A Menopausal Snail's Underground Lair

by Christine Stoddard

Monday morning at the metro is always sluggish. Sleepy commuters with red eyes and crusty lips stroll into the station holding cups of lukewarm coffee in one hand and messy briefcases in the other. No one truly speaks, only grumbles or mutters if they must communicate at all. It is like a menopausal snail's underground lair. Even the trains seem to sag.

Today is Monday, just like it always is after Sunday. My uniform is crisp from starch. I step onto the escalator and stand there as it descends deeper and deeper into the station where my train will come in four minutes, according to the electronic schedule flashing from the ceiling. The entire place reeks of balled-up gum, hot newspaper, and cappuccinos.

A man makes slow-motion kissing sounds at me, but stops when I shoot him a tired glare. He's too exhausted to persist and I'm too exhausted to spit out a snarky remark. We both need a couple more gulps of caffeine to perk up. I snag a spot on a bench and wait for the train to crawl in. It will emit the only definitive sound in the whole station when it arrives, spewing the same sharp scream as a newly awakened baby. Even the train needs to rest.

So I sit and literally do nothing but twiddle my thumbs. The infantile action starts to tickle uncomfortably as I speed up, so I stop. If only there were enough light in this subterranean environment to actually read. Of course, I don't have a newspaper and even if I did, my eyelids are too heavy to make out the small print of the comics and stock quotes. I'm tempted to mumble Charlie Brown's trademark "Good grief," but discover that my lips are too drowsy to properly move. So I just think "Good grief" instead.

Good grief because my uniform is so itchy. Good grief because my hair is pinned back too tightly. Good grief because my shoes are too small but I can't afford a new pair because my salary is appalling and my rent is too high. Good grief because this was the first time in a month that I ate breakfast and all I had was coffee and a saltine. Good grief because the train is finally here, but look at how many other snails are squished inside. Yuck.

The train doors open and two sleepy snails get out. The rest remain inside, clutching their purses, lunch bags, and miscellaneous magazines. There are no empty seats, so I have to stand as usual, but it's so packed that I have to suck in my stomach and hold my breath. I can feel the spleen of the person behind me and the kidneys of the person in front of me. The skinny girl on my left practically punctures me with her protruding hipbones and the old man on my right reminds me of how knife-like an elbow can be. There is nothing pleasant about public transportation during rush hour.

The conductor mentions the name of the next stop, but I've learned not to listen to him because I can't understand what he slurs. Instead, I just count the number of doors opening and closing. There are five open-close sessions until I get off. Until then, I have to cope with the stench of sweat and slime. When I first started riding metro, I used to study people just to entertain myself, to examine their clothes, their expressions, or the covers of their reading material. Now I don't even bother. I know what they all look like by now because they're all identical. They're all as pale as worms caught in a heavy rain.

I try to close my eyes, but I can't. Again, it's the sweat and the slime, the standing up against other snails. I wonder how they can sweat and yet feel so clammy, how it is they can be hot and cold at the same time. I wish I could sleep here, but nothing is my own. I can't even claim the air within a one-inch radius of my body.

Maybe I can sleep at work, where my desk is all my own.

BIO: Christine Stoddard is writer, fashionista, and interdisciplinary artist from Arlington, VA. She lives in Richmond, VA and studies Creative Writing at Virginia Commonwealth University. Read her writing at www.associatedcontent.com/christinestoddard and view her art on the Facebook group, Christine's Cognitive Chaos. You can also sample her music project at www.myspace.com/christinestoddardblameslarks.