The train leaves Milan Central station and heaves over the tracks in the rain which streaks the dirty windows; its carriages are packed with steaming rush-hour tiredness and anger.
The young man sits in the corner up against the window, as the rain beats time, with Hemingway’s words falling off the pages as he tries to concentrate but can’t. For Whom the Bell Tolls? The bell was tolling for people who want peace and quiet on a train carriage to allow them to read, he thinks.
A fat man who’d possibly eaten only garlic for lunch sits opposite, hand wrapped around his phone in some strange death-grip as he seethes and steams, letting the person on the other end know as well as the other three occupied seats around him that, Cazzo! the fucking contract has to be there by Friday or it’s not just his balls on the line, understand?. He doesn’t say which line, which is OK; the less he talks the better, the young man thinks, his own anger rising.
Through the red mist that descends before his eyes the young man looks up and sees her, in the opposite seat across the aisle. Her silky, shoulder-length hair is dark, and her hazel eyes strike out from her face which seems to have had the benefit of a tan recently. In her jeans and blue sweater with white stripes (a little French he thinks: oui mademoiselle, oui), she becomes his calm in a storm-tossed sea. He watches from a distance, as her forehead wrinkles and she glares at the woman opposite her.
This woman opposite has her tablet on her lap and has wires and a mike stuck to her head as she babbles continuously, her voice rising, informing everyone that didn’t want to know that Cazzo! how the hell is she supposed to fit in another meeting on Thursday, she isn’t a fucking machine you know. Sat there looking like Robo-Queen that could be debated, the girl thinks, as she lowers her head and raises her book in an attempt to block out the irritation. As she does so the young man opposite gasps. A Farewell to Arms – Hemingway; she’s reading Hemingway!
Mr Garlic is making another call but its wafting anger slips into the background as the young man looks only at the young woman across the aisle, his book held up to his chest, now half-forgotten. The train starts to slow.
Robo-Queen finishes her call and transforms into e-bitch as she proceeds to beat the hell out of her tablet, with two fingers having some maniacal life of their own as she sends an email, probably shouting Cazzo, cazzo, cazzo!
The fat garlic man wheezes his bulk into an overcoat big enough to protect a small car from winter frost and grabs his briefcase, stuffed full, as its leather creaks for mercy, and he makes his way to the door.
The young woman looks up. She sees the young man looking at her and her eyes drop to his chest. She sees. Fine lines around her eyes appear and she gives him a smile. He returns it just as e-bitch starts to make another phone call. He waves her over to the now-vacated seat opposite him and they whisper words of Ernest, in earnest, as the train takes them home.
Posted in books
, Flash Fiction
and tagged A Farewell to Arms
, Ernest Hemingway
, Flash Fiction
, For Whom the Bell Tolls