “problematic,” she walked into the bar across the street to get her first drink in eight months. She woke up on a couch in her hotel lobby—her clothes and toiletries still strewn about her room on the 8th floor, her brain smooth like pudding—an hour and a half before her flight was supposed to leave. JFK airport is 45 minutes away by train. But if she catches this one, she tells herself, she can make it. She has to make this.

Her two-inch heel slips and she pops it back into place. She pushes past a man with a cane and scans her ticket. All the signs in different colors flood her view. The distant drumming reverberates around her and the brakes of a train screech. One sign matches the line on google maps and she sprints into the hallway below. The grimy tiles on the wall fly past and her suitcase splashes through an elusive wet substance. She stops at the platform and sees her train, but a whole other track separates her from it. She glances up and realizes she went to the wrong side. The train pulls out and she flings one heel into the empty tracks below, letting out a choked scream.

Eventually she turns and notices an older woman on the floor. She is peacefully painting on a canvas in watercolors from the dollar store. A row of deep blue and silver cityscapes, and bright yellow and scarlet portraits line the dusty station wall. The younger woman watches her for a while, remembering how colors used to make her feel. She watches her and breathes.

“How much for the one of the Brooklyn Bridge?”