“You’re him, aren’t you?” asks the woman in the seat across from Daniel.
A subway station zooms by outside the train windows. A flash of color and then black again.
Daniel sinks lower in his seat and casts his glance toward the half dozen people littered through the empty car. The motion of the train hums up through his feet.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know you,” he says to the woman.
“But you’re him. I’m sure. I’ve seen you on the news.”
Daniel pulls the bill of his ball cap lower over his face. He glances at the others standing or sitting in the car.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The woman frowns at him and doesn’t say anything for a few minutes. She continues to stare at him though, her eyes shining like globes in her bright face. The longer she stares the larger her sneer grows.
Daniel thinks of moving seats. Only a few more stops until he gets off.
The woman’s stare becomes an open snarl. “You did it, didn’t you?” she says.
Daniel looks up at the woman again, his eyes wary.
“You raped and murdered that poor girl. Everyone knows it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“That jury was drinking kool aid, weren’t they? They never should have let you off.” The woman’s eyes widen and her pupils dilate.
Daniel throws her an annoyed frown and looks around for another seat, but the man standing near the door isn’t looking at his phone anymore. He’s watching them.
“You’re sick,” the woman says, spitting the words. “The things you did to her. You should rot in jail!”
Daniel jumps up out of his seat as soon as the PA system dings and announces the next station in a garbled voice. He looks down at the woman and says, “Listen, Lady. I didn’t do it, and they proved that. Leave me alone.”
“Oh my God! I knew it!”
The doors whoosh open as the train pulls into the next platform. Daniel pushes through them past the man with the cellphone. The woman hops up to the window and yells: “You should kill yourself!”
Daniel looks back at her in fright, his heart thumping in his chest. The subway car carries the woman away. She presses her middle finger against the window as she disappears into the tunnel. Daniel stands looking after her for some time. Finally, he shakes himself and walks along the platform with his hands shoved deep in his pockets and his head down.
The stop is not the one he wanted, but he figures the walk could do him good. He charges up the subway steps and out into the clear daylight.
Immediately, Daniel stops. He stares at the face on the side of the bus– his face. Larger than life. Expression somber above his suit jacket and tie. Beneath his face a banner reads: When the Guilty Go Free… Stream it soon on ____.
WIth a hiss of air brakes, the bus moves on. The hum of traffic echoes hollowly against the tall buildings, this man-made canyon.
Daniel stands frozen on the street corner as the crowds open and close around him.
When the guilty go free, he thinks, his head sinking further into his shoulders. He feels his whole soul collapse inside him.
What is the point of the truth when no one tells it? Reality is nothing, he thinks, when compared with entertainment.
© 2021 Katie Baker