The listening man sat in his usual seat on the morning train to the city. He was wearing his usual black suit and round reading glasses. He leaned forward. Intent. Interested. Watching the two men seated across from him, also wearing suits, as they spoke.
He was smiling. Enjoying the conversation. His hands were clasped together in a knot; the knot was underneath his chin holding up his head.
One of the men said, “Pity about Harold.”
“Yes,” said the other.
“He was so young.”
“Entire future ahead of him.”
“Quite smart too.”
“But so set in his ways.”
The listening man wanted to interrupt but had always been painfully shy and besides, the two men kept talking. He wondered why they weren’t including him in the conversation, but realizing he felt too exhausted to speak anyway, decided it was just as well.
The men continued their non-stop chatter.
“Mouths like rivet guns,” the listening man thought and laughed but no one seemed to take any notice.
They spoke of Harold’s inability to drink tea without becoming ill.
“Do you remember what he used to say? I drink it and it goes down but then comes straight back up.”
“Yes,” the other one chuckled. “Whoever heard of someone not able to drink tea?”
The listening man wanted to say that he also knew about the tea but his mouth wouldn’t open. He could only sit, hands knotted, mouth stuck in that smile.
“Harold just couldn’t let go of anything, could he?”
“No,” the other man replied. “And remember how he always insisted on sitting in the same seat every day.”
“Maybe if he had been a little less stubborn, ah well, what’s the use now,” he said and checked his watch. “Right, we’ll be there in fifteen-minutes.”
“Taxi to the church?”
“Look. This is the exact spot.”
“Yes and the building site is still closed.”
“Strange how just his window was hit.”
“I know. You hear about these things happening but never expect to witness them in person.”
The listening man willed his arms to wave, his body to hop up and down in the seat. Nothing happened.
He wanted to scream, “Idiots, I’m Harold,” but his mouth stayed fixed in its upward curve and nothing came out.
‘The Listening Man’ (c)2022 Deborah McMenamy
All Rights Reserved