People in General (Fiction)

Short Story from “People in General”

By John Colasacco

Pennsylvania_Station,_NYC,_Waiting_Room,_Cassatt_Statue.jpg

Once I tried to imagine what it would be like to have to say something to my best friend if she were dead. I spent the whole night by the open window, getting dressed and undressed, and it was almost as though many years had passed. After a while I no longer felt qualified to say anything. When I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror there was something awkward about my body, the way it looked and moved. I used to know what it was but the rain made me forget it. In the morning I went to school, and I moved through the crowd with a piece of fruit in my hand, looking for a table with an empty seat. When I found one I sat down and put the fruit on the table next to me. Suddenly it flew apart, disintegrating into a million little pieces. I listened to the voices all around me; some were laughing, and others were angry, or pretending to be. I asked someone what time it was, and they told me it was only nine o’clock. It felt like I was snowing inside myself. Now I am sitting in the train station again. My hands are freezing cold and I have a stranger sitting near me kicking his feet against the legs of his chair. A minute ago he leaned in close to me, as though he wanted to whisper something private in my ear. Am I thirsty? he wanted to know. I have the same few words going through my head over and over, he said. It’s maddening, but it’s how I learned to speak. I stayed very still and rigid while he told me this, never flinching or turning to acknowledge how close to me he was. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that he was holding something, and from the way he cupped it in his hands I knew that it was probably a lighter and a pack of cigarettes. Sure enough, a second later he settled himself back into his own seat and began tapping the pack against his palm. He peeled away the cellophane and opened up the box, then pulled the foil wrapper out and immediately crumpled it up. I kept waiting for him to put the piece of foil in his pocket or get up to throw it away. He never did though; he’s still holding it now, kicking his feet, with a very faint rumbling sound coming from the back of his throat. Oh, I see, I think to myself, noticing the huge globes of light on top of the old fashioned street lamps standing in the open waiting areas of the station. People file by on their way to the coffee shops and souvenir stands that line the edges of the concourse under these huge, swollen lamps, which don’t need to be as intense or beautiful as this. It reminds me of being home, and leaving the door to the attic open for just second or two, and in that moment while my back is turned feeling certain that one of the cats has just slipped upstairs.

Just then I see a little girl in a pink jacket standing by a white mannequin that’s been stripped of all its clothes. Her feet are pointing in one direction but the rest of her is turned toward me, and she’s looking at me with big, unfocused eyes. I stare back at her for a while, then I stop looking at her, and in my head I see the train station the way it was before it filled with people. There’s moonlight on the floor, pouring down from the skylights, and the huge antique clock on the wall says that it’s 2:40 a.m. There are a few passengers here and there, none of them close by. I watch them moving slowly toward the far end of the terminal. One is a blind man in a heavy winter coat being led by a service dog. When he disappears around a corner I realize that over the past few minutes I’ve gradually become afraid of something. The inside of my mouth hurts, and my hands are so cold now that I wish I’d brought gloves. Just when I feel like I can’t stand it anymore, I look up at the hole in the wall that I thought was a clock, and the last thing I notice is the smell of rice cooking.


John Colasacco’s books include Antigolf, The Information Crusher, Two Teenagers, and the forthcoming The Wagners. Other excerpts from the manuscript People in General can be found in Enclave’s #finalpoems and Dennis Cooper’s blog. Anyone interested in written/artistic collaboration can email at jacolasa@syr.edu.