I work to live
I don't live to work. A
mantra that seems to fall short considering my early mornings
into work and late nights after failed attempts at escape. Don't
get me wrong, it's good work. It just doesn't pay overtime.
Yeah, I complain about it, but what can I do? I work long hours
because if I don't, then someone else will.
My wife constantly nags about my late hours, but she does it
'cause she loves me, or so she says. She even stays up some
nights waiting for me to crawl, slide, or pour myself through
the front door. I have to work or life won't be worth much.
We can't afford a lot as it is. We live in a small, modestly
furnished apartment in the West End and I take every form of
public transit to get to my office in the upper East End. Like
I said, we can't afford much, let alone a car. We'll get one
eventually, I guess.
The streetcar is a pretty short ride and sometimes I walk it
if the weather is nice. Then comes the GO train into Union Station.
If you think being packed into a commuter train is akin to suffocation,
the subway ride north is like a slow train to hell. Constant
jostling, armpit odour, never a seat, always hot, but other
than that, it's great. The bus journey is fairly straightforward
and lasts about ten minutes. I've tried walking it, but it adds
way too much time to the trip. I can't be late for work. Someone
else would be on time.
I'm on the reverse journey going home after
my watch must
be wrong, a 14-hour day? Wow, how time flies while you're working
to live. The bus ride is great. Only a few people scattered
around as cargo and most, like me, are slave labour. I can tell
by their slumped posture and lifeless faces. Heads resting against
the sliding glass windows, not reacting to the occasional bump
in the road that sends foreheads banging into glass. We're all
just so tired. I try not to stare at my fellow passengers, and
manage to get through a few pages of a novel I've been reading
for about a week-and-half. I'll finish it. I paid 11 bucks for
I depart my weary brethren and shuffle down the stairs into
the bowels of hell. Only at this time of night it's not so bad.
Plenty of legroom. No full-body contact, wrestling, or tackling.
No mad dash for a seat that I'll give up later to a woman that
I just can't stand to see, well, standing. I blame my parents
for my good manners. Which means they are partly responsible
for my shin splints.
The wind kicks up first and a foul smell hits my nostrils from
somewhere in the guts of the city. A light always appears after
the wind and smell. Then the crunching of wheels against rails
echoes through the station. It gets deafening when the train
whizzes by and every time I think that it will just keep going.
Sometimes I want it to keep going.
The squeal of brake pads engaging worn down metal drums send
shivers up my spine but I like it. The doors bang open and I
plod in to find a comfortable seat, which means I try to sit
facing in the direction the train is travelling. If I don't,
and end up sitting against the flow, I'm nauseous for the whole
trip. There are plenty of seats and I plant myself down with
a grunt, happy to assume the familiar lean against the window.
I got really lucky this time and sit in the very first row,
the driver's compartment right beside me. I like it a lot 'cause
I feel like I'm driving. I can mindlessly watch the track disappear
below me and forget.
The train stops at every station and fellow lifers move to and
fro. I don't really pay attention to them since it's only a
mirror of my own mediocrity. Besides, I'd have to turn my head
to see them. I'm just too damned tired is all. When the train
lurches forward I feel my body compress slightly against my
seat and it makes me think of the dreams I had of being an astronaut
or a racecar driver. How I was going to walk on the moon or
break the land speed record. I try not to dream anymore since
it never works out. That's okay, though. I mean I got a fairly
decent job that underpays me and then I get to pay too much
to ride all this public transit and of course my wife is constantly
upset that I work too long and hard. But, I get a paycheque,
I pay my rent, and we get to go out to dinner once a month,
unless the bills have piled up. This is one such month, so I
figure tonight it's leftover spaghetti in the microwave. Astronauts
don't eat leftovers.
My heart speeds up as the train rolls toward another tunnel.
I love the tunnels. Everything just dims as the darkness swallows
the entire train. The noises are amazing, as if being in the
dark amplifies them somehow. The train bangs and clangs around
a corner and wouldn't you know it, we're all outside again.
