On the Metro, it’s an unspoken rule that everyone has their own space. Parisians are polite and keep to themselves. It’s not like on the London Underground where the eccentrics outnumber the commuters, or Tokyo where they use large paddles to cram as many people onto the cars as will fit. There are pickpockets, sure, if you’re stupid enough to have your wallet out in plain view, but even they would never think to jostle you as they relieve you of your property. So when the shambling, threadbare man with a week’s worth of patchy greying whiskers grabbed my wrist and twisted it toward him, asking me for the time in slurring French, conversations in the car stuttered as the other occupants watched out of the corners of their eyes. Greybeard’s words had hardly begun to register in my ears when he hit my synapses like an electric shock as I lost myself in the buzzing swarm of his emotions.

Bone-weariness. An ache deep inside his knuckles and knees that never ceased. The overwhelming need for another drink and a cigarette. And the desire to connect with someone, to really be seen as a person instead of an archetype.

The last was at the forefront of his mind. He could see I was in a good mood, bobbing my head to music only I could hear on my headphones and offering smiles to the other passengers. It was why he’d grabbed me the way he had, to get my attention, to catch my eye and be noticed, maybe strike up a friendly conversation. I was the only person travelling alone on the car, and he hadn’t wanted to interrupt any of the couples or groups. Considerate even in his breach of etiquette. All this burrowed into my brain in less time than it took him to realize I wasn’t wearing a wristwatch.

I screamed and snatched my hand away from his with such force it smashed into the window behind me. Complete silence fell over the car. Greybeard made the mistake of reaching out to me again, this time in apology, and I stepped backwards hastily just as the train rumbled around a turn, throwing me into one of the hard plastic seats. I shook my head until I saw stars, trying to restore my mental equilibrium and loosen any remnants of the foreign emotions that had smothered my own.

“D-don’t touch me,” I stuttered. He was still coming, arm outstretched. I’m sure he was completely benign, that he only wanted to help me up. He couldn’t possibly know what his touch did to me, and it was with a lot of guilt that I lashed out with a sneakered foot and kicked his hand away. His eyes widened as he looked in disbelief first at his hand, then at me, before tightening at the corners as the pain hit him. I hoped I hadn’t broken anything.

“I said don’t.” The forcefulness of my words were for my benefit, not his, to bolster my courage so I wouldn’t be tempted to reach out to express my regret. He, and everyone else on the train, knew I was serious now. I fished my phone out of my pocket. “It’s quarter after seven,” I told him, trying to make amends. The wounded look he gave me over his shoulder, full of confusion as he retreated to the other end of the car, twisted my stomach. I was the only one watching him; everyone else’s gaze was zeroed on me. Great. The train was slowing as it approached the station. It wasn’t mine, but I stood to disembark anyway. I’d be late meeting Poppy at the airport if I had to wait for the next train, but I couldn’t stay here under the disapproving stares of everyone around me. A pair of women in nurse’s scrubs were consoling Greybeard, and every few seconds one of them would turn and glare at me.

As I stood at the door, waiting for it to slide open, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the glass. I hadn’t realized I was hyperventilating until I saw my nostrils flaring, and my dark hair was in even more of a disarray than usual. I couldn’t tell which was whiter – my knuckles as they gripped the pole beside me, or my face. Finally the train ground to a halt and I stabbed the button to open the door repeatedly, my hand shaking. For a moment I thought it was broken, that it wasn’t going to let me escape, but it shuddered and the mix of odours every Metro station carries – garbage, urine and the chemical air freshener they pump through the ventilation to try and mask the scent of both – hit me in the face.

“I’m sorry,” I called out to Greybeard across the car.

“Fuck you, missy,” he replied.

“Life clearly already has,” I muttered as I stepped onto the platform. The next train wouldn’t come for fifteen minutes. I pulled my hands deep into the sleeves of my jacket and settled down on a bench to wait.

6 Responses to “Preview”

  1. […] Preview […]

  2. “Unraveling My Mind” is an excellent title for your novel based on this opening. Good descriptions of crowded conditions on the train, and of your narrator’s heightened awareness and observance of others around her.

    The description in italics describing her awareness of the man’s physical and emotional pain really piqued my interest. She is hypersensitive to picking up vibes from someone else through touch. Is she an empath?

    Please, continue with her story, and I’d like to learn more about her, and who is Poppy? Her father, or someone else with that nickname?

    I want to mention two picky things I noticed. First, and if I’m wrong about this, mea culpa, but, you have a couple of short lines of words spoken by the narrator, within larger paragraphs. Shouldn’t they be on individual lines? Second, I found it difficult to read the dark print against the black background. I had to tilt my monitor towards me in order to read the text.

    • I fixed the formatting issues, it seems it was an issue with copying it directly from Open Office. This lesson has taught me that I need to actually proof a page before I make it public… :/

      Thanks for your other thoughts too! I’m glad you found it interesting :)

  3. I love the title also. You’ve set this up beautifully and already have me asking questions about the girl and why her reaction was so intense. My only suggestion would be a stronger indication/hint as to what her problem might be – a past experience perhaps? Set us up, pull us into her world/dilemma so that we can’t wait to turn that next page. A flashback that relates to the man’s contact for example. Reveal a little bit more. Really good first chapter !

    • Your comment made me realize that readers might not get that this isn’t the first time she’s had an experience like that, so I plan to revise and add a bit more to make that clearer. (You also more info you were looking for in the next few pages – this is just the first scene) I appreciate the feedback, I love getting other peoples’ viewpoints :)

  4. […] Preview […]

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