Images by Catherine Chang

Green, the color of the train was green, dark green. In a dream, the green is there. A flood of green is in the dream, a flood of dark green, a dark and perplexing and greedy green. The dream is unexpected, but not entirely frightening. The flood of green in the dream is all I see before it is gray, then black. In the blackness is the sound of a train, a screeching sound, a deafening screaming match on which I am involuntarily eavesdropping between track and wheel, a tired, familiar, and horrifying sound that becomes an inescapable and unending ringing in my ears. I see lights on in the train, I see people in the train—I am floating up to them against a blank, black space, and they are horrified. 

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I remember the color of the train. I remember the brand of liquor he was holding, and the weather. I can’t remember how I first saw him, or the exact date or time it happened, not without having to look. I remember green. Green, the train was green, dark green, the kind of green that is unassuming, that secures itself a sense of confidence from the way it resembles the color of an antique, an artifact. Against the sound of the approaching train, he blew his breath out and stood there on the platform in his worn-out tennis shoes, flat-footed, or so his mother later said anyone could always tell from his soles—holding a bottle of Smirnoff vodka, unconcealed. It was sunny, or the sun was out, because I remember the way the rays blinded me as I looked up to peer at the hanging station clock. It wasn’t warm, and I can’t remember the exact time it was. 

I remember the color of his cheeks. I remember that I stood a couple of feet away from him, but that he seemed so much closer when it actually happened. I can’t remember what the color of his eyes were, or whether he had freckles, or how tall he was—all important markings of a person—I can’t remember. The train, I remember hearing it squealing and screeching against the tracks from a distance, but I can’t quite remember what the platforms signs said. I remember seeing large poster-board ads somewhere about a new city welfare program that was being implemented. Large purple and black letters, orange and white background, people smiling. I remember red Xs, polka dots, my leg shaking because I was wearing a skirt, and it wasn’t warm, even though the sun was out. 

It all happened so quickly. There was a second—one-sixtieth of a minute—and I was exasperated with the train running late, or so I remember. I was looking straight ahead, across to the other side, the other platform dirty and stained with dusty black footprints, food stains, debris, grease. And then there was another second—one-sixtieth of a minute—when a warp of a body tumbled onto the tracks. A blur, he was, except for the clear outline of the old shoelace on his left tennis shoe, which was the last I saw of him before he was crushed by the speeding green train. 

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His mother gave a live interview a couple of days later, after the incident made the local newspaper. The interview was re-broadcast over and over on local news channels, multiple times a day—in the morning, in early afternoon, in the evening after the sun had set and people were sitting at their dinner tables eating chicken and drinking wine. He was an alcoholic, but he was trying to turn it around, I remember her saying on the television one night. He didn’t deserve it, she said, sitting upright on her floral couch in a cluttered living room. She had a grimace on her face, and there were hairs out of place, sticking to her sweaty neck and heavily-powdered face. He was just going back to school again. He didn’t deserve it, I remember her repeating. 

I sunk further into my chair as she continued. He didn’t deserve it. Maybe what she really meant was that nobody should die stumbling drunk onto the path of a speeding train. Or maybe she was implying that somebody had done this to him, really somebody on the platform that day had pushed him off, out of some sick idea that people who are in pain and turn to alcohol for comfort shouldn’t be given a second chance. Or maybe she was trying to condemn society’s failure to save him from himself. God rest his soul, she said on the flashing television screen. I put down my cup of milk and turned the television off.  

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I wake up from the dream and can’t separate it from reality. Images, symbols, daydreams, a thought that the brain retrieves after being reminded of the past by a detail only seen by the subconscious part of the body, or a moment that I can remember but never lived. How to separate a blurred mind’s image—like a photo taken with a distorted lens or at too slow a shutter speed—from a memory the body conjures up to live again and again? There is the green, the dark green, the blackness, the train, his tennis shoes. Blackness, green, dark green that is for a split-second unbearable, a low-frequency humming that then becomes screeching, a cold sun, a heart beating, a leg shaking, screeching wheels against old metal tracks, people’s faces, blackness, green dark green blackness of train and tennis shoes slipping down and down and down until the green comes back again.

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I remember hearing my heart beat as I stood on the platform in shock, like hearing jellied fruit pieces being poured out into a bowl from a can, pulsed into my ears. I remember staring down but not seeing anything on the ground, or even the ground itself. I remember seeing people’s faces, but I can’t remember how many faces. I don’t remember how many seconds went by before the train conductor realized somebody was on the tracks, or how much time passed by before the train finally stopped. Paramedics came, I think, and train staff, as some people on impulse rushed forward to him, while some people watched from the back. When they yelled and pushed me aside, I remember my arms shaking, and that I couldn’t stop them. I remember the coldness of the breeze against my legs. I don’t know why I remember it, but on the platform, I saw coins, one or two, probably dropped out from his coat pocket. And I remember a dollar bill, maybe his, maybe not, stepped on, crinkled, smushed in the ongoing foot traffic. 

Catherine Chang is currently pursuing a Creative Writing Certificate here at the City College of San Francisco. She enjoys fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.

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