Trains, Pains, and Magic Formulas

Sylvia stood alone, inside Grand Central Station, under the famous mural of stars. She traveled with a single suitcase, her designer handbag, and a small book of photographs. Escape was on her mind. Life felt heavy and she wanted to float above the crowd.

The last few years were challenging, her existence oppressive. She thought she projected the portrait of happy. She thought she’d managed herself and conquered the destructive behavior of her past; or, at least had concealed the truth from others. Her highs were high and her lows were low.

When Sylvia’s husband handed her divorce papers, she heard a crack. The pump that connected her heart to her soul was damaged. She couldn’t experience the deep emotions that made her human. She was numb.

For most of the evening, she walked the streets in a daze, unaware of the blister forming on her right foot. People shoved passed her on the sidewalk, and pushed her through the crosswalks. Somehow she still made it to the station. She looked up and saw the sketch as a celestial message to let go, to cuddle the heavens.

Forgetting those around her, she stretched out her arms and rose to the ceiling. Free from the noise of the trains, the pressure of gravity, and the expectations of people, Sylvia smiled for the first time in hours and moved closer to the painting. It was like she’d trapped the strokes of the brush under a microscope. She saw flaws, simple brilliance, and mystery. It was so big. She became small, caught in a miniature wonderland.

Sylvia ran her hands across the zodiac, thinking how its backwards image felt conventionally rare. Life never looks like it should. Words and actions don’t always match.

Lost in her moment of freedom, Sylvia almost missed the black spot left behind as a reminder of its long restoration. She wondered if that’s how she appeared to others. Were her blemishes clear or were they dark in the places left unfixed?

She forced herself towards the floor, where New Yorkers zoomed through the corridor. They weren’t so different from her. They hadn’t looked up from their devices. They didn’t notice the phenomenon above their heads. Sylvia realized everyone edits reality, according to the time they’re allowed to observe.

She glanced at the picture once again, this time from the ground. She saw the magnificence of the mural as a whole. The imperfections only visible to the most discerning eye, of one who can relate.

The clock struck midnight; a chime connecting the past to the present.

Sylvia retrieved her things to board the train. But before she did, she stood in the corner of the gallery and whispered. The sound traveled across the arch of the station and everyone heard her say, “Goodnight, New York.”

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