Thursday, November 12, 2009

Five AM, Ronkonkoma train

Taking Long Island Railroad out of the city at five in the morning turns out to be an oddly differently experience than riding the train any other time, as it's full of people who've been out all night and are on their wobbly way home. This morning there were two women talking in the seat just across and one ahead of me. They were bleary, and in a confiding mood. "One man," one said, "all it takes is loving one wrong man, and your whole life is fucked." The other agreed. And in a while she added, "But he's not the one that matters. It's your little girl. A mother is..." Long pause. "How does that saying go? A mother is..." long pause "...a necessity." Concurrence, nods, silence.

A young man, quite drunk, enters the train, speaks to the women, who let him know they're talking to each other and don't want to be flirted with, and then they soften and proceed to flirt with him. He says he's going to Jamaica and he's afraid he's going to fall asleep. They say they'll wake him up and he lies down on the seat in front of me --- immediately out.

At Jamaica, he's still sleeping, and the two women are talking among themselves. I start to head on for the airport, thinking about who's responsible here -- the boy, the two who said they'd wake him, me who overheard? -- and how the guy's going to wake up in Ronkonkoma in an hour and wonder where he is. Another man waiting for the doors to open has heard all this too; he looks at me and says, "Those girls said they'd wake him up."

I think about this and decide it's easy enough to do a good deed. I tap the sleeping man on the shoulder, nothing, tap him again, he opens his eyes. I say, "You wanted to get off at Jamaica, right? This is Jamaica." He looks at me as if I might be an alien abductor. The women, who are talking to each other, pay no attention at all. I leave the train, look back to see the two of them strolling away, but I never see the fellow leave the train. Did the women know all the time he was going to be sleeping a good long while? And did he wake up in the middle of Long Island? The conductors on the early shift must be experts in this.


Elisabeth said...

Do you think he's still on the train?

My heart bleeds for your sad young man, too drunk to wake up and the women too preoccupied to try to rescue him.

This story begs the old, well worn question 'Am I my brother's keeper?'

At what point does our responsibility begin and end?

I'd have tried to wake him up, too.
Great writing.

melissashook said...

I think this is so funny, but if you had been a woman, been perhaps older than you are, had come from a family where alcoholism might have haunted or general dysfunction might have prevailed, you would have worried for half an hour about whether those gabbing women were going to do their duty, how you could glare them into doing it, how you'd take over when they didn't, how you'd poke him not just once, but as many times as it took to get him up and out because you would imagine yourself responsible....
I really like the image of the zoo, the reading and the wandering,