Not long ago, on a faraway island, a tiny girl firefly was born. As you may know, male fireflies come out at night and flash green lights to attract a mate. Sometimes the females also produce light.
One starry night this special girl firefly gazed at the sky. Then she began to do something unheard of. She began to sing. A soft melody wove through the blades of grass and rose up into the coconut trees.
Crabs scuttled onto the beach and birds cocked their heads as they heard the beautiful music. People on the islands wondered and smiled as they listened.
That little firefly’s singing became known far and wide. Soon everyone clamored to hear her so she flew over the wide blue oceans to another bigger land.
Everyone wanted to learn how to sing from her but she decided she wanted to teach the little ones. The lady firefly brought the joy of music to many.
We all know that fireflies do not live forever. They bring so much beauty to the world that if they stayed too long we wouldn’t know what to do with all of the wonder.
The lady firefly decided that the time was right. One special night she sang and sang and then she beamed her green-golden light into the night sky. After a few minutes she switched out her light and went to sleep, satisfied that her job had been done well.
Her song in light still travels through our solar system, out of our galaxy, and to the edges of the universe, bringing joy to all.
They look like a perfect family. You know the kind I mean; the ones who send out a postcard with a photo; everyone wears red shirts and they are all doing the latest dance move. Dad is tall and distinguished with touches of gray at the temples. Mom holds a toddler on her lap while sitting between two teenagers, a boy and a girl.
I wonder where they are going. I wonder what it’s like to be a member of their happy family on this sunny day.
“Stop it,” the mom said. The little boy squirms on her lap. He has a vanilla ice cream cone and he is mashing it into his face repeatedly.
“Eww, you’re gross,” the teenage daughter said as she stares at her young brother. Her nose ring wobbles as she speaks and the purple tint on her mohawk shines in the sunlight.
The dad closes his eyes and clenches his fists.
“Now you’ve done it,” the mom said as she leaps to her feet. Sticky ice cream oozes over the seat. The mom pulls tissues out of her purse and she tries to clean up the mess. “We’ll have to move to another seat,” she said.
Great, you foul the seat so no one can sit on it and now you are going to mess up another one. I watch with disgust as the melted ice cream drips onto the floor and runs down the aisle toward my shoe.
I had to work late so here I am waiting for the train to Penn at three in the morning. I am the only one on the platform. I wonder if anyone will even take my ticket.
As I enter a car I kick a dirty coffee cup out of the way. A trickle of beer from an overturned can runs the length of the floor. The bathroom reeks so I rush by into the next car. It’s filthy. Trash covers the floor and seats but at least the air smells okay.
I find a seat by a window and throw my coat on the overhead rack. I figure I’ll take a short nap. I close my eyes. A noise wakes me. I hear footsteps dragging along the floor. I turn and see a homeless lady sit across the aisle from me. Damn, I just want some peace and quiet.
“Sir, got any spare change?” she said.
I look at her and stiffen in my seat. She looks like one of those mummies you see in National Geographic. Waxy skin is drawn tight over sharp bones surrounding empty, cold eyes.
“Well, I ain’t got all night,” she said. She leans toward me and I smell the alcohol on her breath.
I don’t know what to do. If I give her something will she leave me alone? Probably not. Hey, she’s probably starving, give her a break. But she’ll just use it buy crack or whatever drug she is high on. I reach into my pocket and pull out loose change and drop it into her outstretched palm.
“Shit, that’s all you got?” she said.
“Sorry,” I said. I pull out my earbuds, plug them in my phone and turn on some music.
It happens so fast I can’t believe it. The sharp blades of a pair of scissors press against my neck. The woman hisses at me. “Give me your wallet now muther fucker,” she said.
I tremble and sit stunned, not sure what to do. She has a crazed look in her eyes. I have no doubt that she will kill me. Even if I give her my wallet, she’ll probably cut me anyway.
“Look, I’m sorry. I can’t get my wallet like this. I indicate the blade at my throat. I need to stand up to get it,” I said.
She presses the shears into my skin and draws blood. “I don’t trust you,” she said.
“Please, I promise,” I said. “Let me up and you can have everything.”
“You better not be playing,” she said. “I’ll kill you for sure.”
She stands over me poised with the scissors. “Well, get the damn thing,” she said.
I know that I might only have one chance. I grab my backpack and shove it at the hand with the scissors. At the same time I leap to my feet and run down the aisle. I hear her screech in anger behind me.
“I will cut your liver out white boy,” she said.
I make it into the next car, not daring to look back. I’ve got to find a conductor. The train moves slowly, clicking and squealing over the tracks. I sneak a look back and I see the woman weaving from side to side, shaking her fist in my direction. I swear I can see her eyes following me even from this distance. I continue to run.
I realize that I left my coat on the rack above. Damn, it’s freezing out. Well, it’s better than resting on a slab in the morgue.
