Your thick fingers, grimy, offer up a first class ticket. She’s offended, that ticket taking lady. The dirt stands out, especially on this train. Your hands got character though, right?
There’s no sonofabitch with more character than you, friend.
You do the world a great favor when you plop down and stick your feet up on the facing suede seat. You don’t run to the toilet to wash. You let the dirt ride. Devas love that, sprites adore that. Self-doubt makes the world cringe.
In Italy they’d arrest you for putting your muddy shoes up. What the hell. Let’s just say no matter how low life gets there’s always a silver lining. Let’s depend upon it, shall we? Especially today because it’s today, no other reason. This day is always The Day, right? I’ve been watching you for a long time, and today you make me smile, friend.
You’re always talking:
“Oh madam! Did I give you a heart attack just now? When my boot smeared mud all over this fine clean seat here? Fake suede and mud a little scary for ya?”
Madam glares, smooths her skirt, shifts in her seat, averts her eyes. It’s anyone’s guess whether the dirt, the boot or the smell alarm her. So why pick the suede and mud taunt? I'm just wondering is all, just tell me.
“You want me to talk about the smell? That’s my private smell. I’m not revealing a damn thing about my smell. Other than the obvious! Suede and mud work fine!”
You’re right, Talker.
“Of course I’m right. Why do you care about correcting the specific thing that alarms the lady. You can’t read her mind and neither can I.”
“Of course it’s true. I don't need anyone putting a damper on every damn thing! Watch it! Observe yourself! Here’s your opportunity to get enlightened and go with the flow. Talkin’ about today is The Day!”
Passengers hunker a little lower in their seats because you’re shouting. Some take your suggestion. They imagine getting enlightened as they pause behind newspaper stories on racist assassinations. Some pause in the glow of facebook posts that advertise real estate, promote personality tests, or describe how police crack protesters' shins. They'd like to quit their jobs, get the courage to roam, have an adventure, die before their time but have that adventure. And after the daydream, reality scolds them. The very divine flavor of your scent settles in with them as well, and the travelers, collectively, hunker down even lower in their seats - maybe trying to sneak under the wafting currents of unmistakable you. Oh well, the devas and sprites say, courage is hard won. Hobo ranting and scary things are nothing new on the planet but still unexpected here in the fancier part of the train. You have a deep voice for a lady, and it’s loud.
“I like it. I like the way it feels, rattles deep in my chest like that. Like I have tuberculosis. Maybe I do! I forget!” So many diagnoses, rescue hospital visits, ailments.
Plastic chandeliers sparkle as they sway. The train has been picking up speed for a while. A young redhead transportation waitress stares, offers tea, like they do in first class. The kid is confused. I like it when you pull a crisp twenty from your worldly worn pocket and your worldly finger dirt marks the bill. The lady ticket taker, who has been watching from a few feet away, steps forward.
She asks you where you got that twenty.
“Ya know my stock man fouled things up, and instead of screwing people for a million, he screwed the citizenry for only this angry little twenty. Of course he’s FIRED!”
Go get ‘em!
She asks to examine your ticket.
“As I recall it’s been seen and checked and here I am.”
She asks how you got it, the first class ticket. I hear your broad hearty laugh and am inspired to the core. Friend, that laugh is powerful, it could liberate the world. The train car vibrates with it. You’ve stolen so many things but not this ticket. It came to the encampment. Tickets to anywhere trickle from the sky sometimes, paid tickets get you and your friends out of town. You’d received them before and threw away the envelope this time before checking the return address. So there's no unraveling the first class joke that causes so much trouble. It must have been a fluke.
“Must have been a mistake.”
She says she’s taking you to the “back car” for further questioning. “Yes ma’am you take me back there for a good beating! I’ve got some questions too!”
Two men appear and grab either arm, they do the dragging. All your fine fellow-citizen passengers hear you shout, “We’re going to the back car for some questioning! Bring your iphone cameras!”
