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Margaret always rode the train on Thursdays and Saturdays. Thursday, after she got home from her second job at the museum, which was too far a walk, and Saturday when she returned from visiting her mother in the hospital. The hospital was all the way in Somerset, so she took the train to Fall River and took a taxi the rest of the way. It was a habit for her now. Her mother, a tender old woman with creases of laughter crisscrossing her face, was currently in the hospital for her Alzheimer’s. She was so old, too old to care for herself at the ripe age of 92. Lately her mother’s dementia had been progressing. She could remember the time she asked Margaret how her son were doing (How’s little Christopher? Is he still making all the girls swoon?) Margaret doesn’t have a son. She isn’t even married. Christopher is her brother’s son. She still remembers the day, too, and how the clouds were blanketing the roof and threatened a downpour, and the smell of chicken broth. It scared her then. It scares her now. Her mother, who used to be so strong, was now so fragile; she could barely remember the day it was.
Today being Thursday, she returned from her tedious job of giving tours at the Museum of History in Providence. She was well traveled in New England, living in southwestern Rhode Island and having to go to Providence almost every day. She got on the train and sat down in her usual seat. She sighed tiredly and began to flip through a People magazine, dated almost two months ago. The train didn’t replace them until the next year, so Margaret usually brought her own reading supplies. Today, though, she had forgotten, her tours running late, to grab a history magazine from the desk in the Museum foyer. Smoothing a page down, she scanned the words. The magazine was dated from August, and she barely got halfway through an article of “Sexiest Beach Bodies” before throwing it carelessly to the ground. It was October. Snow lined the ground.
She was bored, listless. The trip felt interminable, like they were riding through ice. The ride took longer than usual, with them having to stop at so many places. East Providence. Central Falls. Pawtucket. Warwick. Tiverton. The list went on and on. She dug in her bag, lazily thrown on the seat next to her, and pulled out a silver iPod. She lay her head against the window, brown hair sticking to the cool surface, and put the earbuds in.
Margaret was in the halfway place between consciousness and sleep, and was dreaming of her mother. She still heard the music, and she saw her mother was dancing in the kitchen, a white apron on, spinning a young Margaret in the air. They were baking a chocolate cake; for Margaret’s birthday.
“Honey,” her mother cooed, “Go get your brothers so we can BANG!” What? “I said, go get your brothers so we can BANG! BANG!” The strange sound was getting louder. Now whenever her mother opened her mouth, all she heard was BANG! BANG! BANG!
“Mommy, what’s wrong?” she cried. Her mother just smiled, and BANGED! over and over. Margaret awoke with a start and another BANG! What is that? Thunder? But it wasn’t raining before I-- BANG! Again? She frantically ran through scenarios in her head. The sound was so familiar... she’d heard it somewhere before. Where? TV? Finally, she knew. A gun. Someone had a gun on the train. BANG! She looked outside. Suddenly the world seemed so gray. All of the buildings melted together and the sky was sooty and sad. She turned around and saw a man. He was tall and rotund, with a generous gut and a grimy moustache. He was speaking but she didn’t hear anything. All sounds were liquefying, hollowing into nothing but BANG! She thought she might be deaf. She knew she wasn’t when he finally screamed:
“Lady! Get the hell outta that seat! We gotta go to the next car!”
“What—but wait—What’s going on?!” she cried in confusion.
“Some guy has a gun! He’s been shootin’ all over the place! We gotta get goin’!” the man shouted, a slight New England sound in his words. His voice held awe and shock, and there was a paradox of calmness and panic on his face. “They’re comin’ this way!” With that, the man, who Margaret would later learn was named Harley, yanked her by the arm out of the seat. Margaret ran along, her black bag forgotten in the panic of the moment.
While they were running through the aisle, Margaret took a second to look at the people on the train. They were everyday people, caught in an extraordinary situation. There was a man holding his daughter. Their bags were strewn across their laps and they were praying. An old woman was hugging on to her equally old husband, both with tears in their eyes and antiquated wedding bands on their fingers. A young boy, no older than Christopher, was crying. He was traveling alone, she figured, when she only saw one bag on the seat next to him. His green eyes were teary and she was about to call out to him, to grab his hand and hold him, but she was yanked forward by Harley. Why won’t they run? They could make it—We can get away from them! She reasoned. Harley dragged her through the car doors.
Wind bit her skin and the cold slapped her in the face. She glanced around. The world was the same outside. Margaret had expected everything to be dilapidated. She thought the sun would be shining red and the roads would bend through the earth and erupt into the air. She felt as if the clouds should be dripping down their blue canvas. Nothing was wrong. People were still going to work, to the park, to the drugstore, to the museum, to the hospital, to school, to work, to loved ones, to boyfriends, to girlfriends, to parents, to children. They heard the train like every day, and the whistle screamed for help but nobody understood. They didn’t know about the horror going on inside. BANG! A familiar blur passed by as she jumped over the link connecting the two train cars. She remembered her old boyfriend—George—riding the train with her. That was the first time she switched cars.
