Last Stop

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A simple train ride, where an anonymous rider finds a microcosm of American life aboard.

Submitted: October 12, 2006

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Submitted: October 12, 2006



The late afternoon sun shone onto the station platform as herds of commuters straggled on the cement surface like docile cattle, awaiting their daily migration home.

I stepped off of the platform, climbed aboard the train and turned right, shuffling past a few passengers rushing to get off, and quickly sought out a vacant seat.  Surprisingly, I found four empty seats facing one another and took one against the window, relishing my new-found isolation.

Within seconds, an older, at-one-time-attractive woman dressed in a long, name-brand designer skirt entered the cab and sat down on the seat opposite me, laying her handbag on the seat next to her.  She was followed by a middle-aged gentleman in a sport jacket and polo shirt who pushed his way into the seat next to her and, without speaking a word, tossed the black purse on the vacant seat next to me.  The woman quickly retrieved the purse and clutched it close to her chest in a rather protective manner.  Neither spoke, nor attempted eye contact, making it all too clear that I was witnessing the bonds of matrimony, the latter years.

When she did eventually speak, it was with an unrelenting and steadfast determination comparable to the motion of the train we were riding on.  She spoke of her deadbeat brother, an upcoming floral show she was excited about and countless other topics.  Her companion's only response was a series of automatic nods and an occasional, insincerely offered, "You're right," often misplaced in the conversation.

She voiced what seemed to be a less-than-new awareness that he was "not really listening; just trying to shut me up."  A fact obvious to even the most casual eavesdropper.  Despite this, she continued on unfazed and steady, as did our locomotive.  However, her destination was a hopeless desire for attention.  She was definitely on the wrong train.

Once he reached his tolerance, he exploded the only way one can after thirty-five years of frustration and unrest: succinctly and with as little emotion as possible.

"I get it, alright?  Could you just give it a rest."  The latter not posed as a question, but rather as a statement.  Awkward silence immediately ensued, though she did respond with several quick head tilts and eyebrow rises.  Not that he noticed.  At no point during conversation or silence did their eyes ever meet, a silent announcement of the eroded trust and appreciation between them in loud volume.

Her hazel eyes, showing the wear of time, drifted from her hands, to her shoes, to the ceiling, to the floor, finally settling shut.  His, icy and crystal blue, were steadily focused on the constantly changing scenery passing through the window; occasionally wandering to the fellow passengers shuffling by.

Every three minutes an expression of disgust sputtered out of his mouth, supplemented by a disapproving nod, and a scathing stare.  At the decaying urban conditions on the wayside landscape.  At the mother of three noisy children passing by.  At the lesbian couple holding hands seated down the aisle.

I could only assume that he hated these people not because he was privileged, but because they were not.  That he despised them not because he had attended private school with only fellow white, Christian and conservative, but because they reminded him of those that served his food and cleaned the floors.

And he neglected and disregarded his wife not because his father had probably done the same to his mother, but because of a fact that he exuded with his every action: he had regretted every conscious decision he had ever made with his life.

I made eye contact with her only once during their stay.  The look on her face could not be mistaken for anything other than what it was: a desperate desire to be reminded of the attraction she so under-appreciated in her youth.  I smiled politely and turned away, as I found it impossible to conceal an overwhelming sense of pity.

I instinctively looked at him expecting a jealous stare in return, but he was unsuccessfully attempting to burn a look of deep scorn into the heart of the Hispanic ticket taker passing, whose frustrated accent indicated his first generational status.  His smug sense of superiority suggested that the only docks any one in his family tree had stepped off of were those leading away from yacht clubs their ancestors had founded.

This is the world I live in.  This is what greets me every day in the form of a disgruntled marriage, an apathetic youth or a pandering vagrant.  When the American Dream isn't worth waking up to.

A few stops later, the couple got up and exited the train with the same absent affection that initially led me to assume them to be complete strangers.  Though I cannot say where they were going, I was certain that their destination would find them no farther from the neighborhood of regret and apathy that they had grown to accept over these twenty or so odd years.

Finding myself alone again, I turned to observe the view rushing through the window that seemed to be stuck on fast forward.Unaware how much time had elapsed, my attention was eventually diverted from the calm and quiet of the rushing scenery as a young girl noisily entered the cab.

Youthful, though still attractive and alluring, her petite frame was draped in no less than three shopping bags, a backpack and a miniature purse; each hanging from various parts of her artificially bronzed body.  She floated down the aisle completely focused on the sound in the white wires dangling from her ears as a few of the objects she carried bounced thoughtlessly off of seats, fellow passengers and other obstacles in her passing.

