Here’s a little snippet from my short story:
When Anne first began working in Washington DC, the Metro ride was just another part of her monotonous day, filled with the dull sounds of people living their lives. But last April, when gas prices skyrocketed, mass transportation became very popular. There wasn’t an empty seat, and the commuters were forced to stand closer and closer together. Judging by the exasperated sighs of the other passengers, no one was thrilled to squeeze into their ever-tightening spots, but Anne was different. The forty-minute train ride to and from work became the highlight of her day.
Shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, Anne closed her eyes and let her body sway with the train. She could pretend she was being hugged and rocked like a child. Well, how she imagined someone would hold a child: comforting and warm.
A creature of habit, Anne always rode in the fourth car, near the back. Most of the passengers were her age, in their early thirties, dressed in business casual blues and grays. They never spoke more than needed, everyone politely wedging their bodies this way or that to make room for the people coming and going at each stop.
Crowded together on the train, Anne enjoyed her anonymous human contact. They felt real to her, despite what Dr. Hughes said. But no one ever stood out; like extras in a movie, all blending into variations of the same generic person.
On a Tuesday morning, while waiting for the train, a little old woman started talking to Anne. Really talking. She was from a lost era: a time when people spoke face-to-face, a skill that had been lost with the technological advancements of the twenty-first century.
“Lovely day, isn’t it?” The little old woman squinted up at the sky where the clouds were just starting to brighten with the sunrise.
Anne nodded and smiled.
“I’m going to see Hank. We’ve been married fifty-five years. He’s at the university hospital in the city. They have the best cardiologists in three states. That’s what they tell us anyway. I’m inclined to take their word for it. What do I know about heart transplants? Not a lot. Hips, on the other hand, those I know a lot about.” She tapped her right hip. “Got it replaced two years ago. But hearts are different. Our daughter is a nurse in Maryland, so she’s been helping me with all the jargon. Thankfully!”
Anne smiled and checked the time on her phone. The alarm would ring any minute.
“Have you ever been to the university hospital? Nice place. The waiting room has coffee, and it’s not half bad!” She stopped to smile. “Do you take the train every day?” Her eyes swept up Anne’s body, taking in her pencil skirt and blouse. “You look like a lawyer. Are you a lawyer?”
Anne chuckled and shook her head. “I work in an office.”
“Last I heard, lawyers have offices.” Another smile. “I like riding the train. Good thing too, Hank’s the driver in our house. I haven’t driven for decades, so if it weren’t for the train, I wouldn’t have a way to see him. I do hope it gets here soon. I have neuropathy, so my feet get kind of sore and numb if I stand too long.” She leaned against the stand holding The DC Daily, the local paper, and wiggled her toes inside her slip-on shoes. “Listen to me complaining. At least I woke up this morning!”
Anne focused her gaze on the woman’s wrinkled face and struggled to imagine what it would be like to spend a lifetime with someone, only to watch his body fall apart. It was a frightening concept, but the woman didn’t look scared. Just the opposite, she was downright cheery.
The alarm on Anne’s phone rang, letting her know it was time to catch the train. The little old woman followed Anne from the edge of the Kiss & Ride parking lot into the Metro station. When the train doors hissed open, Anne hovered behind the woman, overcome with the desire to help her get to a safe place. She became more aware of the commuters around them. The sea of blue and gray became a group of individuals. It was the first time she really saw him: the man who gave up his seat for the little old woman.
Anne spent the next week observing the man on the train. He always wore a suit and his tie had some sort of green that matched his eyes, whether it was squares, paisleys, or stripes. He gave up his seat every day, and on the days the old woman rode the train, he always gave it to her. He was gracious and kind to everyone, the corners of his eyes crinkled when he smiled, and his brown hair was always meticulously styled.
On one of the days the old woman wasn’t on the train, he offered his seat to Anne, but she declined. She couldn’t get hugged if she sat down. The seat went to another woman, who was grateful for his generosity.
He wedged his briefcase between his shoes and gripped the railing right next to Anne’s hand. His gray dress shirt pulled taut against his chest as his jacket opened. The train lurched around a corner, knocking Anne against his firm body. Heat bloomed across her skin as his scent and warmth invaded her senses. She didn’t usually breathe through her nose on the train, because along with warm hugs, the confined space also brought an odd mixture of aromas: food, perfume, and sometimes the pungent stink of someone in need of a shower. But the only thing she could smell was him, and he smelled as good as he looked.
“Sorry,” she muttered as she righted herself. A pang of regret tugged at her as they parted.
Anne turned away from him and took a step backward as a new wave of commuters squeezed in with them. It was the last big stop before the uninterrupted ride into the city. When the train started moving, their bodies were touching again, her back to his front. Anne smiled and closed her eyes, pretending he was holding her. It was the best stranger hug she’d ever gotten.
When she got to work, she was still floating on cloud nine. One encounter with the man on the train had changed something in her. Her coworkers must’ve noticed it, because for the first time in five years, someone talked to her during lunch. Dr. Hughes would be proud. She spent the rest of the day watching the clock, counting down the minutes until five, or more importantly, time to catch the train.