by J.R. Rogers
Peter and his wife Mimi had been riding for the last two days. They were on a train from Los Angeles to New York.
They slipped away from the coast just as the afternoon rush was building. Mimi, who worked downtown, met Peter in the cavernous station still in her work clothes. She looked distraught, dragging her heavy suitcase across the concourse toward him.
Now, it was nine o’clock and black outside and they had settled into a routine which to them was defined only by sitting, eating, and sleeping. Their first night out, Peter felt the train slow, stop, and then sit still on the tracks. There was no sound. He struggled to his elbows. Peter could not see his hand in front of his face. The darkness in their roomette was as thick and complete as a tomb.
He looked up at the underside of her bunk. There was no response. Peter tried again, this time sitting up more completely, raising his voice. When he finally stood and reached up to touch her shoulder, he found only a warm spot on the mattress. Peter grew frantic, irrational, caught up in a fear he could not explain. Groping in the dark, he dressed quickly and exited their little compartment. Moments later, Peter found her, wrapped in a blanket, sitting alone in the observation car. The overhead lights had not been shut off completely, only dimmed.
“Mimi, it’s the middle of the night.”
“I didn’t mean to wake you. I’m sorry. The motion of the train. I didn’t feel it anymore.” She drew the blanket closer around her.
“I guess it woke me, too,” he admitted.
“Look outside. The moon, the landscape. Look how beautiful it is.” She invited his gaze.
Peter could see the outline of their faces reflected in the cold glass and the little orbs left by the touch of her fingers hovering in front of him. He watched himself sit beside her. Beyond the window a gigantic buttery moon hung suspended over the flat landscape like a brilliant bulb. Despite the black night, there was so much for his eyes to capture that for a moment he saw nothing. Peter had no idea where they were, though there was contrast enough for him to make out a meandering dirt road snaking off into a vast, uncluttered plain. There was a crooked line of telephone poles lining the road to one side. Otherwise, there was not a thing to see.
He curled up to her, listening to her breathe, and for a while, neither spoke. From underneath her blanket, Peter felt Mimi’s hand reach over to find his and they sat there together in the dark. Sometime later, he felt the coach jerk softly, then slowly the train gathered speed, though the moonscape did not change. Peter wondered whether he was dreaming. He didn’t feel awake, but only semi-conscious, afloat in a dream-like void.
Then, quietly, without speaking, as if comforted because they were again underway, Mimi stirred and stood and they went off to bed. Mimi led the way, trailing her blanket like a child while Peter followed, holding on to her in the narrow corridor because he worried she might go back to sleep.
J. R. Rogers has been writing short stories for many years while pursuing an eclectic career in management consulting, aircraft manufacturing, and electronics. His first short story was published in 2011 in Steam Ticket: A Third Coast Review. He has also published two e-book novels, The Counterfeit Consul and Leopold’s Assassin, and is at work on a third. Follow his tweets about books, literature, writers, and writing @authorjrrogers.
We took a sleeper to Amsterdam from I-don’t-know-where because France derailed us with its wines and cognacs and armagnacs. And girls with Gauloises. I know we paid in Guilders (there was no Euro then) through a small opening at a small window to a shrunken woman with spectacles who then said, “Welcome,” but more in the “welcome to Europe” way than the polite response one usually gives after being thanked. Halfway through the night, the train stopped I-don’t-know-where, Utrecht maybe, Arnhem maybe, Tilburg, Eindhoven, maybe neither, but it picked up an armed band of English hooligans high on their team’s win earlier in the day, who stormed into the sleeper and started banging on anything that was made of matter—rattling, shaking, looking to destroy—all the time yelling in fascinating unison: MAN-CHES-TER! MAN-CHES-TER! They roused everyone to their feet and for one terrifying moment I thought it was 1942 and we were being transported to Dachau. Like cattle. But as suddenly and violently as the bald heads invaded the car, the wave receded down the line. Jesus, what was that, a man with crusty eyes said in solid English. Football. It brings people together.
