Barry Prize Short Story Winner: Nevan Brundage
by Nevan Brundage, Form VI
8 min. read — December 13, 2023
See Through My Eyes
By Nevan Brundage
It is dark outside when my eyes creak open. I am slumped against an iron bench built into a wall. My backpack leans against me, its leather and canvas exterior giving me the resemblance of warmth. I stand up and survey my surroundings, my eyes focusing on the landscape around me. The train platform that I stand on is empty except for the bits of trash that litter the ground from the commuting hours of the day.
I feel something brushing up against my leg and I look down to see a newspaper drift past in the wind. Its edge catches a puddle of water on the ground, allowing me to catch a glimpse of the headline. Teen Suicide - Latest News, suicide rates among adolescents increase by thirty percent in the past decade it reads in large black letters. Before I can read more the wind picks up and the paper is blown off into the city to enlighten another reader on the death of my generation.
The sky around me darkens to match the ominous grays of the buildings. The electronic sign that announces train arrival times illuminates the platform in a yellow glow, keeping the oncoming darkness at bay for a bit longer.
I hear the telltale whistle of the train barreling down the tracks, an invincible force that stops for nothing until it reaches its destination. A long box of metal that follows the tracks laid out for it every day over and over again. I would be lying if I said that I don’t imagine the feeling of that force splintering my body into a million pieces. I never do it though, maybe because the train always gets to its destination before I can think.
The metallic doors slide open glinting in the dull light and flooding the platform in an artificial glow from the inside of the train.
I step over the gap in between the platform and the train into the railcar. The walls are a silver metal that someone had once envisioned to be gleaming and pristine. The floor is covered with a layer of grime that has turned the once marine blue tile to a muddy brown. The seats are sickly pastel shades of green, blue, and yellow. The vinyl cushions, split in places from the constant wear of thousands of bodies, leak bits of yellow foam. The car is empty except for an old man huddled into one of the seats at the back of the car. A threadbare blanket wrapped around a too thin body. His gaunt face hangs to the side, mouth slightly open as he stares through the walls of the train all the way to its next destination. I take a seat in the middle of the car and lean my head against the glass pane. The city looks so empty from here, as if everyone has fled the dark clouds that paint the sky.
Before I can examine the great concrete jungle of buildings any longer a woman's voice announces that the doors are closing just as they swish shut. The train lurches backwards with a grating screech before launching itself down the track, hurtling toward the next station in its journey that will never end.
At first the buildings outside are gray monstrosities blotting out the sky until they fade away into a blend and I can imagine they do not exist. No longer are they a jumble of structures that seem to clash against each other for enough space to be seen, now they are a wall of color, as blank as the cloudy sky that they hide.
I stare out at the city and my reflection stares back. A boy, his black hair brushed neatly to the side. A red raincoat, a size too large, hangs off him draping down his body into a puddle of nylon on the seat giving the appearance that he is sitting in a pool of blood. His lips are pursed into a smile that could not convince anybody, but it does not need to. The green eyes are too wide as if he just saw something he should not have. They say everything that the smile hides, but nobody ever looks at a person's eyes.
I stare at him for a while, and he stares back. We both understand that our smiles are not real. We both understand the truth that nobody else can. We both understand what we feel we cannot say to anyone else.
Our conversation is interrupted too soon by the voice of the lady on the intercom.
“Now arriving at Alewife station,” she says in a voice that is too soothing to be announcing a train station.
The doors slide open with a slight creek, and I step out onto the platform. The few people here at this hour are too devoid of hope to acknowledge each other. I see a lady, her back hunched over as if she holds a tremendous weight. Her eyes stare out at the concrete wall across the tracks as if she is looking out across a great ocean, her eyes searching for something that is not there. The escalator seems to move extra slow today as if it too is weighed down by the sorrows of life.
The world feels empty as I walk out of the station. There is no trace of the bustle of people and cars present during the day except the trash that litters the ground and the occasional empty car parked on the side of the road.
A car rushes past, obviously in a hurry to get somewhere, its headlights lighting up the street, pushing the dark away for a split second before it closes in around me again.
As I reach my neighborhood, the large buildings of the city have faded into a landscape of suburban two-story houses that appear to be the same house that has been copied and pasted over and over again onto long streets sparsely dotted with trees.
The air is cool out of the city, and I let out a breath that I have been holding for too long. Light wind buffets my face as I walk down the street and a few raindrops begin to darken the pavement. The sun would be drifting below the horizon now, but the clouds block out any trace of it. I find it comforting that the sun does not need me to shine. Another thing that will move on like nothing happened when I am gone. The train will still run, and the people will move on too. It might take a bit, but we accept things; it is what humans are best at.
It begins to rain in earnest, but I do not pull my hood up. The water runs in rivulets through my hair staining my cheeks like tears. My fists unclench and I open my mouth hoping that the rain will wash away everything that I hate about myself. I am soon soaked through, but the rain does not wash me away, only I can do that.
As I walk along the road the streetlights begin to turn on one-by-one, casting shadows onto each droplet of water plummeting from the sky. I become one of those shadows flickering into existence as I pass under one of the yellow beams of light before stepping back into the dark. I am one of the fireflies I used to catch in my backyard as a kid on warm summer nights, appearing for a second in a yellow flash before vanishing, only to light up the night a few feet away. I remember one time when I caught one and put it in a jar in my room. I sat up all night watching it until it ceased to light up. I was too young to understand that I had killed it.
I reach my house and walk across the lawn, brown and shriveled despite it being midsummer. No lights shine warmly to welcome me home, just the cool darkness of the night. I open the door and pull off my shoes before making my way up the stairs, no creaks or groans sounding to announce my ascent. My room is covered in drawings and sketches, the walls are plastered with them, and they cover every inch of my desk and floor. An unfinished painting sits on my desk, a girl in a red sweater lying in a pile of leaves. A paintbrush sits on the painting, the paint on it long dried, its long pale handle covered in specks of red and orange like rust on a metal pipe.
I have a sudden urge to draw and create something new, but it is too late, and I am too tired. I settle to the ground, sending up a plume of unfinished sketches. I lie on my floor and stare at the blank ceiling, the hardwood digging into my back. I think of the razor blade placed between the pages of a book on my desk. I used to be scared of what I might do but I am not anymore.
No, that is a lie. I am scared.
I look at the stack of letters on my desk and tears roll down my cheeks. They are real this time, no longer are they raindrops.
I do not think at all when I reach for the blade.
I glance at my reflection in the mirror. No longer is the boy there. Instead, I see a skeleton who’s not hiding behind his smile and a too large coat. His jeans and white t-shirt are stained dark with rain. His hair is plastered to his forehead, no longer presentable to the world.
I am not needed here.
I do not fit here.
I feel the pain. I see the blood spill onto the floor, pooling into a bright red puddle. I am still a bit surprised.