The night isn't nearly dark enough.
I can see the green light that signals the next station is clear
of other trains and moments later we're rolling into another
dank hole in the ground. I'm staring out the front window and
suddenly I see this guy plastered there like one of those stuffed
animals with suction cups on its feet that people stick to car
windows. His face is all mashed against the glass and he looks
painted on. I'm imagining it. It's been a long day.
It always amazes me how quickly and smoothly the train comes
to a stop. My imaginary friend disappears from the window. I
don't feel any bumps so I figure it was all in my head. But
I notice a ball or something rolling down the tracks in front
of me. It just keeps going and soon it disappears into the darkness
beyond the station.
The driver's compartment door whips open and the bang is deafening.
I nearly shit myself. The driver runs right out of the train.
I lean forward hoping to see where he's going but the front
window doesn't give me a good view of the station. I figure
he needs a bathroom break. Hey, drivers gotta pee, too, right?
Ten minutes have gone by and the train is still driverless.
I figure I'll just shut my eyes and wait for him to get back.
As soon as the train moves I'll wake up. I never miss my stop.
I'm just getting comfy when I hear the PA crackle to life. I
can't understand a word the person on the other end is saying.
All I hear are muffles and grunts like the guy talking into
the microphone has a bag of marbles in his mouth. Others on
the train must speak PA because they start getting off the train.
A woman glares at me and I just flip her off with my eyebrows.
A piercing scream echoes through the station and there's all
this shouting. I gotta see what's going on so I get up and stretch
the kinks out of my body. As I'm reaching for the ceiling and
my bad back cracks louder than the earlier screams, a transit
worker appears in the doorway.
"This way, sir."
Him I can understand since he doesn't have a microphone to his
mouth. So, I follow and see a pair of ambulance attendants guiding
a stretcher along the platform. I turn to the front of the train
and the transit guy puts his hand on my shoulder. I feel him
gently nudge me in the direction of the stairs.
I have to look. I had to be imagining things. No way that guy
I push off the little transit guy and head to the end of the
platform. There's about a dozen feet from the end of the train
to the start of the tunnel and lying smack dab in between is
a severed leg. I can't keep my eyes off it and even have to
shove the transit guy away again so I can study it better.
It was severed from my imaginary friend at mid-thigh and I'm
amazed that it still wears a blue-jean pant leg. The bottom
of the foot is pointing toward the tunnel as if to direct the
driver as to where he should be going. The toes are pointed
at the ceiling. I can't see his shoe. I don't see any blood,
either. There should be lots of blood, right?
I get pissed when I feel the transit worker's hand on my shoulder
and shirk him off. Then he grabs me and I spin around to face
him only to look up at the biggest damned cop I've ever seen.
"Time to go, sir."
I don't argue with him since he could probably turn me into
what my imaginary friend now looks like. I trudge up the stairs
and a woman tells me a bus is waiting to take all the passengers
from the train on to the next station. There's apparently another
train waiting for us to complete the rest of our journey.
The bus ride is filled with whispered conversation about my
imaginary friend. I tune it out though. I saw the main event
and don't need the recap. When I get to the next station I head
straight for the last car. I guess everybody had the same thought
because it is crowded like we're in the middle of rush-hour.
I have to stand. The trip is longer than usual. People smell
bad. I get knocked around a bit going from the subway to the
Go train. I just miss a streetcar and have to hoof it home.
I put my key into the lock of my little apartment and push the
door open. My wife is in bed and that is a good thing. I don't
have to hear her complain about my overworking and how I should
be asking for a raise and that the cat needs surgery and God
knows what else. I see a little note sitting on top of a plastic
dish. Sorry, I couldn't stay awake. Heat this up. Love you,
I pop the microwave door and start my dinner. Leaning against
the counter listening to the whir of the microwave I suddenly
realize, I forgot my damn book.
Ian O'Neill is
feeling much better now.