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The Quantum Train
by Robyn Cogert
The Quantum Train
By Robyn Cogert
Yes, he still loved to call out the traditional 200-year-old phrase coined with the invention of the passenger train. Chesterton was one of the most senior conductors who worked on the Virginia East to West line. Today his last day. Retirement.
Almost every human drama possible had played out on the train over the years. He witnessed fights, parties, happy people, sad people, strange people and even once a dead person. Nothing really phased him anymore.
His job became simple over the years. No more coupling, uncoupling. No more rolling stock pick-ups. No more repairs. It was simple now. Verify legitimate passage.
The passengers would flash their commuter cards or day passes at him.
As he rocked down the aisle between the high-back seat rows, he would glance out the windows simply to verify the current location. Out of the rail yard yet? Past the brewery yet? The train was his home more than home. He would miss it terribly.
On his right a family of 5, happily holding up their day passes. He nodded to them. Scanning left sat a small thin man by himself. His baseball cap read, ‘Blue Jays’. His hair so short it barely peeked out from the sides. The young man looked up at Chesterton with a silent wise smile.
Chesterton queried him, “Pass.”
The rider did not respond.
Chesterton repeated a little louder, “Pass!”
The rider got up and started to walk to the end of the train car. Chesterton followed with little urgency. He’s seen this before. An ‘easy rider’ he liked to call those who did not have a ticket.
Chesterton walked forward through the next car but no one was there except for an elderly woman holding her toy poodle in her lap. That was against the Crated Pets Rule but he was more concerned right now with the easy rider. He continued forward at a quicker pace on to the next door, and the next door, and the next. Chesterton passed through all of the cars all the way to the Engineer’s door sign: DO NOT ENTER.
Where did he go?
Chesterton took a seat and thought. Could the easy rider have jumped off the train between cars? Sure, that was possible. At this point in the trip they were only going 35 mph top speed for uphill grades out of West Virginia. If that was the case, there was nothing more to do about it now.
Chesterton decided to work backwards from the front of the train checking passes. It wasn’t busy so he quickly got back to the seat where he saw the easy rider for the first time. He looked down at that seat and noticed a small ticket stub. He studied it closely and it was a stub from many years ago. A stub from the days when men wore hats and ladies wore gloves. He put it in his left pocket and continued to the back of the train. Looking ahead he saw the easy rider again, cap and all, moving to the back of the train!
“I’ve got him”, Chesterton said out loud.
Chesterton moved with more speed than he had in quite a while. This time he would catch the easy rider and imagined turning him around by the arm. He practiced in his head saying, ‘listen fella’, you are going to have to buy a ticket or get off at the next stop’. Gentle, but firm.
But Chesterton lost sight of him again! He could not keep up. Once he got into that car, again the man was gone. He lost his breath and slowed to a walk moving to the rear car of the train. All the way to the caboose door, ‘DO NOT ENTER.
“No”! Chesterton was astounded by how this man could continue to allude him. He took off his uniform cap and scratched his head looking down.
“There”! He pointed at the Blue Jays cap on the floor. He reached down and picked it up. Suddenly, a memory flash from his old mind. “Blue Jays. Yes, I was a Blue Jays fan. I had a hat just like this once”, he thought to himself. He bent the lid in his hands. A habit he had with his old hat, like a reflex. He checked the rim’s liner and noticed the initials. C.F. “Well that’s strange”, he wondered out loud. “That’s my initials too”!
Could the easy rider be real? Maybe an imaginary hallucination of a tired old man.
Just then the train whistle blew twice. A sign that they were coming into the next station. It shook Chesterton out of his trance. He hung up the hat on a coat hook and hustled to grab the step for departing and arriving riders.
He split his concentration between helping passengers step off the train and searching for the easy rider - sans a hat.
This was Chesterton’s stop too. He would be handing in his uniform and cap. He would be saying goodbye to his 42 year job of being a dedicated conductor. How times have changed. How quickly it passes.
When Chesterton walked into the station lobby, everyone shouted ‘Surprise’! He wasn’t that surprised. He figured they do something for his retirement. His wrinkled face smiled thankfully. The departing train sounded it’s departing whistle. Chesterton looked back and could see through the window the young man in a Blue Jays hat seated on the train, looking back at him. It was him. And he was reassured to know, that a part of himself would always be there.
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