A short, short story that I’m working on for class. It’s all rambly, and I’m going to need to make some cuts, but I figured I’d share it before I make any changes. Enjoy.
The Stranger on the Train
I thought that I had seen your face among the flashing windows and parallel lines, lines headed in the same direction, lines that would never meet even when they had arrived – perhaps I have not seen you but merely a hopeful illusion cast by searching eyes. Even so, the traces of life that seem to crowd around me hint that you have been here. Black, not quite-circles checker the dimpled, caution yellow platform edge. I know they paint the platform that color to protect passengers from the train, but I can’t help the feeling that it’s to protect the passengers from themselves, a not-so-subtle reminder that stepping any further might be a bad idea. The black dots suggest that the reminder had been largely ignored.
These dots patterning the platform had once belonged to restless mouths, rows of teeth gnashing the fruity or minty or cinnamon life from thin strips of dry rubber, only to cast them away to become the problems of other men. These dots had all once had their own color, artificially dyed to resemble something that might taste like whatever it was they were supposed to taste like. But they had long endured the journeys of a million pairs of feet, a million characters forcing their stories on the hapless substance which had all but forgotten its own color. The dirt had collected; the blackness had become permanent; time had left a visible sign of its passing.
I walk next to a million people and yet our parallel lines will never cross. I can walk behind, in front, above, under, and even diagonal of them and yet our lines will never cross. Shoes can only be worn by one pair of feet at a time. I can know the feel of sole against sole, the lightness of one’s weight against the unyielding earth, but I can know all of these things without knowing the feeling of shoes on feet that are not my own. They say “step into my shoes,” but I know that to step into your shoes is to step out of mine, and in my becoming of you there is the unbecoming of me, all that is left, you, The Stranger.
I sit next to the walls that people build around themselves: a newspaper, held full-spread; a pair of headphones, played full-volume; a phone, tapped full-speed. I myself am wall-less, but I know that even without them, there is unbreakable glass separating all of us. Eyes are glass lenses, barriers that harvest the world of light to bring to the feast of experience. But the truth is that the food remains on the other side, and the fear is that we may never know its taste from within these glass walls. So we gather food from within and prepare feasts of our own, waiting, hoping that this meal will be shared. We are destined to eat alone – the newspapers and headphones and phones are signs of our resignation to this fact.
Aboard the train, ghosts had taken up residence in every corner that one could occupy. You had come and gone, leaving only vague clues of your sojourn. I want to reach out and feel the ethereal, the overlapping of existence, but the feeling can be nowhere but in the glass walls of mind. You pass into me as a memory of a life that I know only through its traces, the visible signs of your having been there. It is through these signs that your feet leave their prints on my mind, dents decorating the forgetful snow, fast disappearing in the sheets that continue to lay themselves over your passing.
The train plows through the thick morning air, molecules desperately clinging to the night’s repose before the sun comes to set them to work again. I am writing, my eyes fogged from having seen the full cycle of night, when you suddenly speak to me through a mouth sitting across the aisle. You ask about my writing. I ask about your life. We are exchanging the recipes of our lonely meals, the only way we can ever hope to share the taste of our existences. We hope others will enjoy its flavor.
The face you are wearing now had once been beautiful, but here too time had left signs of its passing, other lives had left their traces, and what was left was nothing but fatigue. Perhaps, if the hour were different, this face would have other things to show, but right now it is at its most naked. To an observing eye, the distance of strangers can sometimes reveal more truth than the closeness of lovers. Perhaps it always does.
In another time one would have had to pay close attention to see the signs of destination’s approach, but the world of the human is much smaller than it was yesterday – it takes a seemingly endless stream of electronic banners, automated announcements, conductor declarations, station signs, and perhaps even a personal phone alert system to precipitate people back into the larger world at hand. You look out the window and perhaps spot a familiar tree and begin to gather your things before the assault begins. You say it is your stop, but I already know: just as a tree can be a signal to something greater, so too can a certain grasp of hand, or a certain motion of legs. We exchange our goodbyes, knowing full well that we will never see the other’s face again. There is an easiness in the parting of strangers, no sorrow nor trepidation, just faring well. This face is gone without a second glance and you, The Stranger, are again faceless.
The sun rises in another place, its impending arrival in my own signaled by the gentle gradation of the distant sky’s color. Scraggly trees in their winter repose slide over the rainbow background, their quickness against the seeming fixture of sky suggestive of the relativity of time, of space, of every concept that a human could imagine. The deep blue is the death of night, the smoldering red is the birth of day, but they are both of them the children of light, different only in a certain motion of waves. Yet even in their similarity is the inevitability of identity’s solitude: blue cannot know what it is to be red, for in its becoming of red is the unbecoming of blue. Here, as in all things that are not ourselves, is The Stranger. Our lovers and mothers and sisters and brothers are as separate to us as any other. They are all of them The Stranger, and they vary only in their strangeness.
The Stranger is a reminder of the spiteful truth that it is but a wistful lie to believe that you are not alone.