gongneung subway, 1 a.m.
by Michelle Bailat-Jones

This script, these are-they-letters, these slashes of movement upward and away from her; she stares at the sign, waiting and ignorant, wanting someone—a quick and benevolent God she does not believe in but prays to out of habit—to grant her understanding. To give her instant literacy, a way out of this subway tunnel and a way to put a curtain on this foreign evening. For the night has now been too long and she has gifted, in passing, her excitement of wandering this new city to a stranger walking up on the street.

Down here out of the electric lamps in the near dark of the station, she spots him. A few steps away further along the platform. Something familiar in his hunched shoulders and pointy shoes, his grip on a folded paperback. No, what she sees is his citizen comprehension, his relevance to her dilemma. And so she decides, yes, he will do.

She measures his face and its sturdy disinterestedness, its immeasurable distance. But slowly, eyes drawn up at the sound of a train in a deeper tunnel and her gentle slide foreword—has she done this? has she dared?—and then, skimming and dipping toward her in his own (she imagines) night weariness, he sees her. She gives him pause. Her otherness is what matters first, and it is so apparent. Only then her confusion impresses itself across the platform. There it is, her bald need.

What sweet victory, she can read and understand the language of his impulse. No signs nor scripts to decipher, she has already received praise in this language. She even speaks its many dialects. She waits then, letting the line of his inquiry complete its circle. Yes, this darknight-shot of meaning passes swiftly to her, but then, oh sudden rushing despair with the glide of the train before them, there is no time, and so she can only wish again for knowledge of this script, these are-they-letters, for how else will she grant him permission.

 

 

Michelle Bailat-Jones is a writer and translator living in Switzerland. Her work has appeared in various journals including The Kenyon Review, PANK, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Quarterly Conversation, Cerise Press and Sundog Lit. She runs a literary blog called Pieces and is the reviews editor at Necessary Fiction.