The following is flash fiction. Check out my other Saturday Shorts here.
Fresh air and midday sun (through glass) taunted lungs, and the mothers and fathers, settled and unsettled; the heavy eye balls; the sleepers in the stalls—all of us—sorted and slightly rocking. Our shoes and briefcases brimmed the aisles, and our mouths coughed. Blind but secure, the train rattled, and what could we do but wait. Care for a cup of tea? Anything. Just bring me anything.
Outside the corn was dead and dry. A man sat in the window seat and was careless to view any of it (us, sanctioned together by wretched fate), staring at his shoes, considering maybe, the asphalt that marked them. “You look familiar” I finally admitted as a gesture.
The musician began. He, like all else, assumed his story was worth telling, and he spoke, and I thought about the birds: free, hungry, singing, and why fly next to trains?
“—not as easy as you think, you know.” Around my age but much richer, he hated his life as much as I hated mine. I bought a few of his records, a decade ago, and once I shook his hand in a parking lot before a gig. He was an asshole.
“Why not quit?” I keep him busy, like a four-year old with a new toy. And I wonder off: free, hungry, singing.
“There’s no career fair for me. No running away. Like a monkey I’m expected…”
If listening is a skill, we must all get it wrong. The man spoke, and I couldn’t care, and when I spoke he didn’t care. Where you out of? he’d say, shortly shifting his attention a couple rows down to a partially unbuttoned blouse on an attendant who bent forward for a piece of trash.
But when he spoke, he owned his words: industry, fame, skimmed royalties, The Road, didn’t turn out like I planned, you don’t get it. Please, tell me more.
Discontentment like a craving, but I understand. I do get it. I taste it every day: I hate the scab, so I pick the scab, but the scab bleeds, and I hate the blood. We all taste it.
For the sick, for the hungry. Discontentment for the worker who hates his boss, for the boss who hates his workers; for the spinster bombarded with telemarketers, the telemarketers getting hung up on; for the teenage mom boarding a city bus, the baby who cries; for the barista air brushed with angry saliva, the staff cleaning dishes; the wealthy, eyeing a crusty salad fork.
Making the world go round, it seems: “Where’d you say you were out of?” (The musician who hates his fans).
“I’m from—“ The lights flickered and a hat fell off. For a moment the train surged, normality briefly left, and we all considered death. But it didn’t come, and he spoke again.
“I wish I were like you. You know that? Normal and shit. Easy life. Expected. Crazy, right?”
But we are the same, different colors, sure, but the same painting. He sleeps in a better mattress; the pillows and sheets are of richer quality, the bed frame less noisy, I’m sure. But we’re the same. The attendant is the same. We wake and we want. We wake and we want. We’re tired, damn it, but we want.
The train slowed to a stop for no other purpose than to wait. The musician looked out his window, finally, and found corn staring back at him. Waiting. Just waiting.
Someone else gets the right of way, today. So I sit and consider the birds.