I was on the subway platform waiting for the train when I spotted a thin girl in torn jeans and bright green tank-top walking in my direction. Her hair was a bushel of unruliness. As the girl drew nearer I realized it was Anya and called out her name.
Her response was slow, as if my voice had reached her on delay.
Daniel, she said, my name clotted in gauze.
Then recognition brightened and lifted her voice and turned my name into a coarse cheer—Daniel. Holy fucking shit. Daniel.
Anya breezed into my arms for a hug. I could feel too much of her skeleton.
Anya mumbled words into my ear. Her voice was as whittled as the rest of her.
I was looking over her shoulder and wanted to keep looking there. I was afraid to release her and step back because then I’d have to look at her face. I knew it bore waste and ruin that my mind would latch onto. And play back to me again and again. The portrait of a death-mask that now covered Anya’s real face, her buried one.
Inevitably I stepped back and took in what was not there, what had gone missing.
I didn’t need to follow the track-marks on Anya’s arms to understand the nature of her cave-in.
We talked while we waited for the train. I don’t remember if our exchange was awkward, hurried, sentimental, remote, can’t remember anything we said to each other. My memory of it is white noise.
Then I did something which made me feel shitty and ashamed but I did it anyway.
When the train pulled in I told Anya I wasn’t getting on, that I had just gotten off the train when I saw her and was headed out of the station.
Something in me couldn’t bear the prospect of sitting next to Anya on the train, of us talking. I didn’t want there to be any words between us. Ours had become a ghost story and I wanted silence to fulfill its arc.
I’m not sure if Anya knew I was lying, but I suspect that she did because if I had gotten off the train I would’ve been on the opposite platform and Anya, no matter what state she was in, was never easy to fool or put things over on. Her radar for bullshit was top-notch.
Plus when saying goodbye she hugged me with such emphatic force that I was sure she was trying to emotionally implicate me for abandoning her. At least that’s how my guilt registered it at the time.
My final image of Anya is through the train window, her back turned to me.