Conductor’s Note: The following flash fiction was originally published at Mel Bosworth’s Flash Fire 500 in 2009.
Jessie wasn’t the best of readers, but he decided he had to give it a whirl. On the train last week, he’d fallen in love with the literate look of the woman who, with her nose in a novel, ended up sitting across from him. That afternoon he went out and swiped the first book he saw.
The next morning at precisely 8:22 he boarded the train, took his seat across from The Reader, as he now called her, and opened his book to page 103 where he imagined a love story called The Readers in Car 103:
“Good morning,” he’d greet. Or maybe just “Hiya.”
“Good morning,” she’d reply. And she’d smile.
Jessie, however, couldn’t muster the courage to greet. Thrumming fingers on page 103, he drank in The Reader reading. Her eyes, lowered to the book in her thinly veiled lap, were lashed half moons in the window of Jessie’s night train. Her hands, vanilla Dreamsicles dripping on her cornflower-blue dress, dog-eared her sticky pages.
He missed his stop and dropped his book. The moment he reached to retrieve it, The Reader crossed her legs and moaned “Oh God!” A heady breeze of blood powdered Jessie senseless for a page, but he recovered and returned to The Readers on Car 103:
“I love you,” he’d confess. Or maybe “Let’s fuck.”
“You’re worthy,” she’d say, wiping the drool from his lower lip.
But Jessie was neither romantic nor crude, so he continued to catalogue The Reader’s every freckle and curve. Sweat drops at her temples glistened like intellect. Four lines on her forehead outed a serious, experienced soul. Her strawberry mouth puckered a thousand silent kisses towards the words on her page.
Hungry for the letters of her lap, Jessie’s lips parted, mimicking each buss. The faster she gobbled, the faster Jessie mime-gobbled. But try as he might, he could never taste the words on her pages 168, 169, 170 …
She smacked her book shut and looked up.
Jessie’s shocked eyes shot holes through page 103. He felt The Reader’s eyes caress and crawl in and out of him. She’d see he was stout, bearded, blond and nothing if not a devoted reader. She’d surely notice the literariness in his book, House Plants for the Homeless. She’d sense his smell: the earthy, bacterial Renaissance Man. If she was smiling when he looked up, he’d have to wolf her down.
With a coquette’s eye-batting gentleness and the courage of a bear, he raised the windows to his soul and gazed into hers. Then, like a sudden sea mist, came the burning realization, the unbearable pain. He pinched his eyes and regretted the misreading.
“I’ll spray you again!” a woman’s voice came. “Someone get this smelly creep off me, or I’ll fuck him up good.”
Christopher Allen’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in places like (and very much unlike) Wilderness House Literary Review, The Legendary, and BootsnAll Travel. He rides the train every day and writes about his obsession with traveling at imustbeoff.blogspot.com.