The other day some blowhard posted on LinkedIn “Never say it’s not my job. It’s arrogant”.
What’s “arrogant” is someone not hiring enough staff and making their employees shoulder the load; then acting like they’re a big success.
Sure, if you’re part of a team with a mission and an end in sight then go for it. Pull your weight or even a little more. Go the extra mile for your teammates, for the thing that everyone is gonna benefit from. That’s called being an adult. It’s called being a good human being.
The problem comes when you start doing things that weren’t part of your job description and you start to “absorb” them. You are doing more than you are being paid to do. Employment is a two way street. You are working for capitalists and they will get the most they can out of you for the money. You need to be a capitalist too and make sure you’re getting everything you deserve.
If you don’t set boundaries you will get more and more dumped on you when the company should be hiring someone else. If they say they can’t afford to hire someone, then it sounds like they really aren’t viable. If they are making a profit without putting the right resources in place that’s sham profit going into someone’s pocket at the expense of overworked staff.
They’ll call it a development opportunity. They’ll call it being a good team player.
I call it being punked. I call it being pimped.
Boundaries are good for your emotional and physical health. Your employer sure as hell sets boundaries don’t they?
My father, uncles and all my grandparents were union. Electricians, garment workers, tool and die makers, bakers. You did the job you were paid to do and you did it well. You did it safely and you didn’t cut corners. You didn’t let anyone else do your job because they weren’t trained and certified by the union and most importantly you didn’t do someone else’s job. You didn’t carry equipment up the 10 flights of stairs because that’s someone else’s job. You do their job and one day someone says they’re not needed. That’s how you protected each other’s jobs.
Remember secretaries, assistants, etc.? Those were decent jobs with good benefits. Jobs that could be had by a clever person with a High School diploma. They did tons of administrative type things…booking travel, settling expense reports, writing memos with little or no input, arranging events and just generally helping everyone be more productive. But they’re mostly gone now and as a consequence we dedicate huge chunks of time filling the gaps. Less productivity for everyone and lots of good paying jobs down the shitter. Why? Because we were too chicken shit to say “that’s not my job”.
Don’t take no for an answer. You can be patient, but make sure they know the clock is ticking. Tell them to stuff their salary bands…there is no law there. Thats a company policy. And if they say that then they would have to give everyone a raise? Just shrug like that’s not your problem. Because it is not.
A long time ago, when I was a programmer, about 20 of us got together. No one had been promoted to Programmer Analyst in a long time and we decided it was bullshit. I was elected spokesperson. I did it professionally but I told our management that we wanted promotions, we had earned them, and we wanted them now. I don’t know what was standing in the way but whatever it was, it magically disappeared.
You can do it.
But wait…maybe the company is hurting. It could go under. So what? Remember when they cut the call center out and outsourced it all overseas? And they told you that those people will be okay…sure there are gonna be some losers in the new global economy but most people will be better off in the long run. It’s good for the economy overall.
It’s dark out. It always is. These conversations only happen at night. Daytime shines a light too bright. You need darkness, lit only by the glow of the dashboard lights so that you can reveal only what you want; keeping the rest in shadow. The car is your cocoon wrapped in the darkness. They are confessions. They are delicate questions. They are endings and they are beginnings and they are things that will never happen. The intimacy is palpable.
Even with the windows cracked, sometimes they fog. An hour; two hours of conversation overwhelms the flow of fresh air. You hardly notice; the conversation is too intense. It rises and falls between hushed talk and long silences. The silence is for thinking…letting what was just said sink in. You break it only to give comfort or to seek to understand.
A friend tells you he is gay and is in love with another friend. He needs someone to talk to. Revealing himself would destroy the facade he’s built and nurtured. His chosen career would be out of the question. He is living in pain but it’s more comfortable to him than the alternative. You cannot help him; he cannot help himself. He is lost.
The tall striking girl, overcome by drug addiction wants you to stay. You kiss her because who wouldn’t. Later you cry because you want to love her but know you can’t. She is a lost soul…you leave her adrift, lest you drown together.
Astrid is crying on your shoulder. She is crying for what she can’t get back. Distraught, rejected, she terminated her pregnancy. She is blaming herself, but it is no use talking her out of it. She needs the guilt..it’s the only emotion she can grab ahold of. She is vulnerable, but you let it go. She loves you for that.
You know you go together. She knows you go together. But you can’t hold her. It was only for a couple days. She was in charge of the guestbook. She was the prettiest girl in the room. You don’t even know if she has a boyfriend but you know the electricity and so does she. But she can’t stay. She won’t stay. She tells you to write…but. you know she won’t write back.
