I meet a god on the F train on the way to the doctor’s office. Not an important god; a lesser deity. I won’t say which one but he’s well known for his love of westerly winds and acting like a jealous fool. I am drying up inside which is why I’m on my way to the doctor. I drink too much coffee and not nearly enough water and that is the reason I am becoming a crocodile. It has nothing to do with the brutal passage of time or that I’m 37 and still not a mother or even how the seasons shuffle and flip like brightly colored tarot cards.
The god sits down next to me. He is handsome, but, of course, all gods are handsome. His teeth are giant beautiful billboards. Lawyers could advertise in his grin. He is dressed as you might imagine, soft white toga that barely covers his ass, laurel wreath atop his head. He spreads his legs out wide, taking up two whole seats. A pregnant woman gets on at the same stop and scowls over at us both. She clings to a filthy pole in the depth of the crowded train.
Between his legs, hanging on just the crook of his finger, is a heavy basket of unripened fruit. When he spots the pregnant woman side-eyeing him, he tosses her a short green banana. She catches it, barely, toppling back into an older man. But, she smiles at the god when she gains her footing.
“Have you ever loved anyone?” he asks. It takes me a moment to realize he’s talking to me. “You look like someone who has loved and not been loved in return.”
“Why would you say that?” I ask. I adjust the woolly hat over my hair. I feel a bony scute along my scalp. I am growing dermal armor. When I called my doctor and he heard my hair was falling out, he urged me to come right over.
The god shrugs and tries to give me a pineapple. I refuse it. I don’t need his fruit. I need Lexapro.
“Do you see this?” I ask, holding up my arm to show him the pointed edge of my elbow. “Does that look like eczema? I mean, those are scales, right?”
“Gross,” he says.
He is wearing sandals and his toes are perfect. Not too stubby, not too long. Strong, thick nail beds, high arched golden feet. He could cut steel with those calves. He is ushering in spring, I think. That must be why he is in the city. He doesn’t say that but just this morning, I spotted little green buds on the trees outside my bedroom window.
“I loved someone,” he tells me. “I thought he loved me, too. I am the gentlest of the winds.”
“That’s rough,” I say. My insides are drying into dust. I am so thirsty. On a molecular level, I am dying of thirst. I put my hands up beneath my arm pits and hunch forward.
“I found him, in the park, playing disc golf with Apollo,” he says. “Apollo, of all people!”
The train bumps along the tracks as the interior lights ebb and spark. Electricity pops all around us. I feel better underground where the air is moist and it smells acrid like heated brake pads. People complain about the smell but the 125th street station on the 4-5-6 always smells earthy like wet wool after a good rain. And, on the southeast corner of 60th and Lex, right at the entrance to Bloomingdale’s, the air smells like leather and white poplar blossoms.
My fingers are stretching and webbing together into claws. My skin is cracked and salty. Is there even a treatment for what I have?
“I didn’t mean to hurt him,” the god says and his basket of fruit falls to the floor. A strange glow shines from beneath the god’s toga and I’m glad I’m angled away and can’t see. The tired looking man across from us gasps and looks away but it’s too late. He turns to stone.
I know how he feels.
“What did you do?” I ask and immediately regret it. You never probe a god for more information. Never ask leading questions. Let them say their peace and leave. Nothing good comes from condescending to the gods.
“I didn’t mean to do it,” he whispers and studies my face. Can he see the thin transparent lid forming sideways over my eyes? Are my pupils closing into vertical slits?
“I wanted him to feel me in the air,” he says. “To know that I saw his betrayal. What does Apollo have that I do not?”
“The sun?” I answer. “An oracle. Cults of people who worship him. The ability to bring a new day.”
“OK,” he cries and grabs my claws. “But, can he make the flowers bloom? Can he blow a gentle breeze across your cheek? Does he know how to do that thing with his tongue?”
“I think he can do those things,” I tell him. “I think he can do all those things.”
I can tell I’ve broken his big dumb heart. My eyes form fat, empty tears. A crocodile’s eyes will froth and bubble when air pushes through their elongated sinus cavities. Crocodile tears are full of hollow regret. I’m not sorry, my snout is just growing.
“God dammit,” the god mutters. “It doesn’t matter now.”
I refuse to ask him what happened.
Why do the gods do this? Make us care about their petty shit? I have more important things to worry about. My brain is shrinking to the size of a walnut.
“The wind took the Frisbee,” he says. He’s talking to the whole subway car now. “It wasn’t me. It was the wind. It took the Frisbee and struck my love hard in the temple. Back in the day, a discus was made of stone, but today, they are just plastic. How could I know it would hit him just so? I know my love is dead. I can feel the flowers blooming for his lost soul.”
The old woman on the other side of the god pats his shoulder gently. “There, there,” she says. He hands her a green pear and she cuddles into him.
“You set the wind loose,” I remind him. A collective gasp blows through the train. But I don’t care. The doctor’s office is still four stops away. My long tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth. Rows of sharp teeth sprout up along my jaw. I want to rip something apart, feel the meat in my mouth and the blood run down my chin.
“You’re a real bitch, you know that?” the god says to me.
“I’m not a bitch,” I tell him. “I’m just dehydrated.”
But the god turns away from me and my clothes tear along the bony ridges of my spine. My shoes rip from my feet and I sigh because it feels so much better to be free. As I ease off the seat and down to my belly, my claws clack against the floor of the subway. People scream, scooting away from me. The god asks the little old woman with the pear, “Have you ever loved someone who didn’t love you back?”
It isn’t my stop, but I swish my tail and leave the train. Everyone is happy to see me go. They clap and the god stands and bows. He is the hero who vanquished the monster. He is the wind that blows from the west, below the violet, against the sweet breath of spring.
I move past the turnstiles and gates but sunlight is shining down from the stairway. The train whooshes away behind me. I turn from the light and follow the car down into the tunnel. I will live in the glorious dark, I decide. Where it smells of flowers and the wood rot of a thousand subway ties and the only breeze I’ll have to feel is the piston wind of the trains.
Brianne M. Kohl’s writing has appeared in various publications including The Masters Review, Mojo, The Review Review, and The Bohemyth. She has a novel in-perpetual progress. Visit her at briannekohl.com or say hi at twitter.com/BrianneKohl.