by Eddie Lando
John Michael's day off slows him down
|John Michael was stressed about work until he got the text: office closed for the day. He was on the train, a tall, lanky white man in a black suit crammed between an old woman with a cane between her legs and a man with a service dog at his feet. John was halfway through his commute and if it was in fact a day off, he might as well keep going on the train all the way to South Bay, where he could catch a short Uber ride to the beach. Twenty minutes later he was flying passed his work stop and on his way to some well-deserved time off. Just as John closed his eyes to ride the train to his final destination, the train stopped and jolted him awake.
The train lights flickered twice. John looked around at the other disconcerted train riders. Murmurs of fear stirred the car. The man on the intercom came on: “Ladies and gentleman, I apologize for the inconvenience and delay. Sadly, there is a medical emergency at the stop ahead of us, and this train is out of service. You’re all going to have to exit the car from out of the back immediately. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience.”
John had ridden the train enough times to know that medical emergency meant someone jumped in front of the train. He was sad, and startled like the rest of the passengers. They had to exit the train in the middle of an underground tunnel and walk back to the last station. John filed out and squeezed through the emergency exit doors in the back of his car. He turned on the light on his phone and followed the beams of the other riders already in the tunnel. It seemed he would never get to the beach at this rate. He walked faster, toward the front of the pack, anxious to make the most of his day off.
A mile and an hour passed and the scariest light the stray passengers could see came from the direction they walked: two headlights of an oncoming train. John squinted looking ahead, the light from his phone no longer relevant.
“Hey!” he yelled. The rest of the passengers caught site of the light ahead and split to either side of the tracks. John moved also, just as he heard the screech of the train halt. The front car slowed and the brakes screamed some more. The lights got brighter and brighter. John prepared for the worst: he glued himself to the wall, finally happy he had a lanky figure that would come in handy if he needed a train to brush by him. John closed his eyes until the train no longer spoke. Peaking with one eye, John saw the car stop about ten yards from him. Man, he thought. I’m just trying to get to the beach.
John finally exited the previous stop and hopped in a taxi. He closed his eyes. On my way, he thought. Twenty blissful seconds went by.
“So where you from?”
John rubbed his forehead. He couldn’t believe, today, he’d caught the chatty cab driver. Not last week when he’d been nervous on a date. Not the month before when his boss wouldn’t shut up about the deal. It was today. He just wanted to close his eyes.
“New Jersey. Patterson.”
“Oh! Joisey!” The driver laughed at his own joke. John rolled his eyes. Forty minutes later, twenty minutes of traffic, the driver was half a mile from the beach. John was slouched in the back seat, staring at the progress of the trip on his phone.
“I’ll get out here! Thank you!” John scooted and hopped out of the back of the car without waiting for a response. His feet hit the pavement and he was off to the races, to the beach. He could smell the ocean, just as his feet started to hurt from the slight heel on his dress shoes. John hopped and stepped to take his shoes off, then continued his run. Another four hundred feet from the beach, John felt the pavement burning onto his feet through the holes in his dress socks. He closed his eyes and lengthened his stride.
The beach was a hill of sand away. John pulled off his socks with the familiar skip and stepped into the soft grains. He pushed harder into the receding sand below his feet, driving his knees and pumping his arms. Step, step! Step! Five steps, two, one. John reached the top of the hill.
There was the ocean, under the shining sun and the blue sky. The waves crashed perfectly thirty feet from the shore. The tail end of the swell frothed on the edge of the sand. The scarcity of the people beaching on a weekday mid-morning was perfect for John. He'd been stopped at the sight for a minute. He walked calmly to the flats of the sand until the heat of the feet quickened his pace to cooler terrain. John reached the part of the beach that the water had covered at high tide and his feet could relax. He walked into the water and rolled up his pants.
When the ocean hit John’s feet he let go of his suit. He waded waist high into the water and laid down. The tide was calm, perfectly calm for his float. John finally closed his eyes. He could hear nothing but the sound of the water over his ears. It was a day off.