“The Second One” by Ava Robinson

Issue 18 / Summer 2019 / Abortion Ban Protest Special Issue


Twenty-five is not seventeen. Essie’s body is different now. As she climbs down the subway stairs, her knees twinge, clicking through the motions. She can feel it, each step-down. She doesn’t run down them anymore. She doesn’t take them two-by-two.

She checks her phone again once she’s on the platform. It’s 9:05. Her appointment is at 10:30. She is going to be early, excessively, awkwardly, early. She wonders if they’ll find her eager. She knows that’s not something she should be. But she is. She’s so goddamn eager for this to be finished.

The train pulls up, full. Essie shoves her way on, used to the rhythm of the train exhaling and then inhaling passengers at every stop. There are no seats, but she doesn’t want one anyway.

That’s the whole point. She wants to stand.

Essie’s taken the train almost every day of her life. She’s been on it thousands and thousands of times. When she was a child, just out of her mother’s lap, she would kneel on the seat and face the window. She’s not sure if she believed it, or if she was playing a game with herself, but she used to think that witches lived in the subway tunnels. She would imagine them there, with their pointed hats and hooked noses, hiding between the dirty columns. Her witches could only move in the darkness, so she would count the seconds between every naked bulb hanging loosely on a wire that she spotted. Essie turns to the window now, and it seems that there’s a flash of yellow every second, every other moment the darkness lights. She remembers counting all the way ten seconds once, with shaky breath. She must have been cheating that time, playing in favor of the witches. It would’ve been like her.

She keeps her face turned towards the window the whole ride, trying to keep her eyes and thoughts from wandering too far into the future. Even an hour is too far.




It’s 11:45 when she’s waiting for the train back home. It didn’t take too long, in and out of the metal detectors. They were just like she remembered from the time before, thin, grey, and imposing. Perhaps a little bit ricketier, now.

They gave her a pill at the clinic, and they watched her swallow it. Last time, she had to come in for her second dose. This time, they let her take the pills home. They made her sign paperwork, promising that she would, indeed, finish this. She moved her pen quickly and easily across every page. She wanted to think that they trusted her more, that she seemed at ease in a way that she hadn’t when she was doing this after school, backpack at her feet. They explained to her that that wasn’t the case. The laws changed is all.

She sits down. The train is empty going back into Brooklyn this time of day. She feels the cheap, institutional pad against her skin — just a precaution. The bleeding won’t start in earnest until tomorrow. She sees a little boy across the way from her, looking at the lights go by. She smiles, thinking about her game. She doesn’t think she’ll teach it to anybody. He probably has his own, anyway. She’ll keep hers just for herself.



Ava Robinson is an emerging writer who has been published in Soundings East, Little Patuxent Review, Literary Orphans, and her work is forthcoming in River River. She graduated with an undergraduate degree in history from Brooklyn College and is currently working at the Tenement Museum. She’s lived in New York City and loved telling stories all her life.


  1. bruno schmidt

    evocative and concise , …
    and timely
    , bravo.

  2. Caron Post

    Beautifully written, takes you right there.

  3. bruno schmidt

    i could keep on reading it . its a real piece of time. bravo.


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