by Daniel Gee Husson
Part One, The Train
The man spent a lot of time on trains. He watched people. On this train, the man watched another man with spit-shined shoes and a vacant face stand by the door.
He hated this other man.
This other man, he thought, reminded him of fat, stupid people in the Midwest. People who thought they had to push train doors open, train doors that opened by themselves at every station.
The other man’s right shoe squeaked as he walked off the train.
As the doors closed and the train began to move, the man quietly smiled at a woman sitting across from him. The woman noticed and looked down into her book. The man thought she was only pretending to read.
Another thing the man spent a lot of time doing was following people. He was following the woman pretending to read. When she sat down on the train with her book, the man knew he would follow her.
When he followed people, the man thought how stupid people were when they followed other people. He thought about private eyes in movies, with fedoras in crumpled suits and an office with their name painted on the glass window in the door and a bare bulb connected to a cord hanging from the ceiling. The bulb would sway every now and then as the metal fan on top of the filing cabinet blew its way.
The man thought: no, this is not the right way to follow someone, by hiding. The way to follow someone the right way was to make sure they saw you. To smile and make them comfortable, so comfortable that seeing you was as normal as the little cut on the knuckle of their middle finger.
The woman pretending to read shifted in her seat as the train left the next station. Her blue dress with white polka dots slid distractedly off her right knee as she crossed her legs.
The man thought it must be close to Easter. Women wore dresses like that, and the hat—white straw, brim propped up, purple flower with a yellow eye—only for church functions or horse races.
The straw hat and the polka dotted dress reminded the man of stables for rich horse hobbyists in the South. Hems and cuffs muddied—signs society folk took for status symbols. The man remembered the smell of damp wood and horse sweat, the clicks of stopwatches, the sour cut grass.
It had been five stops since the man decided to follow the woman pretending to read in the polka dots and straw hat. He flexed and relaxed his left toes to work out the cramp that reached his shin and made his knee ache.
The woman dropped her book at the sixth stop. The sound the book when it hit the floor—spine first, then spreading open to pages the woman had not been pretending to read—startled the man. The woman blushed. The man watched the woman hold her white straw with one hand as she bent over to retrieve her book from the floor of the train. He watched her dress with the white polka dots slip slightly off her shoulder as her blonde curls covered the nape of her neck.
The man was too hot on this train. The air came tight and stale. The man leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He dozed.
The man awoke to drool on the side of his face and the woman’s laughter. He squinted across aisle of the train. The woman was no longer pretending to read her book. This other man was whispering to the curls that covered her neck. The woman and this other man smiled and their eyes widened at each other. The man watched as the other man put his hands on the woman’s leg and shoulder, nearly knocking her white straw hat off her head as he kissed her. The other man wore seersucker and, the man thought, probably played croquet. The man hated seersucker and croquet.
The tenth stop came. The man left the train and the lovers in disgust. The air felt clean outside the train.
“Ah, well,” said the man, “maybe I’ll just take the bus.”