Apr 28, 2022
For All the Women in the Car
by Rebecca Lynne Fullan
The first choice I made that night was to sit down.
It was crowded enough on the New York City subway that the empty middle seat looked like a prize, framed though it was by the butts of strangers. It wasn’t until after I sat that I felt a heavy-air tension around me. Then a man started yelling.
“I would’ve hit him! Wheelchair or no wheelchair, I would’ve hit him right here.”
My eyes flickered to this young man. White, wiry, tall. Dressed tough and poor, and talking the same way. My body closed in on itself.
Suddenly, in an angry rush, the man-in-the-wheelchair came barreling back through the car, aiming himself at the man-who-stood. The man-in-the-wheelchair raged. He had golden hair and skin, and his elbows bent and jabbed the air. His anger was intense and dissolute, filling the subway car up like a balloon.
The other man approached him, screaming.
I don’t know who began what happened next. Perhaps it was the white-haired woman sitting across from me, saying, “Stop, son. Take it easy, son,” to the man-who-stood. Perhaps it was the brown-skinned, black-haired man, leaning down to the man-in-the-wheelchair and talking, talking, talking. There was a rush of air around me, voices rising from all sides: “Stop, stop, stop.” I found my mouth joining them, quietly.
The man-who-stood screamed. The man-in-the-wheelchair spun.
And a young woman stood up, and put her body at the pole between them, hung on, and looked at the man-who-stood.
I felt her decision like a jolt of electricity, and then I was standing too, hanging on to the pole with her. I didn’t want to leave her alone.
The conflict whirled around us. She went and sat down, leaning her head in her hands. I kept standing. The man-in-the-wheelchair retreated down the car. The man-who-stood kept screaming.
“You saw what he was doing, looking up the girls’ skirts, masturbating. I’m doing this for all the women in the car. For all the women in the car!”
He slammed his hand into the pole I was holding onto, hard. I felt the reverberation all through me. For me? For me like a shark is for a fish, like a bomb is for the land.
Stop, stop, stop.
I kept my body still and silent, in the space between.