Monday Stories

New Fiction Every Monday

Category: Realistic

To: The Lady on the Train

The light rail is just appearing over the horizon when a car pulls up to the station. You get out of the passenger side, dressed in a tight green skirt and black sleeveless top. Your long, dark hair and huge, 1980’s style smoked sunglasses obscure most of your face. I don’t pay you much attention, because I am busy trying to make up something poetic about the train being like a dragon, except people get mad when this dragon doesn’t eat them. Yeah, it’s not very good. I’ve been working on it for months and it’s probably not ever going to be any good.

“Excuse me, can you help me? I’ve never ridden the train before…” you say. In your heels you are almost as tall as I am, which is rare; I’m 6’3”.

“Oh, um, yeah, of course. What do you need?”

“How do you, you know, pay and stuff?”

So I show you where to buy a ticket and a route map. “Where are you going?”
You name a building that I wasn’t going to admit to not knowing, but I guess (rightly) that your stop would be the first one downtown. You move your head and suddenly, now that I am paying attention, I notice the huge patch of road rash on your shoulder, and matching scrapes on your arm and leg.

The train pulls into our station and I sit down. There being nobody else around, you come and sit across from me. Forgive me, but this moment I start writing this story in my head.

“I do love him,” you say.

“Jackpot,” I think. “Who is that?” I say.

“My boyfriend. He’s why I’m dressed like this. He got arrested. A police dog bit his leg. We were in St. George. He’s got a court day today, but he’s got a gnarly judge.”

“I see,” I lie.

“I’m wearing his grandmother’s crosses,” you say, holding up the necklaces in question. “And his dad is the one who dropped me off here at the station. They’re really great. Maybe, if he doesn’t go to jail, we can convince him to start coming to church. I mean, he’s a good guy…” you trail off.

“They’re very nice crosses,” I say.

“What do you do?” You ask.

“I’m a programmer. I work for the University.”

“That’s nice. I don’t know anything about computers. If….If I wanted to entirely erase my boyfriend’s computer…could I do that?”

“Yeah, most computers have an easy way to do a factory reset—“

“Oh, yeah, a factory reset. That way I wouldn’t have to see what he’s got on there.” You said, laughing a little. I nod. “That way I can use it for school.” You say.

“Oh, what are you studying?” I ask.

“Chemistry. It’s really interesting.”

“Oh, cool,” I say, “my wife graduated with a double major in Chemistry and Wildlife Biology.”

“Wow, I’d like to meet her,” you say, and laugh. “You could introduce me. ‘This is Amy, I met her on TRAX. She’s got that road rash, but she’s harmless’, you could say” you laugh, and now I know your name, and you still don’t know mine.
“He gave me this road rash, but it was my fault,” you say. “No it wasn’t,” I think. But before I can say anything you continue.
“I was on the back of his bullet bike. He tapped my hand, which means hold on tight, but I thought he just meant because we were going to get on the freeway. But he did a wheelie on the freeway on ramp. I mean, I should have known, with extra weight on the back of the bike, wheelies are really easy and fun.”

“Throw the book at him, judge,” I think. “That sounds terrible, “ I manage to say before you continue.

“Yeah, I bounced on my…A-S-S,” you whisper, apparently thinking I’ll be offended if you actually say the word. “Then I landed on this shoulder and my head. I ruined a hundred-fifty dollar helmet.” You say.

”But that’s what they’re for,” I think. “It’s a good thing you had that helmet,” I say. But it’s clear your mind has bounced to a new topic.

“I really do love him. I started learning chemistry for him, actually.”

“Did you.”

“He wanted to import some…stuff. And he wanted me to figure out what it would do. And no wonder it’s dangerous. It’s got bonds that oxidize…” I’ve been married to a chemistry major for fifteen years, but whatever your’e saying is beyond me. But I’m not thinking about that much. What can I say? What I want to do is tell you to run fast and run far. Get away from your drug dealer boyfriend and use that clearly quite excellent mind of yours to make a real, good life for yourself. You seem to sense this, without me saying a word. My poker face must not be that good.