Alex M. Pruteanu emigrated to the United States from Romania in 1980. Since then, he has worked as a day laborer, film projectionist, music store clerk, journalist, TV director, and freelance writer. A staff writer for The Lit Pub, Alex also works as the Managing Editor of an education assessment software system at North Carolina State University. His novella, Short Lean Cuts, is available in paperback at Amazon and as an e-book at Barnes & Noble.
by Sarah Malone
On the twenty-eighth floor of a building now long demolished, Dorothy Zimmer returned to her desk and found a girl with the new puffed sleeves and white lace all around the base of her high collar. She was fixing her hair at Dorothy’s hand-mirror. She had the scent of the El on a summer afternoon.
“What are you doing here?” Dorothy said.
“I type,” the girl said. “On twenty-nine. Two hundred words a minute.”
A mole, glossy like new iron, clean-edged as a new bolt, showed behind her ear. Dorothy fancied a gold sheen to the girl’s skin. The girl opened a shallow tin with a fine line drawing embossed onto its top, of a girl dressed the way she was. Inside was something cream-colored, smooth and concave like an unburned candle.
“Coco butter,” the girl said. “Here. Taste.”
It tasted of pantries, preparations, cookies. The girl held Dorothy’s wrist and rubbed in a small patch. Dorothy was aware of a cool barrier to the air, thin as gold foil.
Going home, she stood on the El platform where she could see the towers around Wall Street, focusing and defocusing them between the shine of her new fingers. By the time an uptown train stopped, she fancied the gold had reached her shoulder. A fancy, no more; but no harm. Indeed, why not? Steadying herself to sit, she felt her arm light and strong, and flexed it as her brother did with his barbells. Flexing felt like what it was supposed to do. In her belly gears engaged, a belt whirred. She sat very straight, facing crosstown, and in the hot tenement stretches between the shadows tall enough to cross the tracks she felt the barred sun in her cheekbones. A woman opposite drew a boy and a girl tightly to her skirts.
“Hello, children,” Dorothy said.
“Henry, Charlotte.” The woman pressed the boy and girl’s faces to her lap.
Dorothy found herself unable to locate the word to describe the woman’s blinking. There was one, an exact word.
She got off one stop early. Walking up Eighty-Forth Street, her legs did not feel tired. They did not feel anything. Her mother was in the parlor, looking at a pattern-book.
“You seem happy,” her mother said. “There’s a spring in your step.”
Dorothy heard a punch card drop into a metal slot, behind her left breast from its sound. The slot registered the number of holes in the card. Fifty; the shape of happy. The card slotted back and another card slotted in.
“Yes,” Dorothy said. “There is a spring.”
In her room she dusted and organized her books by the colors of the human visible spectrum. She was aware of lenses so thin as to be invisible, sliding across her optical apparatus. Her mother knocked.
“Dinner,” her mother said. “How tidy your room looks.”
“I would like to read,” Dorothy said. “I have a great deal to study.”
She slept standing. Or not quite slept: the belt wound down. She was aware of a cooling. She read the Encyclopedia Britannica, one volume with each optical apparatus. Whatever was happening to her, perhaps she could become a professor. Or a secret agent. Or a navigator on a trans-Atlantic steamer. The bolt behind her ear vibrated a little. Card T5 slotted into read position. Thirty-five holes—hope. Card T6—fear.
The hall outside her room was unlit. Her parents and brother had gone to bed. She could hear their breathing. She could not hear her own. Two lenses locked in place across her optical apparatus and by the moon in the skylight she was able to register the polished wood banister. In the parlor she read the New York World and the Times, the classifieds—situations for young ladies.
Something was wrong, something missing, some procedure no longer being triggered.
She re-registered the papers, letter by letter, a five hundred point nine percent increase in efficiency over her previous input, which her chronometer registered as a two hundred percent increase over estimates of previous, biologically-tooled readings.
No deficiencies. All operations were proceeding optimally.
