Tuesday troubles

Passengers crowd the Brown Line train in the Loop at evening rush hour, Wednesday, July 16, 2008. The CTA plans to eliminate seats in some train cars to alleviate crowding. (Chicago Tribune photo by Alex Garcia) ..OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS,  NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT.. 00296065A TrainSeats

Edward didn’t expect much from his day as he rode the subway into work.

It was Tuesday. And as any actuary will tell you, Tuesdays are the least eventful work day in any given week. Edward would know. He too was an actuary.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Edward was not dissatisfied with Tuesdays, or any day of the week for that matter. He just didn’t expect much from it, and definitely less than from say a Monday or a Thursday.

Unbeknownst to Edward, however, today was unlike a typical Tuesday. Today, in fact, was a Tuesday that actuaries dread. The outlier. The anomaly. Today was the Tuesday that lurks in the dark crevices of an actuary’s heart.

Jessica hadn’t expected to leave the house so late this morning. But with Maria’s daycare shut down and Todd’s absence at a business conference, nothing was moving particularly smoothly for the young lawyer and suburban mother.

Vomiting herself from the commuter train as the doors inched open, Jessica practically crowd-surfed to get across the chaotic platform and into the stairwell to the subway system. Today was the Witkenstein proposal and although she herself was not presenting it, the command had been all-hands-on-deck in a show of force. Rare is the law firm that doesn’t like to demonstrate its cannon-fodder for clients.

Catching the smallest of slivers through the human maelstrom on the subway platform—her rail-thin form finally offering her some advantage in life—Jessica slid to the rail-side edge just as the string of cars came to a halt. Unfortunately, that same eel-like body structure meant that she was no match for the human surge that blew her through the subway doors and wedged her against a man of middling height, middling complexion and middling posture.

With a middling acknowledgement of her existence, Edward shifted his elbow slightly so that Jessica could grab the same pole to which he clutched for support in the shifting ebb and flow of transit.

Now, if pressed, Jessica would swear an oath that the box in which her travel mug arrived the previous Christmas promised that it was designed with the latest in anti-spill technology. She had even tested it at home several times, marveling at the results.

But as any actuary will tell you, the chances of a scalding burn from the spilling of hot beverages rises 342% when that beverage is being consumed on mass transit. Edward would know. He too was an actuary.

Now, whether the next event fulfilled that statistic or the numbers were slightly off, the simple reality was that the precise moment the subway took a turn in the tunnel was the same moment that Jessica had tried to reposition herself to lessen the strain on her crooked elbow.

This moment was followed shortly thereafter by another moment in which the incorrectly positioned lid of her travel mug became even more incorrectly positioned and her coffee evacuated itself onto Edward’s shirt.

mug stain

Jessica was horrified as she helplessly watched the taupe liquid spread across the stranger’s chest and cascade as a beige waterfall into his trousers.

As surprised as Edward was by the turn of events, a small part of his brain was also relieved that Jessica liked to use non-dairy creamer, which slightly helped to temper the scalding liquid.

“Bloody hell,” Edward bellowed, his pain sensors over-riding his public decorum filters.

“Oh my god, I am so sorry,” Jessica cried as she struggled through her bag to find that pocket Kleenex pack she had purchased just the day before.

As Edward fought to literally calm his nerves, Jessica did what she could to blot his formerly white shirt, unaware of her increased range of motion as a halo of space had formed around the two of them, everyone retreating from the mess.

“Are you okay?” she asked, genuinely concerned that he might need medical treatment.

Edward was too engrossed in the sensation of slightly sticky dampness that was now encasing his genitalia to answer right away.

Coming back to the moment and realizing that skin grafts were unnecessary, Edward simply raised a placating hand.

“No worries,” he offered with a smile. “Accidents happen.”

Edward would know. He was an actuary.

Jessica did her best to return his smile, but her embarrassment was still too great for her to be comfortable. She had little time to worry, however, as the subway pulled into her stop.

“Here’s my card,” she blurted, pressing her card and the remaining Kleenex into his hand. “Please send me your dry cleaning bill.”

Before Edward could tell her that her offer was kind but unnecessary, Jessica slipped out of the car with the crowd. His thoughts then shifted to making a quick stop at the department store between his subway stop and the office.

Jessica would have had a funny if embarrassing story to share with her husband later that night had the first of the meteors striking off Japan’s coast not started the cataclysm.

Regardless, the nuclear winter that started later that day taught Edward a valuable lesson.

