Issue Nine:

By Gerard McKeown

Have you ever found yourself on a train platform, enjoying a coffee in the peaceful post-rush-hour morning? Alone, or you were, until someone else joined you. That person who has wandered up the empty platform to stand within your personal space, perhaps to remind you that they can have some small power over a stranger. Even if it’s only the power to spoil a small singular moment of comfort before the rush of everything smothers you. Like a wasp that stings you in the split-second before you get hit by a truck.

You want to say to that stranger, this is my morning, and you will move away from me now. Instead you fix them with a stare. A stare they acknowledge then disregard. This is their morning too. They bring out a phone. And have a loud obnoxious phone call. As though your personal space was their private space. They fire out insipid lines that only someone trying to annoy an involuntary listener would say:

‘I love a good veggie burger, and I’m not even vegetarian.’

They continue to ignore you. Though your stare could bore holes in them, if stares could do such things; their ignoring you underlines that stares can’t. You are tempted to fall down at their feet. Fake a seizure. But they would not recognise the difficulty they are creating. They would see it as an admission of defeat. They might kick you onto the track. There is no pity, no respect for the social agreement. They only acknowledge it to break it. They are the true rebels. You are beyond the age, or capability, of breaking the rules. But only now has this stranger confronted you with the truth of it. How can they have known so much about you? Why have they chosen now to make you aware of it? Maybe they know who you are now, but you can educate them as to who you were. You feel your fingers curl towards your palm, and your thumb lock tight over the top. You squeeze your fists and are sure you are about to swing for them.

‘Customers are reminded that there is CCTV security at this station,’ a robotic voice warns over the station speakers.

Everything is conspiring to spoil this little pocket outside the monotonous daily grind you sleepwalk through. Now you are completely awake. You will remember this moment existed, years after you have forgotten every other second of this day, perhaps of this week, this month. Comfort is not compatible with modern living. Society tells you to accept your situation. You do not have a say. You’ve known this from the beginning, which is why you haven’t even opened your mouth.

As the train approaches at a lazy pace, you think how perfect this moment would be if only the other person did not exist. Not just if they were absent from it, but if you were aware they’d been wiped from all memory of existence and only you knew it. You think through the motions, the little nudge that would put them on the tracks too late to avoid the oncoming train, so slow but so heavy. But again, there would be consequences, which would remove the prospect that another peaceful moment may finally exist in the future, one that does belong to you.

As the train doors open you think to bump into the stranger as you both board. But positioning yourself to do so is too awkward. And you imagine them questioning if you did it on purpose, in front of the other passengers who would judge you for it.

You line up and take your seat. You make eye contact with the stranger. Their blank expression suggests that they couldn’t tell whether it was you or another passenger who they had stood beside on the platform. Shifting your glance out of the window, you watch the station slide sideways into the distance, taking your moment with it. The train picks up speed as it hurries towards your busy destination, where you are already late. All prospect of clarity crumbles as a cotton cloud pads your consciousness. You enter that half sleep that defines your day

About the Contributor

Gerard McKeown is an Irish Writer Living in London. His work has been featured in The Moth, 3:AM, and Litro, among others. In 2017 he was shortlisted for The Bridport Prize and was selected for Penguin Random House’s WriteNow scheme. In 2018 he was longlisted for Short Story of the Year at the Irish Book Awards.

Losslit canon

The Spinning Heart - Donal Ryan

Set after the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, this novel takes the reader on a journey through the fragments of a small Irish town, each chapter told by a different character. We meet those responsible for the disaster, those left jobless by it, the people trying to continue life as normal, the families struggling through it, the gossips, and the dying. A gem of a first novel.

See all entries in the Losslit canon

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