This story is by Daniel Haar and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Tango In Opportune Time
The train was taking me home from work, but really I was headed nowhere. I was often pulled along by the lives of everyone around me, wondering if they were happy and how I could get there. I was sizing up all the impossible destinations when I saw him, a man slumped in the last seat, his clothes like an unmade bed, his thin hair plastered flat. He looked a little like me in photographs where I don’t really recognize myself.
My stop came up and we both rose. I’m not sure what happened next, but I waited for him to get by – not my normal courtesy – and he did a stutter step, as if he was expecting to stop and now had to keep moving. He stumbled down the steps, twisting to get his balance, and started falling out the door. He grabbed me and the whole scene in front of me split down the middle, like a rip in a Mylar balloon. Everything – people, the train, my Camry in the lot — crumpled and fell away. Power chords from some dissonant guitar pierced my chest and tightened around my heart. I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth. I doubled over as something deep inside pulled at me. Then I sprung into the sky, taking great leaps like a kid kicking from the top of a Ferris wheel. I skipped across the land of my childhood: Silos, clumps of trees and homes, fields of green and gold bowing in the wind. I dropped down in the middle of a dirt road, barely missing an old wooden tool shed where I used to play. I landed in an explosion of dust and, when it cleared, saw the man from the train sprawled out across from me.
“Well,” he said, smiling. “Don’t we look like a couple of fallen angels.”
He struggled to get up, then settled for lying on his back and staring at the sky, making little dust wings with his arms.
“Did you like it here?”
All my questions fell away for the moment. “More than I realized at the time.”
“Good, that’s what I was hoping.”
The sun was beating straight down, like I remembered during those summers when I played on the Cordey farm, about a mile down the road. Me and Pete and Dave would take the co-cart out this way. When the corn was tall, we would stop and wander off into a world of our own, green and quiet except for the wind rustling every which way. There wasn’t anyone around now. No sound at all.
“I know where this is,” I began. “But I have no idea where I’m at.”
He raised himself and looked at me. His eyes were a deep black that somehow reflected the light around us.
“I’m not going to make a lot of sense, but hear me out. We don’t have much time.” He looked at the sheer cliffs of clouds building on the horizon, the kind I died to climb as a kid.
“We travel in the space between who you are and what you’ve become. It can strand you for years without end, until you’re willing to take any way out. I think you know what I mean.”
I had nothing to say.
“We help bridge that distance, we use old maps to new places. Sometimes the right word at the right time, or a lucky find, or good fortune for no good reason. Other times, a hard nudge this way or that, a rough dance to tough music.”
“We prefer transitives. A poet who knew us said we build unimagined bridges. You’re a writer, aren’t you?”
“Yea, but as a teacher once told me, grammar isn’t literature.” The clouds were turning purple and I felt my face burning. “Where have you been all this time?”
“I’m here now.” He sat straight up. “I thought by stopping time, in this place, you might better see what is in a moment. And you might take up our work.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It’s time to quit seeing your life as fit punishment for what you’ve done. It’s time to pull others out of harm’s way.”
He looked up, and it was a second or two before I heard it. A crush of violins from the clouds, which were now the angry color of a deep wound and rifling toward us.
“What is that?”
“Your moment of choice.”
“Stay or go?”
With a half-smile, he turned into the storm as I let go and was pulled through a narrow opening that split the field. Behind him, the tool shed blew apart and the roof twisted in the wind like a dark shroud. I felt something like despair grabbing at me, and it was all I could do to kick free.
That was nearly a year ago. I take the same train home in the evenings and I still watch everyone. Someone might need me.