Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Passenger 1/Passenger 2


Passenger one is looking out the window. He wishes he’d spent the extra hundred dollars and gotten a sleeper car. He is clutching an umbrella with his knees. His forehead is wrinkled.
Passenger two, sitting next to passenger one, has his legs crossed casually in front of him, though he’s not feeling casual at all. He’s wearing jeans, and his hairstyle is fashionable.
Passenger one and two share a similar dilemma. Only passenger two has a healthy tan. He acquired this tan at a nude beach on Fire Island; He is returning from an impromptu weekend getaway.

Were passenger one to have a similar tan--which would be unlikely, because his descent is Irish, and he burns-- both men would have the same noticeable white spot in the same place on their left hand, right at the point where a finger intersects; like a piece of land where the grass is particularly soft and green and busy with insects because it had been covered for years or months by a healthy sized log or flat stone.

Both men are fidgety though passenger two is skilled at concealing his fidgets by crossing his legs casually and folding his arms neatly behind his head. He also wears sunglasses; Inside his shoes his toes squirm, beneath his head his fingers wriggle, under his glasses his eyes shoot around the train like a mouse behind drywall.

Passenger one, being older and more experienced with discomfort, decides to strike up a conversation with Passenger two; casual conversation with strangers can often be distracting for passenger One.

-Fucking Democrats.
-…I’m sorry?
-These Democrats. They’re ruining the country.
-…huh. Your certainly not alone in thinking that.
-What, are you a democrat?
-well, I guess you could say I‘m sympathetic in many cases.
-oh…sorry. Fucking republicans.
-Oh, I know. It’s the age of machismo.

Passenger One is satisfied with this successful opening. Passenger two is surprised, and after a minute or two more of generic political banter, finds himself mentally compiling tracks for a new mix CD. This is very far from what he was thinking about before, and his fingers stop wriggling for awhile. The conversation dies off after a thorough weighing of Hillary Clinton’s chances of becoming the next president. They decide her prospects are slim.

-Hey, do you like soccer?

Passenger two speaks this time, subconsciously getting in on Passenger One’s game of diversion.

-I’m actually more of a Football guy, but, yeah, soccer. Seems like a pretty exciting game.
-oh man. You really should check into it. It’s hot.
-I actually watched a piece of a game at this sports bar in Manhattan last week. I think it was Greece and England playing. It was pretty interesting.
-It is…actually, I play.
-Really? Professionally?
-no, I could‘ve been though. I was a halfback in college. No, I do a little coaching back in my town.
-I see. How’s that?
-Pre-schoolers. You know, just kind of a community thing. It’s all about community. It takes a village, right?

Passenger One is pleased with himself for connecting this most recent splurt with the original diversionary conversation.

Passenger one: Now, rugby…That seems crazy.

Passenger two, about to concur, is interrupted by a large grinding noise, and a heavy jerk of the train. Some other passengers gasp; someone says god damn fuck! Because she spills coffee on her lap. Not only is the coffee hot, but the dress is new.

After the train is still for a half an hour, and an attendant walks from car to car assuring the passengers that everything is alright, and that it’s just a mechanical problem, Passenger two’s finger’s toes begin to squirm again. He turns to Passenger one and says:

I’m going to go check it out.

Passenger One nods and sticks out his bottom lip meaningfully. This makes sense. Passenger two is entitled to know what’s going on. Passenger two, emboldened by Passenger One’s approval, darts out of his seat.
He’s back in only a moment.

-Did you find out what it was?
-A guy in first class said we hit something. His wife saw the whole thing. Said it was a cow.
-A cow? Jesus, how did the conductor miss that?
-Well, he didn’t miss it. That’s the problem.
-He’ll be fired!
-No kidding.
-I mean, what are you going to do, you know? But a cow!
-They have segmented stomachs, you know.
-Jesus. How do you hit a cow? Unbelievable.
-It takes awhile to break on a train. It’s not like on a car. It takes some time.
-These things are unsafe.
-I completely agree.
-Segmented Stomachs? Really?
-Absolutely.
-What is it, like compartmentalized? Like recycling bins? A stomach for each food group?
-No, I think it’s more for like, processing. It’s like sorting rooms, you know? This vitamin here, this vitamin there…
-Poor bastard probably didn’t even get to finish digesting his dinner.
-Who does?

The two meditate on the doomed cow for a moment, completely untwitchy. Eventually, Passenger Two speaks again:

-Let’s get off.
-They said we should stay on.
-Okay, you stay on. I’m getting off.
-Why are you getting off?
-I want to see the exploded cow.
-You’re sick.
-I need some fresh air too.
-Scenic trip.
-Be right back.
Passenger Two leaves his seat again, and is gone longer this time. When he comes back, he’s pale, and isn’t wearing his sunglasses.
-What is it?

Passenger One says with real concern. He turns to face Passenger Two.

-I don’t know how to say it, but it’s not a cow we hit.
-What? Really? But we did hit something…oh God…It’s not a person is it? Oh no.
-No, it’s not a person. We hit an elephant.
-An elephant? What? Holy shit, you’re kidding me?

Passenger One is agitated by this development. He half stands.

-No, we hit a goddamned elephant. It’s all over the tracks. All over the hillside. It’s a mess.
-How did we hit an elephant? You’re kidding me…
-no, I’m dead serious. It’s an elephant.
-…So, it’s an actual elephant?
-Yes. From the zoo. They say he escaped the zoo.
-An elephant from the zoo. Whew. A real elephant?
-From the zoo.
-Sweet Jesus.
-…what do you mean a real elephant?

Passenger One takes a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his face. He may be the last man in America to carry a handkerchief in his pocket. He looks at Passenger Two, who is younger and slower on the uptake. He smiles the smile of a teenage boy who has just narrowly avoided having his stash discovered by a too-thorough mom on a house cleaning bender.

-Oh. Thank God.

He said.

-A real Elephant. What a relief. I thought you were being metaphorical.

The End

1 comment:

Spencer Troxell said...

What is it with trains and existentialism?