“C’mon, honey, it’s only a small leap,” George would say, “Just a little, tiny jump.”
“What if I fall?” She whispered. Margaret wasn’t pessimistic. She wasn’t realistic, either.
“Then I’ll catch you,” George yelled loud enough over the roar of the train.
That simple phrase is what made her take the leap. As always, a leap turned into love, and their relationship progressed steadily. They’d spend sunny days in the blistering cold down at the beach and meet in small cafés amid dry conversation. She’d always love George, but they wanted different things; he left her on a rainy street with a broken umbrella and thirty-six dollars.
“C’mon, lady, let’s get you in here.” Harley yelled, snapping her back into the present.
“Wait—You’re not coming too?” She exclaimed in disbelief.
“There are other people I gotta get.” He replied, as if it was the simplest thing in the world.
A saint, she thought.
“No! You need to come! You have to—You can’t just—“ Harley cut her off,
“Lady, I have to save those people. Let me do it. It’s my job.” She never realized he was wearing a uniform. Saint. He started to walk away, opening the door.
“Wait,” she screamed, “what’s your name?”
“Harley!” He yelled.
“I’m Margaret!” She tried to yell back, but the door slammed shut. BANG! That was the last time she saw Harley.
She whipped the door open and ran into the next car, pushing suitcases and boxes against the door. Yeah, some suitcases and cardboard is going to stop those madmen. There is that pessimism again, she thought sardonically afterward. She got her pessimism from her father. He died a couple of years back. He was a grand man in appearance and language, and always made you feel miniscule. He had a scruffy beard and twinkling brown eyes that could see your lies. Margaret remembered he would have this way about him, this way where he would smile at you mid-sentence and silence you. She always felt her missteps in his presence. He was stern, pretentious, and austere. Margaret loved him to death.
There was no one else in the car. She soon realized this was the car for the train employees, and they were all over the train, tending to the riders. Although the train line was city-based, they tried to lavish their customers in luxury. They’re okay. Probably having some tea and laughing over the dining table. She knew she was wrong though. I bet the conductor’s dead. They’re all dead. Those praying idiots are dead. That old couple is dead. That boy with the blonde hair is—
“No!” she screamed, not letting herself hear the last word. “No, no, no! Why? Why me? Why them! Why today! For God’s sakes, Why?!” She beat the ground and the walls. She was in a fit, the whole world melting around her. Her entire life was upbraided in one fell swoop. She was crying like a maniac and was about to—BANG! That shook her out of her crazed stupor. She was still alive. She needed to find a place to hide. They were close. So close. In the next car close. She could almost feel their body heat oozing through the metal walls.
She rushed around the room in a frenzy, tipping over suitcases and knocking over tray tables. God, where can I hide? There’s nowhere to go! Suddenly she heard muffled laughter. Laughter. It had been a million years since she heard laughter. She almost smiled. Her crazed mind settled down, and she realized it was the laughter of hell. Of fire. Of death.
She could now hear scratchy words. It’s like she was trying to listen to a record through syrup. She looked around. Where? Where, Where! Her eyes landed on a carrying compartment below a seat. She almost applauded. It was small. Maybe I should go to another lot? She deadpanned. She moved a suitcase that had flung itself open, spilling books and underwear and toothpaste all over the floor. She pushed herself inside.
It was dark and quiet. She felt safe. She felt loved. She felt warm. Margaret pushed herself into the back and stayed still. Like a stone. She pulled back the black curtain, and waited.
The men entered. They were laughing like hyenas, the boisterous laughter that spoiled milk and stung ears at parties. She cringed. They walked around. She didn’t see them, but she felt their footsteps and heard their smirks and smelled the blood. Blood. Red. Death. Morbid. Muerte. Morte. Saints. Sinners. Heaven. Hell. She mused. This isn’t Scrabble, Marge! She berated herself. Later, maybe she would laugh about it. The craziness of thought that hurricanes through a person’s mind in dire moments. Right now, in this moment, the hurricane barreled through and caused thousands in damage.
The footfalls grew closer and she made herself deaf. She didn’t want to hear them. Every sound was black and every second of silence was white. She thought about her day. Get up. Take a shower. Have some cereal and an orange before watching the morning news and leaving the apartment. Lock the door. Say hello to Mr. Sanderson. Walk down the street. It was all so normal, so familiar, so human. She missed it.
She went through the people in her life. They flashed across her mind, little sprites of memory and laughter and love. Mommy. Daddy. My brothers. Little Christopher. Mr. Sanderson. Harley. George. She loved them all, they were normal, they were hers. They adorned the walls of her mind. With her kindness. With his superiority. With their support. With his smile. With his ‘hellos’. With his charity. With his love.
They were hers and she was theirs and she loved them and they loved her. It was all so perfect. Perfect in blues and whites and pearly colors. She laughed and loved with them. She needed them. They were there. She was there. Perfect. Pearly. Pristine.
The curtain opened, and her world melted into black.