Altercations in the Quiet Car

by Richard Martin


There is no such thing as a stream of consciousness, Barton thought, boarding the express train to the City. Consciousness is no stream went another thought as if in support of the first one, as he sat down in one of the comfortable first class seats on the train.

Comfortable is right, Barton concurred (as a full participant in omniscient exegesis) finding himself in two places at once inside the thoughts and images in his head. The first place (thought as memory mixed {shaken/not stirred} with interior monologue) went like this:

Look, he thought, wasn't it Nietzsche who claimed the guts and stuff of the body would or could never add up to consciousness, let alone a stream of it? And that philosophy professor, what was his name…Professor Jolly Still-Life or something…what did he say…Oh yeah....When I tell you to think of your ass, you will, which kind proves doesn't it what Sartre claimed, i.e. that consciousness is ultimately being conscious of something, which pretty much interrupts, halts, or installs hiatus and/or builds a dam in any freaking stream.

The second place (image with babe) was a lot better and began with a simple repetition.

Comfortable is right, Barton concurred, suddenly finding himself, well, actually an image of himself by a stream – one that had started as a snow-melt trickle high (rocky mountain…) in some mountains until finding its robust route through a pristine meadow bursting with wildflowers, weeds, lazy cows, and a variety of intense and uncooperative insects, including insufferable horseflies.

This was already better than the first place (despite the cool omniscient aspect) inside his head, and it got significantly better when from some partially forgotten (repressed) previously recorded moment in his back (and side) brain streets of yesteryear, Sally arrived, dressed in archetypical cut off jeans and sports bra.

Oh yeah, Barton thought, quickly dismissing (dissing) Still-Life, Nietzche, and Sartre, and gazing with enraptured vacancy out the train window at those still boarding.

Barton really liked Sally. In fact for a short time he was pretty much addicted to her like opium or chocolate. She was smart, gorgeous, and enjoyed fooling around in an intense and spontaneous manner. The only time she was a real ass – or pain in one – happened when she was out of smokes. A real smokestack, she needed her soft pack of Marlboros on all occasions and wasn't beyond heaving a shoe or small lamp at Barton's head when she was out of them. Like it was his fault or something.

Even after a decent toss (Barton's word for pretty good sex), Sally needed a smoke.

"It completes the process," she told him, after a session (her word for OK sex…nothing special, though) behind the gazebo in the park.

"Huh," he said.

"Blowing smoke rings in your face," she laughed.

There was no reason for this kind of passive-aggressive play (his words for what the hell is wrong with her). They were, after all, only occasional lovers, not soul-mates or anything like that.

"Excuse me. Excuse me, sir," someone said.

"Huh," Barton said, shifting his gaze from the "redcap" assisting one of the passengers on the platform outside the window.

"Sorry for bothering you, sir," a young man said. "But is this an express train to the City?"

"I believe so," Barton said, shaking his head slightly as if to register his eyes in a contest of focused stillness. "It may make a few stops along the way. But I'm sure no more than a few."

"Thank god," the young man said. "I really hate it when people get on the train at stops along the route and crawl over me to their seat. Actually, if I can level with you, it bugs the crap out of me."

"Right," Barton said, swatting a nasty horsefly chewing on the side of his neck.

"The bastard," Barton muttered, checking for some kind of evidence.

"Yeah, that's right, the bastards," the young man said. "That's actually who they are…bastards!"

By the time Barton resumed (enrapture redux) looking out the window, the platform was empty, and Sally had slipped from her skimpy outfit and entered the cool stream.

"Come on in, Barton," she teased. "The water is luscious."

Barton gazed at his object of desire in the quiet pool inset like a jewel in an oval séance of rocks as the rest of the stream went roaring past her (sic). When she slipped beneath the water he observed how the effects of light, water, and flesh produced a fish of enormous interest with remarkable green and silver hues.

"All right then," Barton said, flopping into the water fully dressed.

As the train pulled away from the station, Sally surfaced, spit water in his face, chided his un-fish like clothes, and then with strong and sensuous fingers, pulled him underwater with her.

This is what I hate about the "stream" (his abbreviation for stream of consciousness), Barton thought. Even when it's fairly shallow, it's still too damn deep for me.

"Poor Barton! It's just a writing technique to some, silly," Sally gurgled in a null set of exploding bubbles, as the young man in front of him changed seats to one across the aisle and kitty corner to him – one equipped with a small table.

Barton came up for air.

"I know that," he said, watching the young man, as he opened his laptop, fiddled with his blackberry, and attached a Bluetooth mobile headset to his ear.

With the train fully under way, the young man barked into his Personal Area Network (PAN*):

"Sam? Sam, are you there? It's me, Al. Yeah, I'm on the train and I've just cued up your sales figures for the last quarter on my laptop. And hear me on this one, Sam. A dead guy . . . a seriously dead guy, could sell more than you in a quarter."

"Bastard," Barton said, as the conductor's voice came over the PA system:

"Listen up people, please," the conductor said (after the general welcome to the train etc. including time of travel and weather in the City – balmy with the possibility of a torrential downpour). We've had some serious problems on The Quiet Car during our last trip to the City. I mean that quite seriously folks, so please give me your total attention for a few moments. (Clears throat now). For those unfamiliar with the train, The Quiet Car is the very one next to this one, the first class car. And there are absolutely no telecommunications equipment of any sort allowed on that car. Absolutely none. It's the issue of public space, folks. In fact, conversations are strictly frowned upon also. The Quiet Car is for passengers that crave or need the quiet and/or, and I say this without cynicism, are trying to eek out or reconnect with solitude, no matter how futile that may seem. So please respect the simple rule(s) of The Quiet Car. Like I said, we have had some serious problems in there recently when the rules are ignored."

"Come on," Sally said, after surfacing herself, "it's time for some intense and spontaneous fooling around in a pristine meadow."

"Punch my ticket," Barton said, getting up from his seat to shake off the excess water.

Unfortunately, Sally was nowhere in sight and except for the choral buzz (or aural afterimage) of intense and uncooperative insects, including insufferable horseflies in his head, the pristine meadow had also vanished.

The train whistled three times as Barton moved toward the young man.

"Public space," he sighed, yanking the Bluetooth off the young man's ear and crushing it under foot, as the conductor hurried down the aisle.

*PAN – The god of woods, fields, and flocks, having a human torso with goat legs, horns, and ears (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, p.946).