A 15-minute Break: Chapter 3

This is the third chapter of Under the Arch Voices’ new monthly serial, focusing on a man struggling with angst and secret he's keeping from his wife.

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 third installment of this serialized story.

Written by Andrew Ankersen

Illustration by Rachel Lee

“God damn the MTA, overpriced and under-delivering,” he savored the thought, let the anger fill him for a minute, then the wave broke and he glanced meekly at his watch, an outwardly flashy piece but really it was just a cheap quartz movement he bought on the internet,  8:36 a.m. Now he was going to be late for sure. You would think that $132 a month would at least buy you service that ran close to being on time. Obviously, clean, new trains might be too much to ask for but simple punctuality seemed like a basic ask. No wonder people jumped the turnstile. They should be paying him for enduring this, not the other way around. 

“Sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” came the voice over the intercom. “Once again we are being held by the station master but are expecting to leave shortly. Thank you for your patience.” 

Patience? What choice did he have? He was stuck in an underground steel tube. This just wasn’t how this was meant to go. He had planned everything so well: his secretary had added the “work breakfast” to his day planner two weeks ago so if his wife⁠ — or anyone else for that matter⁠ — called his office everything would look above-board. But with the train stopped in the tunnel he was running out of time. 

He felt the urge to check his watch rise in him again. But no, not this time, he wasn’t going to break that easily again. He let his mind drift back to when this had all started. At first, he’d just been looking. He had no intention of actually going through with it. Or at least that’s what he desperately wanted to believe. No, the lie was too lame even for himself. He knew the second he saw the ad that he needed to experience it. A need such as he had never felt in himself before. And to think a train may just be the thing that takes it all away from him. 

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What would his wife say when she found out? The thought jumped at him, smashing his fantasy of what was to come. Maybe she wouldn’t find out. Or maybe if she did, she wouldn’t care. But those too were lies. She would find out as soon as he came through the door, and of course, she would be furious. Who wouldn’t be? It wasn’t as if they had never talked about it. No, he couldn’t take refuge in sweet ignorance. So he did what anyone does when they know they’re about to do something wrong. He let himself get angry. 20 years, 20 f-cking years of work. 20 years of doing things he hated for people he hated. Surely it was time he got to do something for himself, right? 20 years? That couldn’t be right, could it? He thought back to when he and his wife had first met. They had been in college then, and were so happy. They both had dreams ⁠⁠— and were foolish enough to think that dreams could come true. He was going to write the great American novel and she would change the world one court case at a time. Slowly, though, reality took over and dreams were replaced with cold truths. Writing a novel to captivate the world was apparently harder than one would think, and after two failed attempts, he settled into a job as an archivist at the public library. At first, being in the presence of the works of people he so desperately wanted to emulate had been inspiring and invigorating. Now, however, it was just sad, slowly chipping away at his will to keep going. As for his wife, her career hadn’t been much more fruitful. She made good money doing real estate law but it was about as far as you could get from what she had really wanted. As their dreams faded, so, too, had their love. It was hard to admit, but honestly, he just couldn’t respect her anymore. The woman he loved never would have sold out like this. 

Maybe he really should just turn around and go back to work ⁠— that is, if the train ever actually started moving again. But no, he couldn’t do that. He had already paid the finders fee and the 15% advance. Besides, if he didn’t do it now he would just find himself back in the exact same situation in a month, max. 

He knew he had to stop worrying about being late, and his wife being mad, and what might come of all this, and just relax and enjoy what he was about to do. So he pulled out his phone, mistyped his password the first time ⁠— he always did that⁠ — and pushed down the last pang of guilt as he pulled up the photos. And there it was, the Lionel 2031700 Union Pacific #4014, the most beautiful model train he had ever seen. And for just $2000, it would be his. If only the subway would just get moving. 

Email Andrew Ankersen at [email protected]

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