“Lost in Thought” by Megan Brandes

            Argos Train Station is quiet for eight minutes as it waits for the rumble of a coming train. Stop, open, shut, onwards, silence. The arrival, the departure, all witnessed by those whose minds are preoccupied by pesky memories or future possibilities. Some people pace back and forth with hands aggressively hidden in their pockets while others sink into their shoes already lulled by the rhythm of a day so similar to the day before. The rectangular screen above their heads accurately calculates the minutes while the people count the seconds. Late or on time or the very rare, early. The day starts and ends here, missing or catching the train.

            It is Wednesday, and it is snowing. It is Wednesday, and it is snowing. Tobin’s mouth soundlessly repeats the phrase to better understand this mid-December day, and soothe the apprehension following him on his way to work. His neck bends so that his chin settles near his chest.

            While his lips move in rhythm with each step, his eyes search for every piece of blackened gum still visible beneath the lightly falling snow. He tries to walk in a straight path, only altering when the shoes of strangers intrude his vision. He avoids them quickly with a precise maneuver and continues until he reaches the solid yellow line. This barrier, begrimed by the dirt of too many feet, is the guard that keeps Tobin from the deep ravine where the train tracks run. He waits.

            His well-worn, black trench coat is open showing a blue checkered shirt buttoned to the collar.  His shirt is tucked over the flat stomach of early twenties into khakis with a plain, leather belt holding everything in place. His dark black hair is combed but touched by the wind and not corrected as if Tobin had forgotten he had hair at all after the comb was set down.

            The D line turns the corner, now visible in its approach to Argos Station; Tobin quickly takes two large, awkward steps back. His mother does not like it when he stands too close to an incoming train.

            Tobin does not move when the doors open and remains still while the waiting crowd becomes passengers and those leaving the train scatter to continue their day. When the doors close and the train signals its coming movement, Tobin takes two steps forward, resuming his post at the yellow line. The train begins to move. As the last car pulls past him, Tobin quickly leans forward until his head is slightly across the concrete edge so that he can stare at the metal bars that guide the giant wherever it desires. His feet curl within in his shoes until each toe feels like a talon digging deep into the concrete. Tobin grasps either side of his trench coat and pulls it open to create his wings. He is a bird standing over a canyon, a wild landscape that he alone can capture in his perch on the edge. He gazes at the raging metal river below surrounded by the ashen river rocks. The tunnel of wind created by the leaving train finds Tobin as he leans a little closer in his flight.  

            Tobin takes the train three times a week for his job at Turning Galaxy Comics. On Tobin’s lunch break he always sits at the same bench in the park three blocks away from the store. The bench, with its rough wooden slats and chipping green metal frame, is an island in a sea of browning grass. While the other benches line the single asphalt trail winding through the small park, this one bench is all alone. Tobin sits here and only here because he likes to walk off the trail, find his way to the lone bench, and watch the pine tree that sits directly in front of this perfect spot. Squirrels sometimes climb the tree and birds sweep into the maze of branches. Although hidden from sight, Tobin can still hear them chirp. He likes to guess where the birds are hiding, like a game of Marco Polo.

            He had met Mitch at this spot a few months ago. On that late September day, Tobin was considering flying squirrels. If they could really fly, why wasn’t there a type rabbit or mouse that could fly? His thought was interrupted by a soft but steady, “Hello.”

            Tobin looked up to see a man staring at him. He was three paces away, but Tobin still felt he was too close. “Hello.” Tobin said turning his eyes down to the peanut butter sandwich in his hands.

            The man stuffed his hands in the pockets of an expensive looking brown jacket. “You know, I see you out here a lot. You like this park?” Tobin looked at the man’s shoes. They were coal black boots. Tobin liked them.

            Tobin turned the sandwich in his hands not noticing that as he did so the sticky paste began coating his fingers. “I’m on my lunch break.”

            “Ah, I see,” said the man. A silence followed but the man continued to smile. “Well, it was nice meeting you.” The man walked away.    

            A week later, Tobin, halfway through that day’s sandwich, saw the man walking toward him.

            This time the man spoke immediately. “My name is Mitch.” Tobin nods but said nothing. “This is the part where you tell me your name.” 

            Tobin looked down at the man’s shoes again. He had shined them since last week. Tobin wondered if the man shined his own shoes or if he had someone do it for him. He liked the thought of someone holding those boots and brushing them. “Tobin… Tobin Lande… But Lande has an ‘e’ at the end, so it’s not how most people spell it.” Tobin spoke in three tight bursts like air spewing out of a party balloon held tightly by the neck. Squeeze and release. Squeeze and release. Squeeze and release.

            Mitch smiled slightly. Another moment of silence.

