A new literary magazine.
A new literary magazine, the17TH STREET REVIEWpublishes original fiction and poetry.
PoetrySome poems by Ian White
Fiction (read below!)
"Dead Skin" by Benedict Nguyen
The first time was an accident.
They had been running to work and running late and wound up even later when they ran around the usual corner on EJ Street and smacked face-first into someone, almost fell backwards but caught the woolen sleeve of another distracted someone, tugging at the fabric with sweaty hands and finding purchase on the handle of a brown paper bag. Round produce cascaded in all directions—a couple apples, a single onion, a pepper.
They apologized and, seeing that it made no difference, ran for it.
The fourth time was the first time in public transit.
The person stood with eyes closed by the doors about to open onto the platform, their headphones dangling below their chin and disappearing into some hidden pocket. This person wasn’t particularly remarkable; they had a plain face, not too confident or unfortunate looking either. They were just there.
As FFFF exited, they pulled from their own pocket a pair of child’s scissors and made a quick, precise snip at the base of this stranger’s jacket pocket. The doors closing behind them, they could sense without sensation the stranger reaching for their phone to figure out why the noises they were expecting got lost in transit en route to their ears.
FFFF let the rush of glee propel them up the first step of stairs with a small hop, knowing without seeing that the stranger’s day was now just slightly disrupted from a motion smaller than a centimeter. Their pelvis sloshed with guilt, but they just shook it off onto the stairs and the skirting between crowds of determined commuters. They lacked the existential anger that drove others to violence, the envy that festered in other people’s guts. It wasn’t quite the same thrill that they imagined shoplifters feeling either. But it was something.
After the seventh time, they saw their picture in the paper.
It was a grainy profile view taken from a security camera of their electric-blue windbreaker as they looked back at moving subway. They had probably run up the platform seconds after.
They cut up that windbreaker into quarters, like they did to dead people in Medieval times. They threw the pieces into brown paper bags and sent them off to various disposal sites—one down a trash chute in their apartment building, another in a trash compactor near a park, one in the kitchen of their office, and the last with a pair of old shoes onto a pile of black garbage bags in the street. With that piece, they tied a note to the sleeve that read:
Where will I go? Who made these shoes? Who threw them away? What does it mean to hold someone’s old shoes and not know how they made it to your hands? If I were to burn, dear fire, will you tell me apart from that bottle of cherry soda with some decarbonated droplets waiting listlessly inside? Will you remember the hands that checked whether the machine put the laces in my holes correctly? Will you remember where the dye that made this jacket blue came from?
They walked home in and out of the shadows of lampposts fantasizing that someone might find their jacket and read the note. They ignored the more probable reality that it would simply be tossed in a truck and made unrecognizable before any human eyes could read it.
The eleventh incident was also on a subway. This participant was standing in FFFF’s usual spot for a participant - minimum visibility and maximum access to the exit. They also fit the usual profile - stoic but not stiff, motivated in the eyes, mellow in the body.
As the door closed, they took out their scissors and jostled into the person standing adjacent, startling their target so that they could close their scissors cleanly around the tight ponytail cinching a cascade of lusciously unruly, unwashed dirty-blonde hair.
The gasp was audible in a vacuum of silence that had suddenly appeared to contain it. The few commuters conversing had gone from whispering to mute. How did they all know to look?
The door chimed and FFFF was still so far away. Even if the participant hadn’t been able to stick their forearm through in time, FFFF’s trench coat, recently swapped in as their outerwear for these occasions, would’ve caught in the door.
As it happened, when FFFF turned and saw the stranger’s left hand gripping FFFF’s coat, they became aware of their own right hand clenched around a fistful of hair. Some strands fell between the train and the platform. As the door tried to close again, the stranger pulled and before FFFF could think to keep running, they were back in the train car. The train began moving; the next stop was over the river.
Everyone was watching them.
“What the fuck? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
The stranger was crying now. They must have really been attached to their hair.
FFFF stuffed the scissors deeper into their pocket.
“Oh, um, I don’t know. I—” p “Hey, that’s that guy!” Someone seated with their hands resting on a cane spoke up. FFFF pulled their hat further down around their ears, letting a few dozen hairs fall in the process.
Someone else responded, “Uhh, person?”
“That’s the one that’s been going around cutting off people’s bags and scarves!”
“And piercing leaks in water bottles,” said a biker with a water bottle.
The person who got their hair cut jumped back in, bringing almost immediate silence: “Yeah, so what the fuck is your deal?”
“Oh, um, I—”
“Do you get off on fucking people’s days up?”
The crowd jumped back in.
“Are you bald under that beanie?”
“Did you have cancer?”
“Is this performance art?”
“Did you feel invisible as a child? Is this like, late-onset attention seeking?”
“Is this about how plastic water bottles are bad?” the biker said again.
How was the quiet train all of a sudden invested in this? It’s not like FFFF was famous. Not really.
“But seriously, why did you cut my hair?”
The train emerged from the tunnel and began to float above the river, suspended by rails and wires, and architecture FFFF couldn’t understand. They were surrounded on all sides by the impossibility of moving.
FFFF knew that the decent thing to do would be to apologize.
They responded, “It’s just hair.”
“Yes! It’s my hair! Give it to me.”
FFFF’s hands were sticky with sweat. They didn’t move.
“Give me my hair back!”
The crowd rose up in support:
“Yeah, give back the hair!”
“What’s your deal?”
“What the hell is wrong with you?
“Uh, I want to keep it.”
“What the fuck do you want with my hair?”
“Do you have some kind of hair fetish?”
“No, I just want to keep it.”
Everyone stared at FFFF in disgust.
“They should arrest you.”
“For what, hair cutting?” said a bald commuter.
“Isn’t this assault?”
The participant was running their hands through their hair, stopping short just at the shoulder. FFFF didn’t think it looked bad. Just some layering and they could have a new look.
“Stop staring at me.”
“What, you can’t handle being looked at? Being seen for what you’ve done?”
“This was always going to happen. I just wielded the scissors.”
The participant’s hands clenched into claws, then fists, then fell limply at their side. They decided not to waste their energy. There was no fixing the hair that was in FFFF’s hands now.
FFFF turned away to face the river below.
The train began to move again, inching its way to the other side.
“Don’t worry dear, we’ll take care of you.”
“Would you wear extensions?”
“We’ll make sure this psycho gets arrested.”
“I’m sure it’ll grow back really nicely.”
It was strange to hear everyone rally around the participant like this. FFFF wondered whether they could really be arrested for making someone’s scarf lose a foot, or a necklace escape a neck. For causing some brand-new cashmere sweaters to cascade onto the dirt-crusted car floor or detaching a few strands of dead, useless skin from this stranger’s hair.
They looked back around to see the participant looking in the glass window to see how their new hair framed their face. They had given up on the idea of taking their hair back kinda quickly. They weren’t driven to violence. A few people were still offering advice; others had kept eyes keen on books the whole time.
No one seemed to notice FFFF. Had they already forgotten? Maybe if they stayed still enough, they could bolt it when the doors opened again.
PoetrySome poems by Ian White