One Hundred Percent Doomed

Before the couple boarded, our subway car was dour and silent—the way we liked it. The couple was young and laughing and thin and suntanned, he all teeth and she all flesh. We were instantly annoyed by them. They were out of breath as they boarded, like they had been running for several blocks. She was wheeling a large suitcase behind her. They sat in the vacant seats at the center of the bench in the middle of the car. He was shrieking with laughter. —Oh my God! he said. She was stretching her head back until it rested between her shoulder blades, exposing her fresh neck and she was hauck-haucking without sound, eyes squinted shut, mouth open, shoulders seizing. —Wow! she said. Her breasts moved high and hard beneath her sundress as she laughed again and we watched them. He had one ankle resting atop the other leg’s knee and inside the cave created by his short’s opening we could nearly see his genitals. We took his genitals as an aggressive maneuver toward us. She put her arms around him and kissed him on the side of his smooth face with little girl gusto: MUAH! For that he looked around at us like he had found a one thousand dollar bill on the floor, showing us all his lovely teeth: Hey now, whatcha think about that? Her green eyes sparkled as she stared us down to make sure we her captive audience were paying attention to her and her boyfriend. How could we not be? It did not matter whether wanted to or not, and we did not want to—they gave us no choice. We became more than annoyed: We identified them as our enemies. We resented their intrusion into our dourness. We wanted to be left alone with it. She rubbed her hands across his chest and put one inside his shirt and, we presume, pinched a nipple because he barked. They kissed and kissed, looking out at us from the corners of their eyes, not seeing or not caring that we were rolling our eyes at them and glaring or sighing pointedly and clearing our throats, turning this way and that in our seats to remove them from our eyeline. And then he was reaching down and unzipping the suitcase, taking out a book. At the sight of it she clapped her hands like a baby monkey, looking at all of us and grinning as though we were all, for some reason, to be excited for her. We were not excited for her. She put her chin on his shoulder to look on as he flipped through the pages of the book. He was sure to hold it up in such a way that we all had to see the cover. It was a travel guide to Shanghai. As they beheld the wonders in store for them in Shanghai, both their mouths enlarged into holes the shape of watermelon slices. —Oh! she said, pointing at something in the text. —Oh! he said, seeing what she was pointing at. Then he pointed at something else and said, —Oh ho! and she said, —Oh ho ho! —Wow! she said, pointing at yet another thing. —Yes yes yes yes! he said about this new thing she was pointing at. The whole thing was so unconvincing it was disgusting. They seemed to us like contestants in a reality show where strangers are alleged to fall in love and marry on camera. We knew better than to be fooled by them. This was not love. Did they think it was love? Were we expected to applaud them? Were we to excuse their hijacking our solitude, distracting us from our thoughts, simply because they had developed a blister they were calling a romance, which with one mild prick would ooze and leak out until so completely gone it would be like it had never been there? We knew better than they. For we were miserable. We were heartbroken and alone. Once we had not known better and we were they. It is hard to know better than someone else. It is a burden requiring a level of kindness and selflessness that no saint has, let alone us passengers. He was reading aloud now, from the travel book, pushing his voice from the depths of his healthy strong chest so it filled the car over the heinous metal squeals of the wheels of the train, a sound we loved because it was hideous and hopeless and we therefore recognized it, like a beetle recognizes dung. —Take a rowboat, he read aloud to her and to us, his finger moving along the page with the text, —across the foggy pond to join the famous ducks for breakfast! She gasped at the prospect and squeezed his neck with her skinny arms and buried her mouth into his cheek while he looked around at us who were tired and busy and obligated and could not run off to Shanghai to take a rowboat across the foggy pond to join the famous ducks from breakfast. We were not young anymore. Our lives had not turned out the way we once, when we were like them, were certain they would. We never kissed in public anymore. Not that we had anyone to kiss in public. We did not allow ourselves to bellow with laughter in public, not sober at least. We knew better. We decided to stuff the couple’s bodies with the feathers of the famous ducks. Then we would fill their veins with the water of the foggy pond in the morning, when the streaks remained in it from the paddles of the rowboats. How did we silent strangers decide upon this plan of action without talking it over first? How did we communicate and discover that we all shared the same sadistic resentment toward this obnoxious, presumptuous couple? How did we communicate our bitterness about them to each other? Was it through our broken bones, our decaying teeth, our inexplicable families, our scooped out insides, our balding heads and illness-skewed bodies, our unappreciated work, our bipolar superiors, our bank accounts that no matter how hard we worked always echoed like an apartment when one of the couple that lived there has left and taken all the furniture with them, even the frames off the wall, and the other sits on the bare floor with a bottle of turned wine and says, What happened between now and then when we laughed on subway trains on the way to Shanghai and bellowed and wanted everyone in the city to see? Or did we decide on our verdict by communicating through the brands burned onto our lips by old kisses given us in public like the ones she gave him and he her? In the end, it does not matter, for we agreed—we would end the couple’s disregard for the public dourness. We would kill them. They would die.