The last time you were questioned --
“ -- the last time I was questioned those teenagers raped me! Broken ribs too! Bring those cameras!”
You are strong and good, though. I’m not worried about you. You’re gonna get through this, a little high from something you scored. And it’s hard to answer these questions, so much forgotten about life. The dumb stuff of life doesn’t matter anyway, right? Remembering dumb stuff does secure a temp job though.
Here are a couple things I remember that you’ve forgotten.
In your early teens you hung around a radical leftist group when your mom died, but the group was too dogmatic for you. At a hospital where you volunteered you soothed a traumatized two year old who wandered the halls looking for her mom. The nursing assistant shamed her tears as he gave her a sedative, but you stood up for her. At the elementary school where you volunteered, you told the class loser he could be a great teacher. No one believed it, but you told the truth.
You wanted to be a performer. You raised your little sister. You helped a lot of dying folks on the street. As a peaceful protester police broke your arm dragging you into oncoming traffic. They detained you and five other wounded in a paddy wagon decorated with Nazi paraphenalia. You've been in jail a few times for different things, protesting, loitering, drugging.
You took heroin and alcohol. You slept with a cab driver after learning about his restraining order. A rich father figure took you to Italy for favors.
A disease made your fingers thick. You do have tuberculosis. You had an appendectomy when you were 30.
You played the ukulele.
But fancy train authorities aren’t gonna know this stuff. You’ve forgotten it, and they don’t care. Ticket taker makes a call to alert the police at the next station, which happens to be your destination. Those big men pull you off the train now in the night. They walk you down the platform toward the police car at the end.
It starts to snow.
It's too sad to watch a lonely person escorted by strangers to a police car, but there's no other spectacle or sound to distract. The snow doesn't shout, the stars hide tonight. There’s no wind, and you go quietly. So the passengers turn away. It's unbearable so they turn away. But I'll watch you. I'll hear your footsteps. I'll see you. When I see the car at the end of the platform, I'll wonder for you. I'll wonder how you're going to go or when. I'll wonder how many strangers you can suffer before you've been done.
Somebody’s shouting, and your escorts stop moving. Somebody’s shouting the name Grace on this wet platform. The startled men fall away. When you turn around somebody's running toward you. She slows down as she gets near though.
“She’s shocked,” you say, but you don't recognize her, and I think you’re right. She’s frightened with shock. She walks toward you slowly now, takes you in her arms, says the name Gracie many times. And now you know who sent you that ticket.
“She’s my baby sister.” Your heart is nothing but pain.
I love you Gracie, she says and starts to cry. She wipes those tears with a stained cloth you hand her. “Don’t cry, my little baby girl,” you say.
Your sister's had better luck than you, enough luck to find you and buy a first class ticket just once in her life. No more first class tickets for either of you, but you won't need first class tickets or mergers or stocks or to be bosses or to own people or property. No one ever needs those things, the devas and sprites sing. “They need each other,” you say, rattling so deep people actually turn to see what happened.
And now it’s time for me to leave.
I love you too, ya know. I’m proud of you for being a mensch this whole time. This scary awful time that life handed out. And all those blows you took, and all those folks you saved by your example or by your wisdom, and all that greed you turned down.
You won’t hear from me again, dear heart. But when you get home tonight and soak in the tub, smell fresh sheets, love yourself, and probably get clean and sober (that will go better than you think, buddy), I’ll be blowing you kisses and kisses and kisses. I’ll be celebrating you and sending you love like always. And there’ll be no more cynicism because we’ve both just broken down on this platform now. Your cloth holds tears for all three of us. You, your sister and me. Let’s just break down now, love. You’ll get strong and create and help others get strong soon enough only because we’ve just broken down here in this real world.
Fate decides the fascists lose - for your life at least. You catch a glimpse of yourself as the large station window reflects you, you fallen on the wet platform pavement weeping in your sister’s arms. It could have gone a different way in this world.
Let’s just cry real good now.