Perhaps it’s the filth lining the walls of the South Street tunnel that reminds me most of the frailty. I gaze upon “Deep Shit” every morning as the L-train roars on past the squalor just below the city. Not all the beggars and drifters are quite so subtle; “Ass rape inquire here.” I can accept the frailty. The impoverished are looking up at a city of affluence as the city looks down at a wasteland. The biggest cruelty, however, is what can be best described as a modern day Sistine Chapel that lies at the very bottom.
This particular artist did not sign the name with trademark graffiti lettering characterized by bold and extruded print, but with a pristine elegance of cursive, like that of a gallery artist. It was a good three weeks of travel before my gaze caught the subtle strokes of the signature through the windows of the train. There were four distinct characters that formed an identity.
The creator has a name.
Shea’s mural was the greatest masterpiece I had ever witnessed — yet, my admiration for its display could only last four seconds each commute.
I am frequently tormented by the imposing thoughts. The mystery of who and where is Shea is my obsession, and no database provided me with the answer. I suspect it may be an aspiring local artist, displaying their piece upon stark contrast of the slum backdrop — but, perhaps they were simply a transient passing by.
I often conjure up Shea as a she — angelic in both appearance and the masterful craft in which she weaves her magnum opus across the towering arch. How could a mere individual reach such marvelous heights to complete the work? Shea is sublime. Boundless.
The motions that are caressing each curve aren’t jagged, but smooth. The vibrant colors radiate from the concrete canvas like heavenly lights beaming across the tunnel.
After the 727 train rolls into the 30th street station, I step out, silent. Then still. I take a moment to think of the mural and its possession of me. Shea’s brush is a wand that casts a spell, and the loops of her name wrap themselves around me; I can’t break free.
I slowly turn my head towards the exterior tracks; it’s a long and vanishing path ahead.
Where do I go from here?
Somewhere beyond this point, deep in the heart of underground, Shea’s showpiece resides. I would always ascend the escalator to the city above; my typical routine is the only sensible option.
Today — instead — I venture downwards into subterranean territory.
I walk endlessly down the side of the track for miles, with the occasional gawker fixated on my inconceivable circumstances; I’m an alien, and far away from anything I would define as familiar. With every set of menacing eyes that gaze through me as I stroll through the ghetto outfitted in Calvin Klein, I feel nothing on this carrier is safe. Neither my possessions nor my physical body has a defense, especially with the threat of a hypothetical switchblade knife in someone’s back pocket.
With every step I take through trash and litter, I am more doubtful of myself. I choose the hazardous tunnel of my choice within a maze of forking paths; it’s clear I’m lost — and daft — but I keep going. The tunnel is barren. Desolate. I can’t see much in the darkness; the only living creature I spot is a rat heaping through garbage. I’m not going much further. I can always backtrack.
I get deeper into the tunnel of uncertainty, bewildered by my own compulsion. Why am I standing here? I am surrounded by darkness, with only the faintest illumination from behind me. I realize this is a bad idea.
There is something faint on the wall up ahead, though. Before I turn around, I’ll go a little deeper. If this is dead space, I’ll turn back.
I get closer. The outline becomes a bit more defined. I notice the color.
Step by step. My eyes begin to spot a design. The colors become more luminous. I am fascinated.
There appears to be a majestic anomaly painted on the wall ahead — but, I don’t recognize the sight. I can’t see much light but I can tell this isn’t the masterpiece I remembered. What is this new finding I am walking towards? Why is this burnished entity shrouded in darkness? I would be less distracted if the sketchy tunnel weren’t echoing with the occasional footsteps or ominous sounds that indicate nearby life — life with the possible sinister intent.
I reluctantly get closer, as curiosity has taken over fear. The art is extraordinary, and I am entranced by this new discovery. A revelation fastened in the heart of the underground. No decay or ruin here, just undiscovered wonder. It’s magnificent! Almost as much so as the mural that brought me here.
As I rotate my body, fixated on the looming ceiling, I spot the enormous knots of the artist’s stamp. It’s the signature that testifies to my suspicion. It’s Shea.
Amazing, I think to myself. The underground isn’t a showpiece, but a gallery!
I look down to notice the silhouette of someone against the wall in the distance. Darkly lit, I can see a figure. The person seems to be wearing dark haggard clothing, concealing their face with a stocking cap. With a can in hand, they are spray painting the wall close to the mural. Is this mysterious entity sabotaging the gallery? Maybe they are expanding it.
Is it who I think it is?
I am nervous. Excited. This could be the moment.
I walk over to the person, half expecting it to be a hobo with a spray can, ready to strike if I get too close. Perhaps, even a mirage.
Rather, I could be — maybe — walking towards Michelangelo.
Chris Schramm currently lives in Philadelphia, PA, and goes to school at Temple University where he is double majoring in film and advertising. He has recently started writing creative fiction in his spare time.