The Next Day Part 10

May 18th, 2012 by Wordsman

The image of the loyal pupil forced the woman to back off a little from her cantankerousness.  “I mean, it might not be totally pointless.  It’s something that just came to me a few months back.  But I can’t ever figure out if it does anything, because every time I try to sing it, a train pulls up and interrupts me.”

He glanced over at the empty platform.  “Haven’t you ever thought that maybe the song is what’s making the trains arrive?”

Something about being down here all the time must be making me stupider, she thought.  Maybe it’s the bad air. “Oh.  Hey.  I bet you’re right.  Well, sounds pretty useless to me, but since you’re so eager to learn, here goes.”

The shapeless pile of rags that was the woman’s body expanded slightly, her cracked lips parted, and then a sound that made those images seem even uglier in comparison emerged.  It was a gentle, faintly mournful tune that in no way called the image of a speeding subway train to mind.  It was the most beautiful voice he had ever heard.  Peter tried to tell himself that he hadn’t put up the fuss about wanting to learn simply to hear her sing again.  He was not entirely convinced.

And, right on cue, in the middle of a phrase, a train pulled into the station.

“There you go,” the woman said, after the mechanical shrieking had cut out.  “Practice that.  Just don’t do it while you’re standing on any train tracks, I guess.”

Peter nodded.  Years of having to memorize songs for band had given him an excellent memory for tunes, and this one wasn’t especially complicated, so he didn’t need her to go through it more than once.  He closed his eyes and ran his fingers along the flute once without blowing.  “Thanks,” he said, lowering the instrument.  “Now then, I suppose I’d better let you get back to . . . whatever it is you do here.”

The woman laughed unpleasantly.  Peter started to walk away, but then he paused and turned back.  Oh great.  What now? “One last thing.  I realized that I went through all of yesterday without ever introducing myself.  I’m Peter Hamlin.”  He extended a hand.

She took it.  Her hand was not as unpleasant as he had expected.  Then again, his only previous contact with her hands had been when they were either twisting his arm or striking his cheek.  “Nice to meet you,” she said.  I hope, she added silently.

Peter stopped shaking and frowned.  “Um, this is the part where you introduce yourself.”

She smiled.  It was an extremely fragile smile, like a suspension bridge made out of toothpicks, or a skyscraper made of playing cards, or anything else that could collapse from a slight change in the wind.  “People call me the Old Woman of Simon Park Station.”

“And what do you call yourself?”

“I call myself ‘me.’  Or sometimes ‘I.’”

“You know what I mean.”

The Old Woman of Simon Park Station sighed and looked down at her lap.  “I really don’t.”  Her possible train-summoning song had been slow and sad, but her tone of speech now made it seem like a five-year-old’s birthday party in comparison.  “I don’t remember my name.  I don’t know who I am, or where I came from.  I don’t remember anything before I showed up here.”

She expected another barrage of questions from her interrogator, questions she had pointlessly asked herself time and time again.  But instead she just heard him say, “Okay.”  She looked up to see him headed back toward the exit, but he stopped one last time.  “If you don’t remember where you came from,” he said gently, “how do you know it wasn’t worse than here?”

“Worse than here?”  She looked around at the noisy children, the bedraggled parents, the humorless faces of people who had to go into work on a Saturday.  She heard the subway doors bump roughly shut and the train pull out of the station for the twentieth time that morning.  She smelled bad coffee and oil and a number of things even grosser than that.  Simon Park Station was a world without sunlight, a world without music, a world without hope.

“That’s not possible.”

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One Response

  1. Shirley Says:

    Getting heavy!!!

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