Amanda is sitting on the train, reading a book. It is Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar.
The voice of an intruder perforates her inner sanctum, and she jerks, as she often does, at sudden gusts of action. He asks for her ticket, and flustered, she reaches into every crevice of her clothing. She finds it, scuffed and pink, rolled unconsciously into a flute.
She seems young, though it’s as if she’s misaligned with time. She has the air of youth, though her brow is furrowed, with fatigue perhaps, or with fear.
The train advances swiftly as the chug of wheels moves in time with her slow breaths. It travels Northbound, west of the Hudson. The play of sunlight dapples across the pages of her book, then disappears, as the locomotive sways through shadow and light. Her breath quickens as the shadows increase, and the light dissolves, and with it, the dissolution of the four-cornered world.
She observes her surroundings through the sides of her eyes, her peripheral vision heightened from all those years of exercising the impulse to stretch the cast of her eyes to its limits. A man sits down before her and opens his newspaper. He scans the car of the train, before his eyes meet hers, and she knows that he recognizes her. This is what she fears, every time she moves through this world without walls. Her heartbeat accelerates, as she senses where he places himself on the continuum of judgment.
She waits for his silent waves of condemnation to penetrate her. Or, perhaps, he is someone who pauses in the blur between guilt and innocence. Perhaps he has gathered the evidence and considered it for himself, through the apertures of his own biases. Perhaps he has discussed her with his friends over dinner; perhaps he has squabbled with strangers in bars, fumbling through the court of public opinion; the scales of justice, tipping with their every whim.
This public face isn’t her face. Rather, she is a myth in someone else’s story. It is the face of a scarlet woman, a seductress. Worse still, it is a face without empathy, without grace.
With another jolt of the train, she is back there, enclosed in that dirty chamber. She moves gently through spaces inhospitable to her, rooms fuming with atrocities, and darker substance. The words here, foreign to her at first, start to take shape, and she learns the language of other hours, the language of elongated time. She does not breathe freely in this enclosure, still books surround her, and she covers the walls with words, the words of Eco and Yourcenar.
They will say that guilt or innocence is not in the gesture of the hands, in a not-so-subtle cough or eyes that flicker too rapidly, as that is too easy to manipulate. Innocence reveals itself in the voice, not in the tone or volume of its cadence, not the words themselves, as they too, are easily built with deception. It is in the space between the formulation of that thought, and where that thought reaches after language, where the contamination of feeling sculpts the words into themselves.
She cries out with her innocence, and the feelings behind these words float across the courtroom: I am not who you claim me to be; I did not not commit the crime you accuse of me of -it could not have been me, as I was not there that night.
Now she spends her days out in the crisp air. She feels the raindrops as they fall between her eyelashes and roll down the neck of her shirt. Still, she is sentenced to carry that face, the face of the ex-convict, reflected back at her in the window of the train, daubed with the dirty fingers of passengers long gone.
Sophie Mollart is a writer of poetry and prose, currently based in Berlin.