In the morning, on the platform, she marked a minimum three-foot distance from the hem of her skirts to the next passenger. On the train, she sat at the end of one bench, and the no one took the seat beside her.
At her desk mirror, she fixed her hair to fully cover her right rear cranium bolt.
“Ah, Dorothy,” her boss said. “Excellent. There’s a new girl on twenty-two. I trust you know how to proceed.”
“Correct,” Dorothy intoned. “I am familiar with the routine.”
In her chest cavity, to the left of her spinal cable, where everything should have been dry, something dripped onto a flywheel, and the flywheel flew, in error or excellence, and to what purpose, she would have to determine. Not immediately; no need. Nearly half her daily chronometer was, as yet, undesignated.
She could locate no instructions concerning limits.
by Dinah Serritelli
A Caucasian male has been found by The Old Mill railway line, a line not used in over thirty years.
No identification was found other than a well-worn Bible, on the fly leaf an inscription reading “To my precious son, remember God loves you and so do I. ~Momma.” It was dated 1952.
Death was natural causes, age and hard-living appearing to be a big factor.
Anyone who might have information please notify your local Police Department
to contact the Sheriff here at Morrison County.
Dinah Serritelli does quite a bit of scribbling. Keeps me off the streets and out of trouble, she says. “Morrison County Local News” is part of her fictional newspaper series.
by Daniel Schafer
The man stood in the posh underground at Harvard Square, deliberately placing himself below a murmuring fan that jostled his shaggy hair, causing it to halfheartedly whip his brow in a way that was not threatening and only mildly annoying.
Those first few minutes at the station were typically pleasant. The thoughtfully crafted brick walkway made him think of what a cobblestone street in 19th century London must have been like, or the fancy courtyard that lead to Emily Gilmore’s famous front door.
A woman strummed her guitar to the beat of a synthesized drum track and happily bounced as she recited Fleetwood Mac’s “You Can Go Your Own Way.” It was early, his mind was still lost in a morning haze, but her heavy Chinese accent, wide smile and comically phony synthesizer conjured memories of the first time the man heard the song years before. A sunny day in June. Early evening. He was about to leave his house to run with some friends from school before swimming laps or perhaps playing water polo. Afterward he’d watch Gilligan’s Island reruns and devour two or three bowls of spaghetti his mother had saved for him. The live music really was his favorite part of the commute. This song in particular made him smile. The man thought he’d give her a dollar if his legs weren’t so exhausted. For some reason his legs always felt drained after a hot, sticky night of little sleep at the hands of the Boston humidity.
With each passing minute the string of tight, knee length skirts and tie-less collared shirts swelled and became more of a hoard, edging the man closer to the yellow safety mat above the tracks. The wall read “Danger: Third Rail” but the pebbles cradling the steel below looked inviting compared to the raised, crowded platform. He imagined stretching out between the tracks, nestling in to the pebbles, and happily dozing off to the continuing music and the faint cries of braking trains. The man considered himself lucky that he hadn’t grown accustomed to his life as a part-time sardine.
The telltale gust of refraction blew in to the station, overpowering the kind fan’s efforts to cool him, and signaled that it would soon be time to shove his way in to the Red Line train bound for Park Street. It would soon be time to reach over a middle-aged woman’s shoulder and sturdy himself on the pole using only his index, middle finger and thumb. It would soon be time to feel his bottom rhythmically tap another man’s in time with the rock of the train and smell his body odor as he reached toward the ceiling in order to secure his own all-important stability, despite his glands’ effects on his fellow commuters. It would soon be time to cradle his messenger bag in his free arm and hope that a stumbling rider wouldn’t damage his coveted, fragile peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The doors parted in a not-so-symmetrical manner, and three rushing passengers spilled from the already bloated car. The man didn’t look back, but over the rapid-fire instructions blaring out of the PA system overhead, he could hear the woman: You Can Go Your Own Way… And he wondered aloud if this was a bored artist’s attempt at subway irony.
