By Victoria Rummler.
It’s not that I am a misanthrope per se; rather, that there are times when I want absolutely no contact with people and cannot stand to be disturbed. At all. I am seized by the wish to blow a giant, impenetrable bubble around myself to ward off any possible staring, jostling or comments of any sort. Even the kindest words from trusted friends can destroy my composure and arouse the most disquieting violent urges. Call it hormonal, psychological or astrological; though I try to prepare for it and schedule my life accordingly, it often takes over at rather inopportune moments. And perhaps the worst of these moments was on my trip to visit a friend in Hoboken.
After several months of uninterrupted stress at the office, listening to the petty complaints of a steady stream of perfectly healthy but peevish patients, I had finally arranged to spend a week in Hoboken with my old friend Timmy the undertaker, thinking the short train ride would be the perfect remedy for my pent-up tensions.
I arrived at the train station with plenty of time to spare and slid gratefully into my reserved seat with a book I’d been meaning to read for ages. After creating a comfortable nest of sweaters, scarves, and coat, I exhaled deeply and began to shut out my surroundings entirely, even forgetting momentarily where I was going or what day it was. It was bliss, so delicious and so long-awaited!
After a record-breaking eight and a half minutes, I suddenly felt as if I were grabbed by the scruff of the neck and bodily thrust out of my reverie, as a stocky, dark-haired man with a Texas caterpillar mustache thrust a thick finger in the direction of the floor in front of me and gruffly inquired, “You drop something, ma’am?”
Sternly reminding myself that he was only trying to be helpful, I resisted the urge to practice one of the punches I had learned in self-defense class. I glanced at the floor in front of me, where indeed there was a gray plastic-coated object which looked very much like a monthly train pass. I reluctantly relinquished my comfortable position and bent down to pick it up, only to discover that it was an empty cover with no pass inside. I exposed my findings to Mr. Wiener, who had planted himself expectantly in the aisle with his hands on his hips. He seemed disappointed when I gave him a cold, weak smile meaning “Thanks anyway – now go away” and tossed the object back to its resting place.
Now – peace at last. I realized with surprise and something close to a frivolous snicker that I was not only anxious to see my friend, I actually looked forward to going to Hoboken! I nestled into my seat again and managed to read three pages before I quietly dozed off, my worries and tensions draining away one by one. Aaahhh…
Aaahhh! Once again I was accosted by a well-meaning passer-by – this time a petite woman roughly in her seventies, with a frilly berry-covered hat and blue hair to match. She exclaimed, “Oh, Madam, I believe you’ve dropped your pass!” and primly raised her bifocals to her pointed nose in order to better scrutinize the object at my feet. I tried my best to look pleasantly concerned despite my clenched teeth (not an easy task) and informed the old biddy – excuse me – responsible, respectable senior, that she need not worry, it was but a shell of a train pass with no real ticket inside. Of course she then launched into several anecdotes at once – or so it seemed to me – about loved ones losing their train passes and having such a difficult time getting new ones and paying fines and…
I fought to maintain a politely interested smile and nod as I attempted to soothe myself with the sounds of the train wheels clacking on the track. Instead, I began to see images of myself as the mad conductor in the engine, laughing deliriously as the train careened toward the woman lying helplessly bound to the rails, her blue hair shining like a beacon in the sunlight – NO! She means well! CALM DOWN! I inwardly screamed to myself as she puttered off again down the aisle, her story still tumbling from her pursed lips in search of a sympathetic ear.
I sank down even further in my seat and concentrated on disappearing into thin air. It didn’t happen. But things seemed to have settled following the initial frenzy of the beginning of the trip, and after a moment I carefully opened my book again.
There was another close call when the conductor passed through to check our tickets, but I managed to clamp my foot down upon the cursed faux train pass just in time, mercifully hiding it from his view and avoiding another confrontation.
But I was not yet home-free; this foot-stamping action suddenly reminded me, with a clarity that made my head ache, of my ex-husband’s morning ritual of squashing cockroaches in our run-down Florida bathroom in the last days of our marriage. The disgusting image (more of my ex-husband than the roaches) slowly worked its way into my consciousness until I became utterly sickened by the gray thing tucked under my shoe.
However, even in moments of strife, I have always been a woman of action; thus I managed to realize through my fog of irritable dementia that I had the power to correct this situation. Impulsively swooping down upon the object, I retrieved it as I would the shredded greasy napkins after a Thanksgiving dinner. I took the opportunity to relieve my handbag of a few odds and ends as well, and made my way down the aisle to the trash can, thankfully without incident. With furtive glances in all directions, I noiselessly eased the handful into the bin and stole back to my seat. Relief. The relaxation I so needed would now come upon me, I was sure of it.
I closed my eyes and tried to invoke some concepts from my days as a Buddhist – something, anything to enlighten me. But it was not to be. I sensed something – a presence – in front of my face and felt my heart sink with impending doom as I slowly cracked my eyes open.
The hand that proffered the now-resuscitated gray object was thin and bony with extraordinarily long, dirty fingernails. The skin was so pale that it seemed transparent, and I swore I could see the veins and the blood flowing sluggishly through them. I believed Father Death had come for me, with a permanent train pass straight to hell. With a giddy jerk of the head, I turned to look at the owner of the hand – an unusually tall, ageless man with long, blond hair and – gasp – white-blue eyes! His gaunt features pulled into a yellow smile as his voice echoed deep in my brain: “You didn’t mean to throw this away, now, did you, Miss?”
I giggled. I felt my eyes widen and then cross. The giggle persisted uncontrollably and slowly degenerated into wild, gut-wrenching laughter. Tears streamed down my face as I grasped the empty object to my breast and waltzed out into the aisle, murmuring, “Yes, it’s mine. How worried I was that it might be lost!” The train ground to a halt just as I threw myself at the open door and leapt down the stairs to freedom.
Needless to say, I’m feeling much better now. I was detained for several months, which I found excessive but overall not unpleasant. I really must reschedule that trip to Hoboken, as I believe Timmy the undertaker is still waiting for me.
The shadow of a train pass is now firmly affixed to a red ribbon around my neck. It keeps me safe, relaxed and contented.
VICTORIA (VICKI) RUMMLER was born near Detroit, Michigan, and has lived in Paris for over 20 years. In addition to her short story and poetry writing, she works as a jazz-based vocalist, voice-over artist, songwriter, pianist, and translator. Vicki is fascinated by foreign cultures, languages, travel (earth and beyond), and animals.