As we progressed through the stations of the city, the train filled. The size of the couple’s poor audience grew. New unsuspecting passengers tripped over their ample luggage left out in the aisle, were forced by the high capacity to stand above them and watch while the couple smooched and to hear as he read page after page of the guidebook. Each new batch of riders were as disgusted as we already on board and, discovering our telekinetic communication medium, swiftly joined the execution committee. This was a matter of public justice. The couple only became more offensive. She had a hand in his pocket now, doing God knows what. He had read five complete pages of the book aloud in a reading-to-children voice and showed no sign of stopping. Those of us with headphones turned them up but his voice penetrated even the highest volume. We who were trying to read books of our own could not concentrate and were forced to close them on our laps and listen to him. Anyone napping had been woken up and was listening against his or her will to a litany of gift shop locations, currency exchange kiosks, laundromats on the other side of the planet, each descriptive item he read accented with a delighted squeal from her. One of us brought up the astute observation that the couple had an actorly quality to them, the creepy hyperrealness of undercover intelligence agents going to Shanghai to spy on the Chinese government. Ah, that explained them—they were committing early to their role of a young couple in love. A performance. And all performances must end. The larger women among us proposed via our communication medium that they expedite the end of the performance by placing the girl’s energetic body beneath their hefty beef-like arms and squishing her under them until flat, then removing her and shaking her out. She would resemble an air mattress ready to be inflated and inflated she would be, with a cocktail containing one part the dank air of a hundred midsummer rush hour subway platform evenings with love unrequited and one part the mean lonely air of divorce in winter. Garnish with the antibacterial breath of the doctor who regrets to inform you of your spouse’s fatal prognosis. Stir with the knife of discovered infidelity. Strain into a flask of irreparable heartbreak. Carry it with you, in your pocket. Drink ice cold. Inflate her with this cocktail, its advocates argued, and from then on her kisses would scald, her laughs sicken. Then do the same to him. This was a riveting proposal. An electric current of excitement went through us. Justice. We were eager to pass the resolution and proceed.

Know what? one of us said over the channel. I would like to check in with them in 15 years. When he wants a second kid and she does not. When she wants to leave the city and he does not. When they know all of each other’s best jokes and have overheard each other at cocktail parties tell the same stories for a decade and a half. When they have seen each other fail. When one has failed and the other has not failed but in fact succeeded and done it on the back of the other’s failure. I would like to ride the train with them then. When they have seen the harshness of the world, like we have. When the neighborhood they now with each kiss and laugh see themselves living in together turns out to be unavailable to them. When one changes and the other does not. When one cannot keep up the performance anymore and drops it but the other loves the act and not the real person behind it. What then? When the sex is predictable and scant and the laughs are bitter snorts and the kisses quick hugs—let’s ride with them then. When they are just solitary exhausted people trying to stay above water, wondering what happened to Shanghai—I would love, I would adore, it would tickle the cells of my soul to get a look at them then and see how they look just like us now.

Nobody responded to that, over the channel. Something changed. Many of us dropped out of the execution committee and got off the train. But not all.

We came to the station that connects with the airport shuttle. —Here we go! the young man of the couple cried out. She clapped her hands. They whooped. He slapped her on the behind as she gathered her luggage. She yelped, guffawing, pulling the hem of her dress down to cover herself and looking around at us in flamboyant false offense to confirm we had seen what her naughty, naughty boy had done to her, the incorrigible imp. He grinned at us and shrugged helplessly. —What can I say? he asked us. We seethed back in silent contempt. The doors were closing and they were still in the center of the train. —Oh no! he bellowed, lunging through several of us, knocking us aside, to stick his sneakered foot into the doorway and block the doors from closing. —Hurry! he laughed. She was struggling with the luggage, doubling over with laughter and drumming up her clumsiness and incompetence for us as though we cared whether or not she was adorable. The doors kept trying to close, like sideways jaws of a robot mouth, which would have been nice, for then we could have fed them to it. We stared back, scowling, our arms crossed. We would give them none of what they wanted from us. They got off the train. The doors closed behind them. We stood and pried the doors back open and followed them. To, at last, eradicate them.