“I do love him,” you say again, and pull your phone out of your purse. “Look at him,” you show me your home screen. A large, hairless, tattooed man is flexing every muscle on his considerable frame and taking a selfie. “Looks strong,” I say. Inane, yes, but it’s clear at this point that as long as my responses are even moderately positive you’re good with them.
“Maybe if he gets five years in prison I’d have time to finish my degree,” you say, almost quietly.

”Throw every book at him, judge,” I think. “That’s a silver lining, I guess,” I say. You nod.

“I mean, I love him, but he makes it hard to study, he’s always running. It’s funny, the cops arrested him for speeding, but not for what he was running from…”

The doors open and another lady sits next to me on the packed train. Apparently she hasn’t done whatever it takes to enter your inner circle of confidants, like me.

For a few moments I’m left to ponder on a the nature of introverts and extroverts. The things you are telling me are things I wouldn’t share with someone until I’ve known them for at least a year. Well, the things you’re sharing with me are so far removed from my middle class life of work and kids and pets and mortgage refinances that I’m vaguely wondering if you’re making it all up, but if you are you’re very committed to the bit.

But to you sharing these things with a stranger on the train whose name you haven’t bothered to ask is as natural as breathing. You are one of those people who thinks the world loves you, and because you are so happy and sharing you are pretty much right. Of course, you also end up trusting people like…him, the muscle bound meathead on your phone.

I’ve judged you too harshly again, because suddenly you tell me, “I’m thirty four. I’m so glad to have him. He’s twenty nine. Maybe someday, if he gets out early, and cleans up, I can have children. Well, one or two, before I’m forty.”

”There it is,” I think. I try to formulate a non-creepy way to say “you don’t need him, you are full of life and you’re clearly intelligent. Find someone who won’t dump you off the back of his crotch rocket,” but you’ve turned to the woman who sat down next to me. She is now apparently also in your inner circle.

“You’re studying law? I’m going to the courthouse, my boyfriend is in jail.”

“Oh, which judge are you in front of?” She asks. Your magic works well. No judgement from this student of the law.

“Katie,” you say, and I can’t help but think that’s an awfully familiar way to speak about a judge.

“Katie…” the pre-lawyer asks, and you give a last name that I don’t quite catch.

“Oh, I love her,” the pre-lawyer says. ”There’s more than one Katie on the bench???” I think.

“I fell off my boyfriend’s bullet bike,” you tell the pre-lawyer.

“Oh my! Poor you. I’m glad you were wearing a helmet,” she says.

And it’s your stop. “Is this me?” You ask. I nod.

“Good luck in court,” Pre-law says.

”Throw the book at him, Katie,” I think.

“Oh, also, I really like your ring!” Says the pre-lawyer.

“Oh, thanks,” you say, and you’re off to sit in court while your boyfriend is brought up before Judge Katie.

A Sample Story From “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood”

I just finished reading  The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood  to my kids as their bedtime story. We all enjoyed the book immensely, but after a while the stories start to sound the same. Here is our take on Howard Pyle’s wonderful style.

Robin awoke on one bright may morning with the sunlight trembling through the leaves of the Greenwood tree whence his company of yeomen made their hidden home in the midst of Sherwood. So glad was Robin’s heart within him that he laughed and sang a snatch or two of a song as it entered his head. Walking thus manfully through the wood he came upon Little John.

“Come now, Little John,” quoth Robin, “Let us take to the road to the Blue Boar Inn, and see if there be not something to be found by way of entertainment betwixt here and there.”

“Yea, good master, I like thy plan well,” quoth Little John, for that lusty youth were ever one for merriment or a chance of good manful sport, and mayhap was Robin’s only equal with the staff. So saying, they took some few of their band, namely Alan a Dale, who is married and should have better things to do, Will Stutely, who you never see in the Robin Hood movies, Will Scarlet, the name dropper, who never lets you forget he’s Robin’s nephew, and David of Doncaster. They always bring young David, but in the entire book he speaks maybe five times and hardly ever does anything.

