The morning in a life over which there is little control. Something I wrote over two evenings. Enjoy and tell me what you think.
The noise my alarm clock makes is loud and grating and constant. It's the only sound that can wake me up. When I hear it I know the sun is about to rise and I have exactly 2 hours to get to work by 8:00 A.M. . Houston demands it.
I'm on my stomach looking at my alarm clock. I stretch my arm out beside me to feel the sheets. They're cold. My wife, Alice, has been up for at least a half hour. I know this because Houston demands it. This is always the case but I never lose hope she will rebel and stay in bed until I wake. I have never seen her as I wake up in the 7 years we've been married.
I get plenty of sleep so there is no residual exhaustion from the day before to keep me sluggish. I get out of our bed, shuck off my pajamas, leaving them on the cold stone tile floor, and head down the hallway for a quick shower. In the bathroom, part of my morning ritual is to look at my body- front and back- in the full length mirror on the back of the door. I still like what I see; hairy arms, chest, and legs, really thick, dark hair. My skin is a dark, olive tone. I'm 30 years old and I believe I have stopped aging at 25. I think it's because Houston demands everyone look young.
My shower is my favorite part of each day, more so than whenever it's time to eat. Shower time is my time. I don't have to think about anyone or anything other than what I want and care about. But it is bittersweet: Houston only allows 10 minutes.
After my shower, shave, and hygiene rituals I only have 1 hour and 30 minutes left before I must be at work. I don't spend much time getting dressed because I only have 1 suit for each day of the work week. Houston only allows men to wear five different colors: Navy Blue, Brown, Black, Beige, and Gray. Today is Friday, so I will wear my black suit.
I am dressed in under 10 minutes mostly because I'm a fast dresser and partly because Houston suggests that's how long a man should take to get dressed. I go down our wooden stairs to meet my wife for the first time of the day. I hear her in the kitchen doing what she does every morning-making my breakfast.
“Good morning, Alice,” I say just before giving her a light kiss on the cheek. I touch her arm and feel her tense muscles relax.
“Good morning. Breakfast is almost ready. Did you sleep well?”
“You know I did,” I say with a smile. She smiles in return. We have had this same exchange for almost 7 years. It's our own inside joke; a product of the slight rebellious streak that runs in us both. I sit down at the breakfast table.
Alice is tall for a woman but not as tall as me. She's wearing a beautiful dress and I think her shoes are new. I want to give her a compliment about them but Houston says men shouldn't notice things like new shoes or a new hairstyle.
“I'm making lamb for dinner.” She walks over to the table and places a plate of over easy eggs and buttered toast in front of me.
“Sounds wonderful.” I don't hesitate to start eating and neither does she. We are both good eaters. We won't speak from this point until I leave for work immediately after I've finished. Neither of us likes to be bothered while we eat anyway. So it works out.
After downing a glass of orange juice I'm finally ready to make my daily commute. I grab my briefcase off the kitchen counter and Alice follows me to the front door.
“Don't forget that we're having dinner with the Smiths, Edgars, Stantons and Roths. I'll be preparing all day so I need you to stop by the supermarket and pick up everything on this list.” She places a small white piece of paper in my jacket pocket, straightens my collar and tie, and kisses my cheek. “I love you. Have a good day.”
“I love you, too,” I say sincerely as I put on my black hat.
We hug and I leave.
Our home is in a small suburb about 30 minutes away from the city. Alice and I each have our own vehicles but I always take the train because both stations are just a few minutes away from my home and office. As I head toward the station I see two men walking in front of me, I recognize them by their Friday suits. The man in the Gray suit is Johnny Roth and the man in the beige suit is Pauly Stanton. I don't work with them but they are my friends and we all live in the same neighborhood. I met Johnny one Saturday afternoon while we were both doing yard work on a particularly hot day the summer Alice and I moved in next to him. I've known Pauly longer. We are both in arranged marriages and know each other from our re-education days.
“Johnny! Pauly!” I call out to them and quicken my stride to catch up. The two men turn around simultaneously and wave. When I reach them they both take turns giving me a light slap on the back and shaking my hand.
They both greet me with a “g'morning” and a grin.
“Did you guys catch the Game last night?” Pauly asks. Although, he doesn't have to. Every man watches the Game, Houston demands it.
