Death on the Subway

by Caterina Valentino, Learner, Writing Workshops

Karen strode onto the subway car and plunked herself in the corner seat by the door. She tucked her knapsack between her legs, sighed and, as was her practice, began to study the faces of the train’s patrons mentally creating a Portrait Parle of intriguing facial features. It was in that silence of noting every nuance of visage that her eyes stopped dead. She tried not to stare but she couldn’t help herself. She snatched glances when she thought he wasn’t looking, when no one was looking. She surveyed him up and down. There was no mistaking it. Every detail Karen had ever read about death was etched in his facial features and carved out by his physique. Death sat in subway car 1929.

Bowed over, he cast the image of a vulture crouched in a treetop peering straight ahead searching for its next piece of flesh. Each of his twelve back vertebras curled up and hunched forward forming a smooth arch that met his seven neck bones that shot straight out parallel to the floor. His head’s high frontal bone curved down over what only could be a pea sized brain in an oversized cranial vault to settle at the bridge of his curved and pointed snout. His horn-rimmed glasses sat precariously on the bridge of his nose. In profile, his singular beady black crow eye looked straight ahead focused on the doors that would eventually open to Samarra. His dangly arms rested on his thighs. His smooth skinned hands unaccustomed to hard labour were folded. His fingers intertwined at the ready to snatch any desolate soul that happened by.

His ringless finger indicated he belonged to no one. His jet-black hair streaked with grey swept back off his face, over his ears and terminated in a greasy cow’s lick at the crown of his head. These daunting traits were minimized by the one solitary drop of mucous that hung from the tip of his pointed nose patiently waiting for gravity to draw it to the subway floor. It was that solitary drop of yuck that captivated Karen. Her eyes were riveted to that solitary glob of slime as gravity slowly elongated it for its descent to hell. Did she see his tongue arc to snatch the nose drool? Karen sat frozen in her seat, afraid to move in case Death swooped in and scooped her into his arms. An eternity passed before that bulbous mass of snot detached itself and plunged down between his legs to the car’s floor –splat – only to slowly regenerate at the end of his beak. Karen disappeared further into her seat. The doors chimed opened, she slithered away keeping her distance. Safe on the platform, Karen looked ahead, to the sides. Now a mere shadow in the crush of passengers, Death had escaped her. For how long, she was uncertain. But, for today she was safe.

Caterina’s piece was written for Ann Ireland’s online writing course: ‘Fiction and Non-Fiction Writing’ (CWWR 415).

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