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The Train to Nowhere

Sometimes having no destination is exactly where you need to go.

By Kevin McLaughlinPublished 2 years ago 11 min read

I awoke to the rough vibrations of the train window shaking against my forehead. I blinked, pulling away from the window and rubbing my eyes and temple to ease the discomfort in the front of my head.

Odd, must’ve fallen asleep, I thought to myself sitting back up in my seat and taking a look around. I still hadn't come to my stop yet which was good. I don’t often fall asleep on the commute home, only once before after having left the office long past when the sun had set.

Perhaps the stress was getting to me again. This was the busiest time of the year for the office, long stagnant hours filled with slow trudging progress that makes you feel as if you left in a worse spot than when you started.

I sighed, glancing down at my watch. I was going to get home late again tonight, the third night in a row so far this week.

The train pulled past two of its normal stops at this time of day, as I watched the Churchman’s Crossing sign go by my window I stood up, grabbing my work bag and slinging it over my shoulder.

I didn’t remember this train being an express train, which would mean my stop in Newark would be next in a few minutes. Best to be ready to jump off the train and get home as fast as my feet could carry me there.

I moved up to where the ticket collector stood at the doorway to exit the train, looking at my watch again. As I glanced back up I watched the signs for Newark whip past the windows of the train.

“Hey! That’s my stop, we should’ve stopped there. Why haven’t we stopped?” I turned to the ticket collector frustrated.

Uninterested, he looked up at me, “Was that your stop?” He asked impartially. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, yes I’m sure. Why wouldn’t I be sure? I get off there every day after work to go home.” I said, trying to keep my voice down unsuccessfully trying to strain my annoyance out of my words.

“Well, it’s just that if it was your stop, then we would’ve stopped dont you think?” The ticket collector told me matter of factly, smiling as he did so.

“What stop will we be stopping at next so I can get off and get a train back?” I said, I didn’t have the energy to argue with the short man’s attitude.

“Whenever you are ready to get off of course.” Another station whizzed by the windows without the train showing any sign of slowing down. “Now please go take a seat, you are making the other passengers uncomfortable.”

I took a step back, looking around me at the other’s left on the train, all seated and unbothered that the conductor had apparently taken it upon himself to kidnap each of us.

I sat back down, pulling out my phone to try and get a hold of someone, maybe the police and let them know what was going on. Before I had a chance to unlock my phone a face appeared from between the headrests of my seat.

“Jesus!” I jumped, nearly dropping my phone.

The man behind me was well dressed. He wore a similar navy blue shirt and light blue shirt with a matching tie, only the patterns were slightly different. He had a wide smile on his face and clearly didn’t seem to care for the fact that we were never going to get off the train.

“What brings you here today?” He asked in a pleasant easy going voice, his face still stuffed between the headrests of the seats.

“Getting home?” I said warily, unsure of how to address the man. “Can I help you?”

“Ah, yeah yeah.” He sighed. “But like, are you sure that’s why you got on the train today?”

“Yes I’m sure. Now please leave me alone and let me figure out how to get off this hellish train.”

I unlocked my phone and pulled up the phone app. The top right corner of the phone in dull white letters ‘No Service’ was clearly displayed.

“Of course,” I mumbled to myself. I slipped my phone back into my pocket.

“You see,” the man’s voice jolted me again. “It’s just when people get on the Train to Nowhere they always have a reason that they got on the train in the first place.”

“The what?” I asked. What in the world could this man possibly be talking about?

“The Train to Nowhere!” He said looking around at the surrounding train without moving his head from between the seats.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Nope.”

“You’re insane, this is the Wilmington Line, I take it home every single day.”

“Is it?”

I turned to look the man in the face, he responded by raising his eyebrows as if his line of questioning was normal for two strangers on a train.

“Why am I even talking to you? I don’t know you.” I put my back to the intrusive stranger breathing out heavily in annoyance.

“At least tell me, do you remember getting on the train at all today?”

“Not really,” the words left my mouth before I thought better of it.

“That’s no good.” The man sat back in his seat. “Most people remember at least getting on the train and why they chose to get on.”

My brows furrowed. I might not have remembered getting on, but I got on and off the train every weekday for the past seven years. It was muscle memory to get on the train at 5:12, or 6:20, whenever I had left the office.

The overly friendly stranger then took my head and turned it to face the elderly woman who was sitting across the aisle from me. I hadn’t noticed her there before, her hair was a thin white and her jowls drooped as one would expect of someone who frowns more than they smile.

“Take her for example. Margarett Elizabeth Snyder, 86 years old, recently widowed from her husband Alistair Gabriel Snyder after he fell down the single flight of stairs in their home while she slept soundly through the whole ordeal. Proud grandmother of four sweet little boys she’s never met and likely never will since her own children are too self absorbed to visit in, oh, I don’t know the last seven years or so.”

“Why are you telling me this,” my voice came out as a thin whisper, though it seemed she, Margarett could not hear us.

“Because she is going through the same thing as you.”

I laughed, “I really don’t think so, I’m barely in my thirties so I really don’t think I have any neglectful children, let alone grandchildren running around out there.”

“Well no, but she also cannot get off the train. At least not until she makes up her mind.”

“What do you mean, until she makes up her mind? What does she need to decide?”

The man got up and moved seats so that he was seated next to me, between myself and the aisle. “Well in her case, she got on the train because she was trying to decide on whether or not she wanted to join her husband. Physician assisted, of course.”

“Oh my god.” I gasped.

“Yeah, but let's see here.” The man peered over the seats and one by one pointed out various other passengers on the train. “He’s here to debate taking out a second mortgage on his home, she got on considering whether or not to dump her honestly awful boyfriend. Oh! And this guy, he got on because he was grappling with if he should give up his family to the police or take the fall for them, really juicy story but let's not get into that right now, after all we are here for you aren’t we?”

