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Basement Medicine

The student-run community news site of Vermont State University - Johnson

Basement Medicine

The student-run community news site of Vermont State University - Johnson

Basement Medicine

When I was on the subway and How to brush your teeth

Short Stories

Artist Statement

Dayne’s writing focuses on detailing his own feelings and emotions while expanding on the impulsive and intrusive thoughts that occur while they’re happening. He hopes to push the boundaries of the “acceptable,” playing into the darker features and desires of the human mind, that are present in all of us.

When I was on the subway

The dame wore a olive green hood and no shoes or socks. Bodies packed themselves around her in the musty yellow coffin; I was on my way to West 44th. She was folded over with her head nearly in her lap, swan-like, swaying with the movement of the train car. Her legs were crossed, bare and bruised, connected to worn, bloodied feet—the bodies cleared a three-foot radius around her. Every so often she’d let out a cough or an grumble, and those around did their best to pretend her presence didn’t fill them with apprehension. The terminal doors opened to the station; a crowd of bodies flooded out of the car. For a moment, those who remained silently reveled in the seconds of previously stagnant air. The faintest of breezes brought in new stenches that were no better than the others, but was preferred over stillness. The first crowd was swiftly replaced by a second, pushing people tighter together than they had been before, and the doors slid shut again.

A man in a green puffer jacket weaved through the car and towards the back where the woman was seated. Cautious eyes followed, some filled with annoyance watching the canvas bag he carried on his shoulder, but all averted apathetically. He grabbed the cold metal bar above her shoulder. A gurgling emitted from the cavity of the hood. Nothing one could make out, nothing one was paying any attention to.

The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a brown, boar bristled brush, then ruffled through his bag for a spray bottle and a clean white cloth; together they created the standard tools of a working boy, one who sold shoe cleaning products in shopping malls. The man made no sound as he moved again, placing himself directly in front of the woman this time, and knelt down to a knee, taking her calloused foot into his hand as if it were porcelain. With the other hand, he sprayed it a few times, then replaced the bottle with the brush and began to clean it. The foot, of course, did not stay still. Its body tugged, trying to wrench itself free, but made no attempts to touch the hand holding onto it.

“What the fuck are you doing? Hello?”

The voice of the foot went ignored, and the man’s face stayed peaceful all the while. The spray turned to foam as he cleaned, despite the train and her thrashing, the man’s body stayed unmoved.

“Hello?” Then louder, “Yo, get the fuck off me!”

The man’s grey beanie stayed in place. His vest was the same green as hers, I noticed, and he wore a pair of clean white shoes completely free of creases.

“Yo, get off!”

The foam turned rusty with dirt and grime, then began to dissipate. He took a moment to wipe it all off with the cloth, spray it again, and returned to washing.

“Get him off me!”

Now she was hitting him. Her spine had uncurled and she was weeping; her fists, like feathers, made audible thuds on his back and shoulders. She slapped him, she swatted at his hands. His brow never furred. He did not waver. He cleaned and cleaned until she stopped fighting, and he switched to the other foot. The train stopped and I got off.

How to brush your teeth

I have a lazy eye that likes to fuck me over when I focus on things or disassociate; my eyes cross and it takes far too much effort to uncross them again, and that makes it more difficult for me to continue what I was doing again because I’m too busy, now, focusing on keeping my eyes uncrossed. My head works the same, I think. If I had a therapist, I’d say to her – it could only be a woman because men don’t listen – I’d say to her: “I have trouble explaining my issues because I’ve already tried to plan out our conversation,” and she’d ask me to explain my feelings, then I’d say “It’s hard for me to do that because,” and then I’d tell her about something my mom did to me in my childhood – the story I tell often changes – and I’d forget that I was supposed to be talking about my feelings. I’d start crying, and then I’d tell her that I’d planned our conversation out already, several times, and that it always goes like this: I’d tell her how I’d brush my teeth in the morning and go cross-eyed and think about how I needed to take care of myself, and that would make me think of my mom, wish I had a therapist and think about what to tell her, planning my words and tone of voice, and what she’d say back to me, and where it would get me – crying on Zoom or in her office (I know because I’ve thought it through) – and I’d beg her to sedate me or give me something to take me out of my head; and then I’d remember. I’m brushing my teeth. Standing there, staring in the mirror, toothbrush in hand, I uncross my eyes to the mirror and wash the foam from my mouth.

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About the Contributor
Dayne Bell
Dayne Bell, Editor in Chief
Dayne (he/they) is a creative writing student who has probably already told you where he's from. His zodiac sign is Pisces, which tells you everything you need to know.

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