A Short Short Story — The Train

‘A Short Short Story’ gives you your daily dose of fiction in a thousand words or less. …Anyway, I wrote this story along with Serena Head, who is very shy. Anyway, she’s Australian. You’ll be hearing more from her.
train
U.S. National Archives

The Train

I was in control. At peace. A cargo train came clattering along the line across the road. I was aware of its existence but had been tuning it out. It came fully to my attention when its squealing became deafening. I contemplated putting my fingers in my ears. I smiled at the girl beside me. A lame attempt at communication. I glanced over and half-expected her to have her fingers in her ears. She didn’t. She was not trying to get my attention. No one was. They were waiting for trains.

The cargo train was now at the peak of its noisiness. But underneath the sound was another one. It was the bellow and song of a crackly radio signal, or the boom from the sound of a loudspeaker drifting in the wind. It came in and out of focus. It wasn’t momentous, this secret broadcast of the cargo train; but I felt happy for the experience; it seemed like something that you might write about later on. I felt in control, someone who casually noticed strange phenomena in the midst of the mundane and didn’t even shrug.

I went back to pretend-reading. It wasn’t pretend reading because I wasn’t pretending, but I may have well have been. The book was a pointless waste of weight in my bag because I never actually read it. I carried it around with the intention of reading, but then I only stared at the pages because I was in a daze of unthinking. In today’s daze I didn’t think I was thinking, I thought I was quite possibly reading, but then I realized I was thinking about reading, not reading. I was also thinking that it was too bright and that my skin was sticky with the heat.

I wondered what the girl to my right was thinking.

In public I spend a lot of my time trying to act neutral and not bother them; them, the others, the people around me, while wondering if they are projecting onto me too. Are they wondering about what I’m thinking? Are they aware that I’m aware of them? I hoped that I hadn’t moved away too much when the girl sat down. I often did that. I wondered if she always caught the train. I watched her flicking her bus ticket between her fingers. She was chewing gum. I wanted gum. My mouth was dry from the heat.

I didn’t feel secure anymore. What would happen when the train came? Being at a halfway stop, it was unlikely the train would stop for long. What if no one else got on or off? What if it started moving while I had my leg in the door? I had never caught a train in this city before. I had already spent the last ten minutes realizing that my boyfriend had in fact been right, when he told me about the trains, before I left. There were no actual signs on the platforms, he said. “It’s confusing there. You won’t be able to tell which platform. …Just don’t get on a train to Noarlunga.” Good advice; good advice. …When I got to the station I strode around confidently for a while, before asking a lady which platform to go to. She gave a suggestion and I headed off. I found one of those speakers where you press the button and it lists how long before each train arrives. The platform was eerily silent. The heat suffocated all noise. I pressed the button and the automated voice listed the train times in a self-righteous voice. The heat seemed disturbed. I scuttled around the corner of the shelter because the voice was still going and I was embarrassed by it.

At this point the train came. I was glad that the girl was there, because I could follow her. There was a button on the side of the carriage which you pressed to make the door open. She pressed it. I wouldn’t have known to do that. I stepped in behind her. The doors shut behind us. The carriage was full and everyone was looking at me. No they weren’t, no they weren’t. …I realized I only had coins and there was no coin stand at this end. I felt insecure. Then I got over it and walked down the length of the train, like I knew what I was doing, like I would find a coin stand, like I could do anything. TC mark

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