A 15-minute Break: Chapter 2

This is the second chapter of Under the Arch Voices’ new monthly serial. This chapter focuses on an old man who has escaped from his retirement home.

Illustrated by Rachel Lee.

What does a 15-minute delay mean in a city that runs at 1,000 miles an hour? When a subway grinds to a halt in the middle of a tunnel, four strangers with different backgrounds, ages and destinations are forced to take the time to find out. 

Written by four different authors and released in weekly installments over the course of October with custom illustrations, Voices is proud to launch the second installment of this serialized story.

Written by Jake Schick

Illustration by Rachel Lee

“I’ve always run from commitment,” I thought as I left the retirement home. It had been 60 years since my 20th birthday, but I still thought about my glory days every morning after I poured my honey package on my stale biscuit. To most of my caregivers and my fake friends, this probably seemed abrupt, or just another classic Wilfred prank (depending how long they’d known me) but I assure you, it had been a long time coming. And it wasn’t only because the biscuits are stale. It wasn’t only because I was stuck in the past and refused to move on. It wasn’t only because I’d been here four years and never once won a Friday night Bingo game. It was because I missed the subway. 

People tend to think love must have been easy when I was young. But I’ve never been in love. Sure, I had crushes. Once every two years, I’d say. Some years it would just be the same person from the year before. But they never liked me back. When I was 45 I had a crush on a young man who was a coworker at Walmart, but he was fired before I got the chance to say something. The best part about being 20 years old was sitting on the 6 train dreaming of love. 

Oh how I missed the 6 train. That green circle was always so inviting. I’d walk on in, and it’d tell me, “Don’t stop, don’t ever stop. I don’t care what you’re doing, you have to always keep going. Get up! Get up off your ass, stop crying and walk away like a man!” This was partly my memory of the green circle, partly the memory of my father. I don’t have the best memory. I’m old. 

“Wow, oh wow,” I mumbled aloud as I stepped onto the 6 train for the first time in four years. I was going uptown, which was the best way to go. It just made me feel like I was going somewhere. I was going to space. I was going to Heaven. Wherever I was going, I was excited. Whenever I used to go downtown I would feel like a loser. I’d be down in the dumps, shoulders slumped. I’d be down for the count. I wouldn’t go downtown anymore. 

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My excitement only increased once the announcement was made that the train was delayed. You can’t beat a 6 train delay. The muffled voice — it could have been saying there was a delay, it could have been saying there was a free hot dog stand a block away. I thought I might be vegan, but I couldn’t remember. I’m old. 

I looked around, and everyone looked so young and fresh and full of energy. They were probably looking down on me, but I knew we were all going up. When I was 20, I didn’t have back pain. I didn’t have extreme anxiety about dying alone. I didn’t have mental breakdowns about forgetting who I was, then remembering, then forgetting again and then remembering I was eating a delicious hot dog. But, honestly, I’d rather be old. I like it this way. I don’t get made fun of anymore when I overreact from a fall. I don’t get made fun of anymore when I overreact from a fall. I don’t get made fun of when I say I’m blind, but in reality I’m just too lazy to read. I don’t get made fun of when I pee my pants just because it feels better than pissing in a toilet. I do what I want. I didn’t have this freedom when I was 20. 

People started to get antsy on this 6 train. Tapping feet, downing seltzers. Back in my day, you’d be clenching your fists and downing whiskey. But I wasn’t antsy anymore. I’m a free man now. The more people worried, the more I got excited. I had nowhere to go. When you run away from your retirement home of four years, you don’t really get worried about the same things the average subway rider gets worried about. And right now, I was just happy to be back on my 6 train. 

All of these people looked like they would try too hard to make an edgy Tinder biography to hook up with a bad boy. I may have been 80 years single, but I still knew the lingo. Youngins always volunteered at the retirement home and they taught me things— mostly useless things, but it was still learning. I was all about keeping my mind active. I played Go Fish with a bunch of idiots every night and every morning, before breakfast, I did a multiplication table. Every afternoon I tried to think about what I had done that morning and unfortunately, I failed that test every time. I wondered where I would sleep tonight. 

I placed my hand on the silver pole that felt like a doorknob right after you’ve put on hand lotion. I let out a groan when I remembered my aching back. Some people turn to glare, but most were focused on freaking out about the delay. If you look at the big picture, you realize there’s never any reason to be in a rush. There’s no such thing as an emergency. There’s nowhere you need to be on time. That’s why I relax. Tonight I might just sleep here on the 6 train.  

Being old on the subway wasn’t so bad. Someone gave me their seat as soon as I got on and when I coughed, people moved even farther away from me. Things worked out. 

If I’m gonna be honest, my brother was the only person I ever felt I loved. I would have done anything for that chump. But he was run over by a bus in middle school, so I haven’t spoken to him since. Something like that’ll give you brain damage. Worse than aging. I still pick up the phone and call him sometimes. He never answers, but I still talk. I tell him what I did that day, I tell him what I think I forgot that I did that day. I tell him I love him. I tell him I’m still single, but that maybe it’s a good thing. I used to picture him smiling along listening to me. Now I can’t picture him anymore. I’m old.

Email Jake Schick at [email protected]

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