I can’t believe it, every car is empty. I don’t know what to do. The train approaches a stop. I know that the station is locked up for the night. At this hour no one will be there, not even the psychotic cab drivers. Maybe I should get off and find a cop. Who am I kidding? I wouldn’t know where to go. Should I stay on the train all the way to Penn station? But what if she follows me? Eventually I’ll reach the last car. What happens then?
I decide to take a chance and get off at the next station. The train screeches to a halt and the doors open. I lean out and look both ways. I don’t see a soul on the platform. There is no way she would get off here since it is a lily white suburb. I step onto the platform and run to the dark station. I hear the sound of the doors closing and the train starts to move. I watch the windows in the hope that I will see her. Once I know where she is I can relax.
The cars go by and I don’t see anyone through the windows. My shoulders drop and I heave a sigh of relief. I am shivering from the cold but I can use my phone to call a cab. Maybe I can find a place to get a cup of coffee and wait for the next train. I better call the guys and tell them I’m going to be late.
I feel a sharp pain in my neck and warm liquid flows down into my shirt. My field of vision narrows and I feel myself falling.
He entered with the train at H__ville. His bicycle clanked as he maneuvered it through the door. A neon pink headband crowned his bald head.
The other passengers moved out of his way and looked at the floor.
“Hey, good morning, I lost my ticket and I am trying to get to my mother’s funeral in New Jersey,” he said with a grin. He held a callused hand out in supplication. “Any help you can give is greatly appreciated.”
He moved down the aisle and the reek of an unwashed body was left in his wake.
“I don’t normally do this. It’s an emergency. I know you understand,” he said. “Even a dollar or fifty cents would help.”
So far no one responded. He continued moving through the car.
“I know you might not believe me but it’s true. It happened yesterday and I lost my wallet,” he said. “Anything, anything at all.”
A well dressed man in a suit wrinkled his nose as the man passed. “He’s plastered,” the man in the suit said.
The man with the bicycle stiffened and stopped. He turned and glared at the man in the suit. After turning around he continued. “I’m sorry I bothered you folks with my dirty objectionable presence.” The train stopped at the next station. The man took a look back at the occupants of the car and shook his head. “Some day you might need some help,” he muttered as he wheeled his bike out of the train onto the platform.
Across from me a lady stares daggers at me. I look down and continue to read the business section of the paper. I feel her eyes on me and I sneak a peek. She elbows the passenger next to her and whispers in his ear.
“Excuse me,” the woman said.
I ignore her and keep reading.
“I am talking to you,” she said.
I sigh and look up. I see a gray haired African American lady. She is wearing a black overcoat and holding a sheaf of papers in her hands.
“Do you have a problem with your hearing young man,” she said.
Me, a young man? Hah. “No, I am trying to catch up on the news,” I said.
“The human aorta is a foot long and an inch in diameter,” she said.
“That’s nice,” I said. I bury my nose in the newspaper. The woman is nuts.
“Does this train go to Penn Station?” she said.
I look up. I can’t keep a look of irritation off my face. “Yes,” I said.
“Thank you,” the woman said as she rustled her papers. “Do you know how many branches the aorta has?”
I shake my head. I just want to read the paper. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to know anything.
“There are twenty branches. Well, not really since some are in pairs,” she said.
I take out my ear phones and plug them into my phone with a savage gesture. I punch my phone with my finger and crank up a loud rock song. There, no way she can penetrate my wall of sound. I go back to the article on the Fed. Goddamn it, raise the interest rates already. I feel a tap on the shoulder. I look up and her face is inches away from mine. Her pupils are gigantic. I pull one of the ear buds out of my right ear.
“What?” I said.
“CREAM,” she said.
“What are you talking about?” I said.
She points at me and looks me up and down. “CREAM.”
I put my earbud back in. Stupid idiots on this train. I just want to be left in peace for a few minutes.
The lady turns to the man next to her. “CREAM, Congenital Rheumatic damage, Endocarditis, Aortic dissection, Marfan’s,” she said. The man next to her nodded. “I can tell just by looking at him, ” she said.
I look up and now the woman and the man next to her are both staring at me. What? Did I do something wrong? I continue to read and ignore them.
“I tried,” she said to the man next to her. He nodded. “Too bad, he looks like a nice young man.”
“Fuck the pupusa,” the plump woman said.
I looked up from my phone. “What the hell is a pupusa?” I said.
A slim, young man, probably a college student, spoke up. “It’s a delicious food from El Salvador,” he said as he licked his lips. “Made of a corn tortilla filled with cheese and meat.”
The plump woman began to sob.
I shrugged my shoulders in the woman’s direction. “What’s with her?” I said in a low voice. I didn’t want her to hear me. She might be a psycho and attack me.
The college student shook his head.
“I kill you when I get home,” the plump woman said. She then rattled off a heated string of words in Spanish.
I raised my eyebrows.
The college student whispered to me. “She’s furious about the pupusa. Not sure if someone ate it or what.”
The plump woman took a tall can of beer out of her handbg. She slipped a paper bag over the can and cracked the tab. Before she sipped she stared at each passenger in her field of view, as if daring them to disapprove.