Though her efforts were aiming for an age closer to twenty, she could have been no more than fifteen, but still appeared perfectly at ease riding on the train without a chaperon.  Upon choosing a seat across the aisle from me, she immediately removed her headphones and began rummaging through her newly purchased items, most of which looked to be clothing bought for a doll or a person of no more than 28 inches in height.

Upon losing interest in her new wardrobe, she immediately rooted around for her suddenly clamoring cellphone, as if some outside force demanded she be in constant motion and frenzy.  Before deciding whether to answer the call, she skeptically eyed the phone and, despite being loud enough for all to hear, pleaded to no one in particular, "Ugh! Why do you keep CALLING me?! I can't STAND you!"

She proceeded to flick her golden streaked hair to one side, shove the tiny phone in her ear and then greet her caller with an upbeat enthusiasm and energy.  "Hi! How are you? I haven't talked to you in SOOOOO long..." I didn't listen to the remaining seventeen minutes of her phone call, but I did manage to hear every word of it.

In order to distract myself, I moved my eyes around the train car, casually inspecting some of the other passengers.  A mangy, battered homeless man made his way through the car as he seemed oblivious to the sudden clutches of purses, spasmodic wallet checks and intentionally audible snickers of nearby occupants.  Still, he held his head high.  Not with a self-deceiving sense of superiority, but with a secure sense of self-pride.  Pride in what he was and apathy towards the disdainful attitudes and sneers that berated him today and every day of his life.

Up towards the front of the car, I noticed a well-dressed man of about forty who sat with his back to the entrance doorway.  At first glance, he appeared to be a typical businessman: expensive, well-kept jacket, slick tie, sparkling briefcase.  A closer inspection showed his lips moving quite rapidly, as if undergoing some strenuous, yet silent exercise.  His eyes darted from passenger to passenger, his focus and state of wariness ricocheting around the car like some possessed pinball.

As the train rolled to the next stop, I attempted to steer my attention away from the still gabbing cellphone user to my right by gazing out of the window and observing those waiting on the platform.  A group of four women stood chatting away, three of whom wore bright red hats of varying styles.  They were clearly very intimate with one another, laughing and enjoying themselves.  The hat-less member of their group, however, stood about three paces away from her companions.  She appeared to be involved in the discussion, but didn't seem to be adding very much to it.  She merely nodded and smiled where expected to by the assumed standards of social interaction.  It was difficult to tell from a distance, but it did not look as though the majority of the group ever made eye contact with the somewhat aloof member of their party.  For all I could tell, she was just a stranger pretending to know the conversing women beside her.

Her somewhat sincere smiles and less than enthusiastic laughs could have come across as disinterest in the conversation, but it seemed more so to reflect her mind's focus on topics other than those being discussed.  By her plain dress, limited speech and social detachment, it was obvious that this was the only social interaction of her day.  She wanted desperately to enjoy these limited moments, but was also consumed by the pain of knowing that it would be over in just a few minutes and that she would be soon returning to her usual life of social isolation.

As the train pulled from the station, their time together drawing quickly to a close, I noticed the woman clutch her handbag close to her unassuming physique, tilt her head at a slight angle and awkwardly lean toward the others, the top half of her body screaming for attention and the bottom half begging for security.  It seemed that even with her three acquaintances, even with the densely crowded platform, this woman could not have looked more alone.

Eventually, the girl across the aisle completed her phone call, begging the person on the other line to "keep in touch, really," and then she began inspecting the contents of each of her many bags once again.

A little while later, she collected her belongings and shuffled back up the aisle, each bag swinging uncontrollably around and behind her just as before.  The Hispanic ticket taker, whose name-tag I noted read "Tom," waited for her to pass, then moved down the aisle in my direction.  He approached me with a skeptical conviction and politely asked, "Pardon me, Sir, what was your stop?"

"Refle Court Station." I replied automatically with a friendly smile.

He looked at me quizzically, not quite sure if he had heard what his ears had.  "Um, we passed that stop over an hour ago, Sir," he struggled in replying with a confused voice.

"I know," I replied matter-of-factly as I turned to stare at the blurred greens, browns and grays once again rushing across the window, upon which a vague reflection of myself and an empty train car could be somewhat discerned.

© Copyright 2018 joseph bradford. All rights reserved.

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