“Yeah. It sure was a close one.” Johnny trails a little behind me and Pauly and throws his briefcase in the air, higher and higher to see how high he can throw it before he can't catch it anymore.
“Yep. Right down to the last second. I was sure Eaglefield was going to win.” I say as I look back to see how high Johnny has thrown the briefcase and to make sure it isn't going to land on my head. We continue to talk about the game: The close calls. The bad calls. And the exciting halftime show.
After a few blocks we say our goodbyes, I remind the boys about dinner that evening, and we part ways: Johnny and Pauly head to the east station and I go to Garfield station, to the west. At this point I have exactly 1 hour to get to work. I mention to myself that I may just have a few minutes to spare today. This rarely happens.
The street leading up to Garfield station is very quiet. Mostly old folks live here, retired, no children. It looks like every other part of the neighborhood. The grass is manicured, and a vibrant green. The sidewalks are pristine. Driveways and homes are immaculate. People take pride in their property here. It's a virtue and Houston demands it.
Somewhere, far away, maybe the other side of the city, my parents live on a street like this in a neighborhood just as nice. I don't know. I haven't seen them since Alice and I married. Once you're married, Houston demands you no longer associate with your parents. It says it builds character and a closer relationship between spouses. I don't know. Sometimes I think I might miss them but I'm not sure because I don't remember them. I think my father is a dentist or an accountant. Maybe he sells flowers.
Garfield Station is small. I'm usually the only morning passenger on the commuter train that goes into the city. This morning is no different. I let the electronic eye read my I.D. card and a turnstile unlocks allowing me to get onto the platform. Exactly one minute passes by before the tracks below the platform begin to hum. The train is early, and close.
I look at my watch as the train comes to a complete stop in front of me: 7:10. I'm making good time. The hydraulic doors of the train open with a woosh, I step on and the doors immediately close with another woosh. The train begins to move.
I've taken car 77 everyday for the past 7 years. I've sat in the same spot right next to the door for 7 years. And for 7 years there has never been an exception until today. I look at the white seat in which I always sit and a young man is there. He looks up at me without smiling. I'm startled someone has taken “my” spot then I'm startled again after considering my initial reaction. It is very unlike me.
I quickly take the seat opposite him. I feel his eyes follow me and as I sit down, facing him, only a few feet of aisle between us, I see he is still looking at me. For some reason, I don't greet him as Houston demands, I simply nod. He just looks at me, not happy, but he doesn't look angry either. It's like his eyes are smiling at me. I can't describe what it is. It's foreign to me.
He looks very young. He is wearing a navy blue blazer with an emblem on the right side of the chest. I assume by the clothing he wears that he is still in his pre-re-education years, somewhere between 18 and 22. His hair is short but curly, thick and very black. It makes his white skin appear even whiter. His eyebrows are thick but accentuate his large brown eyes. He is sitting with one leg propped underneath the other. The pre-re-educated are allowed to sit like this, Houston demands re-educated adult men must sit with both feet on the ground in front of them. This boy is definitely still a young one. I can't recall the last time I encountered such a youth.
He looks away eventually but I continue to examine him. I find him interesting. Underneath his blazer is a shocking pink button up shirt. Youth are allowed this sort of self-expression before re-education but even for this city it's quite daring. I find this admirable. His khaki slacks are a little short, and he is wearing no shoes.
The boy looks at me out of the corner of his eye. He says nothing but I can tell he knows I'm examining him. I say nothing still. The car is completely silent except for some background music pumped through a source I cannot find. The boy looks away again and I think about what sort of life he must lead.
As pre-re-educated he still lives with his parents. He probably doesn't have any siblings or friends other than the boys in his class at his all-male school. He has a very athletic build like most other boys his age and he is especially healthy in appearance.
The youth are lucky. Houston allows them to express themselves through art and literature. They are granted the least amount of control but suffer the strictest punishments if they go against that which Houston demands.
I begin to think about Johnny's daughter. She is a pre-re-educated youth herself but she doesn't look like this boy. Most youth I've met seem so complacent. No. That's not the right word. They are innocent, in a sense. But this boy does not have the same innocence about him. There is something different. I look at my watch: 7:25. There are only 15 minutes left before my stop in the city. The boy has shifted his body but remains seated with one leg underneath the other. He doesn't look at me still.
