tagNonHumanNegative Space

Negative Space


The negative space of the reflection in the subway car's window dipped into my neck, rounding off over my shoulder and ending at the seat back. I sat, eyes vacant, braid tossed over my shoulder, my head hanging to the side so far my muscles were clearly outlined in the reflection of the window across from me. The train screeched into a station and the doors opened, crowds shifting to make space for newcomers, shifting to absorb the spaces left behind by those who exited. My head dropped down to my chest and I awoke, jerking it back up to stare impassively at the leather bag of the girl standing in the aisle in front of me. My eyes began to close again, the weight of a difficult nights' sleep added to the motion of the subway car impossible for me to fight against. The subway shifted quickly, and my face fell directly into the thigh of the girl with the leather bag. I apologized, pulling myself together and settling my own bag on my lap to be ready for the hiss of opening doors and the rush of escaping cooled air.

Lurching to my feet I sidestepped the laundry bag of the woman next to me, and lost my balance again in the swaying subway car, tripping over a man's well-loved boots. He grabbed my sleeve, holding it just long enough for me to catch my footing. I turned to smile at him, embarrassed, registering only briefly his unshaven cheeks and charming wink. Another time, I thought to myself, nodding and pushing through the bodies by the door and out into suffocating heat of the subway station.

I hurried out to the street, late again for my job as a nanny. The doorman nodded to me as I rushed through the marble foyer and stuck my arm into the elevator to stop the doors from closing. The couple inside chuckled, and I rearranged hair and clothes as we rode the elevator up to the 11th floor, trying to make my haste in clothing choice look purposeful. A deep breath, and I rang the doorbell, ready to care and tend and clean. Again.


That evening I pushed the heavy door shut behind me in my apartment, and set to making myself a dinner. Plain chicken cutlet with garlic, reheated pasta from the other night, and raw carrots and red pepper slices. I ate in front of the TV, my housemates barely greeting me as they came in from their jobs. The phone rang before I went to bed. Eliana was on the other end to tell me about a new boyfriend. I congratulated her lovingly, and that night I dreamt her new boyfriend was my 8th grade science teacher. We all went on a picnic together.


I jerked awake on the subway, looking around frantically to be sure I hadn't missed my stop. Every morning I did the same, nodding off to the air rushing around the subway car that moved deep below the city's surface. We squealed into a station and I relaxed--three more before my stop. The tug of sleep was at the corners of my eyes again when I noticed familiar boots to my left. I glanced over and saw the man who had caught my fall the other day. I laughed to my self--how rare to see a stranger twice on the same train, I thought, closing my eyes again.


Stepping out of the elevator that morning I was greeted by Annie, my 3-year-old charge and a puppy.

"Annie!" I cried, "Who's that?"

She grinned delightedly, shouting, "Harry! My doggie!" The baby husky jumped up on me, yapping excitedly, and biting at my pant legs.

"Oh how much fun, Annie! Did Mommy bring Harry home for you when she got back from her trip?" Annie nodded and tackled Harry, who didn't seem to mind in the slightest, even as Annie pulled his hair and kicked him accidentally in her rapture. I lifted her up quickly, talking to her about the importance of kindness to others, even animals, and how one aught to treat pets. We stepped into the kitchen and I set up her for breakfast before going to dress Lyall, the 5-year-old, and wake Ellen, the 8-year-old. Their parents were always gone by the time I arrived, trusting the children to be safe for the half hour alone each morning. A note had been left for me about proper care for the new dog, and I set to tidying, as I did each morning while the children ate breakfast, making their beds and cleaning up their toys. In my job description I was only supposed to be cleaning up for them, but I ended up doing dishes and cleaning clothing and newspapers that belonged to their parents every morning anyway.

On this day I took them to a science museum, walking them through with all the other children and their nannies. I'd been to the museum many times before, but it continued to delight the children, and an occupied child is a wonderful thing, so I didn't complain in the slightest. That afternoon we returned to the house to pick up the puppy for a walk and I felt my old exhaustion come back again. I brought them to a place in the park I knew I could watch them from a bench, and they played for hours while I fought the lulling sounds of wind around me, children laughing, and the close rumble of traffic. Ellen came running up, her breath rasping, and pulled on my hand.

"Come on Lana! Look what Lyall taught Harry to do! Come look!"


