Richard is on the train again. There are six hundred and thirteen people on the train. Richard knows this. He has been here before.
He also knows how they die. He has seen it before. Twenty three times. This will be the twenty fourth time. Unless it has been more than that. Or less.
The train goes over points. The jolt snaps Richard out of his doze. Inside, Richard is screaming, but his body will not do as it is told. He has tried to tell himself it is all a dream. But it does not feel like a dream. In dreams, Richard knows, you wake up before you hit the floor.
Richard claws the sleep from his eyes and stands, biting back a yawn. He has been on the train for several hours. He clutches his small executive briefcase (brown patent leather with an eight digit combination lock) to his chest and begins his stumbling way down the carriageway towards the buffet car. Once at the buffet car he will stand and grimace at the prices. After much thought he will buy one cup of steaming brown water masquerading as coffee.
On his way, Richard passes an old man asleep in his chair. There is a thin trickle of drool pooling at the side of his open mouth. It has begun to spill over onto the sleeping man’s collar. His spectacles are askew. Richard almost hates the man for his innocence. Sometimes he tries to imagine the sleeping man’s dreams. There are sheep in the field that the train passes as Richard gets to the sleeping man. Richard envies the sheep, even in the October drizzle.
Richard has to pause here. Two girls go past him, holding hands like lovers. He can see bright red nails digging into pale flesh, a birth mark on the back of the shorter one’s neck. They pass close enough to smell. Richard imagines them kissing, swapping fugitive “I love you”s in the dark. Tangled limbs and the scent of sweat and glares from disapproving parents.
The third car is full of families. Many of them have young children. Richard tries to close his eyes and shut out the noise. It achieves nothing.
The coffee is overpriced and tasteless. There is a bitter sludge at the bottom of the cup that needs to be stirred in to make it vaguely drinkable. It reminds Richard of ovaltine. The briefcase makes it difficult to hold the coffee, so Richard shifts it to under his left arm. Inside Richard is sobbing.
The train pulls up to a small station, and a man in a green sports jacket slides past Richard. He grins at Richard as he gets off the train, then wiggles his fingers at him, showing six, then one, then three. Richard looks blank, then smiles nervously.
Soon the train is moving again, and so is Richard. He moves through the family carriage, hearing snatches of conversation
“…and you’ve got to understand, no one’s perfec-“
“…nothing for you here, I said, and didn’t he just look shocked…”
“-just moved away from home and looking for work.”
“I can’t wait to see you…”
that he wishes he couldn’t hear. Richard is in the hallway. He is nearly back to his seat. The train hits another set of points. Now Richards right hand and his right leg from the knee down are covered in scalding coffee substitute. He shrieks and drops the plastic cup. The remnants of the coffee make a shifting Rorschach test on the pale gray floor of the train. Richard reels, dropping his brown patent leather briefcase with the eight digit combination lock. His back slams into the emergency brake alarm.
There are wet leaves on the track, the last traces of summer. The train jerks sideways. The sleeping man’s head collides with the window, leaving a vivid red spider web in the glass. The two girls in the rear carriage hold onto each other as the train jack knifes and flips. One man has his skull crushed by his own laptop. There are screams and crying and through it all Richard can only focus on the pain in his hand where the heat of the bitter overpriced coffee has raised little white blisters.
“Shit.” Whispers Richard. Then his head collides with the wall again and everything is mercifully empty.
Richard is on the train again.