“Is this us?” she said.
“Are you a guessing person?” he replied.
There is not much to guess to be truthful. It is North Station, Boston, 06:51:38 PM. There are nine empty platforms and only one that entertains a train: Track 8. Some of those that are waiting have made the obvious assumption and have started to board the train already. The others, including O’Malley, stand swapping glances from the train to the departure board. Their train is top of the list, the 06:55 PM to Haverhill, but the track has yet to be announced and they remain unconvinced. It seems an obvious choice, as already suggested, but O’Malley doesn’t go for it. He did once, and that time he had the luxury of an almost empty train, half a car to himself: a risk taken, reward given, and he who does not take risks does not drink champagne. On that occasion, as he sat in the half empty train, he looked out the window to see a train arriving at the last minute and his suspicions were confirmed: the one arriving was the one he wanted. He doesn’t do that anymore, take risks, for champagne can make you behave foolishly.
But as he expected, Track 8 is called for Haverhill three minutes before departure. The she-said-he-replied couple dart forward and O’Malley follows, along with about eighty other non-champagne drinkers, darting too with all the gusto of a half-marathon send-off, all dartlike with intent. It’s a semi-obese race mostly, for the good seats, but O’Malley is otherwise occupied with thoughts on why they always do that at stations, leave the track announcement to the last minute. He mutters several different styles of fuck to no one in particular, his favorite being an extended rasping faaacck squeezed through his teeth. In his mind he enters a room of cameras and monitors. He imagines one of the operators in room with a finger hovering over the departure board update button as if primed to launch a missile. Making sure he has the attention of his colleagues to witness some choice buffoonery, the operator thumbs the button to start the race saying, “And….they’re off.” It occurs to O’Malley that the operators of the cameras, monitors and train departure boards have to amuse themselves somehow.
The train fills up fast suggesting there was maybe a reason for the late announcement. O’Malley grabs a seat near the door, wonders who will take the free one beside him, and immediately organizes his arse to get comfortable, planting his case tightly to his right after removing his black notebook. He pushes his eye glasses up on top of his head for he needs bifocals and these ones are useless for objects in the immediate vicinity. He opens the black book and begins writing about himself and the situation. For no apparent reason O’Malley decides to call himself O’Malley in the prose. The man in front facing him starts roaring into a cell.
“Your’re kidding me,” He says. O’Malley immediately mutters the same three words in agreement along with several different styles of fuck, his favorite this time being a long silent thought fuck. The annoyance wears a yellow sports coat with a green waistcoat on top. O’Malley wonders what that is all about, but puts it down to a fashion sense as daft as his abrasive cell phone drama. He also has a blue checked shirt, the sort that is supposed to be iron-free; a hat that falls around his ears might be dedicated to a love of Sherlock Holmes and is the same color as his thick-thread brown corduroy trousers, and at the end of crossed legs both feet tap rhythm in green Doctor Martens.
“I don’t know why you do this to me,” The Garish repeats into the cell phone. O’Malley agrees, and pushes himself back into the chair to seat himself upright hoping the body language says “Oh please shut up,” and looks outside at the damp evening wondering how much longer he will have to suffer the talkative clown. Much to O’Malley’s chagrin, a quick scan of the car of the train reveals it is already quite full. Opposite is a large lady who resembles a circus balancing act of three large balls on top of each other. Her mouth is arched in an almost perfect depiction of those sad face emoticons used in text messages; the sheer weight of the sides of her face pulls the edges of her mouth southwards. She is reading a book and O’Malley thinks that there is a possibility that the sour outer belies a happiness within. She has propped her as-big-as-they-come cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee at the corner of the free seat beside her. O’Malley considers himself an expert at recognizing the strange ways some folk have of marking the seat next to them as unavailable. He didn’t even have to see the coffee to figure that she was a wannabe lone-seater. He thought the better of moving; it did not bother him to be rude and tell her uncouthly to move the coffee and no one would get hurt, but he weighed up the options and figured that his spot in front of the garish goblin G’noof’noof was the better one. Besides Sourmouth’s coffee was teetering on a fall.
Just as O’Malley is about to take his attention elsewhere Sourmouth spasms, and her head jolts back with a little snort rasp from the back of her throat. O’Malley realizes it is the manifestation of her amusement at a particularly funny line in her book. “Sn’gghh-gghh!” she snorts at the bonus funny line that follows.
At that moment, a character from a Kundera story tries to enter this tale, scissor-fingering his extremely neat and conservative looking brush-to-the-right bangs. O’Malley knows it is Thomas and decides to have him scan the car for a free seat, turn, and walk to a different compartment of the train. Before Thomas turns, O’Malley wonders if he suits the argyle sweater, and as he leaves, and O’Malley lingers on the ponderance of the diamondular pattern, the toxic odor of a fart dangles over O’Malley’s vicinity. O’Malley suspects that it was Thomas who assaulted olfactics and fartened the atmosphere with skatole, but that deduction creates a predicament, for the others have not seen Thomas. O’Malley immediately scrunches a who-farted nose and frowns to signal to the others that he recognizes the presence of a fart and under no circumstances should they suspect it belongs to him: fart-free O’Malley. The others pull similar scrunched noses but their scan of O’Malley from top to toe suggests that their noses are more the I-know-who-farted kind. Sourmouth sn’gghh-gghhs.
O’Malley is startled by the old man standing beside him looking at the free seat next to him. The look proclaims ownership but doesn’t seem to bear any recognition of an offensive odor. O’Malley shuffles a few inches almost knocking his glasses of his head where he forgot they were perched. He takes to the task of furiously writing in his notebook as the old man sits beside him.
“Poor bugger,” O’Malley thinks, “still commuting at his age. Looks like one more clean shirt will do him before the Grim Reaper retires him.”
“I don’t know why you do this to me,” The Garish repeats into the cell phone. Sourmouth sn’gghh-gghhs. The old man has the color of extremely weak tea with milk, and his face is polka-dotted with liver spots. His hair is a cliché of white and he is wearing surprisingly trendy spectacles. He props a briefcase on his knees in an obviously well practiced maneuver and folds his arms on top, tucking the cuffs of his red pinstripe shirt back in to the sleeves of his Lieutenant Columbo-style raincoat. He smiles at Sourmouth and The Garish G’noof’noof and they return the greeting, and O’Malley knows he is gate-crashing the space of train buddies. The old man notices O’Malley furiously writing.
He half-turns and says something to O’Malley he will regret for the entire journey in the company of the writer.
“Hello,” he says, “you are doing an awful lot of writing there. What are you writing about?”
O’Malley can’t resist, and in a malevolent tone befitting of Nicholson in The Shining slowly turns to the old man, raises eyebrows and says, “You. I’m writing about you.”