And so Robin set out with this band of stout men, each carrying upon his person a good yew bow and a quiver of clothyard arrows, and a small sack which held their lunch, and a pottle of good March beer. Bright and cheery was the sun that morning, but never a person did they meet on the road, for the fame of Robin Hood had spread far and wide, and anyone with half a brain knew he’d steal their money.

Presently, as the sun stood high overhead they drew near the ford, where the stone bridge leapt over a stream.

“How now, master,” quoth Little John, as they stood in the shade of the trees near the bridge. “Let us take up our inn here, and eat that which we have brought with us, and drink our good March beer, that we may have energy for the dry and dusty road ahead of us.” Thus spake Little John, for he were ever aware of his stomach.

“I find your incredibly obvious plan sooth,” quoth Robin Hood and presently they each sat and ate and drank to their hearts’ content. And by and by they all grew drowsy in the heat and laid them down in the sweet grass.

But Robin was not yet ready to rest, for that lusty yeoman were ever more interested in finding some sport or jest than in resting. And so he walked along the edge of the road leading to the bridge, and by and by he espied a youth on a horse riding along the road, dressed in gay finery and singing as he rode. This youth wore silken hose of purple, and bright green was his doublet, of finest velvet. “Oho,” Quoth robin to himself, “Now here is one that may have some small bit to give to my merry men, and some to give also to the welfare of all those who may have need in Nottinghamshire.” So saying, Robin hid himself amongst the hedges near the road.

When the youth rode near to the place where Robin lay hid, he sprang out and grabbed hold of the bridle reigns, and pulling the youth to a stop, quoth he, “Whither art thou going, young master, in such gay finery?”

“Release me, friend, for I have no time to tarry, I must be in Devonshire ere the night falls,” quoth the youth.

“Nay, but stay a moment. For I do sense in my heart that thou mayest have somewhat that is weighing they purse down most heavily, and I would relieve they burden, that thou mayst travel the more speedily,” quoth Robin.

“So thus it is, is it?” Quoth the youth. “I’ll not let the have so much as one groat, thou naughty knave, but if thou dost not release my reigns I’ll give the such a crack upon thy pate that thou shall count the cost of this day too dear for words.”

Then Robin laughed and going to retrieve his own cudgel stood athwart the road. “E’en so?” Quoth Robin. “Come thou down then, and let us see who shall crack who along the pate, and who shall leave this day with thy heavy purse.”

And so the two advanced upon each other. Robin had supposed that one dressed as finely as this young man might be an easy target, despite the fact that both Allan a Dale and Will Scarlet were well dressed and Will Scarlet beat Robin but good. Not to mention Midge the Miller. Robin gets beaten quite a lot, actually.

The youth struck a lusty blow but Robin turned it and struck again, but the youth was prepared and turned Robin’s blow in turn. Back and forth they went, up and down the road, filling the air with dust and the sound of staff clattering against staff. In all this time once only had each man struck the body of the other; Robin having gained one strike amidst the other’s ribs, and the youth having hit Robin’s arm a blow that made his hand tingle e’en now.

Presently they broke, sweat streaming freely down the face of each stout combatant. “Ere we begin again,” quoth merry Robin, “Wilt thou allow me to wind my bugle horn?”

The youth nodded, apparently thinking that asking to blow a horn was a totally normal request, and Robin blew three lusty blasts upon his horn, so that the wood roundabout rang with the sound. Thou knowest, I wot, what shall happen, but never did the young man guess.

Then out leapt Will Stutely, and Will Scarlet, and Little John, and young David of Doncaster. I could have just said “Robin’s men”, but Pyle never does so I didn’t. Each man was holding a stout cudgel in his hands and was fresh and full of energy from laying in the grass.

