Ever Wonder what it would take to throw yourself in front of a train?
|It started with a vibration that came from somewhere deep; the precursor to thunder. Mike could feel it through his shoes as a soft high pitched whine echoed through the rails. He could hear a deep throaty whistle cry out far down the tracks as flashing white lights cut through the early morning darkness. The vibration’s crescendo rose to a thunderous rumble as his hair blew back like wind before a storm. A mountain of steel rumbled towards him. So imposing was its mass that it seemed impossible to change its inertial qualities, but gradually it slowed to a stop at the platform. Mike found himself following the mass of bodies as they flowed like cattle into the rail car. As the wave of bodies carried him along, he noticed a large man being hoisted into the air on a lift attached to his wheel chair. He saw the man’s bag jiggle loose from its moorings and fall to the concrete below. He deftly reached out, clutching its strap, and handed it back to the man in the wheel chair, who clutched it like a baby as he was hauled into the car.
Mike stared down the car at the long row seats occupied by people who sat in mute audience with comatose eyes that seemed unable to focus. He found an open space next to a fat sleeping man and was able to squeeze between the mass of fattened silk and the arm rest. The gentle rocking and sureness of his destination lulled him.
The whistle signaled his stop and he let the flow of bodies carry him again off the train and onto the platform. Bodies flowed like a stream off the train and up winding steps into the station, before separating into various destinations.
Mike walked purposely towards the bus terminal and then stopped. He felt his cell phone begin its quiet vibration in his pocket.
“Mike I just want you to know that I may not be here when you get home today”, His wife’s voice was shaky and tired.
“Patty, what’s going on”, he said angrily as the line went dead. In a fit of anger he threw his phone to the ground. The silver plastic body clicked along the concrete sidewalk before being crushed under a bus tire.
“That was stupid”. Brian looked up to see the old man in the wheel chair. “What are you boy, a six year old.” He angrily walked down the bus platform. He walked to the bus bay, waited a few moments, and boarded the bus that drove up, stopped, and roared away. He watched the world swirl around him through the smudgy bus windows as he sat in familiar surroundings. He pulled a slack cable which rang a bell and stopped the bus.
It was at this point, standing on the curb, that his destination became uncertain. His office building loomed in front of him, like a massive stone square mountain; its grey stone face reflecting the milky morning sky. He walked across the office lawn to an iron bench that sat under a massive oak tree. The ground was spongy and had been made unstable from evening rain storms.
He sat on the bench and waited. He could think of no other directions. His life had stopped.
Late in the afternoon, Mike found himself on the same bus heading back to the train station. He sat on another bench and waited.
A soft whine of metal scraping metal rhythmically sounded off behind him, causing him to look up from his newspaper. It was the man in the wheel chair from the morning. He stopped next to his bench, looked at him and smiled.
“Good day at work”, he said.
“Got fired”, Mike said, hoping that this would kill the conversation.
The man laughed, “Same thing happened to me”. “I used to work on this train as a conductor and engineer”. “This car came along and chopped my legs off, and they fired me.” “I almost wished that it happened sooner”. He laughed again.
Mike turned and looked at the man closely for the first time. He was in his late fifties. His hair had turned white, except for a few tufts around his ears that still clung to their original dark color. His face was worn like wrinkled leather, but he seemed happy and was smiling brightly through a neatly trimmed beard.
“You are not angry?” Mike said. “You lost your legs and they fired you”.
The man laughed again holding his sides this time. “How did you lose your job?”, he asked.
Mike looked down at his shoes covered in bits of grass and mud. “I work in tech support, I’m an IT rep. The whole division was outsourced. All cause Indians have a lower cost of living. When a department was laid off, I would box it all up and ship it to corporate. One day I got a request to box myself up. So here I am.”
The man looked up the track, his smile still brilliant on his face. “Yeah, here you are”, he said.
Mike looked at his watch and then at the dark brown train rails. “So why didn’t you die when the train ran over you”. He had hoped the question would rattle the old man a little.
“Not sure, I suppose it was mostly luck and partly medical science”. “I don’t question it much anymore”.
Mike looked down at the track. He watched a cock roach crawl over the silver grey granite gravel and disappear into a crack in the creosote rail road tie. “You think that if I jumped on the tracks, I’d die”.
The man broke his smile for a moment. “Not sure”. “Is that something your likely to do”.
A train came and stopped at the opposite platform and Mike watched people travel through their lives. “It seems like it would be a good final destination”, he said.
The man reached down and rubbed the stumps of his legs. “Hurts like a sonofabitch, and you just might live through it”. He wheeled his chair closer to Mike and leaned over to his ear. “Or you might see things differently as you hear the cracking of your bones and smell your flesh burn. It’s when your realize that things before weren’t that bad”.
The man paused and smiled
“And do you know what a pain in the ass it is to lose your bag on the platform”. “No you wouldn’t know, but you helped anyway”, the man said. He put his hand on Mikes shoulder. “Are you going home”?
Mike thought for a moment. “What home”.
“The last train leaves at 6”. “Wheel me down a block and I’ll buy you a beer”.
The Whistle Stop was buzzing with the afternoon business crowd. Mike drank gulps of dark amber beer and enjoyed the feeling as his brain gently relaxed. Amid loud middle aged men in loose ties and suits, surrounded by pretty young waitresses, life didn’t seem so bad.
The man ordered a pitcher of draft and looked at Mike smiling. “It’s all kind of pointless”, the man said. “Look at that guy yelling at a cell phone”. All that work, just to become worm food”. “All that running around just so he doesn’t have to face his life”. The man took a swallow of beer laughing. “I ain’t running no more; I always have a place to sit”.
Mike watched the bubbles rise in his beer as he listened to the man.
The 306 was ten minutes late, it was always late, but it took Mike home.
In an empty house a phone rang. It echoed for a time, but went unanswered.
Patty heard the familiar song of her cell phone. She checked to see if it was Mike and flipped it open. The heavy rush of static filled her ear and she could hear a garbled voice. It seemed to be calling her name. She pulled her car into an empty parking lot and twisted the volume of her radio to silence.
“Patty, are you there”, Mike said into the borrowed cell phone. He struggled to hear her voice over the deep roar of the train. “Mike?”, she said. “Patty, there are some things I need to tell you”. Patty sighed “Mike this isn’t a good time”. “Patty, I lost my job”, they laid me off yesterday. A confused silence followed, interrupted only by crackles of static.
“Mike, I have already left”, there is no going back on things”. “You’ll find another place to work”, she said. “I need to go”, she paused. Her voice was monotone and cold.
“I know that somewhere we got lost, and I wouldn’t give me a chance. Patty I’m sorry that it took this to open up to you.”
He could hear her suck in a breath. “Mike just come home”.
Seventeen years ago Mike first saw her in English class. Pushing his way through other students, he grabbed the desk next to hers and swung his body into it. He watched her with quick glances all through class.
The teacher called the class into a group reading. Students pulled their desks together in pairs and took turns reading lines of poetry.
She smiled, and Mike felt it hard to breathe as he moved his seat close to hers. She opened her book and placed her finger next to the poem Shattered. He leaned as close as he dared.
He watched her read the first line. His lips so close to hers that that he could feel her breath.
“We watched the sun shatter”
He could feel her looking at him now as he read the next line.
“On sea-green seas”
She was still looking at him shyly as she read.
“Its orange blood painted the clouds”
He felt his face hot and read the next line
“We watched the sea-green seas”
She leaned closer to him.
“Birth the moon through stars scattered”
He decided to ask her out.
“Love me between”
She would say yes.
“The endings shattered”