Matthew Fairchild - Fiction
by Matthew Fairchild
The station breathed in a gust of cool air as the train arrived at platform four. The high, glass roof held the air pushed into its chest, warming it with the afternoon light coming through. As the air warmed, it hung there in the iron and glass rafters, waiting to be exhaled.
A woman sat alone in an area with four seats around a table. Her papers were strewn out across the table and jacket, laptop bag, and scarf draped over every seat to ward off any friendly strangers. She looked outside as the train came to a halt in the station, the bear iron beams meeting the concrete at the platform. It made the whole building have an industrial feel, though the light coming in from the glass roof warmed the place up enough to at least make it inviting.
As the doors opened and the people came on, she started to feel a pang in her bladder. The new riders looked down at her mess of papers and clothing, judging her. She needed to go, but if she went to the restroom, she would need to clean up her papers to make sure no one stole or looked through them. You never knew with these people. But if she did that someone would take her seat for sure. Maybe she could wait until the train was going. They would take her seat then, too, the vultures that they were, looking greedily at her as they passed, moving farther back in the train.
The person in the two-seat row front of her could watch it. She got up, sticking next to the chairs to avoid touching the people passing by. The man in front of her had his eyes closed. He appeared to be napping, but everyone else in the car who was awake looked at her with judging eyes, just like the people getting onto the train. What did they know? She needed the space. And she got there first.
She tapped the man on the shoulder. He calmly opened his eyes, turning his head toward her while still resting it on the top of the back of the chair. His backpack took up the seat closest to her.
“Could you keep an eye on my stuff while I use the restroom?” she asked, pointing to her mess.
He turned his head around and nodded.
She thanked him and rushed to the restroom in the next car.
Across the aisle from her was a family: a dad, a mom, and two young boys. Their grey Samsonite rollerbag luggage was stored underneath the table. The boys played cards, tossing them into the pile one after another, long since invested in the game. The mom read a book while the dad watched over the kids, making sure they did not become so bored that they started making trouble. They were headed to the airport for a Caribbean vacation, but it was too early to start wearing beach attire. The train station may have been heated, but outside the fall air was chilly. Each of them wore jackets to stay warm.
The ride to the airport was taking longer than the dad would like. Soon his boys would be bored, and he would have to find something else to distract them. His friends at work kept telling him to move closer to the city. Don’t you see all the “If you lived here you’d be home” signs along the tracks, they would say. He had, but it was cheaper farther out, and who would want to live by the tracks, constantly hearing train horns and aggravated business types honking at each other for stealing parking spots? The quiet nowhere of the suburbs was much better for his family, where they could live and play in silence. A slightly longer trip to work and the airport was worth it.
After having to go not one, but two cars down to find the restroom, the woman returned to find all her stuff where it was, but the man fast asleep, his mouth agape. People were incompetent. At least no one slid into her spot. She sat back down and continued looking through the press releases for typos.
The flow of people entering the train had slowed to a trickle in the time she was gone. Now they waited for the requisite time for stragglers to pass so that they could all get moving again. She would much prefer to do this work from home, without the jostling and noise of the train, but at least in the station the jostling stopped and the family across from her was quiet for now.
The boys finally tossed all of their cards into the pile in the middle. The one sitting on the same side as their mom started swishing the pile around in bigger and bigger circles. A complaint was coming. They were only four stops from the airport. He just needed to keep them engaged for a little bit longer. The dad pulled out his wallet, causing the boys to perk up.
“I’m getting kind of hungry,” he said, “Why don’t you two go get something from the snack bar two cars down for me and yourselves.”
He pulled out a ten-dollar bill. Their eyes went wide.
“Whatever we want?” the one sitting next to the dad asked.
“Nothing with caffeine. And only one for each of you. Can you promise me that?”
They both nodded enthusiastically.
The dad handed the money to the boy next to him, and they ran off. That would buy them until their stop.
As the boys left, the train lurched forward, pushed ahead by the engine at its end. The station exhaled, pushing the air out of its rafters and back into the cool fall afternoon.