September 25, 2020, New York City, NY
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed due to a sick passenger on this train and will be moving shortly. We apologize for any inconvenience.”
It had already been a twenty minute trip, which was only supposed to have been five. Diya adjusted the tips of her fingers against the ceiling of the subway car. One of the people crammed against her adjusted his position too, but all it did was move the communal sweat around. Diya couldn’t get away from him — any of them — even if she wanted to. With the train doors open at the station, where at least a little movement of air on the platform wafted into the stifling car, shimmying through the sardine can that was the F train would have required such determination, such a fresh touch of human bodies, that even escape was nearly impossible.
Three people sprinted down the platform, squeezed into the car, and pant-laughed at their luck at having made the train. Then they waited another ten minutes stopped with the rest of them.
Diya couldn’t tell at what point the people in the station stopped thinking they could fit in the train, but eventually the platform filled until it was packed, and people stood on the stairs waiting their turn to get down.
We’re all dead if there’s a panic, she thought.
She wished she could put her arm down. Touching the ceiling did nothing to keep her upright — her fellow commuters did that — and as soon a the train started up again, her soft brush of contact on the car would do nothing to keep her from surging backward with the rest of the passengers, pushed by the weight of everyone in front.
Believing there was a sick person on board wasn’t a stretch. Diya herself might pass out or puke from the heat at any moment. Her freshly laundered business casual was ready for the wash again after an hour of wear. By the time she got to work, she would look as though she’d gotten finished mowing a large lawn in the ninety degree summer heat: ribbons of sweaty hair pasted to her skin, rings under her armpits, swamp ass. Though the car was air conditioned, the amassed body heat and strained system simply couldn’t keep up with the city’s six months of summer.
She was surprised more people weren’t sick. If someone had lost their breakfast, it’d be impossible to dodge the spray, which could very well set off a vomit chain reaction, a thought Diya tried hard to cram back into the dark recesses of her imagination.
The MTA for a fact didn’t stop a train when someone puked. Whenever it happened, almost everyone on board would eject at the next station, but the train continued merrily not giving a fuck.
“We use ‘sick passenger’ as a code for when someone dies,” her friend Angel, who worked for the MTA told her the last time they’d been out together. He was dolled up in drag, because he liked to be glam when he went out drinking, and Diya was slumming it in jean cutoffs and a sequin tank top, not trusting a full face of makeup in Satan’s Armpit outside. When she finally arrived outside the bar and found Angel vaping against the building, scrolling through his phone, she went on an apologetic tirade about how a sick passenger made her run late.
Friends were forgiving about lateness in the city because any hesitation along the way, any train missed by a fraction of a second, any mystery stop between stations could turn a thirty minute commute into an hour long one.
Workplaces didn’t extend the same courtesy.
Diya had recovered as best she could with Angel in front of the bar, quickly recasting her annoyance as empathy for the possible dead person she was blaming. The conductors made that announcement all the time, nearly every day.
“Are there really that many people dying on the subway?” she’d asked.
“Well, sometimes they just get hurt and the MTA has to investigate to find out what happened in case they get sued by the person. But yeah, most of the time it’s death.” He took another drag of his pen. “Or if you hear ‘police incident’ it usually means someone jumped. You ready?”
All this death and it was still hard not to be annoyed by the inconvenience and discomfort of it all. The heat, the crush, the sense of doom of facing David at the office (“We all got here on time and looking presentable. This is a disgrace.”).
Twenty more stops and her day could really start.
“Wrong,” David said to whomever he was standing over, and already it was that kind of day.
Diya was frazzled enough for an entire shift. If she ever listened to her body and took a mental health day, Diya would have called in every day until she ran out of sick leave, vacation and savings and had to move back in with her parents in Michigan. Not that it would really be so bad: she wouldn’t be groped on the F train, but her mom would routinely ask why she wasn’t with Jeff anymore, and remind her that at nearly 40 years old, her childbearing years were all but behind her. It didn’t matter that Diya argued she’d only just turned 39 or that she hadn’t found the right guy yet, or that she wasn’t cut out for motherhood with the hobbies she entertained: mama wanted grandbabies.