I sat speechless looking around from passenger to passenger on the train. By the time my gaze fell back on the man sitting next to me I noticed he had just been looking at me inquisitively, waiting for me to speak.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I am whoever you need me to be,” he responded politely.

“I need you to leave me the hell alone,” I rasped, again turning to look out the window. The train still hadn’t stopped and again I watched the signs for the Newark station go past as if the train was stuck in a loop around the station.

I pulled out my phone to see if I had any signal yet to call or text anyone to help me get off this train and again I was greeted by the ‘No Service’ text in the top corner. I opened my texts, gleaming the two unread messages from Mark before I put down my phone. Irked, I looked around the train again. My friend was no longer seated next to me. Even Margarett was missing from her seat.

Had the train stopped? Did she get off and I hadn’t noticed?

“Excuse me, how do I get off this train?” I called up to the ticket collector, still standing by the doorway.

The ticket collector looked at me, only now his face had changed to that of my strange friend.

“I told you, you got on for a reason, can’t let you off until you sort it all out. Whatever it might be.”

“Ok, so why am I here then?” I shrugged and raised my hands up in the air.

“Don’t know, only you do.” He shrugged back.

“But you knew everyone else’s reason, Margarett, the others.”

“Yeah see, but they told me their reasons, you however have not.” He turned his face to glance out the window as if I’ve been holding back this information on purpose and had hurt his feelings.

“I am telling you, I left work like normal. Got on the train home, like normal. Now you’re here telling me I can’t get off.”

I caught a glimpse of my station passing by the windows again.

“Not until you sort out whatever it is you need to sort out.”

“How am I supposed to know what it is?” I asked, no I pleaded with the ticket collector.

“You already know you’re just avoiding it.” He said coming back to behind me again, his uniform changing back into his navy blue suit from before.

“I’m not avoiding it!” I yelled.

“Yes, you are. Now sit and think.”

No matter what I said to him, the stranger would not reply. Again and again I watched as my stop passed me by, at least it wasn't getting any further away.

Hoping for a change I pulled out my phone knowing that it would read ‘No Service’, only this time I wasn’t interested in making a call. I opened up my photos, flipping through the last couple of pictures I had taken with myself and Mark, my husband. His bright yellow hair contrasted by own dark brown. One by one I scrolled through some of my fondest memories with him. Our trip to Vietnam together, his thirty-first birthday at The Rouge, the picture I took of him with his messy hair, glasses and steaming cup of coffee while he worked from bed early in the morning.

Closing the app, I went back to my unread messages opening the two messages from Mark that had been unopened since the mid-afternoon.

David, great news! We’ve been cleared by the judge for the adoption. We’re going to be parents just like I’ve always dreamed of. I can’t tell you how much this means to me that you’ve been willing to go through this journey with me. You’re going to be an amazing father. We are going to be amazing fathers.

I know you’re busy but give me a call when you can. I’ll have that bottle of Malbec you like opened for when you get home. I love you.

“Still thinking if you want to go through with it?” I jumped, hiding my phone from the face that was shoved through the headrests again reading over my shoulder.

“Go through with what?” I fidgeted trying to hide my discomfort.

“Being a father, what else?”

“Of course not, I want to be a father, I want to adopt this child with Mark.”

“But?” He looked at me with wide eyes, waiting.

“But I don’t want to be like my father. Always working, never home, trying so, so hard to be supportive but missing the mark every time. Never truly understanding who I am and what I’m going through. What it was like to be me or what my feelings were. I don’t want to be that for someone else. I wouldn’t be able to bear it. So yes, I am debating if I can handle being a parent right now and I just don’t know if I can be what I need to be.”

The stranger looked at me thoughtfully, a low “Hmmm” escaped his throat.

“Hmmm? That’s it? I tell you all this and you just say hmmmm?”

“Yeah.”

“What is your problem?”

“You want to be a better father than your own. I get that. But your not willing to change anything in your life that resembles your fathers. He worked too much, what about yourself? No boundaries when they ask you to stay later and later.”

“That’s not true.” I said, lying through my teeth.

“Right, right,” the man said, glancing around the train again. No one was left on it but the two of us. Then without warning the stranger turned and walked away from me heading towards the doors that passed between cars.

“Hey where are you going!” I called after him. He merely waved as he passed through into the next car.

Without warning the train stopped. The signs at the station all read ‘Newark Station’, my stop. Looking around I grabbed my bag and got off the train stepping down onto the concrete station. I looked at my watch, two minutes had passed since I first gleaned the time before speaking to the stranger behind me.

Quickly I grabbed for my phone, checking the service I saw a full four bars instead of the ‘No Service’ I had come to expect. Breathing out a thank you I pulled up the phone app and called Mark.

“Hey honey.” The voice on the other end answered after two dial tones. “Did you get my messages?”

“I did, did you open that bottle of wine yet?”

“Just about to.” I heard the cork pop in the background. For a minute I said nothing.

“So, are you still having second thoughts?” Mark asked, his voice felt disappointed.

“Only about if we should paint the room White Mint or Gratifying Green,” I laughed. “Also on which flowers to pick up on my way home for you.”

“Awww you’re too sweet to me. You’re sure you’re not still unsure about the adoption?”

“If I was we never would have gotten this far. I’m ready, we’re going to be parents.” I smiled as I said it, a wide genuine smile fueled by excitement.

This was really happening, I was going to be a father.

Short Story

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Kevin McLaughlin

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    Kevin McLaughlinWritten by Kevin McLaughlin

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