That night when I got home there was a message from my mother, and from Tom, my ex-fiance. I listened to each, their mechanized voices bouncing off the high ceilings and bare walls of my room, leaving the air stiller than before. Lying down on my bed I could feel my spine decompressing, the spaces on either side expanding almost painfully. I pulled off my clothing and lay naked atop my covers, the heat of the day still lingering, motionless. Suddenly there was a ringing, brilliant in the stillness, and I rolled over to find that it was my alarm, only then registering the light in the windows. How exhausting for it to be morning already.


After my rush to the station, I could feel the sweat cooling and leaving a film over my face as I sat in the air-conditioned subway car. I rubbed my eyes deeply, hoping to spark some life into them, some wakefulness. When I opened them I found myself staring directly into the face of the man who caught me the other day, this time sitting diagonally from me. His hair was dark and wavy, his eyes an unsettling umber, but his smile as self-confident and gratified as before. His stubble had turned into scruff, just the way that always attracted me, somehow both clashing with and complimenting the well-made suit he wore. I smiled shyly and he responded with recognition before I turned away to pretend I had important things to do. I felt a hand brush my knee as I left the subway car, and looked down to see him grinning again, white teeth looking sharp behind his lips. I caught myself staring at his mouth, and hurried to get out of the train before the doors closed again.


The next morning he was there again, and I got a chance to watch him while he read for the first half of the trip. I couldn't see what he was reading, but it had him engrossed, his expression belying his worry for something occurring in the story. His skin had a weathered look, and it creased easily between his eyebrows when he furrowed them for the sake of his novel. Today his suit was even finer than the day before, a deep blue, hanging just right over his shoulders and pulling up only a little when he crossed his leg, showing the same well-loved brown leather boots he wore every day. Lacing up in the front like hobo boots, they were clearly very high quality, sturdy but worn, fitting him perfectly. I glanced back up to catch him looking intently back at me. Serious this time, his umber eyes gleamed in the light of a passing train, and I looked away quickly.

I had never seen the same person on the train before more than once, not to mention four days in a row, and I had taken this commute for half a year now. Today was Friday, though, and even though as a nanny I was never off duty, any self-respecting business man should stay home over the weekend. I got of the train at the next stop, moving through my day with the image of his eyes, so serious and so focused, with me the whole way. That night Tom called again, and I put him on speakerphone as I undressed, laying back on my bed naked again, and settling the phone in the dip between my breasts.

"So I was saying to her, 'What kind of doctor's office do you think this is?'" echoed through the room. "And do you know what she said? She said, 'I thought it was one with good service!'" Tom paused, waiting for me to respond with indignance or laughter, but I truly didn't care. I assented to hum thoughtfully, as if I were considering the woman's answer seriously. Tom continued, "I mean, honestly, why would I do something like that to her? Anyway, Lana, I was wondering, you know how you were always the best at diagnosing autoimmune diseases? I had a girl this week with some really strange symptoms I couldn't place my finger on--probably because you were so distracting in my neurology class that semester, sitting up ahead of me and only focusing on your work. Remember that? How I used to try to get your attention, and you just scolded me for disturbing your studies?" I closed my eyes, thinking again about the man on the subway, and the intensity of his stare. "Lana? You there, babe?"

"Oh yes, I'm listening, Tom. Tell me her symptoms."

"Oh. Ok, well, she was generally feeling weak, but it came and went, so she didn't think much of it, until her joints started to feel sore. The doctors at the walk-in clinic she went to didn't bother to do a test but immediately gave her antibiotics for Lyme's Disease, after which she had some sort of breathing attack where she lost control of her involuntary muscles, making her mother drive her to the hospital in a panic. She called me for a second opinion, and I told her I'd do some research and get back to her." I sighed. How didn't he see these things? It was so clear to me, and yet he had to call me for help.

"Tom, really?" I grabbed another pillow to prop my head up, and took a sip of water from the glass beside my bed. "Have you looked into MG?"


"Oh Tom, how did you ever graduate? Myasthenia gravis. Autoimmune disease causing weakness most often the muscles of the face, but when aggravated with antibiotics can cause severe breathing difficulties. Seriously? It's textbook."

"Lana, baby, how can you tell me you aren't supposed to be a doctor? Here you are, nannying for little brats, and you know this stuff better than I do!"

"Well, that's not a difficult feat," I mumbled, not repeating it when he didn't hear. "Look, Tom, you've got your answer, and I've got to go to bed. Go save that girl and tell her it came to you in a dream."

"I miss you, babe."

"That's nice. I'm sure I'll see you next time I visit my parents. Good night Tom."

"Lana? Don't you miss me too?"

"Good night, Tom." I hung up and let the phone fall to the floor beside my bed. Pulling just a sheet over my body, sleep came immediately.

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