“The song isn’t even about traveling.”
The doors closed.
Daniel F. Schafer hails from the green side of Washington state and earned his MA in English at Washington State University (located on the not-so-green side) in 2010. After a twenty-five minute bout with a runway modeling career, he resolved to rejoin the human race and devote his mid-twenties to exploring New England. Daniel now lives in Allston, MA and one day dreams of owning a 1966-or-older VW Bug.
by Christopher Allen
Conductor’s Note: The following flash fiction was originally published at Mel Bosworth’s Flash Fire 500 in 2009.
Jessie wasn’t the best of readers, but he decided he had to give it a whirl. On the train last week, he’d fallen in love with the literate look of the woman who, with her nose in a novel, ended up sitting across from him. That afternoon he went out and swiped the first book he saw.
The next morning at precisely 8:22 he boarded the train, took his seat across from The Reader, as he now called her, and opened his book to page 103 where he imagined a love story called The Readers in Car 103:
“Good morning,” he’d greet. Or maybe just “Hiya.”
“Good morning,” she’d reply. And she’d smile.
Jessie, however, couldn’t muster the courage to greet. Thrumming fingers on page 103, he drank in The Reader reading. Her eyes, lowered to the book in her thinly veiled lap, were lashed half moons in the window of Jessie’s night train. Her hands, vanilla Dreamsicles dripping on her cornflower-blue dress, dog-eared her sticky pages.
He missed his stop and dropped his book. The moment he reached to retrieve it, The Reader crossed her legs and moaned “Oh God!” A heady breeze of blood powdered Jessie senseless for a page, but he recovered and returned to The Readers on Car 103:
“I love you,” he’d confess. Or maybe “Let’s fuck.”
“You’re worthy,” she’d say, wiping the drool from his lower lip.
But Jessie was neither romantic nor crude, so he continued to catalogue The Reader’s every freckle and curve. Sweat drops at her temples glistened like intellect. Four lines on her forehead outed a serious, experienced soul. Her strawberry mouth puckered a thousand silent kisses towards the words on her page.
Hungry for the letters of her lap, Jessie’s lips parted, mimicking each buss. The faster she gobbled, the faster Jessie mime-gobbled. But try as he might, he could never taste the words on her pages 168, 169, 170 …
She smacked her book shut and looked up.
Jessie’s shocked eyes shot holes through page 103. He felt The Reader’s eyes caress and crawl in and out of him. She’d see he was stout, bearded, blond and nothing if not a devoted reader. She’d surely notice the literariness in his book, House Plants for the Homeless. She’d sense his smell: the earthy, bacterial Renaissance Man. If she was smiling when he looked up, he’d have to wolf her down.
With a coquette’s eye-batting gentleness and the courage of a bear, he raised the windows to his soul and gazed into hers. Then, like a sudden sea mist, came the burning realization, the unbearable pain. He pinched his eyes and regretted the misreading.
“I’ll spray you again!” a woman’s voice came. “Someone get this smelly creep off me, or I’ll fuck him up good.”
Christopher Allen's fiction and non-fiction have appeared in places like (and very much unlike) Wilderness House Literary Review, The Legendary, and BootsnAll Travel. He rides the train every day and writes about his obsession with traveling at imustbeoff.blogspot.com.
by Meg Sefton
A person should know she was she was driving over the train tracks, should be able to feel it under the wheels, Monique told Carl as she packed her white hat back into its box. Carl was sitting in her bedroom watching her as she changed her clothes.
“Three deaths, baby,” she said to him about recent train related incidents. The city had installed rubber casings on the tracks so drivers hardly registered the feel of the rails. The point was to make it easier on everyone’s suspension. Trains had been silenced too. No more trains blowing at the crossroads. And now people had died or been hurt because they didn’t know they were on the tracks. There had been no warning, no communication from the train.
