Leslie spent the evening riding escalators. They trundled ceaselessly through the arteries
of the Můstek metro station, promising movement. Bundled in a too-thin scarlet jacket, Leslie
rose through one wind-strewn tunnel of white fluorescence and descended into another. She
paced past yellow wooden benches and marquee-trapped advertisors with stale smiles. She had
been in Prague for three days, just long enough to freak out her mother and completely dismantle
her life. It was comforting, all the dobrý večer and the tankards of Pilsner and the scowling cashiers and the Communist-era apartments. It took her back to her time as an exchange student,
when cobblestones meant adventure instead of sore feet and the parts of the world she didn't
understand felt like a playground instead of a headache. She dug her phone from her pocket and
called her fiancé, Greg.
"I just wanted to let you know I'm not coming home," she said.
"I can't settle down. It's not me."
"I understand, Les."
"No, of course not. This is bullshit. Please come home."
The digital sign letters said it was thirty-three seconds before the next train came.
"Am I bullshit?" Leslie asked. "Is my life bullshit?"
His answer came low, almost covered by the hissing of the train. "No."
The wind arrived before the train did. It emerged from the inscrutable darkness like the
exhale of an ancient beast. The loose brown strands of Leslie's bangs fluttered against her
temples. There was a rumbling, seemingly slow at first and then deafening, the rapid whirr of
people flashing past in windows as the train rolled up to the platform. People packed into uneven
lines near the doors.
"I've moved seven times in the last three years." Leslie's voice was a whisper-yell. She
knew Greg couldn't hear her over the train and she took comfort in that. "I've lived in four
different countries and six different states. I've never held down a job for more than two years."
The metro doors chimed. A recorded voice announced in Czech that everyone should get
the hell away from the doors.
"Here's the thing, Greg." Leslie hunched her shoulder against her ear, holding the phone.
"If I marry you, then suddenly none of my decisions are mine anymore. I've made some shit
decisions, but so far they've all been mine."
His answer was half-drowned by the movement of the train. She only caught certain
words. She caught both of us and individual agency and transitions and yours. She caught the word love, which stabbed at her with extra emphasis, as if he knew she was trying to muffle him and he wanted to make sure at least that got through. He exhaled and said I know you've always—
The phone vibrated aggressively. Leslie found herself staring at a black screen.
A dead phone. A dead phone in a metro station halfway around the world from her life.
Her most recent life, anyway. Who was to say whether it was her real life? Leslie jammed the
phone into her pocket and boarded the train.
Inside the car, she held the pole with both hands to steady herself. Above the doors was a
map of the three major metro line routes. Yellow. Green. Red. The metro whined and ground and
grated and the doors slid open as a train whizzed past across another platform. Leslie watched it
skate into the dark. She was incapable of seeing a train or a tram or a bus without wondering
where it was going, and sometimes feeling an irrational desire to be on it. As the ground swayed
beneath her, as she gripped the red pole, she realized it wasn't enough just to have one life.
The maze of electrical wire in the tunnel whipped past her through the windows. The
recording announced the next stop.
You will become everyone, a voice whispered under the movement of the train.
You will become everyone and you will go everywhere and you will do everything . . .
Leslie's head whipped around. There was no one in the car except an elderly man with
closed eyes and a group of girls chatting loudly in a language Leslie didn't recognize.
Is that not what you want?
Leslie's eyes fell on the metro route map above the doors. Instead of individual routes,
she saw a series of snarled knots, yellow bleeding into red into green. The lines were snakes with
contorted bodies writhing to escape the chaos, their heads barely visible in the fray.
Leslie blinked and her vision cleared. The lines straightened, became once again separate
but crisscrossing entities.
She needed sleep, she thought, and food—but even as she thought this she knew she
couldn't unsee it, the snarling of straight paths, the impossibility of traveling every route at once.
The train slowed. The recorded voice announced that everyone should get the hell away
from the doors.
Seconds before the doors chimed, Leslie hurried off the train. Coats jostled her, stiff wool eager to be somewhere else. Once the flood of people subsided, Leslie found an outlet in the
station and hunched on a yellow bench, charging her phone. She turned it on and found a
message from Greg: I'm sorry I said it was bullshit.
I love you, she wrote back.
She sat on the bench for a long time, her arms leaned against her thighs, holding the
phone in both hands. She watched trains gust into the station, watched them exhale, suspended,
as people hurried past her, their feet clacking on the floor tiles. She watched the clock hand
whisper forward atop the metal pole. She listened over and over to the Czech announcement, the
one she had memorized as an exchange student, long ago.
Doors are closing. Doors are closing.
Kaely Horton received her MFA from the University of New Hampshire. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Stonecoast Review, Isthmus, Fourth River: Tributaries, Flash Fiction Online and others. She currently lives in Oregon.