Thursday, 23 September 2021

F Fic, Non-fic

The Wrong Track

The Wrong Track

by Don Tassone

The tall, well-groomed man in the navy blue, pinstriped suit slid his MetroCard through the card reader. The screen in the turnstile flashed green. He pushed against the aluminum bar with his thigh and stepped through the gate, toward the open door of the waiting subway car.

Only two more weeks of this, he thought. In two weeks, he would officially be a partner in the firm, he’d be living in his fabulous new place uptown and a driver would be dropping him right in front of his office every morning and picking him up every night. He hoped to never ride the subway again.

He had grown to hate riding the subway. He hated the pungent odor of it. He hated the crowds. He hated the beggars with their crude cardboard signs and lame supplications. He hated the screech of the train cars coming to a stop. He hated the woman’s robotic voice over the loudspeakers. He hated the hard plastic seats.

But most of all, he hated the passengers. Some were okay, the other business people. But he found most of them repulsive. He took the subway only because driving in the city was such a hassle and his office was too far to walk. But he never told anyone for fear of what they might think of him. He couldn’t wait to start telling everyone he had a driver.

Tonight he had had to work late. At rush hour, the subway was usually packed. But now, as he got in, he noticed there was only one other passenger.

He sat down across from him, staying close to the doors. He looked like a punk in a Fast and Furious movie. He was probably in his early twenties. He had a crew cut. His face was covered with stubble. He had two silver piercings along the top of each eyebrow. He wore black jeans, black boots with pointy toes and a white, skin-tight muscle shirt. Tattoos covered his arms and ran up his neck. All of them were green or blue except for one on each of his skinny biceps which read “Mom.” Those two were red, each of them surrounded by the outline of a red heart.

Mom, he thought. This guy has a mom? If so, I wonder what she would think of her little boy if she could see him now. Sorry, mom, he thought. Your son’s become a freak.

He hated tattoos. He considered them uncouth. He even had a personal rule against hiring anyone with even a hint of a tattoo showing.

And here, sitting across from him, was a guy covered with enough ink to fill a barrel. How grotesque. How could anyone do that to himself? How could anyone think that was even the least bit attractive? I hope it keeps him from ever getting a real job, he thought. I hope I never see a guy like this again. I can’t wait to have my own driver.

He was looking at a tattoo of a snake which ascended from the young man’s chest, under his muscle shirt, and wound up around his neck. He was staring at the snake’s forked tongue when he realized the young man was looking at him. The two of them made eye contact for a moment, but the man quickly looked away.

A minute later, he glanced back. The punk was staring at him. Now he began to feel anxious. Maybe this guy wants to rob me, he thought. Maybe he’s sizing me up. Maybe it’s no coincidence that there’s no one else in the car.

The man looked down at his watch. He would arrive in one minute. When the train stops, he thought, I’ll get out in a hurry, before this guy has a chance to make a move.

As the train began to brake, he glanced up. The punk was still staring at him. The train hadn’t quite stopped, but he grabbed the pole to his left, pulled himself up and swung around.

But just as the doors began to open, a series of shrill alarms blared from the intercom, like the warning sound a forklift makes when it’s backing up. The man hadn’t heard such a noise on the subway, and he wondered what it meant. But he wasn’t going to stick around to find out.

Just as he slid his right foot through the opening doors, he felt himself being jerked back.

“What the hell?” he cried out, stumbling backwards.

The young man had grabbed his suit coat and was pulling him back into the car.

“What’s going on?” the man demanded, reeling around and tugging himself free of the young man’s grip.

Then he heard the whoosh of a speeding train just beyond the half-opened doors behind him.

“It’s a malfunction,” the young man said. “We’re on the wrong track.”

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