Through the station toward the airport shuttle, the couple careened and kissed and skipped while we followed behind in a mob of dozens. They boarded the bus and so did we. There were so many of us that we filled all but one seat. We pushed the boy off his seat and onto the floor. Good, we said to each other, now one of them does not have a seat and will be forced off the bus to wait for the next one, and they will be separated, each alone, forced to stare out the dirty gray windows of the shuttle at the standstill traffic and housing projects and underfunded health clinics and failed businesses in desolate outer towns between city and airport, where people are stuck and unhappy. They will see these things and become unhappy too. As we do when we see them. And then they will be like us. They will never reunite, once they are like us. But we were thwarted in our devious plot when without hesitation she jumped out of her seat so he could sit in it. —You go ahead, she told him, —and I’ll take the next one. He pulled her onto his lap and said, —Never! They squealed and kissed and rode all the way to the airport like that, snuggled foully with her head on his broad shoulder and his hand on her cute thigh. —Hey, he marveled, pointing out the filthy window. —Look at all this traffic! How great that everyone is done with work and going home to be with their families and friends! They’ll all be so happy! Hi, traffic! Hi! You’ll be home soon enough!

—And look! she pointed. —Housing projects! Oh they’re so cute! How wonderful that all people have a place to live regardless of class and income levels!

—How many people are in love in there, right now?

—A million!

—A billion!

—A million billion billion!

—A billion jillion quillion!

One of us bent his head between his knees and vomited between his shoes.

—Wow! the young man exclaimed. Ah ha! Now he had seen a person vomit! And vomit is reality. He will be forced to face to reality, like us, and be revolted, depressed by it, as he should be. But the young man was not facing the vomit, the reality. He was paying no attention to it roving along the bus’s floor. Instead he was still pointing things out the window to her and saying, —Look at all the available commercial space out here! I bet it’s very affordable! So many opportunities for people to realize their dreams of owning their starting their own businesses!

—I want to kiss you in them! she said. —I want to kiss you in those shuttered retail spaces and boarded up offices!

—And I, he answered, —want to kiss you in the housing projects!

—And I want to kiss you in that car stuck in gridlock, that one there that has not moved in twelve minutes!

—And I want to kiss you in that one!

—And in that one!

—And in that one!

—That one that one that one, he said.

—That one that that one that one! said she.

—Muah muah muah muah, she yelled.

—Muah muah!

—My baby, my sweetie, mine mine mine muah, MUAH, MUAH!

There was a bridge coming up and it would have been ideal if our driver were to have stopped in the center of it so we could drag the two of them out and take them by the ankles and wrists and heave-ho them one at a time over the railing, into the gray watery netherworld below. Kiss her in that river. Kiss him at the muck at the bottom of it, why don’t you. We would poison the fish so that, should the two somehow survive their submersion, perhaps by linking mouths and pinching each other’s nose and breathing each other’s lung air like human oxygen tanks, the poisoned fish would bite their toes and inject into their blood a paralytic that would ensure the two of them never swim to the surface and are never seen again. Where would we get the poison? It would be easy—it flowed behind the walls of the our homes in the days after those we had loved were gone. It dripped through the faucets. All one has to do is stick one’s hand beneath it and catch it. We drank it every night sitting on the floor, with the television on mute. It is the turned wine. We drink it and watch the place where the blue light from the television flickers on the wall, where the picture frames had been, you could still see where the tone of the paint darkened in the ghostly shape of their edges.

We did not go through with it on the bridge. Why didn’t we? Was the driver a fool like the couple? Was it that there was a high inward curled fence discouraging suicides and the homicides of young couples in love and Shanghai-bound? Was it that traffic happened to speed up at the inopportune time, preventing the driver from stopping? Why had we failed to go through with crushing them under the arms of the large women among us and refilled them with toxic air? What was wrong with us? Where inside of us did we fail? Why could we not bring ourselves to kill them?

