Hush

The train is running late, and the man in the pointy shoes taps his left foot three times in irritation. Three quick taps, and then nothing. A pause. Then three quick taps again. He shifts in his seat, removing his phone from his pocket to check the time. Three more taps. He cranes his head to look around the long train car, lets air escape between clenched teeth, but none of this seems to make the train go any faster. The phone is now back in his pocket, even though it will be back out in two minutes for a resumption of the staring contest. The process, the in-and-out of it, are his only release. That and the three quick taps. There they are again.

The man in the pointy shoes looks over at the woman in the wool blazer, but she doesn’t see him. She’s looking at the girl in the light-up sneakers who is holding on to the pinky finger of the man in the black homburg. The man in the pointy shoes looks over at them, too. He taps his pointy shoe three times, absently, while silently ridiculing the man in the black homburg for the affectation of wearing a black homburg, for wearing a hat of any kind. The woman in the wool blazer closes her eyes, the girl in the light-up sneakers releases the pinky finger of the man in the black homburg and strolls back toward the man in the pointy shoes before being called back to her father and grasping his finger once more. Three more taps.

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Further ahead in the train car, the man with the bald spot adjusts his newspaper, and all the way at the front the woman in the plaid jacket appears to be chiding an unseen companion, or perhaps the train itself. Towards the middle of the car, the woman with shrill laugh laughs shrilly at something the man with the large teeth has just said. The man with the pointy shoes didn’t quite catch it, but he has the impression that it wasn’t really funny. His phone is back out, the time noted and immediately forgotten, and back into the pocket it goes. Tap tap tap go the feet of the girl in the light-up sneakers as she tries to make her escape, giggling as she’s pulled back and placed in her father’s lap, the pinky finger clutched securely once more. The train continues to be running late. The man in the pointy shoes adds three more taps of his own.

The train stops. Warm seats grow cool, cool seats grow warm. The train moves on once more.

Designer perfumes mingle with stale cigarette smoke and waft into the nostrils of the man in the pointy shoes. He twitches his nose. The woman in the wool blazer opens her eyes and watches the girl in the light-up sneakers wriggle out of the lap of the man in the black homburg. The newspaper rattles in the hands of the man with the bald spot, a snort erupts from the man with the large teeth, and another exaggerated demonstration of mirth peals from throat of the woman with the shrill laugh. The man with the doughy ears, a newcomer, looks back in annoyance, and the woman in the plaid jacket continues her shushing.

The train stops. Reunions replace goodbyes. The train continues.

The man in the pointy shoes taps his feet and looks at his phone. He watches the playful struggle between girl in the light-up sneakers and the man in the black homburg. He watches the woman in the wool blazer watch the same. He allows himself to be annoyed by the laughter and the shushing sounds and notices casually that the latter have gotten louder. The man with the doughy ears seems to have joined in, though the reason for their shushing remains obscure. The newspaper has disappeared from view, as the man with the bald spot is silently observing the man with the doughy ears. The man in the pointy shoes tries to shut out the world for a few minutes, but even this does not help with his delay. Neither, it appears, does the tapping of his feet.

The train stops. The train goes.

The man in the pointy shoes looks over to see that the woman in the wool blazer has been replaced. The woman in the business suit glances back, and he averts his gaze. The girl in the light-up sneakers is back on the lap of the man in the black homburg, and both the man with the large teeth and the woman with the shrill laugh have begun to stare at the man with the bald spot, who is shushing along with the man with the doughy ears and the woman in the plaid jacket.

Gradually, the sound of the three shushers begins to fill the train, until the man in the pointy shoes realizes that there are four voices now, and then five. The man with the large teeth is sitting forward in his seat once more, and woman with the shrill laugh has likewise abandoned her surveillance of the man with the bald spot. Both are now sitting still, heads slightly inclined, repeating a single sound. The man in the pointy shoes hears it more clearly now. It’s not a sh but a ts. Ts ts ts ts.