Actuarial science gets it wrong some times. Tuesdays can be eventful.

meteor

The Drive (a short story)

grouchy

“Are we there, yet?”

The phrase that irritated me for the thousand times a week it bore into the back of my head now haunts me.

It had taken forever for me to convince the boys to leave their seat belts alone, to keep their hands from compressing the buttons that stood between confinement and filial battle. And more than once, I found myself wishing that rather than cross their laps, the belts crossed their mouths, stilling the staccato tarantella that skipped across my brain.

Silently, I would curse my husband for wanting children so close in age; built-in playmates, he would argue as though siblings were naturally adept at civility and sharing. Never marry someone who was an only child, I would remind myself; too many delusions of a happy peaceful family to dispel.

“Are we there, yet?”

The words and whine a cattle prod to my ear drums, my head involuntarily snapping to one side, threatening to glance off the door frame, the open window insufficient to drown the drone from the back seat.

“Are we—“

“Has the car stopped moving?” I’d shout at the rear-view mirror as though it was the source of my agony rather than simply a reflection of what I’d left behind.

For a second—a glorious second—the car would go silent, but the silence was an illusion, a prelude to crises yet to come. Inquisitive urges not quelled so much as turned aside, as unsatisfied attention-seeking demanded to be slaked.

“Mo-o-om!” came the high-pitched cry.

“I’m not doing anything,” its wounded echo, pre-emptorially defending actions yet unchallenged.

“Enough,” I charged, confronting the miniature offenders with turned head.

The light was green, or at least that’s what the report said, as though the colour protected me from my guilt any better than it protected my car from the panel van approaching from the left; as though an absence of fault even approximates an absence of self-loathing anguish.

The car was a write-off, and after six months of my husband’s words telling me it wasn’t my fault while his eyes told another story, so was my marriage.

And now, sitting here in my wheelchair, all I can think of is “Are we there, yet?”

woman-in-wheelchair

Attraction

Reading

I know it was static

That caused her hair

To reach for my arm;

Its gentle fibers

Mingling with mine.

A connection tenuous

Yet signalling more.

No attempt at retreat,

No urge to disconnect,

Only stationary comfort

Between two souls.

My arm immobile,

Exchanging warmth,

Seeking meaning,

Awaiting more;

The glimpse of an eye,

The curl of a smile,

The eddies of a sigh

Could not convey more

Than the subtlest attractions

Of the smallest ions.

 

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission, so don’t give me any static.)

The word was cat – an exercise

Image

“Cat killer,” Anthony thought to himself, ruefully. He was now going to be forever known as the cat killer of Borden Street.

To be fair, it was an accident. At worst, negligent manslaughter. Catslaughter?

Yes, if Anthony had gotten his car tuned up as he’d been promising himself for weeks, he might have noticed the strange sound emanating from his motor. But a “rowr” sounds an awful lot like a “rawr”, so it was hardly his fault.

Why would a cat crawl on the engine block in the first place? And it’s not like Anthony held its tail against the fan belt.

No. It was a mercy killing. Clearly, living in a house with 17 other cats had taken its toll on Snowball. She had lost the will to live and decided to end her days.

It was Old Lady MacGillvary’s fault. Nobody needs 18…17 cats. A sign of mental defectiveness on a grand scale.

Hell, Anthony was lucky it wasn’t the old woman herself who flung around his engine like a piñata on heroin.

Anthony liked cats. Well, he tolerated them. He’d never killed a cat before. Two dogs, a ferret and a budgerigar, sure, but never a cat.

It was a bad year for pets in his neighbourhood.

As he recalled, the Great Dane was an automotive accident, his hood still bearing the scars, and the chow was proof that you shouldn’t buy electric garden lamps from a guy in a van on the highway.

The ferret shouldn’t have been loose while he mowed the lawn, and why the bird was anywhere near his barbecue while he was using his leaf blower is anyone’s guess.

It had gotten so bad that Anthony had to beg off a trip to the petting zoo with his nephew for fear of dropping a horse on the kid.

You’d think Anthony’s job as a taxidermist would come in handy here, but apparently a stuffed pet is considered poor compensation for a loss.

The point was moot where Snowball was concerned. All the King’s horse and all the King’s men, you know?

Oh well, Anthony shrugged, no use crying over eviscerated Persian. If he took the highway to work, most of the fur would probably fall out and cooked flesh is so much easier to extract from metal.

Anthony turned the motor over, listening for the familiar “rawr”, and then put the car in reverse.

Thump.