I guess it could be worse … maybe.
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Wait! Stop! Look! – by John
“Wait! Stop! Look!” cried the small man in the wrinkled suit, holding out his hands to the crowds that surged around him in the underground train station. He stood in the middle of the platform on the near side, cradling a silvery ball with both palms. It was his life’s work, his best invention, and this was the best place to run his final experiment.
“Wait!” he called to the masses descending from the surface on the escalators. “Stop!” he cried as they hurried past him into the open train doors…and also as they made their flurried escapes on arrival again. Every so often one individual would get distracted and not notice the little man until he was almost upon him. “Look!” The invitation almost always produced a fearful start, and then the quarry was gone without a backward glance.
The little man, tired, yet not defeated, stayed throughout the day. The shadows don’t change much underground, but the smells do. His forehead was covered by a dry film of perspiration, the exasperation of the day seemingly all drained out through his pores. There were a couple last inbound trains before the long pause in the night schedule. He hiked up his pants, ran his finger around the inside of his shirt collar, and turned to face the opening doors.
“Wait!” he said, somewhat hoarsely, looking down at the shining orb in his hands. In its reflection he saw the figures pass all around him, passing so quickly as to blend one into another. And then, a face appeared. The young boy’s eyes were keen with interest, but wary. The man looked up from the sphere.
“Look?” he gently offered, unfolding his palms reverently to the boy. He smiled as he raised the ball up to the lad’s eye level, releasing a weary sigh. The boy studied the device from a distance, one brow raised. “What is it?” he asked, stepping closer. He focused intensely on the sphere. And then he was gone.
Always a scientist, he mentally dictated his observation: “There is a strange character trait held in common by large metropolitan travel complexes. Namely, no one pays any attention to what’s really going on.” The crowds kept surging, the train doors closed, and the old man stood still without a single soul noting the boy’s departure.
Five minutes later, with a slight quivering of the atmosphere, the boy reappeared. His eyes shone with excitement, his lips curled upward in joy. “Thank you, sir!” he called back over his shoulder, as he skipped toward the escalators. Or rather, danced in the general direction of the exit.
As the boy went, he snatched up a discarded drink can here, a crumpled newspaper there, and other random detritus so carelessly dropped by the day’s passengers. Into the nearest trashcan they went, as he spiraled along his merry way. With that relentless energy of the schoolboy, he circled the platform a dozen or so times, popping in and out of the crowd that beat its way surface-ward. When the rush died down, the platform looked new again, not a shred of litter to be seen in the near glow of the electric lights.
A drifter in a hooded sweatshirt had been leaning against a wall. As the boy drew near, the drifter stepped back to admire the fresh graffiti he had been sheltering with his body. The boy shouted and the drifter dropped the paint pen and ran. Spinning to a stop, the boy toed the pen with his shoe. He bent and picked it up. His nose wrinkled at the strong chemical odor.
Humming a little and bouncing on one foot, the boy studied the drifter’s artwork. He raised the pen and pressed it firmly to the wall. And with the same spontaneous happiness that had cleaned the platform, the boy drew.
Wild arcs and straight lines spilled across the concrete wall. A symphony of shapes and puzzles, words and pictures sprang into being. Monochromatic, yet somehow evoking vivid color; simple, yet soul-searching. The undecipherable message sang out courageously from a cathedral of silent subway walls.
The paint ran out, and the boy ran home. The small man smiled, sublimely satisfied, and thought, One down, two to go.
Her hair was definitely the worse for wear; she ran her fingers through it as she stepped out of the train. Her professional blouse was coming untucked and her skirt showed signs of the teriyaki she’d grabbed for dinner. A fellow passenger bumped her and the purse she’d hastily fastened came open and poured a shower of personal belongings all over the platform around the small man’s feet. She muttered something and bent over to start the pickup.
The little man stood and watched her, afraid to move and risk stepping on some fragile-looking items: Contact lens case, perhaps, he thought. And maybe a makeup compact with a mirror? Teacher’s ID. Flash drive. Mechanical pencils. He stood still, growing more amazed at the quantity of stuff that had been ejected from her bag. His own experiments in space-time and matter permeability came to mind, and he grinned.
Right then, a transient woman stepped off the train, right behind the teacher. With a look of compassion, she dropped to her knees and started to help gather up the things. When the teacher noticed the transient woman, she stiffened and glanced around the platform, presumably searching for a security guard.
At that moment, her eyes caught the glint of metal in the small man’s hands. The transient woman noticed it too and tilted her head for a better look. “What is it?” she asked. Quite suddenly, both women vanished.
The inventor was puzzled. This was unexpected. He didn’t know for certain what would happen; this was a variable he hadn’t anticipated. Anyway, he thought, I better scoop this mess back into her purse. So he did.
Categories: Critique Group