The Man On The Train

26 Jan

By the time I got onto the train I was exhausted. I’d been up until almost midnight finishing my packing, and when I’d woken up I’d forgotten where I’d packed my passport. The cab had been late and there had been an accident on the highway. I had made it to the train station with seconds to spare.

I  was so tired it hurt. As the train started pulling out of the station I relaxed gratefully into my seat and closed my eyes. I was almost asleep when I became aware of movement near me. I opened my eyes to see an old man sitting down opposite me. He was tall and skinny with long white hair and the bluest eyes I had ever seen. As I said good morning to him, he stared at me in a disconcerting way. I closed my eyes again.

A couple of minutes later I opened my eyes to see the old man still staring at me.

“Can I help you?” I asked, feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

He kept staring at me in silence – the kind of silence that gets louder and louder with each passing second.

All of a sudden, he spoke in a deep Southern accent that I really had concentrate on to understand him. What he said took me completely by surprise.

“My maw was making gravy for the chicken when my paw died.”

“Oh,” I said hesitantly. Then, because I felt that I had to, I asked, “What happened?”

“Well,” he said, in his peculiar gravelly voice. “I was just a boy then. I just come in from the fields with Paw. The chicken and the potatoes and all was already done, and Maw had the gravy in this jug, beatin’ it with a wooden spoon like she was trying to punish it.

“All’s a sudden, the dog barks outside, right outside the window. Maw gets a fright and drops the jug. The jug bounces on the counter, and gravy goes everywhere. Some of it splatters on the cat that’s sittin’ on top of the ’fridgerator. The cat gets a fright and jumps right onto Paw’s back. And Paw is spinning round and around, tryin’ to get the cat off his back. He loses his footin’, topples over and hits his head on the corner of the stove – one of them old cast-iron stoves. By the time he hit the floor he was a goner.”

As he finished the story, the old man buried his face in his hands. I felt a stab of compassion for him. What a terrible thing for a young boy to witness. But then the old man looked up again and I realized he was laughing.

“It was the most ridic’lous sight,” he said, slapping his knee with mirth. “My old man, drunk as a lord, spinning around with a cat on his back. Butt-ugly cat it was too!”

The old man was laughing so hard that he was choking and wheezing, and tears were streaming from his bright blue eyes.

“Wow,” I said, genuinely taken with the story. And then, because I’d been watching Murder Mysteries while packing the previous night, I asked, “What did the police say when they came? Did they believe you and your Mom when you told them what happened?”

“Well now,” the old man whispered conspiratorially as he leaned forward. “We never actually called the ’thorities. We couldn’t, you see. Far as everyone in town was concerned, Paw had already been dead for years.

“You see, he had one of them fancy life insurance things. So when we was down on our luck one year, he burned out his tractor and Maw reported him missing. Last seen drivin’ off in the tractor, that’s what she told the sheriff. They didn’t have no fancy ways to prove nothin’ back then, so they just assumed he was dead. Maw got a pile of cash and Paw just stayed hidden. No-one ever came to see us, so as long as Paw was in the house or on his fields, we was OK.”

“So when he died, what did you do with – um – you know, him?” I asked. This story was unreal.

“Down past the apple trees, there was a big clump of dogwood trees, belonging to the neighbours. There was all kinds of bushes and plants growing under the trees. The bush was so thick under there, it was like a jungle. When I needed someplace to hide as a boy, I’d go there. No grown person could get in through all of those bushes and trees and stuff.

“We waited until nightfall, then Maw helped me put Paw on the wheelbarrow. He kept fallin’ off, but finally we got him to that clump of bushes and trees. We got Paw off that wheelbarrow, and I climbed in under them bushes.  Maw pushed, I pulled, and we got him in there. No-one would ever find him there.”

The old man paused. He seemed to be immensely proud of his story. Clearly, his conscience was not bothered by things like insurance fraud and the concealment of human remains.

“But what if your neighbours decided to cut down the trees?” I blurted out, suddenly worried on behalf of the small boy from long ago.

“Why would they do that?” asked the old man, incredulously. “If they cut down all the dogwood trees, where will the raptors live?”

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, pamela challenged me with "If they cut down all the dogwood trees, where will the raptors live?" and I challenged Seeking Elevation with "In the Canadian city of Toronto, it is illegal to drag a dead horse down the street before midnight. Tell a story – real or fictional – about how this law came to be."

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One Response to “The Man On The Train”

  1. Carrie January 28, 2012 at 8:41 PM #

    I love the dialect, it really brought the man to life! And his story flowed so well, I was caught up along with the MC, wondering if this was actually true and what happened next.

    Small critique: in the first paragraphs you use ‘I’ a lot, telling us what the MC is doing. Perhaps try to restructure the sentences a bit to change up how they begin.

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