Union Station: Washington, D.C.
By Shane Faria
The faces keep passing. Some are rushing, some strolling. Inside Union Station I wait for train number nineteen to take me away. It has been a full month since I left my home in Boston. Thirty days of travel, and each railroad mile darkens the purple hue beneath my eyes. Fighting the weariness, I keep my heavy head on a swivel. Observing each face, I write fiction pieces in my mind. Where are they going? Where are they coming from? The sounds of arrivals and departures announced over the loudspeaker become my stories’ soundtracks.
Now boarding, train one-nine-six to New York–Penn Station.
A man in suit and tie clutches cell phone to ear, dragging the rattling wheels of his suitcase over the station’s oft-treaded tiles. I run my eyes over the scrunched lines on his forehead, reading his stress like visual Braille. Business, I think to myself. And it’s important. In some corner of my imagination, his wife and children sit silently at a dinner table, the only audible sounds the scraping of stainless steel on china.
“When’s daddy coming back this time?” the youngest child chimes in, breaking the silence.
“He’ll be back as soon as he can. He has some important things to do,” his mother replies, her eyes a soft pinkish-red.
Now arriving, train thirty from Chicago–Union Station.
My mental visit to a D.C. businessman’s apartment is interrupted by the soundtrack spinning onto the next groove. A swarm of travelers disperse from the track’s gates. I follow their eyes until I am forced to slowly tilt my neck backward to meet the eyes of an army of athletes dressed in vinyl. Most are joking, jabbing their elbows into each other’s sides and laughing. At the back of the pack stands a sole player, his eyes unwavering, his face stoic, solemn. My mind’s chorus erupts in song.
To them, it’s just a game. To him, this might be life. The shot at the buzzer rims out, and he stares to the rafters in disbelief. So close, but so close doesn’t count when basketball might be his only escape.
The team stampedes by, their size fifteen shoes stomping over the same tiles the rattling suitcase wheels just traversed. The man with the thousand-yard stare trails them, his strides determined, silent. In another corner of my mind, the man arrives to cramped quarters and tosses his gym bag to the floor. He traces his fingers over faces in a family photo. Heading outside, he grabs his well-worn basketball. He shoots until his eyelids droop.
Now boarding, train nineteen to Atlanta–Peachtree Station.
As I walk toward my gate, the scratching sound of a record ending plays in my head and I make my way toward another new track.
My exhausted eyes meet with a woman who is staring intently at my bulging backpack. I nod to her slowly, as if to give her permission to flip the scratching record.
By Nikki Mentges
A whole room for waiting. Cramped, windowless. Uncomfortable chairs, children’s plastic toys, generic tissue, and Fox News on mute. Populated with quiet folks, glassy-eyed mothers and coughing children, a green-faced man clutching a trash can. Selfishly, I’m glad there’s nothing wrong with me.
I’m handed a clipboard and retreat to the chairs where my brother is waiting. I scrawl shaky letters and digits on scads of paperwork, filling out his mumbled answers. Most of them I already know. The air feels hushed. When I return pen and forms to the reception desk, my steps reverberate on the linoleum. Minute tremors shiver through my hands—aftershocks of adrenaline—as I reclaim my seat and a nurse leads my hobbling brother into the recesses of the ER.
The chair reeks of stale cologne and sweat; I try not to breathe it in. I don’t touch the magazines, either. Statistics whip through my head: 1 in 20 patients contract illnesses from hospital visits. The paranoia ramps higher with every sniffle and hack punctuating the air.
I distract myself with a collage on the nearest wall. They’re all pictures of fishing lures ensnared in bits of human anatomy. Ears, noses, lips, and brows. Forearms, feet, and finger webbings. Even the meaty expanse between chin and throat. I’m not sure whether it’s a wall of shame or one of those “you’re not a real angler till you’ve been hooked” bravado shows.
A robust, middle-aged man settles beside me, hand obscured in the depths of a blood-stained shop rag. I try not to stare but am mesmerized by a small bloom of red leaching through the tightly wound fabric. His sun-leathery face is drawn, jaw set. Still, he forces a smile and a casual, “Eh, I’m hanging in there,” when a nurse approaches in quick, precise clips of sound and inquires about his pain level.
Minutes trawl past. Nurses and patients vanish (and later reappear) through the swinging double doors. Shop Rag Man is beckoned inside after what the clock claims is ten minutes, but which feels much, much longer.
Maybe it’s a conspiracy, my restless mind supplies. Maybe the clocks move extra slow here, so you won’t feel like you’re wasting away. My knee judders up and down, up and down, involuntary and hummingbird-quick.
Finally, after what must be half an eternity, the doors sway open preceding a scrubs-clad nurse and the man of the hour(s). Out comes my brother, coltish on his crutches. An ice pack clings, mummy-wrapped in medical tape, to his splinted ankle.
The nurse, carrying a packet of instructions and a lone, muddy shoe, hands them off like the passing of a torch. “Elevate, ice, keep weight off it,” she says, pleasant but impersonal.
On the clock, the hour hand is ticking over. Out the doors, down the sidewalk—I am no longer relegated to the passive.
Shane Faria is a writing major from Burlington, Massachusetts. He is deeply enthralled by the intricacies of the human condition. Nikki Mentges is a creative and professional writing major from Deer River, Minnesota.