You’re not saying anything. Not for two hours. You just sit there, in the back seat while someone else drives. You’re not alone but you might as well be. The people in the front seat whisper to each other, they are in a separate world, being careful not to intrude on yours. Protective, the driver looks in the back seat once, decides you’re just enjoying being together. She doesn’t turn around again. The girl has has her head in your lap, you are gently playing with her curls. You don’t know what she wants. She doesn’t know what you want. All you know is this time is rich and intimate and fleeting. You run into her again a few weeks later. Neither of you speaks of it…like it’s delicate and easily broken.
You and a buddy from work are coming back from an out of town party. He is driving with the moonroof open. There are few cars on this lonely stretch of interstate. Your seat is reclined and you’re watching the stars through the open roof. The radio is off and the only sound is the slipstream made by the car. Neither of you says anything; not for the entire drive. There are no women to distract you. No need to manufacture conversations…you’ve been through a lot together, you are comfortable in the silence, lost each in your own thoughts. He drops you at your apartment and says “good talk”. He is not being ironic.
A thousand conversations start with “Dad”. There are too many to recall. I want to change my major. I want to try fencing. I want to switch from skiing to snowboarding. Do you think I would be good at such and such? What do I do about so and so. I can’t start these conversations…which makes them so precious when they occur. They are always at night. On the Powhite in Richmond, or on I64 on the way back from skiing. No matter where, it’s always dark.
“MOM!!!! I swear we were going to be here on time. Early evening!”
Shelly’s mother stared a hole in her.
“Look, I know it’s hard to believe but I swear it’s true. It’s not fair! We left the movie early and everything. I missed the ending just to make you happy and now I’m gonna get grounded.”
“I wish I could prove it but how do you prove something like that? It’s not like we can interview him.”
Her mother reached for the phone.
“Yes. Call him! You will see. Our story will be exactly the same.”
While her mother spoke to Johnny’s father, she glared at her little sister who was watching from the kitchen, giggling and clearly enjoying the show. “You shut up or I’ll pop you good once mom is gone.” Her sister stuck out her tongue.
“Oh nothing momma. I was just speaking to Tammy.” Tammy snorted from the kitchen. More glaring.
Her mother hung up the phone.
“See! Our stories are exactly the same right? What? How can you not believe us if we had the same story? I swear it was a racoon!” Tammy was howling in the kitchen. “I’ll knock your block off I swear to god!”
“No…Not you momma! It’s Tammy she’s being a little jerk.”
Her mother pointed to her room and held out her hand for her car keys…a sure sign of a long grounding.
“It’s not fair…wait! What do you mean he said it was a skunk? That IDIOT it was supposed to be a rac…oops.” Tammy was making raspberry noises from the kitchen now.
She started up the stairs…defeated, to a chorus of ‘liar liar pants on fire’ from Tammy. “You’re gonna get it.” she hissed at her sister.
Just read an article about the 75 things successful people do every morning. Where do they find the time? Do they have nannies or personal assistants? Probably they are nannies. What? You think they’re too busy watching your kids? I got news for you: Disney + and a bag of chocolate sandwich cream cookies will get you an hour right there. Besides, who decides who’s successful? Shouldn’t we hold judgement till they’re dead? I mean, they may be doing alright now but there’s still time. A 25 year old lover or a bad Gummy Bear habit can send you off the rails at any age.
Most of us can get up to around 10 or 12 things if we count all the times we hit snooze or look for a missing sock. But apparently these people don’t wear socks so let’s break down what’s really going on here.
One of my favorites is meditation. I think I read a book once or heard about it in a bar. Anyways as I recall you need at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted quiet time to do this. So unless you’re a software tycoon or a drug kingpin this means sitting on the toilet while you listen to the dog pee on the tile outside the door. I just watched a movie featuring Joan Crawford on TV. She was reminding everyone that she needed her 15 minutes of quiet time every morning. She just had her household staff keep everyone out of her private drawing room. Easy peasy.
Note to self: what is a drawing room. Do people actually draw in them?
Cooking a nutritious breakfast and then packing the kiddos off to school with a healthy macro-balanced lunch is also popular. Your experience may be different but this usually involves yelling for them to get up about 40 times until you finally lose your shit and send them out the door with a pack of pop tarts and a prepackaged lunch of processed meat and cheese food along with a cookie and a sugar infused drink in a pouch. It doesn’t matter; they will trade whatever you give them for something they like anyway. A junior high lunchroom has a trading system like a prison yard.
