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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 22 page 02

fiction

A book waits for a train

Commuter's Folly

by Rob Hill

Monday

Stepping onto the train platform, Luxor Crabtree deftly juggled his vented umbrella, his double shot hazelnut macchiato with extra foam, and his paperback of The Pickwick Papers. Glancing skyward, he mused that the umbrella had been unnecessary. He briefly considered abandoning it on the platform to lighten his load but then came to his senses. He sat on a bench beside a woman munching squirrelishly on a sesame bagel held in both hands.

Moments later the train rumbled in, opened its doors, and spat out a few passengers. Lux stepped aboard and took the first available seat. He lived far enough out that finding a seat was usually not an issue. He set his umbrella down under his seat and cracked open his book, finding the place where he had left off. Ah yes, that dastardly Alfred Jingle character. Most amusing antics. Several stations later all the empty seats had been filled. A pregnant woman hovered beside the door. Lux kept his head low and pretended to be so absorbed in his novel that he hadn't noticed her. Fortunately a college-age girl stood and offered the pregnant woman her seat. Lux would've done the same eventually, he told himself, but he selflessly wanted to give others the first opportunity to be generous.

He was about to return to his book when his attention was diverted by a man in a bow tie across the aisle holding a hardbound edition of Bleak House. He was holding it suspiciously high, Lux observed, as if showing off his choice of reading material to the train at large. Lux took an instant dislike to him. He studied the man carefully. A long drawn face the color of wheatpaste. Suspicious little ant eyes. Burgundy wingtipped shoes. A felt homburg perched on his head. Probably thought it made him look distinguished. Had he noticed Lux reading Pickwick? That snide self-satisfied little smile confirmed it. He was probably thinking Bleak House is a much more serious work than The Pickwick Papers. As if having a sense of humor undermines the integrity of a work!

The train reached Lux's stop and he exited, nearly leaving his umbrella behind. All day at work he found himself in an irritable mood. Even his motivational poster — "Life is like a staircase, take it one step at a time" — didn't have its usual effect. During lunch hour he stopped in a nearby bookstore called All Books Matter and found a copy of To The Lighthouse. He parked himself on a retaining wall to read the first chapter while nibbling on his prosciutto di Parma sandwich and immediately felt better.

Tuesday

Lux arrived at the train station in the morning with his head raised confidently. An inspirational day, he thought, admiring the cloud formations. The train arrived promptly on time. He took a seat and began to read, holding his book aloft for the benefit of the curious, who, he had to admit, did a good job of concealing their glances. Several stops later the bowtied man got on and sat across from Lux. He opened his briefcase, took out Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and started reading. Lux noticed he was already more than halfway through. He couldn't have had time to finish Bleak House and start Portrait in just one evening. He must be cheating. Then he noticed the man had noticed him noticing. Again that self-satisfied curl of the lip. Almost imperceptible, but not imperceptible for Lux's sharp eye. Did this man assume Joyce trumped Woolf? Because Woolf was a woman that made her automatically an inferior writer? Sexist twit.

<CONT...>