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Nodding on the A Train

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I didn’t always inhabit the subway. Now I prefer it to my room. The rocking motion of the car keeps my nerves from twitching and straining.

You could call the subway my backshop. It’s my principal retreat and solitude. Montaigne said that everyone should have such a place. I read it in a book I found on the A train.

The book’s cover described Montaigne as a “bemused and befuddled aristocrat trying to make sense of it all.” That’s me—except the aristocrat part. I never vote Republican and sometimes, alone in my room, I lie in bed for hours listening to “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
I tell myself stories on the subway. Well, not stories exactly. “Noddings” is what I call them because I always tell them as I’m nodding off.  They’re about what I see on the subway.

Take today, for example.

Today on the A train I saw a person in a red jacket with gold braid and brass buttons; a pucker-mouthed, candlestick of a girl wearing wireless earphones and dandling her flaxen head from side to side; a lank, old gentleman with pink, pendulous ears and girlish manicured fingers drumming on a closet augur that rested in his lap; and a cheerless matron with deaf-looking eyes and a heaving bosom, carrying a party sign that read, “Fun Ahead.” . . . Oh, I almost forgot the blind man with a tabby. He was sitting below a Yoga ad that depicted a shapely jogger’s rear end, over which were layered the words: “Keep Your Eyes on the Road.”

I told myself such a curious nodding today that I don’t even recall passsing Spring Street, for twenty-three years my regular stop. (Since the company I worked for filed bankruptcy I’ve had no need to alight there. Which suits me just fine, I tell myself, because for twenty-three years I’d wondered what lay beyond Spring—my wife and my boss, as it turned out, on Canal. . . . You

can see what drew me to Montaigne. Oh well. “There are defeats more triumphant than victories,”  I tell myself nowadays. . . . Still, I’d have liked to leave the job with my 401K.)

My nodding today on the A train had a pretty girl in it, with thin, sensitive lips, when they weren’t pursed. And a bandleader with grey, sardonic eyes. The bandleader was cleaning a room—a rumpus room or, perhaps, a bathroom, I couldn’t decide, which is often the case with my noddings—ambiguity, I mean.  Sweeping and mopping, mopping and sweeping, that’s what the bandleader did in the room in my nodding—sort of like me, I guess, coming and going, going and coming—I’m never sure which these days.

The room was full of party paraphrenalia, which made it seem like a rumpus room, except that the girl stood behind a glass door showering, which made it seem like a bathroom. You can understand my ambivalence. In any event, the bandleader didn’t notice the girl showering, and the girl showering didn’t notice the bandleader sweeping and mopping, mopping and sweeping.

Then my nodding got even more lifelike.

The girl and the bandleader stood on a road, a distance of, say, twenty feet separating them. A suggestion of a smile played about the corners of the girl’s mouth, but not the bandleader’s.

After a while, the girl sachayed down the road, turning now and again to cast sheep’s eyes at the bandleader. The bandleader stood quiet and still. Then the girl turned full around, as if to address the bandleader, when a cat suddenly darted about her feet, nearly knocking her down.

The girl shooed the cat away.

“Did the same thing the last time I was here,” the girl said, of the cat, but she could have meant the bandleader, from whom no word came.

Then the girl drifted off and, like a midnight mum, faded away behind a picket fence at the end of the road.

From out of a yellow fog the cat slunk toward the bandleader, seeming to grow with each silent step until it morphed into a tiger—an immature tiger, to be sure, but a tiger nonetheless.

I may call this nodding “Seduction”. .  . or something else. I haven’t decided. But I will write it down, like all the others.

I have almost enough now for an anthology. Maybe I’ll call it A Nodding Acquaintance and, turnabout being fair play, send it to my exes and let them try to figure it out.

Or maybe I’ll just  drop it on the tracks in front of an A train coming into the Spring or Canal station. . . . I wonder what I’ll do at the very last minute—leap down and retrieve it or not?

“To practice death is to practice freedom.” Montaigne said that, too.

END

 

Vincent Barry's affection for creative writing is rooted in the theatre. More years ago than he prefers to remember, his one-act plays caught the attention of the late Arthur Ballet at the University of Minnesota's Office for Advanced Drama Research and Wynn Handman at New York's The American Place Theatre. Some productions followed, as well as a residency at The Edward Albee Foundation on Long Island. Meanwhile, Barry was teaching philosophy at Bakersfield College in California and authoring philosophy textbooks. Now retired from teaching, Barry has returned to his first love, fiction. His stories have appeared in Writing Tomorrow Magazine ("Dear Fellow Californian," June 2014), The Write Room ("When It First Came Out," Fall 2014), Blue Lake Review ("The Girl with the Sunflower Yellow Hot Rod Limo," December 2014), and the Spring 2015 print anthology of Crack the Spine ("A Lot Like Limbo"). His flash fiction piece, "Seduction or Someting Else," will appear in the March 21, 2016, issue of Apocrypha and Abstractions.

 

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