Let’s not forgot bonding with your teenage daughter and talking about her upcoming day and her plans for the future. This is a wonderful time to discuss college plans and any bumps in the road she may be experiencing at school. This is the point at which her father has usually slunk out to go to work or is huddling in the corner like Switzerland while you have a screaming match over what she is going to wear to school. All for naught I might add because she is going to wear whatever the hell she damned well pleases.
On a related note, there is the “get to the office while it’s quiet” types. They’ll claim productivity boosts while they go through the email and get the day sorted out without interruptions. Here’s a fun experiment: send them an email right before you turn in for the night then see if they actually read it in the morning. Make it something they’ll have to respond to like a lunch meeting where you’re buying. Don’t worry. You won’t have to buy because they’re not gonna read it before lunch. How is this related to teenage daughters? I met the one guy who was willing to be honest about his “butt crack of dawn” work habits: he wanted out of the house before his wife and twin daughters started fighting.
“Reading the news before starting the day.” That’s another good one. I once saw a post from one of those “influencer” types on LinkedIn. Someone asked her what she reads in the morning. “I look at my Facebook timeline because I’m addicted.” was her refreshingly honest answer. Some people read devotionals or inspirational stories each morning. I’ve not met any of these people but I’m sure they’re fun at parties.
Journaling? Commenting on airport vehicle races on YouTube and doom scrolling until you find something that pisses you off enough to comment on doesn’t count as journaling. This is a double winner though because now you get to go through the whole day pissed off over the original post and disappointed in yourself for getting sucked in. The only way to get past this is to find something else to get pissed off about which is why most people head to work about this time.
As for me? I just read some advice about wearing the same grey T-Shirt every day. Supposedly it simplifies things for people who can’t handle too many decisions. Just wondering if it should be grey grey or more of a blue grey.
“It’s Christmas time in Hollis Queens Mom’s cooking chicken and collard greens Rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese And Santa put gifts under Christmas trees”
The song came from what seems like a different world, different culture, but those were my streets. I can feel what they’re singing about, I can see the snow on the ground, and I can smell the cooking.
In the 1970’s New York City was full of perverts and predators. Boy or girl you were on your guard and knew how to back out of a situation. All of my friends did. Sure, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Penn Station, these were places to stay away from. But these were places I had to go…on my own. No matter; you could hear an adult offer to suck your dick just a few doors down from our apartment too. We were borderline kids in a borderline neighborhood and we were all on a borderline trajectory. We threw rocks at the Long Island Rail Road trains, snowballs in the open doors of city buses and bottles against anything solid. We were big into throwing stuff.
It wasn’t all bad…there were tidy little houses with well kept lawns. There were mom and pop pizza shops and hardware stores and grocery stores. We walked to school and joined the cub scouts and went to Holy Trinity Lutheran church. There were hard working parents that lived in those houses and ran the Cub Scout packs and worried about crime “on the avenue”. We lived on the avenue.
On the avenue we flipped off cops and dared them to chase us, let air out of tires and engaged in petty theft. Meanwhile the drug dealers were moving in around us and the perverts and muggers right with them. My mom tapped her brothers and sisters and my grandparents for a few dollars to send me off to school. Mostly though it was a man she was dating. He was a good guy and probably the only reason I didn’t wind up in front of a judge. He died one day while I was away at school and my mom claimed it was natural. I cried because he was the closest thing to a dad I had. I was sure it was a mob hit, he was a union president. This was Hollis. Donald Trump grew up in the next neighborhood, Jamaica Estates. It might as well have been in another universe. You don’t know Jamaica Estates, but you know Hollis, because you know Run DMC and LL Cool J and Ja Rule and “Christmas in Hollis”.
I had uncles and aunts that lived in better places with perfect lawns and cozy houses. I spent time with them and with my grandparents on the water on Broad Channel. Those were great places…but always I came home. Home to the avenue. To the little apartment over the union hall and down the street from what used to be a candy store and now was something we steered clear of. It’s better now probably…crime in NYC is not near as bad these days. And the people are still working hard and wanting the best for their children.
Most of us got out of Queens…or moved to a better neighborhood at least. Some of us wound up at Augusta Military Academy in Virginia. These were good kids that just needed a shot. They had names like Miguel, and Tony, and Raul and like my mother, their parents did what they could to send them to this, the most stripped down of all boarding schools. None of our parents had money but they worked multiple jobs or found an angel or caught a break from the soft hearts that ran the school.