“Haven’t found the right guy?” Her mom echoed in her memory.
Diya dropped her pink sunglasses beside the monitor.
“You were married for five years.”
The bagel and coffee cup went on the desk.
“And you saw how it turned out. God, mom, can you imagine if there were kids involved?”
She turned on the CPU and dropped into the swivel chair.
Her mom didn’t know half of what had been involved in that marriage and that she wasn’t keen to enter another. And babies … babies were horrible.
Silence on the floor amplified everyone’s keystrokes, page turns and throat noises. All the better to hear David’s stage whisper berating the junior paralegals.
After a scalding gulp of coffee, Diya scattered files around her desk to give the illusion she’d been working more than a few seconds, but David’s all-seeing eye had already caught her: fifteen minutes late and smelling like she’d been to the gym. The cool-down in line at Starbucks hadn’t helped, nor had the splash of water in the ladies room.
I will not transpose numbers today.
The sticky note at the bottom of the monitor immediately went into the recycling pile. These “helpful reminders” Diya left herself at the end of the day made her more furious than zen. If she came in after a long subway ride to find another “Just Breathe” sign, she was gonna flip the place over.
“Doing anything fun this weekend?”
The voice came from the next cubicle over, followed by Keyana’s sleek ponytail’d head. With one look at Diya’s mass of paperwork, she cringed.
“Sorry. I guess you’re busy.”
Diya shook her head. “Going out of town with some friends. You remember Angel who works for the MTA?”
“The one who do his makeup better than me? I remember Angel.”
“Yeah. So me and him and Diya are going upstate.”
“Ooh.” Keyana made an impressed face, but that’s what people did when one mentioned one was going upstate. It could mean anything from visiting family in Rochester (that’s where everyone’s parents lived — there or North Carolina) to going on a nature walk.
Diya’s trip was more toward the nature side, but she wasn’t about to tell her co-worker she was an urban explorer. To keep from having to go into detail, Diya flipped the conversation: “What about you?”
Keyana’s face brightened. “You remember that doctor I’ve been texting?”
“He finally got back to me. He said he was sorry he’d been silent so long, but he’d been on a twenty hour shift. I told him, ‘You don’t go to the bathroom in that much time? You don’t go to lunch? There are ways to make time if you want to make time. Communication is key.’ I said that!”
Diya tried to be supportive, though if Keyana wanted a guy who’d spend a lot of time with her, she wouldn’t go for a busy doctor. It was hard to argue with life-saving procedures.
“What’d he say?”
“He said I was right and he’d make a better effort. He’s coming over tonight and we’re going to La Favorita.”
“It’s an authentic Italian pizzeria on fifty seventh. I am getting myself a big glass of wine!”
A file slapped on Diya’s desk made both women jump. The word “NO!!!!!!” on a sticky note was the only critique on top.
Diya’s mouth fell open, but David was gone by the time she looked up.
She scoffed, holding up the note. “This is literally all he wrote.”
Keyana rolled her eyes. “What was it you were trying to do?”
“I haven’t even looked at it yet. But how am I supposed to correct anything with this?”
“He probably wants you to go in and ask him about it.”
“Last time I did that, he told me I should, quote, ‘ask myself if I really want to come into his office’.”
“What a douche canoe.” Keyana sat back in front of her computer and jiggled the mouse.
With a sigh, Diya flopped the file open. The letter she’d drafted the evening before had a bloody red gash through it and nothing else. A rolling fist of anger climbed from her stomach to her solar plexus and radiated there.
With a glance toward her computer, her eye caught the bagel she’d bought, untouched in its bag.
She barely got her fingers around the file when she clenched it and shut her eyes. The walk from her cubicle to David’s office was only a few feet, but it took the most effort. The ball of anger in her chest weighed a thousand pounds and it kept her slouched in the chair. Her heart was already racing and she hadn’t even spoken with him yet.
Taking the file, a pad of paper, and a pen, she dragged herself to his office and knocked on the open door.
He didn’t even look up from whatever he was writing.
He kept writing.
