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 two other passengers on the subway. John was halfway through his commute and if it was in fact a day off, he might as well ride all the way to where he could catch a short ride to the beach. Twenty minutes later he was flying passed his work stop and en route to some well-deserved time off. Just as John closed his eyes to ride the train asleep, it stopped and jolted him awake.
The train lights flickered twice. John looked around at the other disconcerted riders. Murmurs of fear stirred the car. The man on the intercom said: “Ladies and gentleman, I apologize for the inconvenience and delay. You’re all going to have to exit the car from out of the back immediately. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience.”
John was 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 walked calmly to the flats of the sand until the heat of his feet quickened his pace to cooler terrain. John reached the sand 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 slacks. 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. Nothing. Nothing John Michael didn't want to hear. John started to pass out. He laid on the beach, asleep for an hour. Now it was a day off. Then his head bumped into another, and he looked in horror at the face he saw. It was his boss.
John groaned on the inside, maintaining wide eye contact. He liked the man, but man, did he not want to see him. Afraid for the loss of professionalism, they held each other's gazes, until the boss was the one to look down. Then he said something that returned it to a day off:
"John, let's just pretend this never happened."
John turned away. Ten seconds of contemplation and he was perfectly happy to let sleeping bosses lie. He closed his eyes and drifted again.