I delivered papers to rich people in Holliswood and Jamaica Estates and my mother house sat for a few of them. Always I was touching nicer, more serene worlds. It made me dream…there could have been worse things to dream about. Some people turn up their noses at the upper middle classes…too much materialism and focus on making money. Those people were never poor…you crave what you don’t have…security and safety and a nice place to call home.
I’ve left Hollis…but it’s still there. Just below the surface. It colors everything I do.
It was windy and rainy but he had somewhere to go. It never even occurred to him that he might want to put it off. The weather was awful, he didn’t have a car and so weather was something he just dealt with. Of course he could have postponed and stayed dry.
But he had promised her a loaf of that great baguette from his favorite bakery and he’d be damned if he’d pass up a chance to spend a few minutes with her. He took an umbrella, but mainly to protect his hair…he wanted to set up a good image. It was useless, the rain blew sideways making it a moot point. Besides the rain itself he had also to contend with trucks and buses kicking up fountains of water as they went past. A few times he almost lost it on the slippery cobbles but he kept going. Love imparts its’s own logic and motivations.
Of course he didn’t know how she felt about him yet. The loaf was sort of an offering. A bauble presented by a suitor hoping to impress and lure the object of his affection into further entanglement. He had seen glimmers of hope but to be honest he was hardly desperate. He was sociable and not bad looking. Often he would dally for a day, or a week, or even a few months with one of the much younger women that frequented the downtown cafes. But she was different…closer to his age; just the right blend of looks and brains. Desperate? No, but he desperately wanted her approval.
He reached her building, walked the bike inside and shook off the best he could, trying to get himself organized without a mirror. He gave up. He was so thoroughly soaked that there was not much point. He rang her flat. She buzzed him into the hallway and he went up a flight of stairs. Before he could knock she opened the door “Oh my! Look at you!”
He held out the loaf for her to take “well, I promised I’d bring it over”.
“You brought that for me in the pouring rain!” She threw her arms around him, clearly touched and planted a wet kiss on his cheek. “Now come on in, get dried off and lets try that bread.”
That was the first time she’d kissed him. Some romances have a cycle: the chase, ignition, the climb, the peak, the long slow descent;and then it’s over. This one never got to the peak; they just kept climbing for the rest of their lives. All because he made sure he brought her that loaf of bread…on his bike…in the pouring rain.
Janie wrapped her arms around herself “brrrrr, I’m freezing”.
Paul looked over at her “babe…it’s 92 degrees out. What are you talking about?”
But just like that it was over and Janie was once again perspiring. “I don’t get it either. I mean, I was roasting and then I got chilled for like 10 seconds and now I’m hot again.”
“Cold flashes?” Paul teased.
“Very funny. You see me laughing?” But Janie was laughing despite herself. It was hard to be mad at Paul…he had a perpetual mischievous grin and with his wavy blonde hair and a single prominent dimple he was extraordinarily handsome. Not that she was a slouch herself: she had long brunette hair and had been a high jumper in college with the long lean body that went along with that. Once she fixed a man with her bright blue eyes he was a goner. In short, they looked like two people that belonged together; both having won the lottery when they were born and then hitting it again when they found each other.
“I just hope I’m not getting sick. I have to leave for Florida in two days!”
Paul snorted, “Oh yeah. For your ‘girls last fling’. I can only imagine. Meanwhile I get to stay here with your psycho mother while she freaks out about the wedding.”
“Please don’t call her “psycho” Paul, you know she has been through a lot and all mothers get nervous about weddings. Besides, she loves you to death and you know it.”
“Yeah ‘to death’ being the key phrase.”
“Now just cut it out” she admonished. “You two will have a fine old time together. Meanwhile lets get home. It’s hot as hell out here now.”
When they got back to Janie’s place she took her temperature just to make sure. It was fine so she wrote the whole thing off to a freak occurrence. Maybe Paul was right. Ha! Nervous cold flashes about the wedding. About one thing Paul was definitely right: her mother did not care for him. She could never say why, only that he reminded her of someone and gave her a creepy vibe. But even she admitted it was probably just jealously about losing her only child to marriage. To her credit she had never said anything to Paul and did her best to love him, perhaps even overcompensating a little.
The next morning Janie was up early and went out for her morning walk. She was back out on the trail and there it was again, and just like before it came and went in a few seconds. She looked around; nowhere near where it had happened yesterday. Was she going nuts? Why here, on this converted rail trail? When she got home she took her temperature again but decided against telling Paul. He might insist on her going to the doctor and she didn’t have time. Besides, what if he tried to make her miss her trip?
