The Baltimore Atrocities by John Dermot Woods
from The Baltimore Atrocities by John Dermot Woods
The best place to encounter new friends is out on the plazas down near City Hall, especially in the middle of the weekday, and so, during my time in Baltimore, when the weather was warm, I was sure to eat my lunch there three of four times a week, often without my companion. One afternoon, after I had finished my roast beef sandwich and was preparing to leave, a young woman, not older than twenty-one, sat down beside me, her body slumping, belying some defeat. She startled me, as I thought I saw my sister’s face grown into her own, but I reasoned that if my sister was still alive and in Baltimore, she’d be a few years older than this young woman. She said she had taken the subway that morning to the city’s west side, where she was going to catch a ride with a friend who was leaving on a trip down south. She appreciated when others found her actions difficult to explain, and this is why she rode the Baltimore subway whenever she could. Most people, especially those living in Baltimore, doubt that the subway exists, but, she claimed, for certain locations, it was certainly the most efficient way to travel. While I had never ridden the Baltimore subway, I understood her argument, as I too found subways the most pleasant to travel when stops were convenient. The young woman spoke in a deep slang that broke at times to suggest an advanced education, a ruptured way of speaking that I found comforting. That morning, though, when she got on the subway, she forgot why, as she rode it so often, and simply stayed on until the end of the line. Once there, she got on another train and returned to where she had originally boarded, not far from where we then sat. She had spent the afternoon pacing the plazas, neither eating nor sitting, irritated by the blank space in her memory, trying to recall why she had boarded the train that morning. Just before she sat down beside me, she has remembered her friend on the west side, who has offered her a ride down south to Durham, North Carolina, where the young woman’s mother lay sick, with no more than a day or two to live. At that moment, I wished that I hadn’t finished my lunch, that I had something– a cold drink, a few grapes– to offer the sad young woman.
The Baltimore Atrocities by John Dermot Woods is now available from Coffee House Press.