David’s office wasn’t much different than the other senior paralegals’. Same beige walls, same forest green accents, consistent with the the company’s brand. Lined on the edge of the desk, to display his sense of whimsy — insisting he had one — were children’s meal toys from the burger place, a Magic 8-Ball, and a splay-legged Skeletor, and framed snapshots.
Someone had drawn a picture of an ugly woman on a curled sticky note, which barely clung to one of the frames, and tried to mimic David’s janky handwriting.
Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful
Diya flinched and indicated the file in her arms. “I wasn’t sure what you wanted me to change —”
“You should utilize your recourses before you come in here.”
“All it says is ‘no’. I’m not sure what you mean by that.”
“It means the whole thing is wrong.”
How bad could it be living in Michigan with her parents? Chuck this file at David’s head and eat her bagel in the relative peace of a park bench? Hell, she knew all the abandoned buildings within a fifty mile radius; she didn’t need a job.
Her chest loosened enough for her to take a breath.
“I don’t want to waste either of our time, so it’d be helpful if you could tell me what I did wrong so I can fix it instead of throwing things at the wall to see —”
“If you’re doing guesswork, you’re wasting everyone’s time.”
“Then help me! This is a PERM case, right?”
This made David look at her.
Diya poised her pen to take note of what he’d say, but he just stared.
“I’m sorry, was that a stupid question?”
He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Yes.”
Diya charged out of his office, ejecting the file from her sweaty hands onto her desk as she passed, and kept stomping until she reached the ladies room.
The cool, water-speckled marble against her hands sent a tremor up her arms and into her thumping heart. Her sweaty escapades that morning rendered whatever makeup she’d put on useless, so she turned on the cold water and thrust her hands under the stream. Before she could get them to her face, her eyes screwed shut, pulling her lips away from her teeth in a pained grimace. Before the hot flood of tears even surfaced, her body shook like she was laughing at the world’s cruelest joke. She cried into her wet hands until the door opened beside her and she pretended to rinse her face.
“Oh hun,” Keyana said, putting her hand on Diya’s shoulder. “I thought I’d find you in here.”
Diya tried to play it off and smile, but when she said, “He’s just an ass,” she burst into tears again.
“I know, baby, I know.”
“I’m not even kidding, I’m gonna apply at Duane Reade. I can’t work with him anymore. I can’t live like this.”
“You don’t wanna be working at no Duane Reade, I’ll tell you that.”
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t have a degree and this was the best job I could get. I can finally pay my rent and I haven’t even been here that long and I already can’t take it. I feel like it wouldn’t be so bad if that fucking prick would take ten seconds to tell me what I was doing wrong. Everything, he says I’m doing everything wrong and I’m not allowed to ask any questions. Key, it’s so unfair.”
But even as Keyana patted her back and shushed her like she comforted her own kid, Diya recalled stories Keyana had told her about how she had been arrested at a routine traffic stop because she was too scared to open the window for the police officer. Because of that blight on her record, this might have been the highest paying job she could have gotten, degree or not. Keyana kept her mouth shut and took whatever David dished out because he was better than the nightmare she faced on the street every day.
“You shouldn’t listen to me,” Diya said. “This is so stupid. It’s not even nine thirty and I’m weeping in the ladies room.”
“Your problems are valid.” Keyana lowered her voice to a barely-audible whisper. “If I could take that man down a peg, I would sure do it. You don’t know, but I cry every single night. But people like him always get what’s coming to them.”
“He’s been here so long, though.”
“Yeah, and this job is his life. You ever see him going home?”
“And if he treats everyone the way he does around here, you think his family is any different? Most of them work here: his dad, his sister, I think even his mom at some point. There’s no break. Do you think anybody loves him?”
“Well, he’s married and has friends. He talks about them.”
“They playing a game. Because they went to college together, now they have to keep going to each other’s birthday parties and nobody can back out without it being a whole thing. People like that aren’t real friends. He’s miserable. Wash your face, hun.”
Diya splashed her face with cold water.
“You gotta give yourself time, too,” Keyana continued. “Like you said, you’ve only been here what, two months?”
Diya nodded as she shut off the water.
“That’s not nearly enough time to learn all these things. You gotta be patient with yourself. I’ve been here a year and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But I’m better than I was when I started.”
