TRAPPED by Kyle Hemmings
by J.R. Gerow
Two hundred feet below ground, at the nadir of the NYC subway's network of whining axles, concrete, grinning posterboard and all once-deposited chewing gums of antiquity, in the perpetual fluorescent glare that denies diurnal time, where all surfaces stick and smack against the rubber soles of shoes and an unknown layer of film coating the handrails suggests an archaeological depth between what one can touch now and the original materials of things, where black rings sink under the fingernails as a condition of the climate, where all cleaning solutions, urine, pizza grease, animal droppings, and Slurpee remainders drain to, where two or three bodies sleep in the smell of their fluids at the ends of platforms and no one speaks to them but the police, where cell signals cannot reach, where cigarette smoke lingers inconsiderately for days and the fingerprints of an entire underclass are captured in the wall, down and farther down, barely above and within earshot of the scrabbling kingdom of rats churning like mythic waters underneath it all: there, hopping between tracks after such stray goobers, bun crumbs, plastic wrap, cardboard residue and oil as Fortune provides, lives the stoic, lost Pigeon.
The Pigeon, our hero, has no idea how it arrived in this place. It has no idea how long it has been underground or even what is spatially represented by the term. It cannot find its way out. If questioned, it would perhaps take a seat on the rail and consider for a deliberate while, pecking at its feathers thoughtfully, and then eventually say that maybe, once, there was a trail of crumbs, as from wrapper half-lodged in some commuter's pocket and sprinkling a dusting of gluten along behind its carrier as they tried to catch the D maybe. Or perhaps it was trying to find shelter from a sudden rain that chased it down the first stairwell, and then ... Or hit its head on one of the glass panels that had changed out its advertisement, and so, transparent, tempted the aviator's breach, and disoriented, stumbled ... Or perhaps simply wandered absently in the street level elevator ...
And since at this point, as it's not entirely clear from its commentary if the Pigeon was necessarily ever above ground rather, if it might have been born in this place you ask it directly, and baffled by your question, the Pigeon hesitates, hedges an unauthoritative think-so, upon which your follow-up questions pour out how about cars, do you remember cars, or the expensive store windows up and down Fifth Avenue, or the sky until the Pigeon urgently interrupts you to say that yes, yes, yes, it is sure that it remembers the sky.
What is then left to your collective guesswork is the unremarkable descent, working its way through consecutively lower and lower platforms in the search of ever increasing tracts of refuge which tends, of course, after gravity, milking into a warm sludge of biomass, excrement, chemicals, beer and other pigeon's parts settling all the way at the bottom into a stationary, malarial basin though the Pigeon, as is becoming thematic, doesn't recall specifics. No significant milestones: like the time it switched tracks to the underpassing uptown train, or the time after that it wandered all the way through a tunnel into the next station ten blocks South, or when it lost a week unconscious to trace amounts of rat poisoning, where it was when it recovered, or its next meal among the refuse.
But in its eyes, perchance, glistening, as it describes in amorphous and noncommittal terms and sequence the slow-motion trauma of spiritual separation, what you see incipiently is perhaps a barely self-aware anxiety lurking. Because the Pigeon, taking after us, cannot shake the unsettling suspicion that it has made a choice. What the choice would have been and when doesn't even matter now, but that it suggests in some way it is the Creator of its own condition. The Pigeon is sure in any event that the choice was never fully considered, that it may not have even understood it categorically as a choice at the time, but seeing the quality of its subsistence in these fleeting moments of self-reflection, at the incidental prompt of your interview, it is tempted to a kind of shapeless shame, unsure of what it even could have done and when. And precisely because it cannot be located, the specter of this choice haunts the Pigeon all the more, lurks maliciously under its feather, begs to be picked at while eschewing detection.
And by this point, as the Pigeon has trailed off, muttering a little like one of the anonymous twittering prostrate at the end of the platform, since it has now become a little embarrassing even to listen, its lack of self-possession a touch pathetic, you begin to shift on your feet a little with impatience because the story, after all, has revealed to be ultimately boring archetypal, even: the Fall without knowledge, unconsidered concession into middle age, ruing a dreamt moment when the essential imperative was surely missed, when the time for a bold act passed unrecognized in the dark and life went on stumbling after it, lending habit the clothes of wisdom.
Naturally, by now you want to interrupt, with places to be, interject a curt summary and response and thank the Pigeon the way one thanks a rebuffed panhandler, but that you would feel so rude. So you sit a little longer, listening selectively for the moment its attention will finally lapse, allowing you to escape, all uh-huhs and for sures, getting lost in the arias of distant trains humming through the floors, wondering which will be next, and pecking at your feathers in agitation, knowing there are things to be done, and supper shan't scavenge itself.