“Now out upon it!” Cried the youth, apparently surprised that blowing a bugle was how Robin called for help. “Who art thou, that summonest such lusty yeomen from the grass with thy bugle?”

And Merry Robin laughed and said, “I am Robin Hood, mayhap thou hast heard some aught of me,”

“Robin Hood? Art thou truly Robin Hood?” Quoth the youth, all in amaze. “Had I known this, I would not have fought thee, for it is unto thee that I am sent. My master, Richard of the Lea, hast sent me to bring thee some small token of his esteem.” So saying, the youth pulled out his purse, and gave it to Robin. “Two hundred golden angels,” saith the youth, “dost my master and his lady send to thee, and their good esteem beside.”

Then Merry Robin laughed again right manfully. “Lad, thou art too good a lad with a staff to be a messenger boy. Wilt thou join our lusty band of outlaws? Thou shalt have two suits of Lincoln green a year, and twenty marks each Christmastide.”

“Yea, with all my heart yea,” quoth the youth, and thus Robin’s merry band gained a new member, Robin still not realizing that half the time if he just introduced himself first he’d avoid fighting people who really just want to join him.

Nurses

“Hiya, Steve! How’s your day been?”

That’s Dana. She’s my night nurse, and I’m glad to see her. I’ve only been here three days, and she’s been my overnight nurse for the last two. She’s way nicer than the first one.

“I’m doin’ okay Dana, how about you?”

“Oh, the usual. Kids had a big day, lots of school stuff. It’s almost restful coming here for a while.” She laughs. Dana laughs a lot, actually. She seems like she’s just happy all the time. She’s in her late twenties, blond, with blue dyed tips, hair down about mid back. She’s got green eyes and kinda ruddy skin. She’s married, has two kids. I know more about her than I do about some of my friends at work. But being in a hospital is kind of a special situation.

“Well, we’ll see about that. Okay, I need to see how you’re really doing. Don’t be a hero.”

I guess this means it’s been three days since my operation. I don’t want to talk about it, not even now. The operation went well; the doctor is a good surgeon. But apparently I formed a seroma and if you don’t know what that is you’re lucky. In my case it means that in addition to all the other things I’m recovering from now I have a wound around waist level that gets packed with gauze every few hours. Dana covers me with a sheet and goes about changing the gauze and we both try to act like this is a normal human interaction. I try not to sweat or whimper and she says encouraging things like “this will close up soon, don’t you worry.”

And then the worst part is over and she starts putting my medications in my IV, conscientiously beeping each one and beeping my bracelet to make sure I’m getting the right drugs and that my insurance is getting billed for them. And while she does this we talk.

There aren’t many lies in hospitals. Some of the talk is very clinical, discussing the state of my digestive system after the surgery and how and where I’m hurting. But mostly we talk about life. She loves being a mom and loves being a nurse. She wants to have one more kid, her husband wants to finish his degree before they do.

Normally I’m very passive, socially. I don’t like answering questions about myself and my life. But Dana won’t have it and has drawn me out. She knows all about my less than wonderful breakup and my music and degree. And she always seems to actually be interested. Even though I know I’m just one of many patients she works with right now, and one of many more she’ll work with this year, she makes me feel like I matter.

“You’re a good guy, Steve, and I like talking to you.” is all she says when I comment on this.

the night passes and I’m only dimly aware of those hours. I try to sleep and Dana tries to let me sleep.

Until 7:30am.

“Hey, sorry. Daniel will be here soon. I just need to change out that dressing one more time today…” and she’s back into the routine and I’m trying to be brave. She doesn’t comment on my gasps much, just apologizing that this happened to me and saying that it’s healing up well.

I can’t decide if it’s more embarrassing that Dana changes my gauze every time, or if it’d be worse to have Daniel do it.

Daniel is my day nurse. He’s tall, taller than me, black haired and blue eyed, and looks like an outdoor model who is slumming a bit as a nurse. he’s also endlessly friendly, but it’s different. Daniel’s job is mostly to get me to move around as much as possible, and to act like I’ve done something amazing every time I do. When he’s not working in the hospital he’s out “crawling over rocks” as he puts it, doing a lot of backpacking and some jeeping. I work out a bit, but I’m a city boy and he doesn’t make me feel bad about this.