The trip to Florida with the girls came and went. It had been a fantastic success even if they did get thrown out of a couple bars. Hell, you’re only young once. The plane ride back had been quiet because they were all sleeping off the prior night’s festivities. And she’d forgotten all about the cold spells on the trail.
She decided to go for a long walk when she got home to shake the rest of the cobwebs out of her head. Paul was still at work so she decided to take the afternoon to recharge a bit and maybe stop and relax at one of the town center cafes. Everything was fine until she got near the old depot and suddenly the cold came over her. Except this time it didn’t go away. What the hell? Now, to be honest, she was getting a little worried. Maybe it was her nerves. In any case she was freezing and decided to turn around and head for home. She was about 100 yards from the depot when all of a sudden she was hot again….just like that. Well at least it wasn’t permanent. Then on a hunch she did a 180 and headed back towards the station and boom! Just like that she was cold again….another 180, walked a few yards away from the station and yep…hot again.
She was standing there scratching her head when she saw a familiar face walking towards her from the direction of the depot. “Lucinda!”
Lucinda walked over towards her “Hi sweetie! It’s been awhile.”
Janie tried to be polite and they exchanged pleasantries but then she burst out “Is it cold near the depot? I mean did you just walk through a cold spot?”
“Whatever could you mean? It’s crazy hot out here today.”
Janie replayed the whole story for Lucinda, they had retired to a trailside café and despite the past days activities Janie was having a cocktail. Lucinda offered the opinion that perhaps Paul was right and it was a case of the nerves. She recommended a therapist for which Janie thanked her and they parted ways. Lucinda was always trying to fix things and while she was kind, sometimes it was a little much. At this point she just wanted to be home before Paul got there so she could make a surprise dinner.
Dinner was nice, Paul had an exciting day at work and so he was in a good mood and he really made her feel good about her cooking and listened with genuine interest to her tales of their Florida bacchanal. She brought up the subject of the cold while they were laying in bed. Paul reiterated that she was just nervous and asked “what would it hurt to talk to someone about it? Worst case scenario you get some good drugs.”
“Do you really picture me talking to some head doctor?”
Paul laughed “No, you’d probably eat her alive, but it was worth a try.”
She felt that Paul supported her decision which should have made it easy to fall asleep. Instead she lay awake wondering what was happening to her. She really didn’t think it was in her head and she wasn’t opposed to seeing a therapist…she just didn’t think she was imagining it.
She slept late the next morning and her curiosity propelled her out the door and onto the trail. It was Saturday so she had all the time in the world. She walked everywhere she had experienced the cold and today felt nothing. So she put it aside. She mentioned it to Paul only so that he would get off her back about seeing a shrink. Besides, it was nearly time for the wedding and there were so many things to think about, she quite frankly forgot about it. But Paul didn’t.
Monday of the wedding week they were at a dinner thrown by some of his work colleagues and with the wine flowing fast and free he mentioned it to some of them. Janie kicked him under the table hard and he realized his mistake but it was too late…it was one of those dinners where everyone is hoping they wouldn’t run out of things to talk about with their immediate table mates. Janie’s story was like fresh meat and they all tore into it.
No one was unkind, nothing like that, just speculation as to what it might be. There were all the usual things, a fever, a nearby creek, etc. No one had the poor taste to mention it might be in her head though. She relaxed a bit and decided she liked this group of people. As she was laughing, in spite of herself at their half drunken speculation she noticed a waiter hanging close, listening in. It was an older gentleman, one of the types that looked like he might have been doing this forever and was proud of it. Everything about him was immaculate down to his perfectly trimmed gray moustache. She smiled at him “you too? Go ahead and tease me, everyone else is!”. She was actually hoping he would; he reminder her of her late father. He did not disappoint. But neither did he tease her.
“Miss, if you don’t mind me saying so, you’re not the first one to complain of cold spells on that trail.”
She stated at him…”What do you mean? Is this common? Is there something strange about this trail? Why me?”
He replied gently, “No, it’s not common and yes there is something strange about this trail. As to ‘why you?’ Here.” He pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket and made a note on the little tablet he used to remember orders. “This is an old map store on South Main street. The owner is a woman by the name of ‘Lively’. I think you should go see her and repeat what you said here tonight.”
