Entering the train Robert didn’t want to talk to anyone. Once seated, the couple across from him bobbing gently with the rhythm of the tracks seemed strange.
He wondered if he could avoid conversation with them for the entire three hour trip. From the way the burly man was trying to make eye contact with him he was pretty sure he wasn’t gonna be able to.
Both of them annoyed Robert. The woman’s clothes were outdated. Her turtleneck under a twenty year old sweater look was awful. And he didn’t quite get how a hair stylist could still be poofing big hair from the 80’s onto customers. But there she was, living proof that some fads live on in the lonely hearts of housewives. She had however caught up with technology and spent her time holding an oversized phone in one hand and moving an index finger across the screen with the other.
The big man had a nice enough cardigan on and a blue checkered dress shirt underneath that. But every time their eyes would come close to meeting a snaggle tooth would shoot out from behind his lips. Years of living with his tongue against his teeth had made him comfortable enough not to notice it, but Robert didn’t have the luxury of staring into his mouth for the last 60 years.
Robert felt guilty after a while or maybe he just felt a little more comfortable, so he allowed their eyes to meet. He pursed his lips and nodded, hoping that would satisfy the minimum quota for his interaction with the big man. It didn’t.
“Where are you from?” the big man asked. “Not far from here” Robert responded dryly. “What do you do for work?” the big man continued. Auto industry was the first thing that came to mind so Robert said that. Not wanting to be pushed on the topic, Robert asked their names.
The big man flashed the snaggle tooth. Robert tried not to wince while the big man started laughing and bouncing up and down with his shoulders. He wet his lips a little with his tongue and smiled announcing “I’m Vladimir and this is Natasha.” Leaning in to continue his bit and angling his shoulders toward her as if he was checking her response as some sort of marker for his volume he asked “Don’t you hate it when that idiot at Taco Bell asks for your name?! I mean it’s on my damn card!”
He sat back and allowed the throttle on his voice to open up, while slapping the table and exclaiming “although if you’re working at Taco Bell you probably cant read!” The big man man expected her to be laughing as much as she expected him never to tell that joke again. As soon as he sensed her displeasure, he placed his hand on her arm. As he did that she rubbed his hand.
An attendant had been approaching them and grumpily interrupted asking if anyone would like anything. Robert gestured in their direction allowing them to answer first. That was when the woman looked up for the first time. Her eyes were dark blue. Not like the color you think of when you hear blue. They were blue like a lake in a dream. One that looks a foot deep, but once you try to reach the bottom you just kept swimming until your head can’t take the pressure anymore.
She slowly and hopefully looked up to the attendant and attempted to say “pretzels.” At least that’s the word Vladimir repeated after her. Not catching on, the attendant rolled his eyes and looked directly at the woman. Impatiently he asked what did you want ma’am? She began to fumble again. “p-.”
“She said she wanted pretzels idiot, didn’t you hear me” the big man boomed. “Ok, I’m sorry” the attendant clamored as he hurried away to procure the snack, embarrassed and realizing something was wrong.
Robert was interested.
“What happened?” he asked.
She looked up. Her eyes made Robert defenseless. She kept them connected with his.
He wasn’t going to rush her. He wasn’t going to speak for her. He wanted to understand her. She began to speak slow and slurred words. One at a time. “I” she began. Robert’s nod let her now she was understood. “Had. A.” With the final word all he heard was an “s” sound. His eye brows furled in confusion and frustration. He began t ask what she was trying to say. He looked over to the big man for some assistance but he was distracted with a woman two rows ahead. Her patient repetition brought Robert back. She said it again. And again. “Mispoke?” Robert repeated. She shook her head gently no. Again. “Stroke,” Robert finally repeated with a sense of relief.
Shad lost part of her memory due to insufficient blood flowing to her brain. But now Robert wanted to know more. She turned her phone toward him. The screen displayed a sonogram of a baby. She pushed out the words “First. Grandbaby.” Robert softly replied “A new memory.” She smiled and looked down in her lap.
The big man had been patient enough to this point. Robert got the sense that although he had witnessed her pain, he didn’t understand it. The big man wanted to make sure that Robert knew the details of what had happened. Speaking quickly and with nearly closed eyes he recounted “It was the morning of our 25th anniversary. Supposed to be a real special day, I bought her plane tickets to California. We were going to Disney Land. Her favorite. I mean she’d always wanted to go so I spoiled her. We woke up, she looked at me, didn’t remember who I was or why she was in bed with me. I mean we joke around a lot, at first I just thought she was messing with me. Shows you should always do what you want. I mean she doesn’t even remember the trip. I could’ve lost my wife’s memory at home and saved a fortune.”
His voice trailed off as Robert eyes moved back to her.
He could hear the big man in the distance going on and on as his eyes and the woman’s were locked. He talked about how she didn’t remember their children. Their wedding. How to speak. How he had to have her learn everything again. He attempted to make a joke about how she had to trust that he actually was her husband. After all, she knew nothing. The silence that he expected to be filled with laughter allowed her to speak again.
“So. tell. me. about. yourself.” She struggled to ask.
Robert felt his tongue stick to the top of his dry mouth.
Image by Mabel Amber, still incognito… from Pixabay
5 thoughts on “Fake Names by Kurt Froese”
Some people make everything about themselves. Others reach out. This piece portrays that well. The description of the woman’s eyes is excellent.
The trouble with being human is all the shades and stages of pain within and without us. Right now, I am on a commuter ferry surrounded by hundreds of people I don’t give a damn about. Yet every last one has an infinite and complex story.
You show that well, here. But, really, will Robert, being human, feel any less snarky or mean the next time a stranger annoys him?
for some inexplicable reason I already feel friendly toward these people
The ending was cool. Good character description. Robert was changed by the experience.
Most people think that strangers want to talk at you, not to you. But there can also be so much interest and humanity from folks who are forced together. It’s a gamble not many want to take and they question the motives of those who speak first.
This is a thought-provoking piece of story telling.
All the very best.