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Ships that Collide in the Night – Short Story                                                28/11/11

Dan woke with a start as the train finally trundled its way out of the station in a series of short jerky movements, seemingly designed to wake up any passengers trying to catch a quick nap. The incessant drizzle streaked across the window, laying new patterns in the grime, tracing their way down his face’s reflection.

A woman sat across from him was paying him more than the customary attention of most passengers on this particular train. Her glances settled on him more than the others and the attention was as unnerving as it was unwelcome. She was obviously looking for an opening to say something.

Don’t make eye contact he told himself. Keep your personal bubble of enmity in place, the shield against human interaction that protected him from this unwanted intrusion into his grey world.

Prolonged eye contact, damn!  He thought, as he tried to stop himself from returning the gaze. The woman’s eyes kept landing on him, pinning him, from all the thousands of grey, weary people thrown together on this cold, and damp mechanical coffin. Slowly the scanning became less pronounced and as they settled on him finally, expectantly. He was trapped.

As he watched her slowly form the first words that would break the spell of privacy that was the big lie in any big city, he saw she seemed frightened, nervous of speaking.  Great, a nutter, even better, he thought unkindly, a brief flash of guilt somewhere deep down surprised him.

A brief tentative smile then she said, “Horrible night.”

After all the stress, and inner turmoil over this unwanted interaction, the banal utterance was almost disappointing.

“Yes,” he said, not smiling. The banality stakes rose, would she call or raise?

An uncomfortable silence, as the train trundled on. Other passengers glance their way briefly, like all commuters, glad not to have been the one to deal with it. Just say as little as possible, hopefully she’ll get off soon. Neither noble nor kind, but a true reflection of how he felt, the feeling mirrored by all of the other commuters near to this particular awkward social situation.

“These trains are always so hot,” she said breathlessly.

Just think of something non-committal to say and you’ll soon be back at home, front door closed to the world and safe.

“Yes, very uncomfortable.” He hoped he was closing down all avenues of prolonged conversation.

“You look like you’ve had a long day.”

Christ! This was getting serious, is she, is she flirting with me?

He marveled at his vain, male ego. If a woman was wielding a kitchen knife a man would still pause (probably fatally) if thrown some flirtation.

A new tack was needed, a plan to fight fire with fire, “Yes quite long, you?”

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