She took the note and slipped it into her purse and assured him she would call there the very next day. “Thank you.” She actually had no intention of seeing this woman, the waiter was a sweet old guy but sounded a bit like a crack pot himself. Besides, she had not felt it in awhile and so was inclined to let sleeping dogs lie. She wasn’t even thinking about it when she went out the next day for a jog along the trail. There was a rehearsal to worry about in a few days and even more stressful, the rehearsal dinner. She was nearly done running, when anyone that had been around to observe her, and there were a few, would have seen her take off like a woman possessed. Paul had taken the day off work but was out running errands, thank goodness. She tore through a pile of clothes until she came up with the note the waiter had given her the night before. She ran back out on the trail and towards the store on South Main Street.
She had passed by the little map shop a thousand times but hardly noticed it. It was sandwiched between a storefront insurance agency and an antique mall. It was easy to overlook on the outside but the inside was another story. She opened the door and a little bell tinkled. From the the back room came a gentle lilting voice “I’ll be right there.” She looked around; the walls were covered floor to ceiling with bookshelves filled with rolled up maps and what looked like atlases. There were other books, some overstuffed chairs with doilies like her grandmother used to have and a lot of used tea cups scattered around. A laconic dog lay under a table, lifting it’s head to look at her. Satisfied that she had no food, it resumed whatever dog dream it had been having.
The old woman came in into the front room “ah…you must be Janie.”
Janie looked at her…”How did you know that?”
“It is written in the wind.”
Janie looked shaken, “oh my god really?”
“No, not really. My waiter friend said a pretty young lady might be coming to see me today.” Mrs. Lively grinned, clearly amused with her own joke.
Janie burst out laughing…she liked Mrs. Lively already. “Did he tell you…?”
“Yes,” replied Mrs. Lively. “And I have what you need right here.” She had already pulled a book down off the shelf and she motioned for Janie to come sit on the settee next to her. “This is an old map of the railroad that used to occupy this trail. It started service in 1871 and kept it up all the way until 1974.”
Janie took a look at the map and the towns that the railroad passed through, including their own town. “This a really cool map…look at all these things that used to be right around here. But what does this have to do with me getting cold?”
The old woman nodded…anticipating the question. She pulled out an old yellowed news paper protected in plastic. “This was a very safe operation, this old railroad. But there are always incidents.” She handed the newspaper over to Janie. There is a story of a train wreck on the front page. Seventy-one people died on a rainy night in 1955. They think it was sabotage, but it was never proven.”
“That’s horrible,” said Janie, “Why would anyone do that?”
“Why does anyone do these types of things?” The woman sighed, “anger, greed, lust, envy. The story was it was a jealous lover. His ex-fiancé’ was on the train. He worked for the railroad and had keys so he threw an old switch that was never open. The train switched over at speed and piled into a stack of logs. Most of the cars fell into the river: all of the dead people drowned, trapped inside the coaches.”
“But what does this have to do with me? Wait, Walter said this had happened before.”
“It has. And that is why I can tell you, that someone important to you died in that train wreck.”
Janie looked at her and shook her head. “I don’t know anyone that died in a train wreck. And that was way before I was born…even before my mother was born. But if I had an ancestor or someone aboard I would have heard about it.”
“Would you?” The old woman said this as if she knew something.
“What are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying that the only other time I’ve heard of someone getting cold like this they had someone on that train.”
“Okay…I have to tell you that sounds weird but I’ll ask my mom,” Janie said “but I’m curious about something…why did I feel this at different places on the trail and why was it for so long when I was downtown?”
Janie laughed “don’t worry about it…I can be slow. But why did the cold last so long downtown?”
“You were by the depot. So was the train…”
“…and it was stopped!” Janie exclaimed. “Oh my god” she said quietly and gave out a low whistle.
The old woman put her arm around Janie, “go talk to your mom. I’m betting you’ll be surprised.”
Janie was back the next day: “My aunt died on that train.”
“I knew you’d be back. Did you get any details?”
“It was strange, my mother didn’t want to talk about it. I was lucky to get that out of her.”
“Let’s take a walk to the library.”
They’d been in the library for three hours and still hadn’t found any record of her aunt being on the train. There were photos in the old papers of many of the deceased passengers but not all, and no one with her aunts name was on any of the newspaper lists. But then Janie thought of something and texted her mother.
“What’s wrong?” asked Mrs. Lively. Despite her enthusiasm, she was beginning to fatigue and it showed in her voice.
Janie already had an answer: “my aunt’s last name was different!”
