Phantom Station- by Cynthia Li
No one ever comes to the train station. Just me.
It is old, of course, brick walls painted white and escalators that don’t work and signs in French that say things like Quai 1 — platform 1 — and Sortie — exit. The tracks themselves are rusted red.
I don’t know how it became abandoned. It’s been there as long as I can remember, empty and unused. My parents always pulled me away, signing frantically: Don’t go there. It’s not safe.
I’d sign back: Why?
They’d never answer.
There is a piano in the center of the train station. I have never learned to play the piano. There isn’t much point, if you can’t hear.
So the piano has gone untouched for all this time.
It was stormy when I walked into the train station for the first time since I was a child.
I’d moved to Paris when I was twenty-three, and stayed there — single, owner of a small quiet bookshop (at least, I thought so; there were only a handful of regulars and I was fairly sure that they didn’t cause a racket), and notoriously antisocial.
Back to the country, back to the green, back to the rickety, crumbling train station, back to the fairy-tale village where I’d grown up where everyone knew each other and I was a familiar (if silent) sight.
It was just like I’d remembered it.
I set my umbrella down on the concrete floor next to a pile of rubble and shed my black coat as I stepped onto the familiar concrete of Quai 1 and sat down, pressing my hands to my eyes.
I had been crying — my eyes were red, and puffy. I look horrible when I cry. I don’t like wearing black, either; it’s incredibly hard to see my hands on dark colors. And the cemetery is a horrible place, all dark and green and wet and rows and rows of uniform white crosses — all depressed and
I hate it.
Someone tapped my shoulder.
I jumped, gasping, and whirled to face them.
He was a teenager, wiry and tall, face pockmarked with acne. He had long fingers, spidery, always moving, face kind of pink and pale.
Hi, he said. I’ve (- -) seen you here.
I touched my ear and shook my head, slightly.
He sat down next to me. Are you (-) right? I heard you cry(-).
I nodded. My mom just died, I said. I was at her funeral. He thought for a moment — I could see him processing what I’d just said — and nodded again. I sound weird when I talk. It comes from not hearing myself.
He didn’t say anything, and played with his fingers, just sat there.
What are you doing here? I asked.
Waiting, he said.
A rumbling behind me, something I could feel even through the concrete, and something foggish — I twisted.
A train, tall, black, looming, behind me, shrouded in its steam, ancient, paint peeling off its sides. The station itself was different — newer, shinier now, rescued from its state of dilapidation, but I was still the only one there. I twisted back to look for the teenager.
He had disappeared.
I stood up.
Someone poked her head out of the train — the first train to pull into Quai 1 since I’d been there, though I suspected that this had been going on for a long, long time — the conductor, maybe. She shouted something, brown ponytail swishing long over her crimson uniform, red lipstick too bright against palid skin.
She saw me and waved me over. My feet walked toward her, completely irrationally.
Come aboard, her lips said, all too clearly, almost as if I was hearing the words, though I don’t know if I would understand the sounds if I was listening. As if I was watching the words manifest into crystal clarity in my head.
I don’t have a ticket, I said.
You don’t need one. You were waiting. We came.
I hesitated and let her pull me up onto the train.
Your name? I asked her. She didn’t answer, but turned to face me anyway:
Here’s your seat, ma’am, and I hope you enjoy your trip.
But wait, I was tempted to call after her — but wait, you haven’t told me where we’re going, where are we going?
I looked down the aisles. There were rows and rows of seats, all empty, pale blue — baby blue, periwinkle blue, like the sky on a too-good day and a few shades paler. I didn’t know what to make of it.
The train lurched. I caught myself on a seat, dragged myself into it, and sat down.
And as we pulled out of the station, out of the window I caught sight of the boy I’d seen earlier. He was sitting at the piano bench, playing (though some part of me told me that that was impossible, the forum wasn’t visible from the platforms), and the sound of the notes caught my ears — I heard them.
I heard them.
They were intricate, winding around my cranial passages like snowflakes navigating the curlicues of the wind, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. If I tilted my head differently — too loud, too sharp, touch too heavy, like staring into the sun. The only thing I could hear, which was strange, since it was outside the train, and not close enough, my instincts told me.
I looked away from the window, afterimages of notes pressed into my brain. Everything was silent again.
What was this place?
Where were we going?
Author’s note: I am not d/Deaf.* I am learning ASL** on the internet and I’ve been dying to write a d/Deaf character ever since.
* deaf, uncapitalized, refers to the physical condition of being deaf, while Deaf, capitalized, refers to being part of the Deaf community and culture.
** American Sign Language — different countries have different systems. Even Britain / Australia / America.