artwork for Christopher Allen's flash fiction

Two Stories
Christopher Allen

The Guy I Used to Date

The woman across from me on the train looks like the guy I used to date. I’m too polite to stare, so I find her reflection in the window. I do the geometry, know she’s looking at me. I’m waiting for that moment when she works out the math herself, when her reflection wanders to mine. We’ll laugh. She’ll say, “Bob-Bob, it’s me, Andy—I mean April. Ten years!” She’ll explode with his same old cartoon laugh—or maybe not. The guy I used to date.

He was the type of drama who wore sunglasses to clubs and stomped through trains like a plough or a storm, slapping people with his rucksack, never looking back—so leave-me-alone but feel-me-all-the-same.

Her reflection strobes with the intermittent lights in the tunnel. In the dark she’s a she, but in the light she’s the guy I used to date. Like girl guy girl guy girl guy with the galloping of the train. I want to tell them I appreciate how far they’ve come, if she is really he. I remember a mole on his back and the curve of his dick. My eyes fall to her crotch, but her legs are crossed and covered by swoopy red swirls—a skirt I saw in a shop yesterday.

He said I hit him. New Year’s Eve 10 years ago. We were drunk. And it was toward the push side of punch, which is toward the excuse side of apology. I know that now. I start to tell them how much a decade has changed me, how I’ve traveled through some incarnations of my own.

But before I can speak, our local crazy lady blunders through, dragging her fake Louis Vuitton roller case, shouting Hear-Ye-Hear-Ye style. “Don’t be afraid of the immigrants! They won’t hurt you! They’re just like you and me!” she screams. “Like me!” The might-be guy I used to date and I exchange a look that considers 100,000 immigrants all barking mad with fake French luggage.

Her eyes are green. Just like his. I run the odds: three, four thousand to one. A good chance she might be the guy I used to date—the guy I shoved on New Year’s Eve. He was all over me. We were at a hetero bar with my hetero friends, and I lost it. Lost him. I’ve replayed that moment once, maybe twice a day for a decade, like when you watch the end of Titanic and hope Leo lives. I never really connected with anyone after Andy.

The woman takes a book from a hippie hemp bag. I can’t make out the title in the window. The tunnel’s too dark, then too bright. If the tunnel could be just one thing, I could see that title and know if she’s the guy I used to date. Andy. He was into indie authors, never read anything popular, nothing you could find at a bookstore—nothing you could actually find.

She lowers her book as the train rolls through a pitch-black stretch in the tunnel. Our reflections meet, smile. But I still can’t tell if this is absolution or just the wary politeness of a fellow traveler. Maybe she doesn’t recognize me, maybe in 10 years I’ve changed more than he has. I want to do something crazy like say I’m sorry. She’ll smile and say, What for? And I’ll say, Nothing. We’ve both come so far, that’s all. We look into each other deeper and deeper, playing that film moment when the audience is supposed to feel its resolution button pushed, as our crazy lady rushes through, railing at all these blasted immigrants.

~ ~ ~

What I Need to Tell the People on the Train

Woman Shouting About Sweater on Phone
I need to tell you that, although I can’t know who you’re talking to—your daughter? your sister? your girlfriend?—I side with her on the red vs. blue sweater issue. Why are you micromanaging her life? When you’re dead, who’s going to choose her clothes? Why red, not blue? How about purple? And who cares? I’d love to tell you this, but I also need to tell you that my brother died last night and that you should shut up about the sweater. Forget about the color; buy one that won’t have an aneurism.

Two Thirtysomething Tweenagers Saying “Like” Every Three Words
You two are, like, so slapstick. I wish you’d slap each other on the forehead every time you said “like”—that would be, like, so funny. My brother was alone when that blood vessel exploded in his head. He was, like, found this morning in a very large pool of blood, I’m told. I wasn’t, like, there. I’m 5,000 miles away in so many ways. You two seem like the kind of guys who’d have been my brother’s besties. The three of you would have been at his place downing a few beers, killing video aliens, and maybe talking about, like, what an asshole his twin brother was to leave when he was down. Which is OK because he’d still be here to like/hate me.

Old Guy Who Smells Like Stale Smoke and Sweat
You stink, but I think you know you stink, so I won’t rub that in. You seem kind, like the type of person I could talk to if you bathed. You look like someone who’s lost everything and who hasn’t dealt with that loss so well, maybe someone who could give me some pointers, warnings, stinky hugs. When did you know half of you was gone? I need you to tell me if I’m there yet.

Mother with Sleeping Twins
I know twins. Twins don’t just bathe, dry, dress, and hop themselves into a stroller. Your morning must have been a bear. I don’t remember lying next to my brother in a stroller, but I’m sure we did, just like your two little snoozers. If you had to choose one to live and one to die, which one would you choose? That’s an inappropriate question, I know. I take it back. But do you wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and think, God what have we done? We’ve brought these little people into the world knowing full well they’ll someday die. Do you pray they’ll at least outlive you, then immediately feel sick? Do you ever wonder which one will deal with death better? The sensitive one or the asshole? I can answer that one for you, and I guess this is what I need to tell you. It’s the one who dies first.

Christopher Allen’s Comments

“The Guy I Used to Date” is a fictional collage of several of my own experiences, but the inspiration was a chance encounter. A couple of years ago on a train I found myself sitting across from a man who reminded me of my ex so much that I kept wondering if it was him … after 20 years. I said nothing, and neither did he. It was the oddest moment—a moment that started me thinking about how much two people can change.

“What I Need to Tell the People on the Train” is another of my many attempts to come to terms with death. My brother left us too early, and a part of this story is inspired by our difficult relationship. I ride the train every day, so I’m in this public place with so many stories going on, so many personal stories that—out of my weirdly strict sense of etiquette—I’m not allowed to enter. Sometimes I think the mentally ill person who comes through the carriage shouting is simply doing what we all wish we could do.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 48 | The Shame Issue | Spring/Summer 2016