Orange Line

Fiction
Casey Walsh


Wilson Jefferies is dead, and he’s riding the Metro, eastbound. He had gotten on the orange line at Metro Center, walking the few blocks from the hotel where he worked. Around Federal Triangle an aneurysm burst in his brain and killed him in a few seconds. He’s sitting next to an old black man in a suit who carries an umbrella even though it’s sunny out. It’s rush hour. No one notices Wilson. No one will notice him for three hours.

Celia gets on at Federal Center SW. She had lunch with her sister and afterwards they went to the National Gallery to look at a Degas show, which Celia didn’t really care about, but she hadn’t wanted to go home. The train is crowded, filled with people talking on cell phones and rustling papers. A toddler is crying and the mom tells it to shut up. Celia has to stand. From across the car, she admires the suit Wilson is wearing. It’s black and he has on a dark blue tie. He’s not bad looking either. She knows him, she realizes. They went to high school together in Severna Park.

Celia starts to smile. Wilson had been pale, short, quiet, and polite. He was in the smart kid classes with her, but didn’t do that well. Everyone ignored him. He mostly hung out with a guy named Chuck Olsen who got expelled sophomore year for setting off firecrackers in the hallway. The whole school had to go sit out on the football field that day because they thought somebody was trying to blow up the school. Celia wished someone would set off firecrackers everyday so they didn’t have to go to class. Everyone got a sunburn.

Wilson’s father was a minister. In ninth grade, his parents complained to the principal about evolution being taught in biology class. Everyone found out and picked on Wilson for it. Only rednecks believed in that kind of stuff.

Celia had been dating a guy named Mike Paulson at the time. About two weeks after they had sex for the first time, he told he wasn’t into to her anymore so he could go out with some bitch on the volleyball team. She hadn’t liked it when they had sex and he had mocked her in a high-pitched voice when she said it hurt.

One day in the hall between classes she saw Mike shoving Wilson. He had dropped his binder on the floor and papers had scattered everywhere. People were ignoring him and Mike, walking around them. Wilson was on his knees when Celia walked over, picking up his papers.

“You stupid little faggot,” Mike was saying to Wilson. He stopped when he saw Celia and smiled. “Hey, Celia” he said.

She looked at him for a second, studying his expression, noticing the tear in the neck of his Redskins T-shirt. Was he kidding, saying hi to her? She jammed her knee into his balls.

“Oh, shit,” Mike moaned, taking a few steps back, cupping his hands over his crotch. “What the fuck. You crazy bitch,” he wheezed.

“Good, I hope the damage is fucking permanent,” she said. “Now get out of here.” He limped off down the hall. “And leave him alone, dickhead,” she yelled after him.

Wilson was standing up now, shaking a little, “Thank you,” he said softly. He had on the dirty jean jacket that he never seemed to take off. Celia thought his jacket was kind of cool, sort of punk looking.

“Sure, whatever,” Celia said, grabbing a handful of papers and gave them to him before walking away.

A few days later in the cafeteria a friend of Celia’s was looking a Wilson eating his lunch alone. “God, that kid is so pitiful,” the friend said.

Celia shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s kind of sweet.” Her friend looked at her like she was crazy and Celia just dropped it.

She’s always wondered what happened to him. And now there aren’t any of her dumb high school friends around and she doesn’t care about whether she looks cool or not, so there’s no reason not to make friends with him. Celia has been married for two years, but she knows that her husband has been messing around with some girl he works with. His sister told Celia all about it. Celia always has fights with him about what laundry detergent to buy and how he stays out late and she has to go to bed alone. She needs to get back at him, and there’s Wilson on the other side of the train. It doesn’t matter if he’s married or not. Maybe they won’t even have sex; he might be gay even. Maybe they’ll just become friends, the kind that buy each other joke gifts for their birthdays and spend way too much time together. It only has to look like she’s doing something to her husband.

She should shove over there right now, through all of these people and start talking to him. But he looks so peaceful sleeping next to the old black man with the umbrella. She smiles in their direction and the old man smiles back. What if Wilson doesn’t even remember her? She’ll look up his name in the phone book and call him.

“Remember that time I kicked Mike in the balls?” she’d ask him.

“That was amazing,” Wilson would answer in a dreamy voice. “You were so brave. And hot.”

He hasn’t woken up when the train stops at Deanwood and Celia gets off. She hopes he doesn’t sleep through his stop. Outside in the parking lot the sun is setting and it’s getting cold out. Tomorrow is November first. Celia hates winter and has been dreading its arrival, but tonight she barely feels the cold.

pencil

“I am a student living in Maryland. I have never been published before.” E-mail: caseywal[at]hotmail.com.