Birth, work, reproduction, death. Generation after generation. An endless circle of repetition. Or is it a downward spiral? There was nothing unusual at the beginning, except for the fact that the platform was empty, as Eddie stood still, pondering, waiting for the train to come, listening to his favorite song on the repeat, through the earphones. Not being the most observant of types, it took him some time to realize he was the only person standing on the platform.
“Lucky me,” he thought to himself, absent minded.
The train arrived a few minutes later.
“Next stop: Rabbit Hole,” he heard through the speaker. Nothing but the usual underground itinerary. He sat quickly on the first available seat and looked away. Out of the window, into the darkness. The wagon was almost empty. Except for a young girl sitting with her back at him, seemingly half asleep, or perhaps lost in thought, or in the book that was standing on her lap. She didn’t notice him, nor did he notice her in the beginning. He was too busy to care for the girl, or the empty wagon.
Get up, go to work, eat, sleep, repeat. Tiny fragments of time put in order. Thoughts on repetition prevailed in his brain, sad, futile wanderings of the mind, to shun even more desperate thoughts: about survival, debts, bills.
The song kept playing again and again, a soothing lullaby to his ears. Another repetition, yet a pleasing one. Routine seems frightening, yet comforting at the same time. At least sometimes.
The train stopped for a few seconds, the doors opened, closed and it moved on.
“Next stop: Rabbit Hole”. Eddie thought he misheard, so he checked the sign above, which confirmed the words he had just heard. Certain it was a mistake, he stood up and headed to the exit. The train would reach the White Chapel, his destination, in a few minutes.
Wake up, make your bed, have some coffee, brush your teeth, shower, get dressed, go to work. Every single morning. Since the beginning of time. Or so it seemed to Eddie, ever since he got his job.
He was ready to step out, when he noticed the sign on the wall. He looked around in amazement. He didn’t even recognize the station, as he had never seen it that empty before. Perhaps he had lost track of time. The door closed in front of him, before he had the time to wonder.
“Next stop: Rabbit Hole,” he heard again and turned around to check the sign once more.
In blinking lights, Rabbit Hole was written on the board. He looked around to check for cameras. Perhaps he was in a show or something. Hundreds of people would be laughing at his surprise at this point. He imagined the host awaiting him at the next station, welcoming him, handing him the trophy. It could be a lot of money. Enough to save him from this seemingly endless torture of repetition.
Brush to the right, brush to the left, up and down, repeat. For clean teeth and fresh breath. The new toothpaste, quick in action, saves time. Eddie thought about the ad he had seen earlier. Anything that would save time from pointless repetition seemed welcome. Save time for what?
To go to work earlier, eat more, sleep more and then repeat. He could never break the circle.
He sat in apathy and waited to see what would come next. The song still playing in his ears. He closed his eyes and stood still. When the train stopped, he opened them up. Still the same empty platform.
“Next stop: Rabbit Hole.” He was trapped in a loop. He was stuck. In time.
Back and forth. In and out. Low tide, high tide. Fragmentation of time into a predictable loop. Swinging like a pendulum, lying in a hammock, until that moment when everything falls apart. The pendulum stops, the hammock gets worn and torn apart. What comes after repetition? A fall into the unknown follows disruption of normality.
Why would anyone want that?
Rabbit Hole, again and again like the sound of the music he had been listening. He felt scared, trapped as he was in an endless circle of a repeating reality. Truth be told, his life seemed to always have been nothing but a circle. Or was it a downward spiral? He was terrified at the thought of an endless meaningless routine. He was desperate. Until all feelings stopped. Repetition numbs the senses. Eddie was numb.
When he had already surrendered to his fate, he caught a glimpse of the girl with the corner of his eye. He approached her in silence, hoping to get some more information.
The girl looked confused when she awakened her, yet she was happy to see him.
“Thank God. It was so lonely here!” she mumbled, rubbing the last drops of sleep off her eyes.
She had no clue either. She had been there for a long time waiting for something to happen. She was happy something did happen. He appeared.
“You’re still trapped,” he said, not understanding the source of her joy.
“Hell is better in company.”
Fall asleep, wake up, talk in between, then repeat. She spent her time knitting, stitch after stitch. Or reading, the same book again and again. He kept on listening to his favorite song. On the repeat.
“I am Eddie Rich, too poor for my name,” said he.
“I am Jane Hope, too desperate for my name,” said she.
Hell is repetition of an endless routine. The simplest the routine, the worst the place. Did they die and went to hell?
Eddie pushed the pause button. The song stopped. He instantly felt as if his life, too, was on the pause, inside the wagon. Or perhaps it had always been on a pause, waiting to start again. Or perhaps it was more like a broken record, stuck on the same verse.
“I recognize despair. I see it all around, unveiled or even hidden. Sometimes, the more desperate the soul, the happier the mask. Come to think of it, the only sane purpose in life, is to observe how people deal with despair and maybe ease the pain of it,” she said.
“You can’t escape despair,” he agreed.
She came close. He kissed her. It was not only a kiss. It was more like two souls fueling each other with hope.
They tried several ways to escape. Eddie left the wagon, ran upstairs, determined to walk to the next station, only to find the exit closed. He came back and waited for the train. Jane was still in it. They tried to keep the door open. Deep down, they both knew nothing would change. All they managed, was to elongate the routine for a few moments at best. Breaking the routine, even for a few minutes seemed enough for a while.
“We’re still trapped,” he said.
“It’s still fun,” she said.
“No, it isn’t.”
She shrugged. She kept on trying to keep the door open, while Eddie was watching her from the other side of the wagon. They didn’t talk for long. They didn’t talk for days, only in their reality, time didn’t count the usual way. It wasn’t the usual day alternating night that marked time. The trip between two stops was the sole unit of time. After several trips to the same destination, repetitions of the same loop, Jane sat by him.
“You have a higher threshold to boredom. Well done!” she said.
“Sisyphus must be imagined happy,” he said.
They kissed again.
Come close, fall apart, kiss and make up, then repeat. Repetition makes perfect. The only truly happy repetition Eddie could think of. After several stops at the Rabbit Hole, they discovered love.
There they stood. Eddie and Jane. Rich and Hope. Rich in hope. Completing each other.
Wake up, get dressed, go to work, repeat. One day after another.
Kiss, make love, kiss, hold hands. Day after day.
Eddie felt happy, after having finally mastered the art of repetition.
Love had finally beaten repetition. Love instilled hope and determination into their hearts.
“Next stop: White Chapel,” they heard. The knitting yarn turned into a colorful sweater. His next favorite song played through the earphones. The door opened. They went out holding hands tightly, as the crowd squeezed in.
Same old routine. Only now, it felt a tiny bit happier.
Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, living and working in Athens, Greece. Her work can be found in many journals and anthologies, such as the Molotov Cocktail, Foliate Oak, Maudlin house, Menacing Hedge, Midnight Circus, AntipodeanSF, Big Echo:Critical SF, Jellyfish Review and others. She has published two books in Greek and a chapbook in English (Once Upon a Dystopia by Cosmic Teapot Publication).