FICTION.

HE’S THINKING NOW ABOUT things to tell his boss instead of, “It was cold around my ankles, and I don’t remember turning off the alarm, but I must have. Why can’t I just sleep?” Perhaps, “My cat is sick. I think he’s dying.” Or, “I received a call from my mother at four in the a.m., telling me my grandmother is dying.” Or, “My neighbors woke me with their unusually loud sex and I got up because I thought they were dying. Then I slept through my alarm.” Wait! How about, “The train was late.” Yeah, the train was late. That’s good.

Yet here’s the train, right on time. Funny how truth is not as strange as fiction. He feels the train in his hair like God. Whoosh! and wind, and he’s rocked back a step. He’s happy just to see it come. “The train was late. The train was late,” he repeats in his mind, getting his silent diction just right, so that the umlauts don’t conflict with the alveolar fricatives and the dentals don’t destroy the emphasis on the final word. Or something like that. Hell, as long as she believes it. I mean, he’s only a half an hour late. “Anyway,” he thinks as he steps on the train. He avoids eye contact with the conductor as usual, but doesn’t know why, as usual. Thinks it’s because they’re always so goddamn friendly.

Aware of his contradiction, he finds a seat, and thinks for a while about why friendly people scare him. Maybe it’s that old saying, “Ignorance is bliss,” or maybe it’s just that he’s an asshole. How can he know? He doesn’t, so he sits, and sits.

Around Mayfair he has a visitor. Which is to say, they all do. It’s a skinny fellow by the name of Patrick, which he only knows because he heard some large, giggly black women having fun with him one day, and they seemed to know his name.

“Ha ha. I say isn’t that right, Patrick? Ha ha.”

“Doo dee doo. Precious. Buttercup, hmm hm hmm.”

Patrick is oblivious to most everything. He saunters up, as he does every day, to the top decker of the double-decker train. On his way he calls strangers “Sunshine” and “Darling,” not because he’s putting on airs, but because he has no choice. He hums a tune that no one knows, and fiddles with his red, red apron. He finally manages to tie it, and in spite of his creaseworn face and hair of steel wool looks like the alleged bagboy he is. The happiest — goddamn happiest — bagboy in the world. “So…” he says, in a voice that’s not his own but belongs to no one else, “We’re here with the smash rock group…ELO who will be singing their hit song [insert name of a song that ELO never sang here]. This one’s sweeping the charts — all the kids love it, including my youngest daughter, Jenny. Hi Jenny! It’s a catchy tune with a groovy beat, and it’s gonna make these three lads big stars! I say BIG STARS! Now if you’ll please put your hands together for the biggest thing to come out of Witonneka, Missouri since the plague of ’93…. Eee. El. Oh!”

It was easy for him to ignore the fact that Patrick didn’t have the facts. Right, that is. Everyone knows that ELO isn’t from Missouri, but from…somewhere else. And there are certainly more than three guys in the band. Like, at least twelve. What interested him now was the song….

“Her name was Eye-Vee. Ivy! She met a man. Man! And he was…six-teen and he was stonedtarredandfeatherd and he died….”

It went on like that for minutes — maybe five — and our hero sat agape. I mean, this Patrick was doing harmonies! And making up words on the spot! And he had some kind of strange instrumentation…that he sang! After a while it became clear that his admiration was fading. Fading. Faded — I mean it really isn’t that good why doesn’t the conductor just come and shut this guy up? Turning his attention to his briefcase at his feet, he pulls out and puts on his headphones, and opens a worn copy of a Gaddis book he’s had for years. Though on his way to Deerfield, this morning around seven two six, he tries very hard to be somewhere else.

The train moves forward through the suburbs of Chicago. Rolling past the frozen countryside, blanketed in mountains of pure white impasto that hangs from skeletal tree bark and thwarts the ambition of many. Commuters pause to avoid a fatal confrontation with the speeding mass of steel. Flashing red lights. Tired, undressed faces. And now the rails are on fire. Ignited and glowing, the flames flicker and tickle the thin black lines in the snow.

Inside the train, Patrick is supine. WPAT has signed off for an early night, and the only sound is white noise above the rails. The deejay is sprawled out on blood-red vinyl, and the band plays on in his head. His feet lindy hop in search of comfort. His arm a right angle, a pillow.

Down below commuters are rustling. Our commuter looks up from his Gaddis, and listens to the morning news. Backed up on the Eisenhower. High of thirty-five. Suicide bombers, scandals and death. He looks around and throws several secret stares at bodies close by. Across the aisle, three prunefaced women with drab shawls and femi-staches, their mouths move quickly and in unison. In front of him, male-pattern baldness ravages the scalp of an executive male. He speaks, apparently to himself, in a voice much louder than necessary. So much so that it’s audible through the morning news.

“Uh-huh. Uh-huh. So what about that? Stocks? I don’t know. Hm. Yeah. Ten percent?! Wow. Well, I was thinking about loading up my portfolio with hyper-quality issues — anticipating a need for being risk-averse, you know? Oh. Really? You don’t say. But taxable bonds flew off the shelf last year. We’re talking about an inflow of $76.5 billion through the month of November. That’s their biggest ev-er. And net inflows into equity mutual funds were on track to be the smallest since 1990. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Golly. So you think I should dump my bond holdings, or just forget about adding new ones? Okay…Okay. Oh, I see. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Alright then. Thanks, honey. I’ll be home around nine again tonight. Love you.”

The man shifted in his seat and took out his earpiece. Seems as though he sighed.

Across the aisle from the businessman, a young mother tries desperately to find the bottom of her young — her outstretched palm a divining rod and her wriggling, screaming child the water. He looked too late to see the origin of her maternal justice, and he wasn’t quite sure he cared.

His furtive glances become a singular stare, directed at the ticket clip on the seat in front of him. As he leans back in his seat, a voice over the loudspeaker announces “Edgebrook this stop. Edgebrook.” There is a faint rustling of shuffling feet, and an even fainter ding, followed by a digital voice that sounded friendly even though it only spoke two words: Doors closing. He felt the train move beneath him — causing a slight tickle in everyone’s bellies — and with a gentle hiss and rumble finally carry them away.

- - - - -

PRINT | EMAIL THIS STORY

bryson meunier lives and works in chicago as a search marketing manager/seo guru for resolution media. which means he knows what you’re searching for even before you ask.