Diya dried her face with a paper towel.
“If you get stuck on something, you can ask me. Now, let’s get back in there before Mr. Grumpy notices we’re gone.”
When Diya got back to her desk, Keyana gave her a squeeze on the shoulder and disappeared into her cubicle.
Happy there weren’t any new red-marked files on her desk, Diya took a deep breath and opened her bagel. It was cold along with her coffee, but she didn’t mind.
Signed in to her computer.
Opened the proprietary matter software.
Flipped open the thick, totally wrong paper file.
An ancient page from the back of the file worked loose and dropped to the floor. It had been stapled at one point; the hole punches keeping it in place had long since torn open. When Diya picked it up, she noticed the paper had been crumpled and flattened back out.
Crumpled in a fit of rage, Diya thought.
Unavoidable at the top of the page in David’s eternal, illegible writing were the words “NO!!!!!!!! THIS IS WRONG!!!!” Unlike his current style, the rest of the document was marked as well, highlighting what the poor paralegal (a Sophia Stewart, from the notation in the header; the date under her name was from 1989) had done wrong.
A quick search in the intranet contact database only showed Ms Stewart was no longer with the company. Once one cog left, another took its place with no recollection of the former.
With the computer active and the file strewn about her desk, Diya took a glance over her shoulder and opened a browser.
Today was Friday, meaning tomorrow she, Angel, and Angel’s friend Diya would travel upstate to where Diya had visited the greatest museum of all time. It was boarded up now, but that never stopped her from getting inside.
www.LostAtTheMuseum.blogspot.com Thirty Years It seems like I visited the museum (I have to call it that because I don't think it had a name) last year with my friend when we stayed in her parents' cabin; I can still feel that gawky awe of stumbling across a subway station entrance in the middle of a clearing in the woods. It was just there. The ticket price inside was about $50. We didn't have any money, but because of the magic of being kids, we zoomed through the entrance, pretending our parents were calling. But that had to have been in the late 80s; you could run into anything back then. My friend moved to Ohio the year after, and I don't even think she remembers who I am now. It's so depressing thinking about how long ago everything was. If you're reading this, Adrienne, I still miss you. When I tried to find the place again a few years later (mid-late nineties when I could drive myself), the place was boarded up. All that was left was the subway station gate and a few solar panels. Me and my buddies searched all over the woods for a secondary entrance, but if there was one, we didn't find it. The internet back then was a chaotic hole, so we didn't find any information there either. As you've been following this blog, you know I'm no stranger to urban exploration (I even had to turn on the "select readers only" privacy settings because of the time I visited Toronto's abandoned Bay Station and got arrested because I'd said too much here!). I got my first taste when my friend and I rode the 6 train past the last stop at Cityhall and passed through the glorious old station that's been closed for decades. Since then, I've visited every dead mall I could find, Sensabaugh Tunnel in Tennessee (creepy af), and Centralia, PA. You know where I'm going with this: that museum is mine. This was more than an art museum. It was the inside of someone's heart. Not everything was beautiful. Halls of caged faces, thumping drumbeats and heart wrenching tunes, lights so dim, the place felt like a haunted house — or a tomb. It took the candy coating off the world and taught my young heart that it was okay to be a little gloomy. Someone else felt the same as me, but she was talented enough to bring those images out of her head. Since the museum is no longer operating and I had to search the dark corners of the interwebs for information, naturally I've come across message boards full of argumentative people passing theories back and forth. Of course, I have my own ideas (which I've shared), but until we hear from the real creator (not counting that horseshit explanation comment "blairames" left in 2004 on a ScaryPizza story, of all places), this urban legend will continue to grow. Thirty years seems like as good a time as any to go back and find some answers. Fans estimate the museum closed in 1990 (which still seems like ten years ago!), so me and the gang are headed that way this weekend to find out what's left. If we're lucky, we'll find a way inside, but I can't imagine anything would be left behind. Although, I'm sure that subway car will still be there. It'd be so cool to see it there not moving just like the nonsense the MTA is pulling on a daily basis. At least it'll be quiet. Written by Diya. 10:35am. Friday September 25, 2020