We were at the airport now—and we had a new plan. The shuttle dropped us all off and it was crowded at the airport—we lost them while we were buying our tickets to Shanghai, which we were doing so we could follow our victims past security and ride with them in the plane and take pleasure in witnessing the inevitable uncomfortable silences that would fall between them over the 27 hours flight, the increasingly curt way they would speak to each other as reality overtook them and they became exhausted with their performance and began to wear on one another. Certainly they had never spent more than a weekend in each other’s close company before. Now they would see what love was, its foul stinks and boring inanities. Perhaps she would say, —Oh let’s get married in Shanghai! and he would not answer quickly enough. She would ask him what’s wrong and he would reveal to her that he wants to never be married and to never have children. And they would destruct. The blister would be popped, right there on the flight. We would take such joy in that. And if by chance they did not destruct and did manage to maintain the performance then we would wait until they inevitably locked themselves in the restroom together and copulated loudly and long enough to ensure everyone was forced to know what they were doing. —Hohhhhhhhhh! is how we imagined he would bellow, both arms upraised (they would leave the door ajar accidentally on purpose). —Wheeeeeee! she would sing, endlessly naked, their skin slapping and fluids geysering, lapping each other’s up like ice cream sundaes, fingers in each other’s bottom. We would enter the restroom with them and break them apart then stuff them one at a time into the little tin toilet and push the flush button. It would suck them down in a sharp huff and expel them 30,000 miles above the ocean at night. They would eviscerate like steam.

We found them again in line at security. They were embraced and laughing very hard, their entire bodies heaving and vibrating. A hideous new low in their rampage of vulgarity. Why not do it now, we decided, approaching them. Shove them in a body scanner and lock them inside. Capture the image on the screen: skull and bones. But as we approached we realized they were not laughing at all. Her face was deep red and wet. His too. With the edge of her thumb she wiped at the streams coursing from her eyes. He dabbed at his nostrils and sniffled deeply. Then they squeezed one another more tightly and kissed deeper and harder than we had seen before—and she broke off from him, went through security by herself, without him, carrying with her the Shanghai guidebook. He remained, alone, with nothing. As she emerged beyond security she was weeping. She turned briefly to wave and sing out, voice wavering, —Boo bye, I’ll miss woooo!

He said, —I’ll miss woo too!

—I’ll neva fuhget woo!

—I won’t fuhget woo eithuh!!

Then she was gone. He put his face in his hands and wept. People filed passed, with boarding passes. He put his hands in his pockets and turned to walk away, toward us, to where we stood waiting for him. He joined with us. He fit in perfectly. Too perfectly. We did not like it. How stupid were we? They had been saying goodbye to each other the whole time. We knew nothing. We had none of the wisdom and superior insight we liked to think we had earned from our heartbreak and pain. Heartbreak and pain does not earn wisdom or superior insight. It earns nothing but heartbreak and pain. It had only dimmed us and chilled us and that was because we had let it. For the first time, we spoke to him. Why, we asked, are you not going with her?

He said, smiling bravely through his tears, —I didn’t get in to the program she got in to.

Why don’t you go anyway?

—Man, I can’t afford to go to Shanghai. Do you have any idea how expensive the ticket is? I tried to find a way, but . . . It hurts so much. I’m so cold. Everything is cold and hurts. I loved her.

He was sobbing again. We knew there was a right thing to do. The prospect of doing it was disgusting to us. That is how we knew it was right. It would have been much more pleasurable to say, That’s what you get for falling in love, then go back to our subway with him now among us, dour and silent the way we like it. It was repellent through and through, but we gave him one of our tickets. He laughed, showing his lovely white teeth again. —Oh wow! he cried. —Really?

Yes, we told him. Really.

He hugged us.

Wait! he called after her, showing his ticket to security and going through. —Wait!

On the other side she reappeared from around the corner. How annoying and naive it was when they embraced again beyond security. She leaped onto him and she caught her, she wrapped her legs around him and he held her and they slobbered all over each other. He put her down, and, holding hands, they hurried off together to their gate to catch their flight to Shanghai.

—They’ll never survive the trip, we muttered to ourselves as we headed back to the shuttle and, eventually, to our subway. —Once he sees her without her makeup, her eyebrows overgrown? Once she smells his bad breath in the morning, once she realizes he has no money? They’re doomed. We chuckled with our secret knowledge. —One hundred percent doomed.

We rode it, miserable and content again. A couple boarded. They were young and stupid and on their way somewhere exotic and wanted to believe they were in love. They wanted us to believe it. They expected us to believe that all it took to be in love forever was to smooch and cackle too loudly and make a spectacle of yourself in public space and interrupt anything else people prefer to be doing. An obnoxious couple who did not know what they did not know.

What to do with them?

We met their ecstatic giddy grins. Their grins became our grins. We chuckled as they cackled and soon we were cackling too. We stood, each one of us, up and down the subway car, and applauded the two of them and what they had discovered, as our train roared and squealed through the darkness.  

Copyright © 1999 – 2023 Juked