There are not a great number of things I enjoy more than riding on a train. Sitting there in comfort, being silently whisked through rural (think pastoral,) subuarban (think strip malls) and urban (think post-apocalyptic) scenes, is second only to a good haircut from a busty barber (think Holly Peers) on my list of pleasurable ways to pass the time.

Maybe it’s the silent part that gets my mind to wandering, interrupted only by the conductor imploring everyone to “Watch the gap as you exit” at every stop, but after only a few minutes of the slow rhythmic rumbling of the train on the tracks, regardless of how scenic the surrounding scenery might be, I find my imagination hurtling down a set of tracks of its own.

Destination unknown.

The mind is certainly a curious thing. Take for instance my reaction to watching Bob Ross paint on “The Joy of Painting.” Love it. Watch it every chance I get… but the aforementioned curious thing always happens; before the first happy tree or happy cloud is finished I am fast asleep on the couch. His voice just seems to bring out the hidden narcoleptic in me. Maybe I was hypnotized at a party somewhere and the trigger to fall asleep is Bob Ross.

Or the phrase “Happy clouds.”

(thunk) zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… (ten minutes later…) (guess that was it…)

Whatever the reason, the mind is certainly a curious thing.

So it was yesterday as the train chugged along. One minute I’m looking out the window at a dizzying variety of backyards and the next I’m staring at my hand like a mental patient. The reason? It suddenly occurred to me that if someone came along and lopped it off with a samurai sword it would no longer be my hand. It would be a hand. Just not my hand. As I wiggled the fingers in front of my face I pictured these same fingers completely ignoring my command to wiggle because the hand they were sitting on was lying next to me. Unattached.

The thought of picking it up with my other, still functioning, hand gave me shivers.

As people walked by they had no idea that the man staring out the window blankly was picturing this little scenario in his head. They would have walked by a good deal quicker if they knew what I imagine. How many other crazy people were on the train? Everyone?

“Watch the gap as you exit” the speakers insisted.

The doors opened and closed and opened and closed and eventually the haunting reality that hands are only really ours while they are attached drifted away.

Did I mention the backyards?

Hundreds of them. Thousand even. You can look at the front of a person’s house all you want but if you really want to get to know them take a peek at their backyard. I was getting to really know a lot of people I’d never met. After awhile I was getting to know neighborhoods and then finally I was staring right into the unblinking face of the human condition.

Empty swimming pools, badly-tended gardens, rusting sheds no doubt containing rusting lawn mowers and rusting shovels and rusting things that can no longer be identified because they’re nothing but rust. Trash stuck in the fences and beautiful flowering trees. All set to the soundtrack of slow rhythmic rumblings of a train on the tracks.

And “Watch the gap as you exit.”

The humanity of it all.

Watch the gap.

If only the door would open and the gap was a yawning canyon instead. Miles across. I would get to watch someone watch the gap. Frozen. Overwhelmed.

If the door stayed open I would hurry and stand next to them and watch the gap as well. Hoping it would turn into a full-blown abyss. So far across that the human eye calls it a day and just files it under the “Infinite” heading.

Black as the ace of spades.

The train ride is my life. I’m at the door and I look back and my body is still sitting in the seat, I can’t call it my seat anymore, it’s just a seat, looking out the window. Slowly my head (is it still technically mine?) turns toward the door, looks at me, and speaks.

“Watch the gap as you exit.”


About the Author

Lance Manion has released eight collections of humorous/odd short stories, been published in more than fifty literary publications and have contributed stories to a dozen anthologies. 

He has a new book out, neXt. You can find additional info on his website where he blogs regularly.