“Hey we all do our own thing, yeah?” He says when, in a morphine haze, I mention this. “If you’re having fun, taking care of yourself and not hurting anyone, who cares what you do for fun, yeah?”

Daniel says “yeah” a lot.

It’s now my fourth day here and apparently I’m “making a lot of progress”, meaning I can walk to the bathroom and occasionally stumble around in a small circuit of the “block” here in the hospital. Daniel walks with me, talking about how awesome I’m doing and that I’ll be back home in no time.

On this day we also run into Doctor Jewell, the doctor that operated on me. This is the first time I’ve seen him where I wasn’t on an exam table or an operating table, or in a hospital bed. I’m amazed at how short he actually is when we’re both standing up.

Doctor Jewell is a likable guy, and he and Daniel get along well. He’s also optimistic about my progress, and calls me “sports fan”. Even Daniel winces a little. But it’s just his way.


I don’t have any family in town, so I’m mostly just in the hospital with the nurses and the books I brought with me. It’s hard to focus when you’re in pain, but I manage to get some reading done in the days when I’m more awake. I’ve been here for about five days when there’s a disturbance outside, in the hall. Something loud or rather louder than the usual quiet of the hospital. There isn’t any shouting, but there are people moving around, lots of feet, and lots of people using their serious voices. I can’t tell you much more about what happened. After a few minutes the main bustle seemed to die down and then there were fewer voices, but they’re all still very serious. It’s only when you hear everyone being serious that you realize how light they usually keep the tone here.

An hour later Daniel comes in with my pain medications. “Hey Steve. How’s it going?” His voice is light, cheerful and affable as ever. But his eyes don’t look happy. “Daniel, what happened out there?”

He looks sad for a moment. “Yeah, got kinda noisy out there for a while didn’t it? Sorry man, it’s nothing you need to worry about. Listen, once I get these meds in you we’ve gotta get you out of that bed. You’re making good progress, yeah? We don’t want to waste that.” And he scans my wrist tag and scans my medicine and makes sure the right meds are going to the right patient and in a few minutes I’m walking around the ward again. Everyone who sees me smiles. A few remark on how much progress I’m making. But nobody seems very happy.

I don’t see Daniel again that shift, except for a few minutes right before he leaves. After he leaves I decide I’m going to show Dana that I’m making an effort, and by myself I get out of bed and walk over to the chair in my room. It’s surprisingly painful, but I wait there with my phone for almost an hour before she comes in. When she finally enters her face is drawn and sad, until she sees me.

“What are you doing over there? Did Daniel leave you in a chair?” She asks.

“No, I came over here by myself,” I answer.

“What on earth for? Were you getting bored maybe?”

I’m visibly sweating and shaking; turns out I wasn’t meant to do this for another day or two for a reason. I try to sum up my rationale in a way that would make sense to a sane human being.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Is the best I come up with.

She laughs, but there’s not a lot of humor in it. “What did I tell you about trying to be a hero? You could have at least waited until after you got your next dose of pain medication.”

“Dana, what’s wrong?” I ask as she gets close. She holds very still for a moment. Then shakes her head and smiles. “It’s nothing, don’t worry.”

“Someone died today, didn’t they? Someone you and Daniel take care of?”

“I can’t talk about other patients, you know that,” She says. But her eyes and face tell me all I need to know, “Come on, let’s get you up out of that chair and back into bed and get you some overdue pain meds.” She says, her voice mostly cheerful again. And she helps me up and holds onto me and I put my arm around her shoulders for support and make the long, slow, four-foot trip back to my bed.

And for a moment, just a millisecond my arm around her shoulders isn’t for support, it’s telling her I’m sorry for her loss.

And just for a millisecond her arm around my waist is saying “thanks.”

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