Suddenly the fatigue was gone and they went back into the old newspapers and hit on a gold mine, and something they were not expecting: her aunt was the ex-fiancé that had triggered the jealous rage. There were pictures of her with her friends, pictures of her at her high school prom, even pictures of her in bathing suits meant to boost circulation. And of course, there was a picture, that appeared in every story, of her with her supposedly murderous ex. There was something else that Janie noticed, something about the jilted lover. It had to be a coincidence and she would not let herself contemplate any other explanation. She was shaking her head; “Okay the cold I feel has something to do with my aunt being on that train…but why and and what does it mean? Not that I’m saying I really believe all this.” The truth was, though, that she was much closer to believing it than not.
Mrs. Lively was silent for a long time, she was trying to figure out that best way to say something: “Your aunt is trying to warn you about something. What exactly, we have no idea. But you must be alert to any signs. Don’t alter your routine…that’s important. And you must go where she can communicate with you…and that is along the trail”
“Communicate? How? It’s not like she can hop off the train and have a chat.”
“No, but she will do something you will notice. It might be subtle, maybe not. Either way keep on the lookout. I am very tired dear. Will you walk me home? And I suggest you get some sleep as well. Have a little nip of something…it almost always helps me sleep. When that doesn’t work I have a big nip of something,”
One thing for sure about the old woman, she wasn’t boring. “Sure, lets go and I am sorry for keeping you at it so long.”
“Oh, I enjoyed this immensely! It is just that this old body can only handle so much excitement in one day. You just keep alert.”
Janie had a drink when she got home, not that she needed anyone to tell her that. She had stayed calm for Mrs. Lively but the truth was her nerves were raw. One of the pictures in the paper continued to haunt her and she continued to try and ignore what was obvious. Finally, she got up and just read a book.
When dawn broke she wanted to go out on the trail but Mrs. Lively had told her not to alter her routine, and her routine this week was finishing the prep for the wedding on Saturday and the rehearsal and dinner tomorrow night. She had last minute dinner reservations to adjust; her idiot future sister-in-law had chosen this week to decide she was vegan so that was another adjustment to be made…annoying or not she couldn’t let her eat some thrown together salad. By the time she had finished with all the last minute details and a few errands the day had flown by and it was time for her walk. And time for the afternoon train…well the ghost train at least. Ghost train! She must be losing her mind. If she told Paul he’d probably run like hell before it was too late.
It was actually a little later than normal when she got out for her walk, and when she felt the ice cold of the train she was far from the depot. The train must have been running late as well. It was still speeding along so the cold sensation was gone in a few seconds. But still she had felt it. She walked with her head on a swivel and saw nothing. She listened and couldn’t hear anything unusual. She had stayed out later than normal and was way past the station before she gave up and started heading back towards home.
She got distracted for a few minutes when she ran into a couple of old high school frenemies whom she invited to the wedding hoping they would decline, which they did with regrets. The niceties observed they took some selfies together and parted ways. She completely forgot about looking for any signs and was going through the selfies deciding which one to post on Facebook. She was checking out Estelle’s hair…it was as blonde as always. In school everyone was positive she bleached it…maybe not. Either way Estelle was a pretty woman and not a bad sort. She was cropping the picture before uploading when something over Estelle’s shoulder caught her eye. On one of the old telegraph poles that stood decaying in the overgrowth she could make out some writing…she zoomed in on it and applied a filter. It popped out: “WILL”. What the hell…?
Janie started walking faster toward home, looking for the next pole. There it was…writing in the same style: “HE”. That was it…a message on the poles for sure. “WILL HE” But will he what? She ran to the next pole. Nothing. Maybe it skipped for some reason but the next pole was blank as well. Dammit. All she had was “WILL HE”. She was walking towards home trying to figure out the rest. The map store was closed by now so she would wait until morning and go talk to Mrs. Lively. It would be a busy day with the rehearsal and dinner but she had to know.
She was almost back to the side trail that would lead her home when it hit her: Idiot! She ran back towards the poles and saw “HE”, then “WILL” and then on the next pole: “KILL”. She was breathing fast and afraid she would pass out. It was getting dark and fortunately the few people she passed probably couldn’t see the fear on her face. As she ran towards the next pole the terror rose in her because she already knew what the next word would be. There it was: “YOU”. She didn’t need to go on. She knew that was the end of the message but she checked anyway. Nothing “HE WILL KILL YOU”. She found a bench alongside the trail and sat and cried. She didn’t need anyone to tell her who “HE” was. But was she going to break up with Paul over a supposed message from a ghost? She processed every scenario she could think of. Her mother didn’t like Paul.. had she set him up? Or maybe meeting Estelle and her suggesting a selfie right in front of that pole was not coincidence. No. She was clutching at straws….she felt it deep down in her soul. She was trying to think of what she was going to say to Paul. She would say she was nervous and had to postpone it. That would soften the blow until she could think of something else. Plus it would give her the chance to see how he would react.
