by Jim Woessner
Two people sit facing each other on a train, both immersed in reading—him with a newspaper, her with a novel. When the train enters a tunnel, he notices her reflection in the window. When the train emerges, he returns to his newspaper. She steals a glance over her book and finds him darkly handsome. When the train enters another tunnel, both notice the reflections of the other and smile. His foot accidently touches hers. He apologizes. She starts to say something as the train returns to the light. But stops. And they both retreat into the sanctuaries of strangers.
The man sitting by the window looks suspicious. What’s in that package he’s carrying? And why is it wrapped in plain brown paper and tied with string? He hasn’t smiled. He keeps fidgeting. He looks nervous. He’s dark-skinned, too. Clearly up to no good. And why does he keep looking over his shoulder? Is he waiting for someone? Does he have a plan? Just to be safe, I’ll get off at the next station. No. Wait. He just stood up. He’s leaving. That’s a relief. But who’s that strange woman wearing a veil sitting across the aisle? What’s she hiding?
I brush a lock of hair from my face. It’s a simple, mindless gesture until I see my reflection in the train window. I do the motion again, and witness the lie of my life’s mantra: “I’m nothing like him, never was, and never will be.” Funny how a small movement of the hand reveals decades of denial. I sit mute looking into the glass and seeing my father looking back as though he’s just outside the moving train. The cosmic joke puts a smile on his lips as once again he brushes a strand of hair from his face.
The young woman clutches a pole and looks without expression as though she is reading her passing thoughts. Her glasses have heavy frames that pinch the bridge of her nose. She is thin, angular, and dressed as though she expects winter to arrive at any moment in July. Prematurely gray hair is gathered loosely at the back with a single strand left to fall across one shoulder. She looks as though she has nothing to say. I stand up and offered her my seat. She declines, but I remain standing. I’m not sure why. Perhaps a kind of silent solidarity.
The man looks to be the definition of worried. Until he smiles. His decision made, he sits back and closes his eyes as the train submerges into the black labyrinth of tunnels under the city. He allows himself to feel the rhythm, the slight jerking back and forth as the train rides over the switches and crossings during the last minutes of the journey. He listens to the hum of quiet conversations, the echoed noise of steel against steel, the rush of displaced air, and finally the squeal of brakes as the train pulls to a stop at the platform.
Jim Woessner works as a visual artist and writer living on the water in Sausalito, California. He has an MFA from Bennington College and his poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous online and print magazines, including Flash Frontier, Close to the Bone; FewerThan500, and Potato Soup Journal.