The Human Genre Project

Southbound from Park Street

The COCH gene (coagulation factor C homolog, cochlin) is on chromosome 14. According to, ‘The COCH gene provides instructions for making a protein called cochlin. This protein is abundant in certain parts of the inner ear called the cochlea and the vestibular system. The cochlea is a snail-shaped structure that helps process sound, and the vestibular system consists of fluid-filled canals that help maintain the body’s balance and orientation in space.’

“Next stop, Park Street! Change for the Green Line!”

I brace myself against the central pole, but at Park Street the doors open on both sides of the train, and I have the body of a pre-pubescent choir boy. As happens every night, I’m swamped when half the population of Boston stampedes out onto the platform and the other half shoves its way into the train. As I flail, gripping my backpack, an umbrella stabs my knee. “Sorry,” I gasp, and fling myself towards an empty seat.

Another forty minutes. I finished my book during the morning commute, and my iPod’s out of juice, so my only entertainment is to mentally calculate how much extra money I’d earn if I were paid a dime for every hour I spend bored on the T. Even at architectural intern wages, it’s worth a car and most of the gas.

Today I’m extra-lucky and I get an end seat, so only one person can impale her elbow into my side, a snarly-looking woman engrossed in her book. I sneak a peek. Priscilla moistened her lips at the sight of the chief, his bronzed skin gleaming as his blazing--

She flips the page before I can learn what part of the chief is ablaze.

When the dust of the transfer settles, the car is still crowded, but the passengers who weren’t lucky enough to get seats have some elbow room. I notice a woman standing in front of the doors. Her bangs are olive dark, with a gloss like Italian leather, and the rest of her hair is tied up in an earth-tone kerchief. She isn’t beautiful, but she’s exotic, and she pouts her lips in a way that sets me ablaze. She wears a flowing crinkled garment of blues and golds melting into each other. Her thin hands are in dark gloves, and she’s gripping a jar.

I shift my backpack onto my lap, wondering if I could take out my sketch pad without her noticing, but the woman beside me takes her attention away from Priscilla and the chief long enough to glare at me. Anyway, the train is clacking and shuddering, so my pencil would jump all over the page.

It’s an ordinary glass jar, perfectly clear, as if someone soaked the label off after finishing the mayonnaise. She keeps one hand over the lid, and the other partially cupped around the bottom....

She isn’t holding onto anything.

Not to the central pole, or the edge of the nearest seats. She’s riding the floor of the rocking train car. The jar looks as steady as if she’s standing in her own kitchen.
I’m about to jump up and offer her my seat when the car jerks. The woman hardly sways, but a man in a charcoal suit loses his grip on the overhead strap, bumping against her as he staggers sideways. I wait for him to apologize, or even acknowledge what he’s done, but he only grabs the strap again, and with his other hand wipes his sweating forehead.

The woman’s eyes widen. I’m scared she’ll smash the jar over his head, never mind that he’s a foot taller than her.

Her lips move, and she looks as though she’s whispering, though if she screamed her lungs out I wouldn’t hear her over the rattling of the train. I lean forward, ignoring the huff of the romance-reading woman, and realize that’s no ordinary jar. The sides are a luminous yellow, and instead of a screw-top lid, the covering is a membrane, stretched like the rainbow sheen of a soap bubble.

The man in the charcoal suit scrunches up his face.

He vanishes.

I blink.

I rub my eyes and shake my head, like a cartoon character, but he’s still gone.

The other standing passengers are swaying back and forth. The sitting passengers stare dully at newspapers or into the air. The woman beside me licks her lips as Priscilla and the chief throb in each other’s arms. Everyone else in the car is oblivious to the fact that a man disappeared.

“Downtown Crossing, Washington Street. Change here for the Orange Line.”

She smiles into her jar, where the man in the charcoal suit, shrunk to the size of an action figure, beats his tiny fists against the yellow glass.

She glances at me, narrows her dark eyes...and smiles.

I gulp and grip my backpack.

I smile back.

The woman places one gloved hand over the front of her jar, blocking my view of the apoplectic little man. As the doors slide open at Downtown Crossing, more people crowd into the car. She glides away. I lean forward, trying to catch a final glimpse.

“Do you mind?” snaps the woman beside me, flipping her page.

Tracey S. Rosenberg