I gaze out the window behind him and watch the blur of green passing by that is trees. A slight movement catches my eye and the boy's hand moves to his partially buttoned blazer. He undoes the first button, then the second, the third, and the fourth until his blazer is completely open, revealing the entire shocking pink shirt. I continue to watch as he runs his hand over his stomach and up to his chest where he stops. Only his fingers are moving now. I find this odd but I look closely at his fingertips. There is a sudden sharp feeling in my stomach as I realize he isn't wearing an undershirt. I can clearly see him rubbing and circling his nipple with the tip of his finger. I instinctively look away.
My heart is quick and I must remind myself to breathe. This was not a good situation in which to be. I thought about what would happen if this boy were caught. I would likely be punished with him. I might lose Alice. People just didn't do things like this. It's not what Houston demands.
Despite my fears I look at the boy again. His hand is still on his chest. His eyes move and he's looking out of the corner of them at me. I'm watching more closely than before. His movements are so slight now. I doubt the cameras on the train will be able to catch them. His mouth opens slightly. His lips are a deep red, small, but plump. He slowly wets them with the tip of his tongue and they shine. He turns his head in my direction and again his smiling eyes are fixated on me. I can't think of anything to say. I'm not sure if I want to say anything; whether to encourage him or warn him.
His free hand moves from his knee, to his thigh and it stops before reaching his leather belt. His hips begin to move, slowly, forward and back, forward and back, and his hand moves, slowly, along with it. This is too much for me. I put my briefcase on my lap to hide my shame and I close my eyes.
The train stops and my eyes are open again. My first thought is to immediately get off the train and go to work. The boy is still across from me, looking off into he distance. I feel like I want to touch him. If I could just reach out and touch him for a moment, I think that would be enough. I could leave, get off the train, and go to work. There are cameras. I can't see them but I know they're here. They are everywhere. Houston is always watching. We will have to go somewhere with no cameras, deep in the city.
The train doors close. I've missed my stop. I could lose my job over this but now I'm the boy's captive. I have no choice.
During re-education they teach you how to suppress desire. I feel like everything I learned has fallen out of my head, scattered on the floor around me. The only thing I know or want to know is this boy. He stops touching himself, turns his head, and looks at me in the eye. He props his chin on a smooth, white fist, and smiles. It is a delicate smile with the slightest hint of mischief. It suits him. But he is all the more dangerous with such a weapon.
My heart is racing still, and I can feel the sweat collecting on my body. I shouldn't take my jacket off but I do. Houston demands a jacket be worn in public.
“Was that your stop?” the boy asks in a velvety voice. It's much deeper than I assumed.
My throat closes and I'm unable to respond. I nod in agreement and manage a weak smile.
“What's wrong? Don't you want to get off? I'm sure your boss won't be pleased if you're late.” He smiles. I think I hear a soft laugh but it isn't clear.
I'm unable to speak to him but he seems aware of this. He doesn't push for a response. He just sits and stares, smiling. I stare back only because I'm paralyzed by...fear?
Minutes pass in silence. Then WOOSH the doors open and close with neither of us leaving the train.
“That was my stop. I should be going to school. I don't think I will today. I have plans.” His teeth are showing.
I think for a moment about what he means by plans. There was nothing I could think of that could keep a youth from school. Houston demands attendance every day without question. Then it clicked. He meant me.
There is one stop after the University station and that is the Downtown station, where we will have to get off lest we go to the next city, which would be very bad.
My heart is pounding so hard that it hurts and there's a sharp pain in my throat. I must still remind myself to take deep breaths. I'm so nervous but so very anxious at the same time. I've never done anything like this before. Disobedience isn't common or well tolerated.
We wait in silence for the next stop. My foot begins to tap by itself. I let it. The boy still sits foot under thigh, chin resting on a fist, eyes smiling. I look at my watch; it's 7:45. I want badly for the train to stop so we can get off.
And as if the world around me hears my pleas and obeys my desires the train stops. We are downtown, the heart of the city. WOOSH
“Let's go.” The boy picks up his bag and heads to the open train doors.
I stand up and allow him in front of me to exit first, as he walks by his hand brushes up against mine and there is an electricity rushing through my body. I watch as the boy gets off the train. With my briefcase in hand I head towards the door.
The doors close and I can't get off. There is a terribly loud and grating noise in the distance. All goes dark.