She remembered with a shiver having barely escaped an oncoming train when she was with Aimee one afternoon. They were taking their sons and classmates on a field trip. They had not known they were crossing a track, had not heard a train, until they were just past. Looking back on that day, she realized someone must have driven through the gates and broken them. Probably some drunk rich white kids because it was only in wealthy neighborhoods that “quiet zones” were established.
She had not told Carl about that day with Aimee. And now the silence with which Aimee eventually accepted her death from cancer seemed like that smooth ride over the tracks. She cried hot tears and Carl nuzzled her hair. She talked through things with Carl again, things she had said before, that Aimee hadn’t wanted any of them beside her when she was at the end of her illness, not even her husband and children. She wanted no one to see that last husk of what she had become. She had wanted to go quietly, without a fuss. Monique had not been allowed to be with her either. Aimee’s body had been cremated and put into a box.
Aimee was the only white woman Monique had ever been close to. She had been a pistol right after the diagnosis, had believed God would heal her because she wanted it that way, had come to her son’s baseball games hobbling on feet blistered by chemo. But when it was clear she would not live she had instructed Monique to wear the hat made of doves. Aimee had always told her there were doves on Monique’s Easter hat, but they were simply high peaks of white chiffon. Monique had honored Aimee’s wishes and had worn the hat but she vowed to herself, while she sat in the white people’s church, not to make any more white friends.
Meg Sefton’s work has recently appeared in Best New Writing 2011, The Dos Passos Review, Danse Macabre, Dark Sky Magazine, and other online and print publications. She received her MFA from Seattle Pacific University and lives in Orlando, Florida with her family and little white dog, “Annie.”
by Danny Goodman
Conductor’s Note: Today marks the one year anniversary of TrainWrite. To celebrate, please enjoy some new flash fiction by fwriction’s Danny Goodman, who has been a contributor to and supporter of TrainWrite since its first post. This weekend, be sure to re-visit his other train stories: “Late Night, Local Stops Here” and an excerpt from the short story, “Forest Hills.” As always, thank you for reading and riding.
The woman held sheet music with one sturdy hand, the way one steadies a paperback, forefinger and pinky spread out in a wide V. Her gaze didn’t break from the notes, not even as people shuffled into place through the open subway doors at Brooklyn Bridge. She shifted back to a newly vacated seat, her blonde hair lit up against the dark window behind. Through that opaque frame, one could see only pretend things.
As she read on, the woman’s head moved in slight, edgeless motions. Her eyelashes seemed, too, to catch the melody in equal time. A vagrant slid past, using metal poles for balance, and the sound of his soleless sneakers scraping against winter-wet floor did nothing to shake her attention. Soon, the train would leave this island, under the cover of river, and a new music would emerge. Her fingers tapped at the base of her palm.
A rest came in the space between boroughs, and the woman reached to the inside pocket of her pea coat. Her fingers revealed a long, slender cigarette perched between knuckles. She relaxed her lips, running her tongue over just once, and depressed them around the bleach-white paper. Without being lit, it moved in figure eights. It guided the song. The woman closed her eyes then, breaking contact with the faded accidentals on the page, and took a breath so deep the whole train felt it. As she exhaled, she released chords and clefs and perfect fifths into the car, her cigarette continuing its conductive dance. She caught sight of those around her, those riders who had moved closer and closer to her concerto, and watched their heads and feet and hands follow her rhythm, infinite waves swirling and radiating and capturing the person beside. Soon, no one would be still. Instead, the striking of string against callused fingertip would replace the normalcy of commute, the bawl of metal on metal, of hurdling through the tunneled darkness between minutes.
Danny Goodman suffers from an overactive imagination and unhealthy yet glorious dependence on coffee. He holds an MFA from the University of New Orleans, and teaches both creative writing for the Gotham Writers’ Workshop and English for SEO’s High School Scholars Program in NYC. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in various places, most notably Brevity, Found Press, Ramshackle Review, and Used Furniture Review. A two-time recipient of the Samuel Mockbee Award in Nonfiction, he edits the online literary journal, fwriction : review, and lives in Brooklyn.