             “May I sit, Tobin?” Mitch’s hand motioned toward the empty space next to Tobin on the bench. They both stared at it as though an invisible friend was sitting beside Tobin, and Mitch had just asked if this unseen friend could give up it’s seat for a stranger. Tobin did not want this stranger to sit. He was comfortable alone and thought another person would harm his perfect view on his perfect island. But then Tobin thought of what his mother would say. Would she think Tobin was being rude for refusing this man, this Mitch? She always told him to be polite.

            “Yes,” said Tobin. The silky word slipping through his mouth and past his lips before he had time to reconsider.

            “Thank you.” Mitch sat and held his hands together in his lap. His hands, cracked like a desert, revealed the older age of the man. “Those squirrels are annoying, aren’t they? Rats with bushy tails. I hate them more then pigeons, the rats with wings.”

            “I like squirrels,” said Tobin.

            “You do?” His voice is light and his eyes continue to stare at the tree. “We have them at the university. Everywhere, all over campus. I guess I just get tired of seeing them.”

            Tobin looked at him curiously, “University?”

            “Yes,” said Mitch. “I’m a professor. I teach psychology. Introduction classes mostly…for now.” Mitch paused to look at Tobin then turned his eyes back to the tree. He opened his mouth to continue but closed it again.

            Tobin sat with the man in silence until he noticed the time. He was five minutes over his lunch break. Tobin stood up immediately and ran.

            Tobin spent his lunch breaks talking to Mitch three times a week for the next few months. In the beginning Mitch would walk up to the bench moments after Tobin sat down and ask to sit. But after the second week, the two greeted one another and sat as friends. Tobin told Mitch all about his mother and the comic bookstore and his deep love of trains and the way he flew over the canyon like a bird. Tobin talked about his childhood, the teachers he had and the games he played. Mitch spoke little and instead kept his ears tuned to Tobin’s stories. During the brief periods when he did speak, Mitch relayed long monologues of his dreams of becoming a tenured professor. He lectured to Tobin about Psychology, certain concepts he wanted to discuss in class or things he had learned as a student himself. Tobin did not understand most of it, but Mitch never asked Tobin if he understood. So Tobin never said that he didn’t.   

             This Wednesday in mid-December, Mitch told Tobin that he wouldn’t see him for a while. Winter break for the University was the following week and Mitch would not be back until January. Tobin did not respond.

            “Are you sad I’m not going to be here anymore?” Tobin thought about losing his friend. He used to enjoy his lunch breaks as a time of natural isolation. But now, he had grown accustomed to sharing the space, the view of the tree, and the rickety bench. He will be alone again. Tobin said nothing for a moment while he thought of the months of lunch breaks with Mitch. He became so occupied by the memories, he almost forgot the professor was still sitting beside him and so did not notice the hand until it touched his leg. The hand steadily moved onto his upper thigh and then moved to Tobin’s crotch.

            Tobin could not move. His mind forgets any form of language and out of his mouth falls a deep, pleading, helpless groan.

            The grip tightens. “Shhh.”  The stranger slides across the wooden slats until his body is pressed against Tobin’s still form. Then the desert hand roughly grabs Tobin’s hand and pulls it into the impermeable darkness of the stranger.

            Tobin is stiff, a corpse with its life slowly draining into its shoes and slipping away into the dying grass to lie with the cold dirt, trapped in silence. This place beneath every footstep, where time stops, and the feeble, rotting form of innocence curls into itself. The hand moves but he cannot feel it because he is not there. He is packed into the earth, a bird fallen from its nest with a strangled voice and broken wings, but far, far away from the hand that won’t stop grasping. Far away from the stranger who he once called his friend.

            Tobin didn’t know when everything ended, when the space beside him lay empty with the remnants of a whisper so close to his ear he could feel the wet, heavy air, “Don’t tell anyone about this, you retard.”

            The jacket that Tobin’s mother had put around him that morning became exposed to the cold. Useless, for it no longer kept warmth, but simply hung on shoulders that didn’t move below a mouth that didn’t say no.  His body moves without Tobin noticing. Somehow he is running, not seeing the people passing or hearing their yelling. He runs even though his throat aches from the cold and his lungs heave from exhaustion. He runs until he finds the only thing that begs him to reconsider. Tobin steps over a faded yellow line because it cannot yell commands over the blood pulsing in his ears.

            Tobin leans over the edge and looks down at the canyon. He desperately grabs his jacket and flaps his wings. Harder and harder and harder they flap, as tears blur his view and sobs echo through the canyon. He keeps trying to fly, but he knows his wings are broken. He leans farther.

            Somewhere behind him, people are yelling. Someone is screaming. A light is coming. Tobin’s feet begin to lift from the ground and he is flying. Flying or falling.

            Iron hands grip him and pull him out of the sky.     

Megan Brandes moved to the Puget Sound area after receiving a bachelor’s degree in Human Services from Metropolitan State University of Denver. She is passionate about many local nonprofit efforts regarding empowering youth in foster care and people with disabilities.