Commuting – The Specialist

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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.”

 

 

Commuters – The Pupusa

“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.

Commuters

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.

Commuters – Parking

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.

Grumpy morning

Saturn

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.

Choice

 

After they colonized Mars we humans left on Earth started to worry. Rumors flew. The food will run out and the fresh water will disappear.

There were right about the food.

Savage fighting has engulfed the world. Friends and relatives fight over scraps. Roaming bands of thugs hunt down weak and defenseless humans. Cannibalism is rife.

My mate found out yesterday that she is with child. We visited the doctor this afternoon and he gave us a choice.

“You look like reasonable people,” the doctor said. He scanned the genome map in front of him. “I can make him healthy and strong, if you agree,” he said.

My mate shook her head. “It isn’t natural,” she said.

The doctor smiled and pointed at a dark band on the screen. “All I have to do is delete this,” he said. “Your boy will never feel hunger. He will have a tremendous advantage.”

I didn’t know what to think. The doctor’s argument sounded reasonable.

“You have a choice,” the doctor said. “I need an answer. Now.”

Tears rolled down my mate’s cheeks and she looked up at me, hoping to find an ally. I shook my head.

“Do it,” I said.

“But,” my mate said.

I held her by the shoulders and stared into her eyes. “It’s the only way.”

The doctor tapped on the screen and a sinuous metal arm approached my mate and before we could react a silver needle darted forward into a blood vessel in the back of her hand.

My mate whimpered and her eyes closed.

The doctor turned to us. “There, it’s done. You can rest assured that you have made the correct decision.”

My mate turned to me in horror. “You monster,” she said.

“The child’s digestive organs will atrophy and eventually disappear,” the doctor said. “At the same time, the new autotrophic system will develop.”

My mate closed her eyes and squeezed both hands into fists.

“There is nothing to worry about,” the doctor said with a smile. “He will still be able to pass liquids and solids through his alimentary canal if he wishes, although I rather doubt he will make that decision.”

“Let’s go,” I said to my mate. “Our boy will live, that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”

My mate looked up at me and shook her head.

 

lion

Down

Muscles rippled under tawny fur. The male lion yawned and closed its eyes while it basked in the Sun. Its eyes snapped open as it heard the swish of an animal moving through the tall grass. The lion raised itself higher on its haunches and it stared at the waving blades of green.

The land rover stopped and the guide put a finger to his lips. “He’s past it,” the guide said. “Broke his leg last week and he hasn’t moved from this spot.”

The tourists murmured and trained their binoculars on the massive cat.

The lion saw the humans and its stomach whimpered. It longed for a red,  juicy piece of flesh. The lion lurched to its feet with its right rear leg dragging limply on the ground.

The tourists chattered among themselves as they snapped photos. “What will happen to it?” a female tourist asked.

The guide shook his head. “Such a terrible shame, he’s magnificent,” he said. “He’ll be put down. His pelt will end up in a souvenir shop.”

The tourists shook their heads and muttered.

“They’ll make key chains from the claws and the teeth, and maybe some jewelry,” the guide said.

One of the tourists, a thin woman with a heart-shaped face, stood and reached into her purse. She pulled out a shiny silver pistol.

“Hold on little lady,” the guide said. “Someone from the Wildlife department will take care of the old guy. You need to put that firearm away before you hurt someone.”

The lady pointed the gun at the guide and spoke. “Empty the vehicle,” she said. She waved the gun at the tourists. “Help him, quick. Get everything out.”

The guide pursed his lips and squinted at the lady. “I know you’re upset about the lion Ma’am but it’s the natural course of nature. Animals die so others can get born,” he said.

The thin lady didn’t speak and the barrel of the pistol followed the guide as he lugged bags and cases out of the vehicle and placed them on the sand.

“Now,” the lady said. “Move the vehicle next to the lion, as close as you can.”

The guide sputtered. “Are you nuts? He’s a wild animal, a man eater. If he could he would chew your face off in a second.”

“Just do it,” the lady said.

One of the tourists got into the vehicle and moved it to within inches of the animal. The tourist jumped out of the vehicle and he breathed a sigh of relief when he rejoined the group.

The lady waved the gun at the guide. “Put him in the back seat,” she said.

“What? There is no way I am going near that animal,” the guide said.

“It’s your choice. Do as I tell you or get a bullet in the head,” the lady said.

The guide shook his head and approached the lion.

By this time the lion had become bored with the antics of the humans.  He yawned and the tourists exclaimed as they saw his long yellow teeth.

The guide had an idea. I’ll tempt it into the vehicle with food. He pulled a piece of biltong out of his shirt pocket. The guide approached the lion on tiptoes holding the thin piece of dried beef as far away as possible.

The lion struggled to its feet. It’s deep growl caused the guide to jump back. The lion limped forward following the guide into the vehicle. The guide tossed the biltong onto the rear seat and the lion clambered into the back of the vehicle. Using its rough tongue the lion pulled the dry meat into its mouth and it began to chew.

“There, are you satisfied now?” the guide said. “How are we going to get out of here?

The thin lady grinned at the guide. “You aren’t going anywhere,” she said. She climbed into the driver’s seat, started the engine, and drove into the bush.

Image from NASA public domain - M39, The Archaipelago Cluster

Out

“I’m fed up,” I said as I shook my head.

“Come on, I made a mistake. Sue me,” the short man said.

I stare at him, trying to understand why he did such a stupid thing. The short man fidgeted in his spacesuit, blinking back tears.

“You broke the sacred rule,” I said. “Strict discipline is needed if humans are going to survive in deep space.”

“I promise. I will never do it again,” the short man said. His lower lip quivered and he closed his eyes.

“Out,” I said. I pushed him into the airlock and he didn’t resist. The others didn’t say a word. They watched as I pushed the button and ejected the short man from the station.

A puff of white vapor emerged from the pod as it shot into the distance.

I rubbed my hands together and turned to talk to the crew. I will scare the daylights out of them. I can’t afford any more of these petty rebellions. I drew myself up to my full height and opened my mouth to speak.

They rushed me. I never had a chance. I estimate that I have fifteen minutes of oxygen left.