For the last twenty minutes, overhead announcements kept up the rendition that “the commuter train would be here soon” as if the mechanical voices refused to admit the train was ever late. The static noise prayed on the Commuter’s worry as he got tired and grayer and just wanted to go home. Like a hot, smelly blanket, he felt the stagnant air come off the empty rails in front of him and pull his sweat and senses out of his short, pudgy self. Surrounding him, the anxious crowd of commuters grew denser as the next group of commuters showed up to wait.
The train was coming, so the Announcements announced. A few minutes later, the Announcements discussed the arrival of the next commuter train as if the one that should be coming never existed at all. The Commuter watched the crowd around him shift as some people left to ride a different track home. He watched this other diesel engine pull happy people away leaving him to feel he existed only as an extension of a commuter train that may never have existed.
Except, he wanted to go home. He did not know why, but the Commuter just wanted to get through one more commute. Suffer through one more daily rite of passage to places he barely remembered because he was always commuting. If he could just get through this commute one more time, he could do it all again tomorrow.
Each morning the Commuter woke to the radio screaming at him. When he walked out of the house in the predawn darkness, he pictured his family in bed not hearing his pain. They lived a life he could afford only if he commuted.
On time, still another commuter train came and went to places the Commuter had never been to before. He could have left on these other trains and lived a different life. Yet, his life would have been no different the next day. Just another commute from a different direction. He thought of what his family would think of him if he accepted a better way to commute.
“I don’t want to dance with you at my wedding,” the Commuter’s daughter told him last night.
He had just walked into the kitchen late where his cold supper sat waiting. Before he sat down, his wife said, “I told her you were a poor dancer.”
“I want to dance with my daughter at her wedding,” said the Commuter.
“Your daughter will dance with whoever she wants to dance with. It’s her wedding you’re paying for and you should be thankful we’re giving you a reason to commute,” said the Wife. The Daughter nodded agreeably. The cold beer tasted better than the food.
Loud, taunting announcements jolted the Commuter back into his current commuter hell. The announcements claimed “other train movement” as responsible for his late train. These “other trains” continued to move past him on their given schedule and he wondered why his train was chosen as the one to be delayed.
He considered that maybe his late train happened past a parallel universe and found a better way to commute, got sucked into a black hole and ceased to exist, or just run out of gas. He did not remember seeing a gas train before. Would the faceless Announcements say such things as black holes? Or, admit that there was a parallel universe with a better way to commute? He felt the emptiness of being late stretch out into the heat rising from the empty steel rails.
The Commuter sweated more. He wondered if he could melt down to nothing in this heat and be remade into a different life where his train kept to a schedule. He wondered how he would get home if the train never came. The Commuter thought about how he danced a lot when he was ten. A twelve-year-old girl made him that confident.
She always sat with her friends on the afternoon school bus. He pretended to read Jules Verne books. At the last stop, they were the only ones to get off and they walked together the block and half to her great aunt’s house. He wished their commuting parents would never commute home to pick them up.
On the walk, she talked about adventure and romance and he showed her his Jules Verne books because that was all the adventure he knew. It was early spring as the snow melted and flowers bloomed when their parents made this arrangement. At first, her great aunt met them with hot chocolate and warm cinnamon toast until the weather warmed more and she gave them ginger snaps and lemonade.
Those warmer days grew into hot afternoons where the three of them sat on the front porch listening to music from an FM radio. One afternoon, the twelve-year-old girl reached out her hand to him and they danced on the wooden porch to honking commuters on their way home. She told him what a great dancer he was and they made a date for the upcoming school dance. That Saturday, she went with her older friends from the school bus to the nearby train tracks.
He wished he could have been a hero and saved her from a quiet, fast moving passenger train. Instead, he visited her in a wood paneled room with bleached curtains at tall, thin windows. She looked like someone had melted wax over a mannequin’s face. He took a laminated explanation of her life that did not mention his name.
The Commuter came back to his now when sweat tears cut into his eyes.
“I’m living three lives,” he told the soot covered, steel tracks before him.
Other commuters ignored him as if he already did not exist. Just like his commuter train that refused to come and take him home.
“One life for home, one for work, and one for this commute. Three lives with the commute winning. Do any of you hear me? This commute has become my only existence.”
The commuter crowd crowded onto the next commuter train with nothing said. What was there to say? They were going home while he continued to wait.
The Commuter began to realize he had become nothing more than a journey to and from places where other people existed. One, a stressful job he tried to forget and the other a home that was more like a house he lived in with two other people. The Commuter stepped away from the edge of the concrete platform.
He kept moving until he came to the back of the commuting crowd and under the blue metal awnings. Amid his sweat and frustration, tired legs and hurt back, he heard children giggling.
Another train came and went. Other passengers came and went. The Commuter edged further under the metal awnings toward the children‘s laughter. The dusty, barren steel tracks and hot concrete platform grew further away with the touch of fresh cool air running across the frame of a wooden porch. His headache and frustration faded as he opened his eyes.
It was a wreck of a commute, anyway. At home, some other commuter whose train did come would simply replace him.
The forgotten Commuter fell deeper into the memory of a lost childhood as the short toot toot of a late commuter train came and went empty of the Commuter. Instead, a twelve-year-old girl waited on the dance floor.
Published on February 2, 2015, by Corvus Review