Paul was waiting for her when she got home “lets go grab some dinner and drinks. At this point, if it ain’t done it’s not going to get done.”
Janie decided not to mention the ghost train or the cold. “I think we should wait Paul.”
Paul shrugged, “sure, we can eat later, I just thought you might need…”
She cut him off “I mean wait to get married.”
“Why…what? What the hell?”
“It’s not you,” she lied, “It’s me. Let’s just give it some time. It’s going to be a hassle to postpone everything I know but…”
“Come on Janie, we know you’ve been stressed out. Let’s just relax and watch a movie for awhile. You’ll get some rest overnight and….”
Janie cut him off. “No, I’ve made up my mind…we have to postpone things while I think things through. And please stop talking like I’m crazy or something.” Janie thought she knew Paul and thought he might cry or plead or maybe even storm out. It would be hard to blame him. She didn’t expect what came next.
“You stupid bitch!!!” He swung and connected with the side of her head knocking her against the wall. She slid down onto the floor stunned. He came at her again intending to kick her in the stomach but she squirmed away and it landed on her thigh…it still hurt. “I’ll be fucking humiliated. My whole family will be humiliated.” Afraid that he would hit her again she started screaming at the top of her lungs. In a few seconds there were footsteps coming down the stairs and that was enough for Paul to run out of the apartment, but not before he’d managed to knock over her TV and laptop.
After a visit from one of Janie’s cousins, Paul made himself scarce. Janie moved in with her mother for awhile and became fast friends with Mrs. Lively. The memory of that day, the ghost train and Paul eventually faded to the background. She moved out, got back on her feet and married a man who wasn’t a psycho. Her daughter, Wendy, was two years old and at any rate kept her mind fully occupied along with running her own business. It was a Saturday afternoon and her husband was out doing some kind of guy stuff with his friends and she had just put Wendy down for a nap.
She picked up her iPad to catch up on social media. A couple of her friends were talking about something awful but the thread was so deep she couldn’t make out what they were going on about. She messaged her best friend, Haley; “what’s going on?”
Haley came back instantly “you haven’t heard?”
She sighed, this was just like Haley…being dramatic “No Haley, I just got 2 minutes to myself finally…can you just cut to the chase.”
“I’m sending you a link…it’s too awful.”
Oh for god’s sake she thought…then she clicked on the link and gasped; There was a picture of Estelle, the pretty blonde she’d taken selfies with on the trail. She’d been murdered and the suspect was her husband. Poor Estelle! They weren’t close but she seemed like a sweetheart. She regretted not getting to know her better and started tearing up as she scrolled through the story.
Haley texted back “I’m coming over.”
“Don’t be silly, you’re getting ready to move.” What was with it Haley? It was tragic and she felt sad but it wasn’t like she was a super close friend.
She could see the three little dots as Haley typed a response “Did you see the whole story?”
“No, I’m looking now.” Suddenly her blood ran cold and she found herself struggling to breathe. “Haley, please come I need you.”
Haley poured her a large glass of wine as soon as she arrived and sat down to comfort her. “It’s not your fault hun.”
“I should have said something…let people know. I was just so glad to get him out of my life,” she whimpered.
Haley shook her head “It would not have mattered. They were in Florida, and besides, you rarely spoke to Estelle.”
“I know I hardly spoke to Estelle, that’s the point. I wish I would have. There’s more. Something I’ve never told anyone except my mother.” They went through another glass of wine while she filled in Haley on the incident with the cold, the train, and Mrs. Lively.
“You have to know how that sounds sweetie…” said Haley gently, “but what exactly would you have told Estelle? ‘Don’t marry that guy, a ghost from an old train wreck warned me about him?'”
“I don’t know. And I know it sounds crazy. But there’s one more thing.” Wait here. She went into the closet and pulled out a shoe box. In the box was a picture of her and Paul and an old newspaper clipping. It was one of the clippings about the train wreck she and Mrs. Lively had snuck out of the library. She laid them side by side and took her phone, with the picture of Paul and Estelle and laid that beside them. She called Haley over.
Haley looked at the picture of Janie and Paul next to the new picture of him and Estelle. He didn’t look like he had changed a bit. Then she looked at the old newspaper clipping. The one with the picture of Janie’s aunt and her murderous, jilted fiancé. There stood a very handsome man; it was black and white so she couldn’t make out the color but he had wavy hair, a mischievous grin and one prominent dimple.