The Stranger on the Train

Contributor: Sarah S. Cain

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Margaret thought it would be fun to take the train to Boston, but now it seemed like an ordeal. Brian bounced in his window seat though there was little enough to see in the dark. He made faces at himself and stuck out his tongue. Soon though she could give him his medicine, and he'd calm down.

“Mom, Mom, Mom, Mo--”

“What is it, Brian?”

“Look! There’s a man with a purple tie!” He pointed across the aisle to the slim blond man in the gray suit who indeed wore a bright purple tie. He didn’t glance up when Brian pointed him out, though he must have heard his voice. He was youngish. Thirties, Margaret thought.

“Yes, Brian. There’s a man with a purple tie. Keep your voice down.”

Sometimes Margaret wished she could wear earphones when she was with Brian. She listened to the train clack over the rails. It didn't drown out his voice.

“Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom--”

“Yes, Brian?”

“The man with the purple tie has an iPad.”

“I can see that, dear.”

Brian shifted and squirmed. Thank goodness the train wasn’t crowded. Two seats up, a woman in a black suit pulled out a pair of headphones, slipped them into her ears and plugged them into her computer. She shot Margaret a look--something between pity and impatience. An older man snapped his paper with impatience.

Margaret searched through her bag for her phone. Brian could play a computer game or two on it. She didn’t want to drag out the computer, but if he kept it up, she would.

“Newark," wheezd the intercom.

“Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom! Is this our stop?"

“No, dear. We’re going on to Boston. To see Gammy and Papa.”

She handed him her phone and a pair of headphones. Brian played in relative quiet through the Newark stop, but once the train started up, he grew bored.

“Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, M--”

“What, Brian?” Margaret felt a headache forming between her eyes. They had at least six hours to go, depending on the layover in New York. She hated driving with Brian because it always took forever. They had to stop at every rest stop along the way, and flying was worse. He’d kick the seats and squirm and ask the flight attendants every five minutes if the plane might crash. Once when they flew through bad weather, he’d shrieked for the entire flight.

Now that they sat on the train, Margaret knew she’d made a dreadful mistake. She should have driven. She could bear Brian’s quirks alone; she’d done so since Henry left them three years ago.

“Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, M—“

“Yes, Brian.” Perhaps a Valium would calm him, except it would probably react with his other medications then she would be to blame.

“The man with the purple tie looks like the guy from TV. He's a bad man.”

Margaret felt embarrassed. This might be some celebrity, and here was Brian making a fuss. “Brian, please stop talking about that man. He might get offended. He might think you’re a rude little boy.”

“New York.”

She watched the man place his iPad in a sleeve, stand, and slip into a black raincoat. He started to exit before turning back to them. He leaned over and smiled, his blond hair sweeping down over his brow. Margaret thought his teeth were very white, and his blue eyes had flecks of silver.

“Listen to your mother, Brian,” he said in a voice just above a whisper. “You never know who people are. Sometimes they’re nice, but sometimes they like to stick sharp objects into soft little necks.”

He straightened and walked to the door, his step jaunty. Margaret felt her heart thud; when she looked at Brian his mouth hung open. She wanted to call the conductor, but she couldn't force out a sound. The man melted into the crowd at Penn Station.

Brian was quiet all the way to Boston.

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Writing is my obsession. A lover of all genres of fiction, I lean to the dark and twisted, though I love well done humor. My micro fiction story, The Offering, recently first place on Flash! Fridays Online Fiction, and my short story Amsterdam will be published in the upcoming anthology, Voices of the Main Line.
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