Growth, Liatris Hethcoat
Wednesday mornings are steam and oil, cigarette smoke and other unpleasant smells, which is to say that Wednesdays are really no different from Tuesdays or Thursdays or any other day except Sundays.
Elle doesn’t work on Sundays. Sundays are freshly fried omelettes and matcha tea and Christmas candles.
But today is Wednesday, so Elle runs the pads of her fingers across the bumpy strips that sit on the edge of the Metro’s platforms, steps carefully over the crack between the platform and the train, and boards the train at 34th Street at exactly 7:57 a.m., only pausing to make sure that her dog, Abby, is following, and that her jacket, which is puffy and purple, is zipped tight.
Wednesday mornings are steam and oil, cigarette smoke and other unpleasant smells, which is to say that they are rarely ever eucalyptus.
The person sitting in the seat next to Elle is writing something very intensely and reeks like eucalyptus with a similar intensity. She can tell from the insistent scribble of their pencil against the paper that; one, they have messy handwriting, and two, that when they lift a hand from the paper, every word will be pressed into the back, raised and satisfying like the bumpy strips that line the Metro platforms.
Elle wants to touch that paper. She straightens her sunglasses on her face, turns towards the direction of that ferocious writer and asks, “What are you doing?”
They turn out to be a he, and a he that replies right away, at that. “Reading.”
“And writing?” Elle presses. Against her legs, Abby shifts and sniffs the air. Either the eucalyptus is interesting her, too, or she thinks Elle should stop being so nosy.
“I’m keeping tallies of how many times the author uses the same word,” Eucalyptus Man explains with a voice that is young and confident and steady. “I’m a quarter of the way in and she’s already used ‘smirk’ seventeen times.”
“Is it romance?” Elle asks.
“Isn’t everything?” he replies.
Elle considers this for a moment. “What’s it called?”
He tells her the title and returns to scribbling. Elle checks to make sure the other end of Abby’s leash is firm and secured to her hand.
At 8:02, the train shudders its way into a stop. The man who smells like eucalyptus says, “Well, this is me.”
“Well,” Elle agrees.
That night, after she gets off the train and makes her way home, Elle downloads the audio book and listens to it as she makes herself dinner. The author is fond of the word “smirk,” among many others.
It only takes her two more train rides, from 34th Street and back, to finish the book. It’s the worst thing she’s ever read and she thinks she loves it. On Sunday, she lights a candle that smells like Christmas and has an omelette with tea and reads it again.
On Monday, she wears her jacket, which is puffy and purple, and her and Abby board the train at 7:57 a.m. again, like Elle does every day except Sunday. She goes to work and goes back home and does it again the next day, and there are no strangers who smell like eucalyptus and press their pens too hard into the paper to distract her.
Somehow, she’s distracted anyway.
December leaves, and with it Elle’s collection of Christmas-themed candles that smell like gingerbread and cinnamon and other things that aren’t eucalyptus.
January passes slowly, like a voice that is confident and steady and says the name of romance novel titles the way honey pours.
February comes and goes in much the same way, except with heaps of snow that press into New York City streets like ink on paper.
The weather is far warmer by the time March comes to a close, and yet Elle still wears her winter jacket, which is puffy and purple, anyway. She thinks, I would remember a puffy purple jacket like this if nothing else at all. She tells herself it’s the kind of thing that would stick in one’s head like, say, the aroma of eucalyptus.
Today it’s Wednesday, it’s 7:57 a.m., and almost April when Elle boards the train from 34th Street with Abby. She’s sweating in her puffy purple jacket, which she’d tugged on this morning with resolve, decidedly ignoring all reports claiming sunny weather and high temperatures.
She’s trying to recall other good smells, like the air before rain hits the hot summer pavement, or thin-crust pizza from the best spots in Brooklyn, when someone sits down beside her and something familiar tickles at her nose.
A moment passes—a long moment that feels to Elle like all the winter months combined into one—and then the person begins to scribble.
Elle angles her face towards where it seems like the other person’s face is and says, “Did you sit next to me on the train on December 22nd?” Beside her, Abby shifts.
For a second there’s no response—at least, not from a mouth. But she hears him fidget, feels the seat move against hers. Finally, he says, “I remember your coat.”
“I’m blind,” she blurts, as if this is an explanation. It is, of sorts.
There’s another moment of silence, where she thinks he’s nodding—stupidly—in understanding.
“I write poetry,” he replies. As if this is an explanation. Then, “Did you read that book?”
Of course, Elle wants to say. She read that book everyday for three months straight even though it was so bad, even though its author most definitely needs a thesaurus. Instead she says, nonchalantly, “It was terrible.”
He agrees. “There just aren’t enough beautiful sentences in the world.”
“Well, if you want, I can recommend you something better,” Elle offers. She tries her hardest to give the words weight, to make sure he knows she’s offering more than just a reading list.
“Is it romance?” He replies.
Elle smiles. “Isn’t everything?”
And this time, when he leaves the train he leaves a number, too, programmed into Elle’s phone under the name Sam.
And spring comes, and then summer, and Elle’s mornings are still steam and oil, cigarette smoke and other unpleasant smells. But slowly they become other things, too. Things like eucalyptus.
This smell reaches into Sunday.
About the Author
Cassi Quayson · New York University Gallatin
Cassi Quayson is a Ghanaian-American writer and creative at NYU Gallatin studying the intersection of language and liberation. She is on Instagram @cqssandra. Eucalyptus first appeared in Long River Review.
About the Artist
Liatris Hethcoat · Chapman University
“Growth” first appeared in Calliope.