The green line
by Melissa Feinman
Green Line//Minneapolis, 2019
Ava stands on the wide mouth of the wobbly light rail car, late again. She tastes salt as she bites down on her lower lip, as if the self-inflicted injury will push the car further along University Avenue. Attention Metro Transit riders: due to an accident in downtown St. Paul, all Eastbound green line trains will be running with delays. We apologize for the inconvenience. Ava watches various passengers groan at the confirmation that their shuddering halt before Prospect Park was indeed, not good news. The mom with the beautiful toddler too big for his stroller pulls out her phone and hands it to him. The toddler’s dark eyes catch the artificial light as his legs stretch out and flail in his puffed-up snow pants, plastic creaking under him. The gaggle of teenagers leaning against the doors turns up their headphone-less music more. The biggest boy in the group shoves the girl in the hijab playfully; her shrieks bounce off the domed ceiling. The woman in a Twins cap speaks loudly into the phone: no, I’m still on goddamn train. She pauses, looks up at Ava. Are we in Minneapolis? Ava nods, looking overhead at the simplified map of multicolored parallel lines, trying to count how many stops she had left to go. I’m in Minneapolis, the woman barks into the phone. I don’t know when I’ll be in St. Paul. The bold college student donning a pair of “winter shorts” drums on his bony kneecaps, headphones low. The Somali family sits in one of the four seaters, the two children squirming between their parents. A man with paint-splattered jeans begins to hum behind yesterday’s newspaper. Another man, in a full suit and jacket looks at the train door, as if planning his escape.
Ava feels the cold seep through the small gap between the floor and the door, mixing in with the stale, forced heat. It is beginning to snow again, in miserable, thin slants, almost like rain, condensation fitting into the pencil carvings someone had etched into the windows many rides before. From outside, Ava can see the famed spindly tower looming inky-black at the top of Prospect Park’s highest hill, a tower more fondly referred to as the ‘Witch’s Hat.’ Ava peers over from where she stands towards the train’s rejected seat, the one with the dark stain on its fabric. She sees a homeless woman crouched behind the seat, her feet underneath her, perched amid a discarded Wendy’s bag and a single, loose curly fry. The woman sways slightly in her worn winter jacket, and a curl of smoke starts to wrap around her, the acrid cigarette smell following.
Ava looks away, feeling herself flush. She hates the smell of smoke, but she’s also seen this scenario unfold way too many times before on the green line. The hulking, sullen transit cops who would squelch onto the train car right before the doors would close, yelling at passengers to have tickets out. Sometimes one of them would even have a gun strapped to him, a wide hand glued to its metal lip to signify that this additional appendage was simultaneously the most powerful and the most vulnerable part of him. Ava would feel her heart race, searching for her ticket, knowing that her skin color and mild smile would get her a, keep it handy on you next time, if she wasn’t able to produce it. The transit cops were the Twin Cities’ way of weeding out what was deemed the less-than-appetizing homeless population that gathered on the trains when the winters became uninhabitable, the young Black boys selling loose cigarettes and vending machine candy bars, the immigrants who didn’t know how the ticket system worked. The smokers were always escorted off once the train rustled up to the next platform; what happened next, Ava could only guess. She often felt like an outsider peering in through warped glass at something she wasn’t supposed to see; most of the other white people she knew had cars and didn’t ride the train. What’s a pretty young girl like you riding the train so late at night anyway? A transit cop had once winked at her, pocketing her ticket.
But there are no transit cops now in this paused moment; the only things present are the bass from the trap music the teens are playing and the woman in the Twins cap receiving another phone call to insist to the person on the other line that she would not be in downtown St. Paul by 10:00. Here, swelling in its bubble of a train car, Minneapolis is at a standstill, teetering between two cities, stopped abruptly on its steel tracks, radiating with a pulsing tension. Ava belatedly wonders what accident had caused this strange moment of stillness, her mind first going to a jumper. She can easily conjure the outline of what would probably be a young man throwing the weight of his body, already dead in his mind, against the green glowing light barreling toward the state’s capital. Ava hopes he would be remembered as more than a clot in the churning capillary system of the cities, more than a disruption to commuters trying to race through their mundane lives. She shakes her head. Jesus, she is always so negative. Maybe there really is a fender bender near the tracks clogging the whole thing, a dispute to be settled in the next passing minutes. Maybe no one had jumped.
Still stuck underneath the Witch’s Hat, a voice from behind the rejected seat. Y’all ain’t seen the worst of it, y’all don’t even know, comes from over the spiral of smoke, from the woman curled within herself. She repeats herself several times. Ava can’t tell if it’s a threat, a premonition, or something more ominous. The Somali woman wraps an arm around her young daughter, clearly shielding her from what she views to be stark mental illness. The mother protecting her daughter from the crazy lady on the back of the train. And perhaps the mother is right, perhaps the homeless woman is stuck in an outrageous dream, a blur of memory fragments impossible to piece together. Her words feel chillingly haunting regardless, sending something tight to wrap itself around Ava’s chest.
The train lurches, sending Minneapolis forward.
Originally from New York City, Melissa Feinman is a writer of short stories, essays, and novellas. She graduated from Macalester College in 2017, studying creative writing and psychology. She now attends the University of Pennsylvania's graduate School of Social Policy and Practice, getting her masters' in social work and nonprofit leadership. She aims to one day start her own nonprofit that offers creative arts programming for adolescents and young adults and empowers them to tap into their own modes of creative expression -- just like writing empowers her.
“Ava looks away, feeling herself flush. She hates the smell of smoke, but she’s also seen this scenario unfold way too many times before on the green line. The hulking, sullen transit cops who would squelch onto the train car right before the doors would close, yelling at passengers to have tickets out. ”