The man in the black homburg is trying to figure it out. The man in the pointy shoes watches him watching the other commuters and catches his eye when he turns around. The man in the pointy shoes shrugs at the man in the black homburg, and then both look away. The girl in the light-up sneakers giggles and slides out of the lap once more. The man in the black homburg purses his lips experimentally, and soon his own voice blends with the rest. Ch, the man in the pointy shoes now hears. Ch…ch…ch…ch…ch…ch. It’s a deliberate sound, almost an attempt at a sound. Ch, chh, cch. Or maybe tsh, or tshh. Somehow the man in the pointy shoes finds it difficult to pinpoint. The girl in the light-up sneakers takes a few steps from the man in the black homburg, expecting to be returned to his lap, but the man in the black homburg doesn’t notice. He’s much too busy saying ch or tsh or maybe even dzh, so the girl in the light-up sneakers squeals and takes a few more steps away, smiling at the man in the pointy shoes, who can think of nothing better to do but smile back.

The train stops. The man in the pointy shoes considers getting off, as things have grown strange, but his is the next stop and walking from here would make him even later, so he remains. In the center of the train, a woman in a cable-knit sweater stands furtively in the doorway, sees the car full of people saying tschdsch?—and slowly backs out onto the platform as the train pulls away.

The man in the pointy shoes watches the girl in the light-up sneakers race up and down the aisle, forces a smile whenever she meets his gaze, and watches the little lights blink on and off as she goes. Something isn’t right, but the man in the pointy shoes can’t seem to decide what it is. Everyone seems to be saying something, but it’s not anything he’s heard before. It’s familiar, but somehow very different. Not exactly a tsch, really, or a dsch. Definitely closer to a dzh, but a very light one. The man in the pointy shoes is not sure why it’s important. He knows, in fact, that it isn’t at all important, but somehow it seems worth figuring out. The woman in the business suit is having a go. The man in the pointy shoes observes the signs of a struggle conquering her face. She’s having trouble deciding what it is as well. The woman in the business suit begins softly, almost drowned out by the cacophony that resounds from the ever-expanding chorus throughout the car. But the man in the pointy shoes can hear her more clearly now. It’s definitely a dsch with a tzh, and almost something like a kkh.

The next station is approaching, and the man in the pointy shoes watches the little red blips go in and out as the girl in the light-up sneakers continues to play in the aisle, wondering idly if she’ll be alright when he leaves. The man in the black homburg, after all, has become fixated on his dskh or his tzkh. The man in the pointy shoes dismisses his concern for the girl in the light-up sneakers for a moment and tries once more to zero in on the precise sound that he’s hearing, but it simply won’t come to him. He feels almost disappointed as the train begins to slow, knowing that he might never find out just what it is.

But then he’s got it! It’s right there in his head! The sounds of the woman in the business suit and the man in the black homburg are blocked out, as are those of the woman with the shrill laugh and the man with the large teeth, the man with the bald spot and the man with the doughy ears and the woman in the plaid jacket. He doesn’t need to listen to them anymore, hear them struggle to approximate the sound. It’s resonating within him, and it’s clear now what it is. It’s not a dshkh at all, or a tzschkh or anything like that. It’s a, it’s a, it’s more like a txsch, or a dxzhkh. Yes! Like a dxzhkh! But with a sch or a tsch at the end!

The train stops. The seats yield no territory and accept no settlers. The train departs.

The man in the pointy shoes sits in his seat, softly repeating the sound to himself, surrounded by all of the others doing the same, each of them certain that with the next try they’ll be able to replicate the sound precisely as they hear it, that then all will be well. The next station approaches and recedes, but the train does not stop. Little red lights flash on and off, up and down the aisle, the playful laughter quite overwhelmed by the shushing or the chushing or the, the dzhushing, the tschkhushing, the dxzhkhushing…

 

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About anotherexilefromparadise

I am a writer, by passion if not by profession.
This entry was posted in Fiction, Language, Story, Thoughts, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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