The conductor came into the car. “Tickets please.” He went from row to row punching tickets.
I bet that crazy woman will refuse to pay or start a fight. I watched as the conductor approached the plump woman. “Ticket please,” he said to the woman. “Why Ingrid, it’s great to see you. How ya doing?”
“It’s a lovely day isn’t it,” the plump woman said as she handed the ticket to the conductor.
My jaw almost hit the floor. I watched as the conductor chatted with the woman about the weather and the exhibit at the Met.
The conductor finished and left for the next car.
The plump woman pulled out her phone and clamped it next to her hear. “Bastard, stuff your fat face with queso and die,” she said.
I smiled and put my ear phones back in.
I found a seat and sat. Damn, I’m on the wrong side. I knew that if the Sun came out I would receive repeated flashes of bright sunlight directly in my face the whole trip. I sighed and leaned back, hoping that would be the only discomfort I would have to endure.
A portly middle aged lady got on. She waddled down the aisle and flopped into the seat across from me. Two rows up, a tall guy in a well tailored suit pulled out his laptop. People continued to stream into the car.
So far so good. It looks like this will be an uneventful trip. I pulled out my phone and started to punch the screen mindlessly. I looked around and smiled. Everyone had a phone in front of their nose or held up next to their ear.
The loud nasal voice startled me. The portly woman shouted into her phone. “Bastard, I paid,” she said. She continued in Spanish, spitting the words into the phone.
I pulled out earphones and played music in order to drown out the yelling.
The doors closed and the train jerked into motion.
Little did I know that the nightmare had just begun.
I rev the engine as I wait for the light to turn green. The parking garage looms in the distance. My foot twitches over the pedal ready to floor it. Shit. An elderly lady with a shopping cart begins to cross against the light.
Come on! I scream to myself silently. Why can’t people obey the rules? Just once. I see my train is already on Platform B. Damn, once I park I will have to sprint up and down the steps to get to it.
The old lady has stopped right in the middle of the street. I can’t move. Should I honk? No you bastard, how can you honk at an old lady.
Beep! Beep! I hear a yell from behind me. The old woman has started to limp her way to the other side. I still can’t move. I flip the guy behind me the bird. Oops, it’s not a guy. It’s a woman in a business suit driving a gigantic SUV.
The light changes red and the old lady has finished crossing. Now I have to wait a second time. I hit the gas as soon as the light changes and the person behind me honks again.
I try not to get pissed off. They are probably trying to make the train also. I race into the dark entrance to the lower level of the garage. If I’m lucky there will be an open spot here. The guys who work the night shift sometimes leave right before I arrive. No luck today. I continue racing up the levels of the garage.
I hope no one pulls out or I’ll smash right into them. I am on the fourth level and still haven’t found a spot. Now I’m on the roof and every spot is full. Damn, I start to sweat. I have to drive all the way back down, out of the garage, and through two traffic lights to the outdoor parking lot. I’m sure it will be almost full. Once I do get a spot I will have to sprint all the way back to the station.
I’ll never make it.
I manage to hit green lights and I get the car parked. I lock the door and run.
Of course I am not in shape for a half mile run in the freezing cold while wearing my suit. I sound like a horse galloping in my dress shoes on the sidewalk.
My chest is burning and I think I’ve torn the ligaments in my right knee. I stagger and limp to the crosswalk. Like an idiot I press the button and wait for the walk sign. Cars whiz by and I wait for an opening.
Finally it is my turn. I shuffle across the street and with my last ounce of energy I lunge and limp to the staircase. I hear the conductor announce “Penn Station” and I know that I am doomed.
I stagger up the stairs and as soon as I take the first step down, my knee gives out. I crumple to the step in agony. With superhuman effort I pull myself up and use the rail as a crutch. I am on the platform.
A fat-faced conductor watches me as I limp towards the open door. He gives me a shit-eating grin and the doors snap closed in front of me. The train moves.
I scream, curse, and stare at the conductor but his eyes are blank. I am a nonentity. He turns and looks away as the train departs.
My shoulders slump. I turn and watch a dirty sparrow chewing on a food wrapper.
I wish I had never been born. Can you imagine living in a place like this? The first person who left Earth and came here must have been crazy. Goddamn Enceladus!
How would you like to live on a ball of ice? I squirmed and my rolls of fat jiggled in my spacesuit. It really pisses me off that we have to be tubs of lard to survive in this godforsaken place.
I waddled along the passageway in the solar greenhouse checking the veggies. Everything looked good. I sigh and decide to get ready to return home.
As I pull on my shades I realize that my facial fat folds are not covering my extremities completely. Damn, I need to up my calorie intake if I want to keep my ears from becoming popsicles. I pull on my long blades and check to make sure I don’t have any heat leaks.
I push through the airlock and hop onto the ice. Soon I am weaving and jinking across the shimmering surface. I dodge craters and fissures and my heart leaps with joy.
I guess this place isn’t that bad after all.