The Incident on the Train
The alarm goes off at 6:30. The sun has begun to stretch her arms out over the western hills of Portland, the south waterfront glints and sparkles in it’s early rays. A dense layer of fog sits snugly against the hills, obscuring the view of the hospital and skytram nearby, but the gentle growl of I-5 signals it’s already morning. Stella’s cold, wet nose is pressed against his arm, she’s slowly worked her way from the foot of the bed closer and closer to his warm body. Her dark, eager eyes waiting for Sebastian to meet her steady gaze. He rolls over to a cold pillow, Lauren is gone. She’s left some pancakes in the fridge for him to take to work. He pulls out his phone to scan the morning news, he holds his breath as he does this, who knows what the news will hold at any moment. Has the world ended? Have we done something remarkable or regrettable? He exhales, just the usual headlines, dark but not disastrous.
Stella’s tiny tail beats against the bedspread, Wake up! Wake up! He pats her on the head, ushering her out of the room to feed her before walking her along the waterfront. The two of them have shared this routine since he and his wife rescued Stella last Christmas together. Lauren had been wanting a dog, so Sebastian carefully sifted the Dumb Friends’ League website for a small, hypoallergenic pet when he saw a Cairn Terrier, tiny, attentive ears and an unwavering gaze. He had grown up with dogs but never known the companionship a man and dog could share until this tiny, charismatic creature came into their life.
This morning she’s being fussy, sniffing here and there on their walk, stopping at seemingly every bush they encounter, deciphering it’s cryptic scents with much deliberation and attentiveness. Dark, heavy clouds are building over the waterfront; Portland’s winter this year has been remarkably relentless in it’s dark gloom, the rain and grey more consistent than morning traffic. He checks his watch, 7:45.
Once they arrive back at their apartment he hurries to shower and change into his work clothes, brewing strong, black coffee in the meantime. He checks his watch again, 8:30. The train is coming in 12 minutes. How did it get so late? Reaching for a to-go mug, he brushes an old water glass off the counter and fumbles to catch it. It slips pasts his fingers and shatters on the floor. Great. Frantically looking for the last place he left the broom and dust pan, he silently curses the glass.
When all the specks of glass are swept and Stella is safely in her crate he rushes out the door with his keys, notes, and pancakes. He hurries to the station and arrives in time to realize his coffee is still at home, growing cold on the counter. Rain drips off his hood onto his nose, his stomach growls and turns over. His feet are already cold. The train should arrive in 1 minute, he should buy his ticket right now but something stops him. No, I don’t have time. It’ll just be this once. He steps onto the train as the doors are closing, feeling a surge of rebellious energy and sits down, exhales. Made it. In that moment he makes eye contact with the infamous, cold-blooded Portland Transit Police. Great.
The guard approaches, immediately sensing his disarray. Like a bloodhound the guard is closing in on the scent of his fear. Sebastian fumbles for his bag, looking for a miracle. His palms are clammy, his mouth dries out, his tongue has reduced itself to fine grained gravel. Smiling, the guard notices his panic and pounces hungrily on him,
“Ticket please!” Cold waves of dread flush over him. What can he do? He’s usually so organized, so prepared, it was only a five dollar ticket. Without much more hesitation he stutters, sweat beading up on the nape of his neck. He backs away and exclaims in a burst of sudden enlightenment,
“I forgot my phone!” And runs.
The train has already closed its’ doors, Sebastian ducks into the tightly packed group of commuters. A shrill whistle sounds, he’s looking for cover amongst the strangers but they’ve all turned to stare. He’s suddenly in the spotlight at the end of the train with nowhere to hide.
“Sir! I’m going to need to see some ID.” The guard looms over him, his yellow teeth dully gleaming in the dank fluorescent light. What can he do? He’s trapped, his fellow passengers have betrayed him.
“I...I.. I don’t have an ID.” He stammers, “I’m not a person!” Brilliant, how could anyone argue with that?
“Clever, I assume you’d like me to call the police then? Assure them you’re ‘not a person’?” The guard lifts his hands to use finger quotes, condescending and arrogant. Spit flicks off his dry, pallid lips. Sebastian looks down the train, his stop is still at least 15 minutes away. He’s been backed into a corner,
“Ah, here it is!” He reaches for his ID as if unveiling a rabbit from a hat. The guard snatches it from his hand and begins to write him a hefty fine and slaps it into his hand. “$175! This is ridiculous.”
“As ridiculous as telling me you’re “not a person’? Listen, I’m in a good mood, so here’s a deal. If you’d like to go to court, I’d be willing to lower the fee to $75.”
“Court? When is the court date?” Sebastian tries to piece all this information together, this is all happening so quickly. He wants to ask more questions, but the guard has already sauntered away, satisfied with his pompous display of menial power. Sebastian stares, baffled, at the fine, all for a five dollar ticket! He’s trying to understand the fine print, but his head is buzzing. A small woman leans over to point out the date and location of the appeal process to him on the ticket,
“What an asshole, huh?” She giggles. “They like making a scene like that, I see it all the time.” She gestures to the portion of the ticket that explains in small print where and how to appeal the ticket. As she says this the guard’s ears prick. He turns sharply on his heels and strides back towards him,
“It’s because of people like you that my job is difficult! The deal is off the table. In fact, you can’t ride this train anymore. You’re off at the next stop!”
The train is silent, except for the heavy wheezing coming from the flustered guard. Sebastian shakes his head, his heart racing, but thankful to have an escape off this damned train. He exits at the next stop, The Rose Quarter. The rain is steadily falling now, a brisk chill in the air. He checks his watch, 9:50. It’ll take at least 20 minutes to walk from here. He takes a deep breath in to steady his shaking hands. He takes another breath and can faintly smell the damp concrete, water over stone, and exhales. Pulling his headphones out of his bag, he turns on some familiar Colombian pop music, rolls his shoulders back and smiles.