Tuesday, July 14, 2015

At the Station

Big change on the blog: there will no longer be audiovisual content here! Don't worry, I'll still be writing it, but the bulk of my AV-related writing will appear exclusively on rAVepubs

We'll still have flash fiction here, the occasional book review, and more. 

Today's flash fiction comes courtesy of a prompt from Andrea Trask. You can read Andrea's fiction here, or find her various places on social media.

At the Station
by Leonard C Suskin

We are all creatures of habit. Every morning the same drive to the station, the same parking spot, the same car on the same train. Every morning the same faces. Every morning another sand falling in the hourglass, another tick of the divine clock. Every morning the same, but a day older.

I always park, as I said, in the same spot,  next to the same car. A big white SUV type with a set of those stick-figure family decals on the rear window. Father, mother, boy, girl, two cats. The complete set, minus a dog. I have a wife, a boy, a girl, two cats. Never got the dog either; they're tough for commuters. Get home late one day, come home to a rugfull of dog poop. No thanks. So, parking next to the big white SUV feels like parking next to a secret twin brother. Or something. Until it doesn't.
Another Monday the same routine, another day pulling in next to the big white car, but this time there's a difference, and a sad one. One of the little cat decals has a set of angel-wings on it, the kind they put for the departed. I wonder what that's like, how you decide to do it. Do you get the little wing decals the day the pet dies? A week after? Does affixing those seem like a little funeral rite? I can't imagine seeing the little angel-cat on your window every day, but I also can't imagine the heartbrake of scraping the sticker off, as if scraping the creature out of your life.

I scan the crowd on the train platform; they all seem the same. There's the neatly buttoned-up guy in his suit, as always, the couple of rumpled-looking construction-types, the ladies in their smart business dresses. Nobody looks extra-sad, as if they lost a pet. Maybe he's on the train before this one.

Tuesday, the same routine, another day pulling in next to the big white car, but there's a difference. Again. A second set of angel-wings, on the second cat. I wonder. Did the pet die of loneliness, or heartbreak? Did they die together, and it took until the next day for the owner to find another pair of wings? I trail my fingers along the boy and girl decals as I walk past the car and toward the train platform. White-car-guy (and I've always assumed it's the guy's car) is like a person to me, but his family has always felt abstract. I wonder how the kids are dealing with losing both pets? Today I ignore my newspaper and scan the platform as I wait for the train.

Tuesday evening I persuade my wife that we should sleep with the bedroom door open, so the cats can come and go.

Wednesday, I awake to find one cat curled up at my feet and the other snuggled into the crook of my arm. Then, the same routine, another day pulling in next to the big white car, but there's a difference. A big one. The girl has angel wings.

I sit in the car for a long time, staring straight ahead. Losing two pets felt heartbreaking, but this is something else. It's tragedy. I'm a bit surprised that the car is still here in the parking lot. Shouldn't he be arranging the funeral? Shouldn't he be with the surviving family? I feel a surge of anger at white-car-guy, a surge of pity. I'm still in the car when the train whistle jars me out of my reverie. I have to sprint across the parking lot, and arrive out of breath as the train doors open.

In the evening I give the cats extra treats and try to get the kids to play with them, but they're too interested in wasting their time with some stupid TV show.

Another day, the same routine. I feel physically sick as I pull into the parking lot, sure of what I'm going to find. After all, what's a routine but a repeating pattern, and this one is clear.

The boy now has angel wings.

I run up the stairs without my briefcase, walk the platform from one end to the other, giving a close look to all of my fellow commuters. They're all newspapers and iPhones and casual chit-chat, as always. Nobody appears grief-stricken, nobody appears shell-shocked.

Nobody but me.

I ride the train in silence, without touching my newspaper or my phone. Nobody notices anything amiss, nobody says anything to me.

For dinner I order a pizza, let the kids choose the topping. They bicker over who got the slice with more pepperoni, get grease all over the chairs. It tastes like cardboard in my mouth. We again leave the bedroom door open, let the cats have the run of the house.

Another damn day, the same damn routine. Parking next to the same damn white car is like picking at a scab, like probing an aching tooth with your tongue. This time it's not what I expected.

Yes, there are still angel-wings on the two cats, on the girl, on the boy. And yes, there's another pair of wings on the wife. Just as you knew there'd be. But that isn't it.

There are also wings on the man.

The car  is parked just as neatly as ever, in the same spot. Again I run my hand along the back window, reading each decal with fingertips. Man, woman, boy, girl, cat, cat. All winged.

Tears well up in my eyes, blurring my vision as I stumble up the stairs to the train platform. Minutes after the traindoors close I'm deeply asleep, my head leaning against the cool window.

I don't know how long I sleep, but it takes me past the last station. I awake to an empty and dark train car, someplace underground, the doors locked. Here I wait alone for someone to bring up the lights, for someone to start the train running and bring back the routine, back to the habit. 

Back on track. 

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